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article number 126
article date 05-08-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Staff Sergeant William H. Congleton, 10th Armored Division, US Army
by Chuck Knox

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of the many interviews conducted by Chuck Knox for his book, The Muted Trumpet’s Call. The Muted Trumpet’s Call and another Chuck Knox book, The Sound of Distant Drums contain writings and interviews of many soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam, Panama and Gulf Wars. They make a great book to leave out for casual short readings. You can type “Chuck Knox, The Sound of Distant Drums” into your search engine to find Amazon and other sellers who carry this book.

Story starts with an in depth description of his trip to France and a discussion of the position of the Allied forces after the Battle of the Bulge.

(We join this article a few pages in) … All of us, of course, sweating out when we were going into the fight.

Then came the break we had been hoping for. The first platoon was to go to Falquemont where division headquarters was set up, and act as “palace guard” (guard division headquarters). It was definitely a break because even if our outfit was committed, we would stay in the rear and guard division. So for two weeks we did nothing but pull two hours of guard duty every night. Falquemont was 19 miles behind the lines and at night we could see artillery flashes and hear low rumbling. After two weeks of this we joined our company and moved to Peltrie, France. Here we got a week of training with the tankers, simulating attacks and defense, studies and lectures on enemy weapons and armored tactics. While here, Hedrick, the old squad leader, came back from the hospital. Also, while at Peltrie, Day and I got an 8 hour pass to Metz and immediately on arrival there were picked up by M.P.’s because our CO had not issued written passes. We spent six of our eight hour pass in the Provost Marshal’s office and the other two in the Red Cross under guard. Needless to say, the incident didn’t improve the popularity of M.P.’s with us a bit.

At mid afternoon February 19th, Yost, our platoon sergeant, came upstairs to the 1st platoon CP and told us to mount up, that we had been committed. Within an hour, we had all our equipment on the track and were ready to go. The first rifle squad left ahead of the others for Metz where we were to be road guides for the rest of the division. Then as the rest of the outfit passed through that evening, we followed in behind them.

Someplace between Metz and Kerling that night (incidentally it was a pitch dark night and of course we were traveling blacked out) Joe got a little too close to a ditch and piled us over in it. It finally took a tank recoverer to get us out, then he pulled us out over a foot thick tree and broke our front axle. Nevertheless, we could still travel under our own power so we limped on—all alone--- since our convoy was a couple hours ahead of us. Just before we got to Kerling, the Krauts threw a couple rounds of heavy stuff over our heads and it hit a few hundred yards on the other side of us. It sure woke Connors and Leveret up in a hurry but I was fool enough to think it was some of our stuff going out. We finally got to Kerling at six in the morning and joined our company. Spent all that day cleaning weapons for something we were pretty sure wasn’t too far off now. That night Day and I found a nice dry haymow so we really got some good sleep for a change.

At eight the next morning, the 21st, we left Kerling and started following the 94th Infantry which jumped off early in the morning at Borg. They were moving good, leaving burning villages and dead Krauts behind them—and a few GI’s. Sometime during the day we moved into Germany and it seemed the countryside immediately became more beautiful. It was rolling with a lot of fir timbers and green hillsides. Shortly after leaving Borg we passed through the dragon’s teeth and glimpsed the evidence of a big fight here. But it had happened some five weeks previously when our boys had lost Borg to the Krauts during the Bulge.


At five that evening we entered Partz, Germany, even while it was still burning, were assigned billets, and immediately out posted the town. Partz was deserted except for a few cows and chickens which we soon made good use of. We got a cow for our squad and were doing OK by her until someone else decided they wanted fresh milk and swiped her from our barn one night. We stayed at Partz for three days while the 94th was having some trouble taking Saarburg and getting a bridge across the Saar. While we were there, Joe took our track back to get the axle fixed and the rest of us out posted the town and tried to clean up some. We had four batteries of 105’s there, working all the time so we were getting used to artillery—outgoing at least—through we jumped every time a round went out.

The afternoon of the 24th we got battle orders. We were to cross the Saar River in boats, establish a bridge head and hold it until our engineers could get a bridge in. Every bridge they had put in so far had been blown out. The 61st was to cross first and move to the right and then the 54th to go straight, and the 20th last and move left after crossing. We were told to carry a bedroll and rations for four meals. This really looked like “it”. We also took all our weapons and all the ammunition we could carry. We left Partz by vehicle to a dismount point, then in combat formation, on foot, we started toward the river. As we got close to it we ran into groups of prisoners as well as dead Krauts and GI’s in a small village about half a mile from the river.


As soon as we left the town we ran into it; 88’s, mortars, and sniper fire, all coming from across the river. As I learned later in combat, the fire wasn’t too heavy but to me, a green replacement, it seemed like the whole German Army was working on us. As we left the town, we split into two columns some 200 yards apart. Boerman, myself, Day and Connors, in that order were in the north column. We would move about 40 yards then stop until the assault boat took its load of eight across the river, then come back for more. By the time we were half way across the open field between the village and the river, the 88’s and mortars were pretty well zeroed in and were coming pretty close. I’d heard one hit in the column to our right and several men were crying for medics. While I was mulling this over, one hit in our column just in front of Boerman and hit the fellow in front of him in the back. As long as I live, I’ll never forget his cries for help. The same shell had thrown mud and rocks on Boerman and me as, by the time the explosion reached us we were on the ground. At first, I had hit the ground the instant I heard a shell whining in, no matter how close it was, but I noticed Boerman only hit the ground once in a while when one was really close, so I started watching him and dropping only when he did—probably only because in my subconscious mind I was fool enough to want someone to think I was cool in combat. Though I know no one was watching my skin and the safest thing to do was drop every time.

It is impossible to describe one’s feelings during a shelling, especially the first one. Emotions are all mixed up and seem to react to abnormal. For instance, a person can actually feel himself trying to draw his body all up under his helmet. Silly, but it is true. Later in combat I tried proving one of my thoughts, so during a heavy artillery barrage, I threw my raincoat over my head, and actually felt much safer, though I certainly wasn’t. Then there is the feeling of fear. I know, as does anyone who has had his “Baptism of Fire,” that I was as scared that night as I have ever been and am likely to be; but, all the traits of fear were absent. I wasn’t panicky, nervous, or otherwise unnatural except possibly I lacked consciousness of some minor things, such as not realizing I was lying in ice cold water in a furrow until Day told me about it. I guess so many things become unimportant when one’s life is at stake. On this night and on future occasions when I know I was really scared, I never shook a bit until after it was all over, then my knees really beat out a tune.


Finally our turn in the boat came around and fortunately all our squad got in the same load. The engineer guiding it told us each to grab a paddle and go to it which was something we didn’t have to be told twice. We wanted to get out of the open—in a hurry. In fact, Connors was so anxious to get going he didn’t wait to find a paddle and starred using his rifle. Someone reminded him of it and the incident helped ease the tension anyway. I got across the river with nothing closer than a near miss and landed in the middle of a barbed wire entanglement and mine field; but by going upstream a few feet we found a cleared place marked by the engineers with white tape. So we worked through this and up a steep grade to a railroad where our CO told us to cross the track and assemble and organize at the crest of a very steep and high hill on the other side.

We crossed the track in a hurry and low since tracers were spitting down in, then started up the hill. We felt like we could breathe a little easier here because neither artillery nor mortars could very easily reach us on the hillside. The hill was so steep we had to rest often and help each other in numerous places. Under normal conditions it would have been impossible to climb it with all the ammunition and weapons we carried, but the added incentive of a few 88’s in the river moved us on. The grapevines there helped some too, in giving us hand holds. We finally got to the top; we had a little rest then were told to dig in. When we had our holes nearly dug, the order to move came. We marched in open combat columns along a winding hill road until we came to a small town of Dekfen at 5 AM, encountering nothing more than scattered artillery and the noise still going strong down by the river. We out posted Dekfen and found us a room in a knocked out house and piled up for some sleep. The minute I lay awake before sleep came, I guess I reviewed the night’s happenings and realized I’d at least gained a bit of experience. Because I could tell now by the whine of a shell fairly accurately how close it was coming.

Counting noses the next morning revealed that we had lost eleven men from the company. So far as we knew no one had been killed and two of the eleven hadn’t even been hit, they just took off for the rear. Casualties were considered light. We spent all day snooping around town picking up edibles and any other junk that proved interesting. DeBin picked up a Kraut version of our M-1; Day found an Italian carbine; both threw them away the next day when we started leaving again. We watched the 61st take a couple of pill boxes in the afternoon and learned some about that. We were constantly hoping they would get a bridge in and our tracks and some tanks over to us.

That night Connors, Hedrick and Miller were called out to take a group of about thirty prisoners back across the river. It wasn’t dangerous work especially but to Connors it meant everything because like most of us, he well remembered how hot it was back by the river. Among the prisoners was a little old woman that looked a lot like Mammy Yokum of Lil’ Abner comic strip fame, so Connors immediately tacked the name to her. Along the way to the river, Mammy got her girdle twisted or something went wrong under her skirt and Connors, on the alert and deeply impressed by basic’s teachings of Kraut treachery, immediately assumed she was fishing for a hand grenade, so he pulled her out of the ranks and started a thorough search from the bottom up, ignoring all standards of etiquette or anything else. Mammy promptly smacked him. I guess there wasn’t any grenade there anyway and Connors was thoroughly squelched.

The morning of the 26th we marched in combat formation to Irsch, only two miles away, without any trouble. We expected some resistance at the edge of the town but the Krauts moved out as we moved in. In fact, the first house we went into had breakfast waiting on us, still hot, candles still burning It was my first taste of German bread, which isn’t much good but did taste good that morning. The house we were billeted in was amply stocked with ham, chicken, eggs, all kinds of canned fruits and cows so we lived pretty high that day and night. While we were searching houses the Krauts threw a few rounds of mortar in on us and shelled us moderately that night, but none came very close.


The next morning our half-tracks finally got across and we mounted up on the 20th Armored Infantry tracks. On the edge of town we picked up our tanks, formed the task force and swung into C.C.R. (Company Combat Reserve) position for attack. A few miles from Irsch our column stopped. Artillery was bursting all around us and we never knew which was our guns or the enemy’s. “Short Stuff” Hodges and I were sent out some 100 yards to our left as flank guard. We found a hole which was a little farther out than the other flank guards but since it was there we decided to use it. Some Kraut observer saw us crawl into it and every time we’d stick our heads up to look around (which we had to do because we knew there was enemy in the woods beside us) they’d throw an 88 at us. They wasted a lot of ammunition on us that day—must have shot at us a couple dozen times. The closest one was about two feet from our hole. It showered us good with dirt and scared us to death but didn’t hurt us. Someone had told me the Krauts wouldn’t waste an 88 on one man; but I found out they were damned liars. Of course, they were working on our vehicles on the road all the time too, and finally got two tracks. They also wounded our Bn. C. O., Colonel O’Hara, the best C.O. we ever had.

We’d been up there on guard for about two hours when a Kraut M.G. opened up in the woods. About four of our 50’s from the vehicles cut loose on them and 63 Germans walked out of the woods with their hands up. They were about half way out of the woods with their hands up. They were about half way to our column when an 88 started shooting at them; evidently their own men were mad because they gave up. A couple of them were hit. After seven hours in that hole, Short-Stuff and I decided to run for it. The 88 shot at us twice while we were running for our track but just as we got there, the column started moving and we climbed on. Red, of Hdq. Squad, cracked up while on flank guard closest to Short-Stuff and me. The Krauts were trying hard to hit the vehicles now and for the next few days we were under constant shell fire. Late that evening Skaff (Mortar Squad) dumped his track over in a shell hole, scratched some of them up, and disabled the track; and Nelson (2nd rifle squad just behind us) hit a mine and blew the front of his track off. So the 1st platoon was cut down some.

We kept driving until midnight, then left our tracks and with one assault gun we went afoot to a small town and assembly point. Connors was first scout that night and I was second so we were both pretty nervous. Half the time Connors had dropped behind to investigate something and I found myself in front of everyone else. Fortunately we took the town by surprise with no shots fired and came out with a few prisoners. The next morning I made one of the prisoners we had dig a hole for me, the best I had during the entire war; and we spent the day in our holes while the Krauts shot at us. About four that evening we mounted up and moved out under constant fire, some very close. By ten that night we had pulled up on a hill just outside Trier with the entire task force packed around us. We were warned of a possible counterattack, dug in, and went to sleep. At 1 A. M. we were awakened by air bursts just over Day’s and my hole, and all kinds of small arms fire. I stuck my head up and couldn’t see where I could help much outside so we just stayed down. Presently all was quiet and I went back to sleep. About 30 Krauts had tried to counter-attack and had been firmly pushed out.


The plan now was to drive into Trier at 4 A.M. but some new Major we had got balled up so we were still there at daybreak, March 1st. We crawled out of our cold holes and forced a little K-ration down while the morning remained as still as death. It was nearly 7:30 before we got the order to mount up. Day and I climbed in first—sitting on opposite sides and facing each other. DeBin sat down beside Day, and our platoon medic sat beside me. Beside the driver and his assistant we were the only four in the track, the rest standing outside and in their foxholes. About that time a tank cranked up its motor and all hell broke loose.

The first shell was a direct hit on the tank, a split second later a blinding flash and deafening explosion enveloped our track. We had been hit directly, dead center, and shell, gas tank, bazooka ammunition we carried, and other loose ammunition all exploded at the same time. I faintly recall seeing Day slump forward; the next thing I remember, I was lying about ten feet from the track on the ground. I’ll never knew whether I climbed out or was blown out of the track, but it seems I’d remember if I had climbed out; also I was bruised up for a few days as if I’d hit the ground pretty hard. Our track was burning fiercely, the one next to us had been hit and shells were hitting everywhere. I was scared half out of my senses and when Hedrick, over in a depression, motioned to me, I ran over. He said we could do nothing now so we took off for safer places. We finally stopped running about 400 yards down hill where the other men and vehicles were to get away from those 88’s. I sat down, smoked a pack of cigarettes in about 15 minutes. Someone had pulled Day and the driver out of the track. Day was seriously wounded in the back and neck. I never saw him. The driver was badly burned. The assistant driver, Short-Stuff, and Miller were instantly killed. DeBin was hit slightly in the head, Stevens got a broken arm, and the rest of us were shaken up and had powder burns all over us. Connors and I were the only two of the squad that didn’t go back to the hospital. We went back a few miles with Battalion Headquarters while the rest of our company went into town fighting.

Connors and I did nothing that day but dodge 88’s. We would no more get dug in one place than the Krauts would start shelling around us. I’ll bet we dug a dozen holes that day. Several hours after we got hit we learned what had hit us. There was a battery of four 88’s and a dozen 20 mm ack-acks manned by nearly a hundred Krauts not more than 350 yards from where we had spent the night. They had been there all night watching us and none of our C.O.s had brains enough to send out a patrol when we got there the night before. A single T.D. (tank destroyer) knocked out the guns and crews—after they had done the damage. We knew they had been close because there was no warning whistle of the shells before they hit, but we didn’t realize they were that close. Our company got part way into Tier—suffered heavily in men and equipment—and withdrew for the night. Connors and I found a barn and went to sleep that night dreaming of “88-Hill”. Very little sleep came that night however.

The morning of March 2nd found us in better shape, and after heating some coffee, we bummed a ride to the outskirts of Trier and our company. We pushed into Trier with very little trouble and held it. …

… The article from the Chuck Knox book continues with fierce and changing action.

William Congleton was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.

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