The men, mortars, and jeeps and trailers were gone. They searched the gun pits for some evidence of what had happened. While thus occupied, out of the woods stepped Lt. Mike Tolmie (Deer River, MN), only recently presented with a battlefield commission. Tolmie explained to his company commander that while in charge of the company, passing units were warning of the closeness of the enemy. When the fire mission was completed, Tolmie gave: 'March Order!" and directed the men to defensive positions nearby, to be held at all costs. The company was still intact and ready to move on order.
So, in short order, the move to Rocherath was completed and the town became the focal point of the defense.
The company moved into a protected area which had a strong house for shelter. Within minutes alter digging in the mortars, a German tank fired an armor piercing shell which passed completely through the house. It missed PFC Walter J. Henning (Montrose, NY), who was later killed in action, and PVC Ed Jones (Victory, WV) by inches, blowing them down a flight of stairs into the concrete cellar, without injury.
When the barrage subsided, Sgt. Bernard McDaniel (Slidell, LA) was checking the mortar positions for damage. Sgt. Feldman was doing the same. When he saw McDaniel, he hollered, "What are you doing out here?!" McDaniel stopped in his tracks framing a reply with his lips. At that instant an enemy round hit exactly in the spot where McDaniel would have been had he not stopped to answer the question. Luckily it was a dud but it showered both men with mud, ice, and snow and they made a swan dive through a window back into the house.
All that night the position was shelled. Enemy tanks had moved much closer. The rumble of their motors and tracks could be heard above the gunfire.
Just before daylight, the Germans mounted another attack. By noon it was apparent that another move was imminent. To gain time for the withdrawal, Lt. Lindsey again called for a protective curtain of fire, this time on two German tank locations. For over an hour the men of Company C fired their mortars, traversing 180 degrees and down nearly to minimum range.
By dusk the town had to be evacuated. Company C's mortars spoke in a final mission at the lowest range the company had ever fired, 780 yards, against panzer tanks. Then came the order to move. And Company C, for the third time in less than 3 days, got out safely. The little unit moved to an assembly area near Butgenbach awaiting orders to a new firing position.
Nothing has been said thus far about the job of ammunition resupply. For some reason, known only to history, tons of 4.2 mortar shells were located in a 1st Army ammo dump north of Malmedy. Ably assisted by Headquarters, 86th Chemical Battalion Ammunition Section, under the most adverse conditions, including ice, snow, muddy roads, where there were roads, and enemy infiltrators, the company supply section maintained a steady flow of ammunition which allowed the company to carry out its critical mission.
A final note, the company mortars were at one time located in a well defiladed position near a dam, and were able to support both the 1st U.S. Division and the 2nd Division. And support them they did superbly, for which it was awarded the Belgian Fourregiere. All of the officers excepting the C Company Commander and his Executive Officer were deployed as forward observers with defending units of the two divisions. They included, in addition to those already mentioned, the following:
Lt. Morris Chertkov (Chevy Chase, MD), Lt. William T. Greenville (Kensington, MD (a VUOB Past President), Lt. George L. Murray (Anniston, AL), Lt. Bliss Price (Plymouth, MA) and Lt. John C. Wall (Edgewood, MD).
Most of all the men of C Company, the mortar crews, were valiant in this battle. They are: Eugene E. Dozych (Lemont, IL), William Corcoran (Philadelphia, PA), C. Ferrand Cumpton (Columbia, LA), Benton Dillard (Rayville, LA), James L. Ferguson (College Park, LA), Glen W. Forbes (Orrstown, PA), Rolland H. Griffith (Houston, PA), Stanley F. Guzik (Chicago, IL), Joseph Jindra (Ilouston, PA), John J. Kellett, Vincentown, NJ), Walter C. Klingenmeyer (Racine, WI), Leeward J. LeBeauf (Montegut, LA), John C. Kretz (Pittsburgh, PA), Marvin P. Lemoine (Metairie, LA), Harold F. Nehmer (Gladstone, Ml), Joseph O'Donnell (Burlington, VT), Phillip Riccobono (Ocean City, NJ), Clarence D. Seamster (South Boston, VA), Elmer C. Wallace (Leander, LA), James C. Whitaker (Toledo, OH), Fields V. White (Alexandria, LA), Harold E. Wickman (Gardner, MA), Salvador J. Zanco (New Orleans, LA), Edward J. Lane (Palm Harbor, FL) and Bernard McDaniel (Slidell, LA).
And, of course, the real heroes of Company C are the mortar men mentioned in this piece and those not mentioned because of the passage of time. This, and all other battles that this unit was engaged in were successful because of outstanding teamwork--the hallmark of victory in battle.
Charles B. MacDonald wrote in his book, A Time for Trumpets, "Between 13 and 19 December, 1944, the 2nd U.S. Division had penetrated a heavily fortified section of the West Wall, then executed an eight-mile daylight withdrawal while in close contact with the enemy and assumed defensive positions at the twin villages in another direction. There they came immediately under heavy attack, held the villages for two days and nights while troops of the 99th Division streamed through, and then broke contact and withdrew to new positions on the Elsenborn Ridge." It was, as the division commander, General Robertson, noted, "a pretty good day's work for any division. Leavenworth would say it couldn't be done, and I don't want to do it again." He was not alone in this assessment, for the commander of the First Army, General Hodges, told Robertson: "What the 2nd Division has done...will live forever in the history of the United States Army."
What the 2nd Division had done was to block an attack by Sepp Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army constituting the main effort -- the Schwerpukt -- of Hitler's offensive. That main effort had failed to get more than three to four miles beyond the German frontier and had failed to open three of the five routes assigned to the 1st SS Panzer Corps for the drive to the Meuse.
As a post script, special mention is made of the following: the Battalion Commander, LTC (Brig Gen USAR) Wesley B. Hamilton (Tacoma, WA) and the oldest living general officer of the U.S. Army, Maj. (Col. USAR) James J. Doyle (Houston, TX), his Executive Officer, the Adjutant, (LTC USAR Ret.) John B. Deasy (San Francisco, CA), the Adjutant, John Sawka (Scranton, PA), also of battalion headquarters who led the ammunition detail night and day without rest to insure delivery of mortar rounds, and Raymond C. Sylvester, of Battalion Headquarters, who was responsible for keeping the trucks operational under most adverse conditions.
I enjoyed putting this piece together and give credit to an article prepared by the Public Relations Office, Headquarters, European Theatre of Operations, and to Charles MacDonald's outstanding book A Tune for Trumpets. I dedicate it to the memory of Sgt. Walter J. Henning (Montrose, NY) and Cpl. Ralph Spaggio (Easton, PA), mnemnbers of Company C who made the supreme sacrifice in the Battle of the Bulge.
May they rest in peace.
-- Harold Fischgrund