February 26 – March 3, 1945
Occupation of Hill 648 was a war of nerves and far worse for me than either Tillet or the Herreshbach area. We were in heavily forested area with good overhead cover although none was needed due to the fact the Allies had air superiority. The shells were bursting in the heavy growth of trees and showering shrapnel the size of car fenders on our positions. Most of us had steeled ourselves to the fact we were “sitting ducks” and were hoping if we were hit it would be by much smaller pieces which would cause small penetrating wounds resulting in a trip home. None of us had ever dreamed of coming under an attack where one piece of shrapnel could cut a man in two or fell a tree. The longer we stayed in that area, the deeper we dug our holes and the more logs we used to stagger over the top of our individual positions. During this time, I was sharing a foxhole with Bill Murray, our company radio man, and “Dutch” Sherk, my “man-Friday.” Whenever a round came in and after the “all clear,” I had to extricate myself from under Dutch and Bill Murray. I don’t know whether I was faster than either of them or had better hearing, but I always beat them to the hole.
The morning we had made preparations for the attack on Goldbrick Hill, we came under the heaviest barrage I had experienced to date. When it was over, Dutch called me back to the dugout and showed me my form etched in the dirt and under my left arm print he dug out a piece of shrapnel about the size of three fingers. As we were looking at the shrapnel, he noticed that my field jacket left sleeve had been shredded on the underside from shoulder to elbow. I had two things in my left hand pocket which I retrieved. The first was a chromatic harmonica and the second was a steel jacketed prayer book. The combination of the two deflected the shrapnel, and I firmly believe saved my life.
For five days we had suffered through mine fields, icy weather, and constant shelling. Our food was K-rations and the only means of warmth was constant motion. Fires were not permitted. But when someone lit a cigarette he held the match longer to garner as much radiated heat as possible.
The order to leave the heavily wooded area and attack Goldbrick Hill was preceded by a devastating friendly barrage on this objective. Following the barrage, we moved through a draw separating Goldbrick Hill from Hill 648 and up the hill which afforded no cover whatsoever. Going up the hill, every man was instructed to keep firing his weapon (marching fire) whether he could see his target or not.
The German fire was brutal – small arms, machine guns, artillery, and rockets – and as a result inflicted heavy casualties including the company commander, John Swanson. The Third Battalion finally took the hill and established a perimeter defense in preparation for a counterattack which was not long in coming but was defeated.
When we made our ammunition check and casualty check, we found we were extremely low on ammunition and where we had started the attack almost six days before with a company strength of 90 men and two officers, we now had myself and 18 men. When the counterattack was over and the hill secured, twelve stragglers were found bringing our total to 30 men. I attended a company commander’s meeting that evening and the morale was very low and moody. We were issued attack orders for Kerschenbach with the admonition from the battalion commander, with his pistol on the table, that the regimental commander had told him to shoot any officer who refused to obey the attack order. It was an unnecessary threat I never forgot and probably never will.