On December 24, 1944, the 87th was pulled out of action in the Saar and moved some 300 miles to the north to enter into battle 12 miles west of Bastogne. The men of the 87th had deep snow, zero temperatures and open fields to cross south of the Ourthe River. Forget about any buildings for temporary respite from the cold. Attempts by the 2nd Battalion of the 347th to cross these open fields and take Bonnerue and Pironpre were met with a hail of machine gun and mortar fire zeroed in on the open field and approach to the only bridge in the area. Companies E, F & G attacked and fell back to the woods and hillside south of the open fields about a mile and a half north of Jenneville.
At this time Company E had 39 men of the original Company on its front line. Sgt. Korn of Co. F recalls there were 17 men of the original men for their front line. The mauling suffered in the Saar followed by the extreme cold and determination of the Germans had exacted an unbelievable toll on these companies.
On 2 January 1945 Company E received 12 replacements. The 1st Sgt’s flunky, me, all of 19 year 3 months, met the replacements and was appalled at how young some appeared. After all, I was now a veteran of two weeks in the Saar! There I evacuated wounded from a bald hill under an enemy barrage of 88’s; had a company medic, Cpl. Marvin Koppenaal, killed a few feet from me; witnessed older and supposedly tougher men go to pieces under the strain; was shelled by 105’s, ours; and Cpl. Roland Moss who had recently replaced me as operator of the F-300 radio was killed by an 88.
I found on the list of the new men a Howard Rothgeb and farther down a Harold Rothgeb. I went to my 1st Sgt. and asked, “Which do we have, a Howard or a Harold?” The Sgt. replied, “We have both. They are twins.” Then I screamed at my 1st Sergeant, “You send these kids back to Regiment! It is against the Sullivan Law to have brothers in the same company or on the same ship!” ( Five sailors, sons of Walter Sullivan of Waterloo, Missouri were lost when there ship was sunk.)
In its wisdom the Army must have taught 1st Sgts how to handle mouthy whippersnappers. The Sgt. shouted at the me, “Look! I must do what regiment tells me to do. You must do what I tell you to do! Now I am telling you to get out of here!” (The Sgt. injected a few more nouns and adjectives, but it is not necessary to include them in this narrative. Wallace Bidney was an excellent 1st Sgt.)
E Company was on the edge of the woods separated from the Germans in Pironpre by the Ourthe River and an open snow covered field. Any advance into the field brought a hail of machine gun bullets and rounds of mortar shells. On the afternoon of January 2nd, the replacements joined the Company in that woods. Howard and Harold would not be split but chose to occupy the same foxhole. A sister of the twins advised me the boys never had been separated. Before induction to the Army, they worked for the railroad. The railroad found that regardless of assignments the boys would end up working together.
Intermittently the Germans would fire artillery at the positions of Companies E, F & G. Perhaps the Germans were saying. “We know you Yanks are out there.” Deep in a foxhole these shells were frightening but had done little damage, that is till January 4th. On that date a shell hit a tree limb over the hole occupied by Howard and Harold. This tree burst blew shrapnel down on the boys. Both were hit! Harold was evacuated but even in that process and being seriously wounded, he kept inquiring about his brother, and, “was he being attended to?” He was assured Howard was also being taken care of. The truth was kept from Harold.
Some days later a Army officer appeared at the home of Rome Rothgeb in Hazelcrest, Illinois, bearing a telegram advising “The Secretary of War regrets to inform you that on 4 January 1945 your son Howard was killed in action in Belgium.” Brother Harold was evacuated to the field hospital at Bertrix, Belgium. A few days later the officer again made his way to the Rothgeb home. He read a telegram, “The Secretary of War regrets to inform you that on 5 January 1945 in a hospital at Bertrix, Belgium, your son Harold died of wounds received in battle.”
Howard was 19 years, ten days old at the time of his death. Harold was 19 years, eleven days old at the time of his death. Their sacrifice and the sacrifice of so many other, in action that we, the members of the 87th Division, were involved in, will always be in our memory.