DONALD W. MCKEAGE
F COMPANY 2nd BN 505th PARACHUTE INFANTRY REGIMENT 82nd A/B DIVISION
This is my story of the battle of The Bulge in the winter of 1944 & 45
Our Company had lost more men in the Normandy Operation; 17 killed in action (KIA) with much better weather conditions and again in the Holland Operation, with 21 KIA. where the weather was great until the 1st few weeks of October. We were dug in on the dykes east of Nijmegen when the fall rains set in. In the Battle of The Bulge we lost 15 KIA and for the most the weather was completely terrible. It was by far the worst winter in that area this Century.
This couple of months was by far the worst time of my life. The conditions we fought in COLD. SNOW, LACK OF RATIONS, AND THE COMPLETE LACK OF WINTER CLOTHING, BOOTS ETC. I have just found out that the POWERS TO BE. figured the WAR IN EUROPE WOULD BE OVER BY THE FALL SEASON OF 1944. So they saw no reason of Equipping the Front Line Units or the Stand By units for Winter fighting. LATER UNITS WERE SO EQUIPPED.
I WAS COMPELLED TO WRITE THIS PART OF MY SERVICE, WHICH HAS BEEN
INSTRUMENTAL IN CONTROLLING MY LIFE SOMEWHAT SINCE WW-II ENDED.
Donald W. Mckeage F Company 2nd BN.
Dec 17, 1944 As you know we loaded on the trucks (semi trailers) 4’ sides
tarped over Camp Suippes, France, in the wee hours of the morning, heading for
the Bulge. After arriving from Holland in November, we had not gotten any
replacements, no new or used clothing, including any long underwear, wool
socks or gloves, etc. We left for the Bulge with our combat clothes and jump
boots, like we were going on a fall vacation. All day long we passed the helmets
to the rear to dump the P--- & S--- out the back. These were really the best
2nd Bn arriving at Webermont, Belgium in the middle of the night. Immediately
fell asleep in the woods. In early morning headed east towards Trois Ponts
(Three Bridges) over the Salm River. “E” Co upon entering Trois Ponts, crossed
over river and up the hill to set up defense. “F” Co crossed over the river the
next morning. “D” Co was setting up defense of Trois Ponts, west of river. ““F”
Co went up the hill and just in time to save “E” Co’ ass, as the Germans really
hit them head on. We ended up on “E” Co’s right flank, as the German column
plowed on. We shot the hell out of them. “E” & “F” Co finally worked their way
off hill and crossed to the west side of river over a small foot bridge behind a saw
mill set up in area of Depot and set up defense. “E” Go had lost a number of KlA’s &
WIA’s in the process. We did get a few replacements later that night and by
daybreak two of them were KIA. We did lose a few troopers KIA up on that
ground west of river. We had many close calls. Next afternoon I had dug a slit
trench in fencerow at top of hill. High grass and small brush. Anyway, I was
busy looking across the valley and my head was too high. A German
sharpshooter, who had already picked off three of our men took aim at me.
Bullet grazed left side of my neck and tore out the back of my collar on combat
jacket. I went down and when I came out I was running and only stayed in that
hole after dark.
Christmas Eve we had orders to move, which we did to open up the valley to the
Germans, west of Trois Ponts. Christmas dinner never came. It wasn’t until New
Years Eve when they finally got a little broth up to us (no meat). It was getting
bitter cold and no rations. Jake Sniderman of Division MP’s, later stated that
they had so many hams & turkeys and other food at Div Hdqs (12 miles to
Weberrnont from us) that they gave truck loads to the Belgium people. I asked
LTC Vandervoort later on, why no rations. He stated Division was not sending it
Christmas Day the sun came out. The US fighter planes roared over to knock
out German armor east of SaIm River. LT Harold Case our “F” Company
Commander asked me to contact “D” Co in Trois Ponts. We were then about
one mile west on high ground. Just as I got into Trois Ponts one of the pilots got
trigger-happy and released his 500 lb. bomb too early. “D” Co had 5 KIA’s and
many WIA’s. I was temporarily knocked silly. After shaking that off I made a
quick retreat back to “F” Co. “Casey” as we called him, asked if I had contacted
“D” Co. I told him to go to hell as he almost got me killed. No more discussion
from either party. But I had lost 50% of my hearing, I found out later at hospital.
We did pull off line on New Years Day and prepared for big offensive.
Jan 3rd was big day; we kicked off early morning after daylight. “F” Co had just
got started. Three platoons disappeared into the woods. Company Hdqs
included machine gun section from 2nd Bn Hdqs Co. Total of 19 men let by LT
Case. We started up a fence row and figured we were behind one of our
platoons. As we entered woods all hell broke loose. Two mortar shells hit with
tree bursts right on our squad. Sixteen of our men including complete machine
gun section went down. All wounded, while Germans opened up with rifle fire.
Three of us were ok. Lt Case, James Shuman and myself. I had rifle shot out of
my hand and for some reason platoon was not where we figured. We recovered
and moved on. Later that day we reached highway with tanks as we neared our
stopping point at the edge of a woods, just off highway. A Div Artillery LT & SGT
set up a radio in our midst. They just started to call for artillery support when the
krauts had us zeroed in. First incoming round hit radio, killing Lt & SGT and for
next 20-30 minutes all hell broke loose. We hadn’t had time to dig in and tree
burst was terrible. Lost a couple KIA’s and many WIA’s. After getting wounded
cared for, I finally got a slit trench dug. It had been a very bad day for “F”
Company. About midnight Lt Case came along, said can I share your trench.
He sat down, with me in his lap & Shuman in my lap. We were only about 40’
from open field, which was our battle zone for the morning. We just got to sleep
when Casey had a nightmare. Got me by the neck and about threw me out of
the hole. I figured the Krauts had me, but we finally got settled down. A little
while later a German armored car drove up to our tanks on road and silently
Jan 4th up early at daybreak. 8AM started across open field towards German line
(fence row) maybe 300 yds in front. We all walked out of woods in line firing
forward. When we reached wooded fence row, many Krauts stood up with hands
in air. One of our SOT’s was KIA, when he mounted tank destroyer to fire 50-cal
machine gun at Kraut line. As we moved on from this point, there was a curve in
the road to the right. Tank destroyer which had 90-mm gun, continued for
another 400 yds, where road turned back to left. LT Case & I walked up behind
tank. Just as we arrived German tank from behind us let go with an 88, right
over our heads & just missed turret of our tank. Without hesitation that 90-mm
swung over our heads placing Lt. Case & I directly below the muzzle. I
immediately knocked Case & myself to ground and tank fired. I think we both
came off the ground 3’ +. More hearing gone. We both decided it was not our
day again and they were after us. Our tank destroyer had knocked out Kraut
tank to our rear left. We kept moving and finally came to top of bill, where we
could see town of Arbrefontaine around big curve in road to our right front
Within a couple minutes a German Tiger caught us in his sight and knocked out
our tank destroyer. Within a few minutes LTC Vandervoort came up the road
wondering what was going on. He said “Casey ‘F’ Co is doing a good job; now
you get out front on that road and lead them into town”. Lt Case said “come on
Don, I don’t give a shit if I do get hit”. Lt Case & I walked down that road into the
edge of Arbrefontaine. On our right flank shell came in killing CPL Howard
Krueger (Death & I) Hill 131 Normandy (“Ready” page #85). We continued into
the edge of town to the first buildings, and to this day, I still wonder why the
Krauts let us walk into town. They had us dead, but didn’t pull the trigger.
Another of our troopers was KIA to our right flank as we reached edge of town
Jan 5”~ LT Harold Case was wounded. Contacted 2~ BN. Jan 6th LT John
Phillips came over next day to command “F” Co.
On Jan 7th we mopped up the town and moved out towards Goronne. It wasn’t
long and we were into a hell of a tank battle. This went on for better part of mid
day. We again had a number of KIA’s and WIA’s. Finally got two (2) tiger tanks
knocked out while the other two tigers backed through Goronne (to fight another
day). This day we found out that LTC Ben Vandervoort had been severely
wounded lost eye, etc. His fighting days were over. This action opened the way
for us to take Goronne, many prisoners, etc. We moved on a few more days,
and finally ordered to Theux Belgium for RR. Leonard Rosen and I were part of
group to leave day early to get set up in Theux. Company arrived and we got
them settled. Co Commander LT Phillips called for me. Said get your
belongings gathered up as you are leaving for up front to get ready for 2nd Bn
move up. I and a man from “D’ Co were dropped off at a little town. Rations for
maybe three days, we were near the front. All day and all night the fighting went
on. And they forgot all about us. There were less than six (6) farm homes in this
village. An older farm couple was taking care of their cattle. House & barn joined.
We stayed in a little room in between. After a couple days we ran out of rations.
This couple had very little food available. They had flour for bread, butter and
lots of fresh milk, Morning & night she fixed us warm milk and toast. Finally on
Jan 24th truck arrived to take us back to Theux. The 505 was ready to move out
on Jan 25th. We had not had a chance to bathe, change clothes or anything. We
were still dirty, stinking & starving. LT William Hayes was now our ~‘F” Co
commander. He had been our “F” Co Commander in Holland before LT Case
took over. After leaving Theux we got into the real cold and heavy snow. I did
get a pair of 4 buckle artics as we left Theux. I figured it was —10 degrees and
snow was 4-5’ deep. The 307 Eng sent their bulldozers into the German lines to
plow the roads for us and the tanks, I remember sleeping, standing up in that
snow. We kept moving in the forest, no buildings, etc. Evening of Feb 1 we
were halting company for the night. COL Bill Eckman came up and said we were
moving on, and move on we did, led by CQL Eckman. All night long we had to
reach Siegfred Line by morning. Feb 2nd we are at the Siegfred Line. The 504
was attacking the Line. I finally sat down in the snow bank; my feet & legs were
paining me something terrible. I had not had my jump boots off in weeks. I was
weak from losing weight. I found out later in hospital that I had lost 25lbs was
down to 145 from 17O#. As I removed my jump boots & socks my legs & feet
were all blisters and white as a ghost. They immediately swelled up. I could not
get my boots back on. About that time a wayward shell came in to scatter us out.
It sure did. My right wrist was cut up and a piece of steel was sticking out of the
back of my hand. There was no question at this point, now I had to get the hell
out. Finally got my socks on and jammed my feet into four buckle artics.
Wrapped something around my wrist. They told me the regimental aid station
was down the road. It sure was, about five miles and I struggled every step of
the way with my jump boots under my left arm.
Walked to the regimental aid station.
Ambulance to the 307th Med Station.
Truck to 4C Evac Hospital (Kay Follmer’s unit)
Ambulance to 9Vt Gas Treatment Hospital.
This was the first time I had been in a good bed since I was back in France. They got
me cleaned up and started medication. Two days later I was loaded on a medical train
car and headed for gay Paree.
Paris General Hospital. Pretty nurses I was bathed & rubbed. This was the first
time that I really figured that I would make it.
During the Bulge I had lost 60— 70% of my hearing, 25# of body weight, frozen
feet & legs, wounded wrist. I was a basket case. Few days later, 24-liter cases
loaded into fleet of ambulances, headed for C-47 at airport. Loaded & buckled
dawn. Beautiful sunny day. As we crossed French coast at channel, a huge
storm hit us. We were flying so low, the waves were splashing on the C-47
wings, wind was terrible. We finally cleared the water and made an emergency
landing on English coast. We almost lost it, landing, as we were slammed into
runway. We were then taken to an emergency hospital on coast. By next
morning weather had cleared, we were again loaded on plane flown west to area
of Boumemouth. Inland there were five (5) big General Hospitals that had been
set up for D-Day etc, near Blandford, England.
I was placed in a ward of about 35 wounded, most with frozen feet & legs. They
called it frostbite. It was clean, warm & dry. Every morning they would rollup our
blanket and sheet over our knees. Group of surgeons would come through
checking. Those whose legs or feet were turning black, were removed — legs
were hacked off and they were sent state side. LTC Vandervoort was in this
hospital group. There were many troopers from all units of the 82nd A/B Div. One
man from our company was there on way to states. By April we could get a pass
to get into town of Blandford. Jerome Russell, Vandervoorts jeep driver came
with his new bride to see Vandervoort. He stopped by to see me for a short chat.
Blandford was a small town, but Bournemouth was a coastal resort town. A big
pavilion at waters edge, dancing every weekend. Lots of nurses, English gals,
A very sad thing happened a short time later. I had gotten pass to go to
Bournemouth for weekend. I jumped on a double decker bus with stairs in rear.
A very nice young American nurse jumped on. We were standing at pipe rail,
hanging on and talking. Bus started around curve at a pretty goad speed. The
nurse lost her hold and fell from bus, she was sliding on her belly, her head
slammed into curb. She was killed in this terrible accident. I immediately caught
bus back to hospital at Blandford. That evening my nurse came in, asked what
was wrong. I told her of this terrible accident. She came back later and told me
that was true. She was a nurse in the hospital group. She sat a my bed and we
both cried. After a couple more days, my wrist was healed; feet & legs were
getting back to normal. My hearing was gone forever. But I was not gaining
back any of my lost weight. Entered rehab and moved from hospital ward to big
gym type living area. Got my discharge from hospital on May 7th to 1 Ott,
Replacement Depot. They said if war ends today or tomorrow, take extra five (5)
days more in delay in route. Which I did and spent time in Bournemouth. Great
time. Caught train to Replacement Depot. After a few days a great number of us were
trucked to channel. Crossed channel on LCR (landing craft railroad). It was very
rough seas. Got to France and loaded on 40&8’s. Traveled a few days heading
east. Crossed the Rhine River at Koln. Got to a Replacement Depot in Germany for a
few days. Back on train headed east to Elbe River area. As we neared that
area, we were moving slow in rail yards, when all of a sudden another train
heading west at slow pace. I hollered “F” Co, but they were gone. We unloaded
in area of Elbe River for a few days. Later again to railroad 40&8’s heading west,
ended up in a Replacement Depot in Verviers, Belgium. It was an old barn, edge
of town with half of the roof blown off and hay scattered around by our cots.
There were a number of 82nd people here waiting transportation back to 82nd A/B. After
a week or so, two trucks pulled in and we loaded out 32 of us, heading south.
Stayed in Luxembourg City overnight. Arrived at Epinal, France Saturday PM.
June 25th” I945. By now the old timers had just left to join the 507 and homeward