My personal account of
the Battle of the Ardennes.
By Malcolm M. NEEL
Btry A, 80th A.A.A. Bn,
82nd A/B Division.
This page is a tribute to my dear friend Malcolm NEEL. I met him for the very first time in September 1997 while he was with other 80ers. I visited Petit-Halleux with Mr. NEEL (my native village) where he had spent several days in december 1944 and we kept in touch for several years. He send me his personal account and gave me his written permission to use it, so it's time to honor him and to remember him. I'll never forget him.
I just watched a documentary on the P-47 in WWII. This reminded me of the time that I saw this planes in action. It was on Christmas Day, 1944. It had been foggy and cloudy that first week in the “Battle of the Bulge” (at that time we didn’t know that would be it’s name). As we came to the top of the mountain, the clouds opened up, and the first thing I saw was a muzzle blast of a cannon in the nose of a P-38, followed by other P-38s firing at something in the valley. These were followed by P-47s firing (strafing) and dropping bombs on the “target”. We couldn’t see that deep in the valley.
We had had a tough time that previous week. After Holland, around the middle of November, we were brought to the area of Suippes, France. We were put up in a two, masonry barrack of some old French camp. We trained, some got passes to Rheims, but I didn’t. On Sunday night, December 17th, we were watching a stage show when loudspeakers started calling certain officers: “Major JONES report to Division” or “Colonel SMITH report to HQ.” We knew something was up. Soon, we all went back to the barracks. All were talking and wondering what was going on. We went to bed and had hardly gone to sleep when about 1:00 A.M. we were aroused. Jim BELL was sent on detail to the range to get sandbags. I was sent to supply and drew ammo, rubber boots (artics), etc for me and BELL. I also packed his and my “A” bags.(this activity was carried on by other members of the platoon and through-out the Division). It took us all night. By daylight, Monday, December 18, we were all loaded in trucks and jeeps and ready to go. I was in a two and a half to 6x6, sitting next to the tailgate. It was raining lightly. One of the guys looked over at the paratroopers (in what we called “cattle truck”-semis with open top trailers) and said “Boy! I feel sorry for the first German those fellows get hold of.” The troopers were packed in, standing, with heads looking over the sides.
We travelled all day and all night. The left side of my face was caked with mud. By daylight, Tuesday, December 19th, we arrived in Belgium. Once when I saw the lieutenant’s map, I was able to locate where we were by terrain, narrow gauge railway by highway, etc. We were south of Basse-Bodeux and north of Houffalize.
Lieutenant BULLIS and I were sent to see if we could find a passable shortcut east of area we were supposed to go. There wasn’t any way we could get jeeps and guns through there. We had to stick to the highway and went around (north, then east, then south) and finally got to Petit-Halleux on the Salm river Wednesday, December 20th. We dug in the yard of a farm house on a hill overlooking the Salm River valley. This was my squad (first) and second squad of first platoon. The other six were sent north of us and crossed into Trois-Ponts with second battalion of 505 (we were learned later) and some were killed and some wounded. I’m not sure which day this was. I think it may have been Wednesday, 20th because Lt. McNEIL joined us the next day and told us what had happened.
That night, Thursday, Dec.21st I think, we were attacked. The troopers, who had crossed the Salm, fell back to the high ground we were on. Corporal SEDDON (our squad leader) put two of us on the north side of the farm house in front of a small shed . A machine gun pelted the shed barely over our heads. The attacking Germans were yelling (more like roaring) as they came down from other side of the river. This was the only time during the war I threw-up, waiting for them to come charging up our hill. What I didn’t know at the time was that the battalion Commander (or somebody) had planned it that way and when the Germans were in the valley, crossing the river, we opened up with everything we had (I didn’t because I didn’t see what to shoot and didn’t know what was going on anyhow). However, the 1st battalion, stopped them cold and they never reached our hill. I think that it was the next day that an “88” fired shells and hit a tree outside the farmhouse. Some of us were in the kitchen. I was talking with JENSON when suddenly he hollered and his mouth filled with blood. I was on the floor immediately and pulled him down with me. A second shell hit this time and fragment hit SEDDEN behind his left ear. He was reaching for his Thompson sub-machine gun. There was so much blood that I thought he was dead.
THE ONE I DIDN’T HEAR.
Après SEDDEN and JENKINS were hit (about Friday, December 22,1944), a guy we called “WHITEY” (never knew his name) started going berserk. He was saying crazy things. We were afraid he’d be dangerous to us in a combat situation, so CHADWICK and I decided to take him to Battalion Aid station).
As we started across a field, a German machine gun opened up on us. WHITEY broke away from us and ran down the hill. I dived behind a hedgerow (about twenty feet ahead). I looked back and CHADWICK was laying on the ground laughing. I motioned for him to join me because the machine gun was “searching and traversing”. I had trained as a machine gunner in the States and knew what was happening. “Searching” is moving up range, and “traversing” is back and forth. I knew in another few seconds he’d (the German) be up to where CHADWICK was laying.
CHADWICK said he’d never seen anything so funny as WHITEY running with his white hair flapping up and down.
We picked up WHITEY’s helmet, found him in a hole (6’x 6’x 6’ for mortor emplacement), his face muddy and bloody. We drug him out, dead-weight, no help from him and got him to Battalion Aid station.
The next day, Christmas Eve, we got orders to pull out that night. We were the only ones left on the front line. I later found out that we were sticking out like a thumb into German lines and MONTGOMERY had given orders to pull us back to straighten line.
Anyway, a few more mishaps. The gun’s wheels were frozen in mud where we had set it up. The jeep couldn’t pull it free, so we were boiling kettles of water on the stove at the farm house (same one where SEDDEN and JENKINS were hit). KIBBE was on way to gun when one of the wheels came free. The gun swept around and the barrel hit KIBBE in the knee. I think it was broken; he couldn’t walk. After we got the gun out, we tied KIBBE to trails and caught up with convoy.
It was a dark, cloudy night and black-out driving. CHADWICK was driving, Sgt. KISH was in center and Lt. McNEIL on the right. BELL was on top of all the packs and other baggage over back seat. KIBBE was tied to the gun trails, HEYDEN and I on apron hanging on to shield. We were cold and after catching up with the others, someone said there was room on the tailgate of the truck up ahead. HEYDEN and I got on the tailgate. I was dozing when HEYDEN said, “Hey! That jeep ran off the road!” The truck stopped and HEYDEN and I ran back to where the jeep had gone over an embankment. It was about forty feet high and steep. The jeep had hit bottom (concrete) hard enough to make a bow in the chassis. I first checked on KIBBE still strapped onto the trails. He was OK but I couldn’t get a word out of him. Then I started looking for BELL, didn’t see him, called and finally got a weak answer, “NEEL, I’m over here”. He had been thrown clean across paved school yard into side of brick school. He couldn’t move arms or legs. I was afraid his back was broken. It wasn’t Lt. McNEIL and Sgt. KISH had been thrown out of the jeep but were unhurt. CHADWICK had compound fractures in both legs and was in a great deal of pain. We gave him morphine and waited. We sent someone to see if they could find medics. Fortunately, there was an ambulance up ahead in the convoy. They brought stretchers and got CHADWICK and KIBBE. I never saw those two again. We were afraid to move BELL so KISH and I volunteered to stay with him while others went on. So we spent Christmas Eve in “no man’s land”. Luckily, there were no German around, although there had been a few attacks on the way before the accident. The paratroopers took care of them.
The next morning, the medics got BELL and a truck got the gun, KISH and me. We went to “A” Battery Headquarters. Even tough we fought with and as infantry, we were officially Coast Artillery Corps; therefore Battery, not Company. As soon as I got there, Capt. NELSON said, “NEEL, everybody gets turkey today and I told the cook to be sure and save some for you. Go back and get it and then report back to me.” I went to the “kitchen” and they gave me a big turkey drumstick. I reported back to Capt. NELSON saying, “Captain, my whole squad’s out and jeep’s wrecked so I guess you can use me in Headquarters.” I was hoping he’s say yes. But, instead, he said, “NEEL, I’ve got another jeep, gun’s O.K. and I’ve got five new replacements. We’ll put them in your squad. None of them have ever been in combat, but one of them is a corporal and he’ll be the official squad leader, but you’ll have to show them what to do. Also, you’ve got to move out right now and get to the top of that mountain and dig in before dark. By the way, you’ll be exposed to the enemy observation, so be careful.”
I checked out the new men. I was twenty years old, but talked with each one with a mean, disgusted look on my face. The only one whose name I remember is ELMORE. He was slightly stout and said, “I’m thirty years old, inexperienced and I’ll be a burden to you.” As it turned out, he was my most dependable man.
Well, we started up the trail up the mountain. In places the snow had frozen and we had to unhook and man-handle guns. Two jeeps in tandem could hardly make it by themselves. HEYDEN, who had been reattached to my squad, slipped on ice and sprained his ankle so bad that he couldn’t walk. We topped the mountain, the sky cleared and we saw P-38s and P-47s attacking something in the valley, couldn’t see what. I described this elsewhere.
We got the gun dug in as it was getting dark. I was glad. I had rather work in the dark than worry about being seen.
I was in this position two or three days later that I was standing near my foxhole, but not in it. A large mortor shell hit so close (about three feet) that I never heard it coming. The next thing I knew, I was on the ground with the breath knocked out of me. It had saved me from itself by knocking me up in the air and letting shrapnel go under me while I was suspended in air! That was all I got from the concussion. My “artics” (rubber boots) that had been sitting on my foxhole were torn to pieces. The row of little threes were torn up by shrapnel. That, I think was closest I ever came to being killed. There were other times, but that had to be the closest. I still thank God that He had other plans for me.
I was later in the same area, after about a foot of snow had fallen when Lt. McNEIL came crawling up to our position. He said, “NEEL, I’ve got good news for you.” I said, “We’re pulling out!!” He said, “No, but you’ve been made P.F.C.” I just barely caught myself before saying, “Shove it up your ass, Lt.” But settled for “to hell with a P.F.C. stripe. I want out of this.”
By Malcolm M. NEEL, A Btry, 80th Anti-aircraft A/B Bn, 82nd A/B Div.
Copyright © 2001-2011 Malcolm NEEL & Eddy LAMBERTY
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