For six days the Germans had been on the offensive. The “Battle of the Bulge” or, as the Jerry H. C. called it, “Operation Grief,” was going well but not for the Allies. The enemy had penetrated VIII Corps sector in considerable depth toward St. Vith-Bastogne. “Serious but not critical” was the military analysis of the situation and the American Armies were moving to meet the attack in “The Ardennes.”
General Patton’s 80th Infantry Division and 4th Armored Division were committed to action in a counter attack against the south flank of the St. Vith-Bastogne salient. Operation Kodak sought to confuse the German radio intelligence as to the real location of these divisions by creating radio deception in an area southeast of their actual sectors. The area chosen for the radio deception indicated that the two divisions were acting as a reserve in case of an extension of the German counter attack through Echternach.
Kodak was strictly a radio show and the men of the 406 went along on the one night stand to make certain that the performers would not be disturbed. Each squad was assigned a radio truck to protect.
By late afternoon, Dec. 22nd, the signal trucks were all on location. That night the radios hummed and the engineers kept a vigil. A few hours before daybreak an artillery barrage opened up. Most 406 vehicles [?] had it turned over, comfortable in the thought that at last “we were giving them hell.” Not so, the 5th Inf. doubted. [?] They packed and got ready to pull out – knowing that those guns were not going but coming.
Dawn broke bright, crisp and clear Dec. 23rd. It was excellent flying weather, the first clear day since Von Runstadt’s push had started and the men watched the skies and waited.
Soon they came, planes by the hundreds and to the ground watchers, the vapor trails were spelling out victory against the winter sky.
During the morning, orders came to return to Luxembourg City. The problem was over and everyone hoped that Christmas would be spent in the Little Capital that they had enjoyed so much.
Appraisal of “Operation Kodak” is difficult. Events were moving too fast for the enemy to be long deceived. However, any confusion to the German and the resultant delay it would produce, would be beneficial to the U. S. cause at that crucial time.
Upon returning to the Seminary, the company found that its quarters had been taken over by troops that had moved up with Patton’s Third Army. All that was left was one large room on the top floor and the Chapel hall.
The second and third platoon spread out in the hall while Headquarters and the first platoon occupied the upstairs chamber. Capt. Rebh and his officers turned the former barber shop into a grand suite and draped their bed rolls on the floor.
Men going out on pass found that the pass situation had tightened considerably. During the company’s absence from the city, a ten o’clock curfew had been imposed and all troops were required to travel in groups of two or more men. These restrictions were precautions against German behind-the-line agents.
Christmas Eve found the men all set to celebrate the birth of the King of Peace. However, it was neither a peaceful nor silent night but until nearly curfew time was without incident for the 406th.
Just about homing time, the M. P.s mistook a brotherly act, on the part of one soldier for another, as a fight. The military cops ran them both in to see the Provost Marshall.
When their comrades found out what had happened to the two buddies, they visited the P. M. The officer in charge listened to their arguments on behalf of the two prisoners and then clapped them all in the G. I. pokey. In no time a goodly part of the first platoon was on the books.
Time and passes were running out, so a truce was declared and Sgt. Harold Anderson was sent to the seminary for an officer.
At the seminary, Lt. George Daly was rooted out of his bed roll and asked to come to the rescue. 1st Sgt. Toth decided to accompany the platoon leader, just to add a little weight to the arguments, should the need arise.
Things were really swinging when the Lieutenant arrived at the P. M.s Bobbie Piazza was squared off before five big M. P.s that he had lined up against the wall. While menacing the five brutes, he exclaimed to the Provost Marshall, “We’re combat engineers! We’ve built bridges from Normandy to Germany. What have you done, sir?”
The arrival of the lieutenant and 1st sergeant heightened the spirit of the incarcerated men. They listened eagerly as the two newcomers told the Provost Marshall off, and heartily agreed when Lt. Daly sent Sgt. Anderson back for Capt. Rebh after he and the 1st Sgt. Had been placed under arrest.
Back went the Sgt. and quickly returned with the Capt. Not for nothing had Capt. Rebh spent many hours browsing through the A. R.s He soon had the problem in hand.
The men were released and returned to the Seminary where they licked their wounds and wished the Provost Marshall something a little stronger than the Season’s greetings.
Christmas Day everyone’s mouth was set for the large birds that had been stacked neatly with the rations the day before. But, alas and alack, the mess received orders that they might have to move at a moment’s notice and, so, the turkeys were returned to the quartermasters. Xmas dinner would have to wait for a more convenient time.
The spirit of the day was not lost, however. Moving church services and the warm wishes of their Luxembourg comrades made the men realize that they had acquired during their stay a very desirable possession, the friendship of a delightful people.
At 1100 hours, December 26, 1944, the 406th Engineers climbed into their trucks and, for the last time, departed from the Seminary. Destination was Verdun and during the fifty mile trip, the men noted that the roadsides that had been clear last September were now lined with ammo dumps.
Locating the proper billets was a bit confusing in the Fortress City. The convoy first drove into the grounds of a typical French caserne. Buildings were assigned and then began a mad running to and fro to secure stoves, beds and mattresses for everyone’s convenience.
Furnishings were just about set when news came that the convoy was in the wrong caserne. The right one was a far less pretentious affair directly down the hill from the present one. The order was given that the newly acquired fittings could be taken to the correct barracks provided they were loaded on the trucks.
This order caused an amazing transformation. What had entered the enclosure as a trim military convoy left the grounds resembling a gypsy caravan that was making off with all the old second hand furniture of France.
The new barracks were one story buildings surrounded by a ten foot wall. So well ventilated were these structures, that everyone expressed the wish that there would be neither rain nor snow during the stay there. Some men had an enchanting view of the sky from their bunks.
The newly obtained stoves were soon set in place and proceeded to fill the room with smoke. Everyone was driven out of doors again. It was a question: which was worse, the cold or the smoke.
Von Rundstedt was still going strong and so a portion of 23rd’s troops were assigned to guard a road block and a radio station. The road block was at the entrance to the city and “was not a bad deal.”
Guard at the radio station was frigid. The transmitters were located on a height overlooking Verdun. It was a cold windswept place and the night guards had to keep walking or freeze. Brass monkeys wouldn’t have stood a chance there. Fortunately, the guards were changed every day, so no one had the job more than once during the Verdun stay.
For those not occupied, there were evening passes until ten o’clock. The night life of Verdun was tried and found wanting. But since it was France, cigarettes and chocolate were once more a medium of exchange. Many a man replenished his exchequer while on pass.
So that his men would get the full value of Verdun, Capt. Rebh organized a sightseeing tour of the famous battle sites that surrounded the city. On the trip, the men viewed the imposing Verdun memorial and the numerous forts that had been manned by the heroic defenders during World War I.
True to form New Year’s Eve came soon after Christmas Eve. This time there was no trouble with the M. P.s and all toasting was done in the barracks at midnight. That is, all except for Pfc. Bearl Donnelly, Pvt. Dan Foley and an unknown soldier. They decided to make a night of it.
About midnight the three revelers were attracted by the strains of music coming from a hostelry. Investigation led them to a party in full swing in an officers club. A little fast talk and the trio was past the doorkeepers and among the merrymakers.
Once inside, the men were royally treated by the myriad of brass that filled the rooms. They discovered that the more harrowing they made their combat experiences the faster the drinks came.
When they tired of telling tales, a new technique was adopted. Some tipsy person, who just ordered a bottle, was engaged in conversation. As the chatter became more palsy walsy, one of the boys would start stroking the neck of the bottle. A few minutes later, amid much buddy talk, the three would take their leave with the bottle now firmly in the hands of its caretaker.
The New Year was about one hour old and the unknown member of the three had decided to take five with his head resting on the table, when Capt. Rebh and Lt. Aliopulos entered the club.
Season’s greetings were exchanged between the men and their officers. Augmenting his felicitations, the Capt. Suggested that the two men return to camp. There was a little discussion about this thought and some time later the two officers left the club, once more suggesting that the E. M.s call it a night. Meanwhile, the napping member remained incognito as well as non-compos mentis.
Somewhat later, the three men left the club and made their way back to the caserne. Yes, the banjo played bright and early in the year of Our Lord 1945.
New Year’s Day, S/Sgt. Terry and his staff made up for the Xmas dinner that the men had missed in Luxembourg City. They served a meal that most civilians in America could only dream of. “Delicious and beaucoup” best described the repast.
Campaign Verdun was brought to a close when the entire organization departed on January 6th, 1945. The 406th crossed the I. P. at 1300 hours and arrived at Metz, forty five miles away, at 1700 hours. “Operation Metz II” was on the fire.