By nightfall we were coming into the Belgian village of Freux Menil. It was there that we got the message that the First Battalion up ahead of us had encountered fierce enemy resistance at Moircy. Soon it became clear that the Germans were counterattacking and trying to overrun the First Battalion troops. Lt. Col. Robert B. Moran, commanding officer of the Third Battalion, quickly deployed his companies astride the road running through Freux Menil and along which the enemy was coming toward us from the north. Capt. Nichoson’s Company I, with which I was working, was assigned the position on the left and west of the road. That put us just northwest of the village in a snow-covered open field.

In preparing to meet the German counterattack, Capt. Nichoson called his platoon leaders and me together to give us our instructions. At that moment, a horrendous explosion tore into us. In the instant before unconsciousness, in what could be likened to a stop-action strobe effect, I saw a brilliant orange-yellow fireball with chunks of black in it-then nothing. Oblivion. When I started regaining my sense, I was still on my feet. In fact I was reeling and staggering aimlessly about. The return of consciousness was slow and labored, like struggling to wade through deep mud. My first thought was that it was a shell. Then, that there would be another, and I’d better hit the dirt!

Apparently contact with the snow helped speed up my lethargic mental processes. I jumped up and looked around in the dim, semi-light of that snowy night, thinking, “Hey, I’m not injured! Where is everybody?” The group of men to whom the captain had been talking was all spread out radially like petals of a daisy. The first man I got to was T/Sgt. Keith Mericle, dead with a gaping hole behind his right ear. Next was Lt. Rerich who was bleeding all over from multiple wounds. I got him to his feet and pointed him toward the aid station. He staggered away in that direction. Then I came to Lt. Lee Scott who had been knocked out but had only a cut across his face where the force of the explosion had blown the edge of his helmet. I repeated to him what Capt. Nichoson had been saying prior to the explosion and then sent him back to his platoon to get ready to meet the approaching Germans. The next was Sgt. Don Campbell who came to quickly. He, too, was sent back to get his platoon ready. Then there was Sgt. Frank McFarlane who was likewise able to return to his platoon. I stayed at the place of the disaster so they could find me if needed.

A short time later I saw a shadowy figure approaching me from the direction of the village. It was the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Moran. I recounted the whole incident to him. We found the muzzle of a shattered carbine and verified that it ended in “6-6-6-6”-the last four digits of the serial number of Capt. Nichoson’s carbine. Capt. Nichoson’s helmet was collapsed front to back-flattened. Capt. Nichoson was between the explosion and me. I had been standing directly behind him when it happened. The captain was dead and had taken the brunt of the explosion.

Company I did help to stop the counterattack and, to this day, I don’t know if we won because of what had happened or in spite of it. I feel that the men of Company I in Freux Menil and the First Battalion in Moircy were proven that New Year’s Eve, 31 December 1944.

U.S. Army Star
A Company, 334th Field Artillery Battalion

James served as a forward observer in I Company, 345th Regiment.

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