134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
In the early morning hours of January 4, 1945, Company C, 134th Infantry Regiment launched an attack from the village of Marvie, Belgium. Moving through knee deep snow in the bitter cold they overran their objective and became trapped behind enemy lines. By the next morning less than 40 of the original 120 men made it back to friendly lines, although several others were able to return over the next several days.
The following is a first-hand account of that battle by Pfc Nathaniel Schaeffer, one of its survivors. After this account is a list of the 70 Company C men who were captured and held as prisoners of war. Five other men who were captured during that battle were later discovered by a Graves Registration Unit. They had been shot by the enemy while being held prisoner. Their names are also below, as are the 10 men who were killed in action during that battle.
Thanks to Nicholas Tuma from the Nebraska National Guard Museum for this interview with Pfc Schaeffer.
|As a matter of
personal record, I have been asked by Lt Col Dan E. Craig, Executive
Officer of the 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, to write
an account of the fateful events that beset Company "C", 1st Battalion,
on January 4, 1945 near Marvie, Belgium. At the time, Col Craig was
Battalion Commander while I was a reinforcement along with dozens of
others who hadn't experienced the realism of an attack
For those who are familiar with battle experiences as well as those who are not, it must be remembered that the same action as experienced and visioned by two different individuals are not alike. The extreme emotional element entering into the situation colors the impression that remains with one after going through an ordeal of such a type. The reader should also bear in mind that the majority of men comprising the company on this date were not as yet battle tested, it being our first attack. We were in effect, green, raw rookies. Therefore, I shall relate the details as best I can, remaining objective and relating only those things which I myself know as fact.
First, a background of "C" Company's events prior to January 4, 1945. When I joined the organization along with other reinforcements, the company with the rest of the Battalion had been relieved from combat by elements of the 44th Infantry Division. It was several days before Christmas. The 1st Battalion had glorified itself by crossing the Blies River and setting foot on German soil. Subsequently, they received the Presidential Citation for this, Company "C" receiving the Oak Leaf Cluster for their action in Habkirchen, Germany. About that time Von Rundstedt had launched his vicious counter-attack in the Ardennes which later proved to be the Nazi war machine's dying gasp for a bid to turn the tide of battle on the Western front. Things weren't going too well for the Allied Forces as the German army created a bulge that was growing larger from day to day.
Christmas day found the Regiment in Metz, France, enjoying a holiday feast while resting and recuperating from their work in Germany. At 0400, December 26, we were on our way north towards Belgium. We had been called upon to help stem the tide of the Von Rundstedt's crushing steamroller.
All this was new to most of us and we were undergoing multitudes of new experiences as we rolled north in sub-freezing weather. As the drama of a new phase of Company "C"'s history unfolded, we learned that our mission was to relieve an element of the beleaguered 101st Airborne Division who had so gallantly defended Bastogne and turned back Von Rundstedt's bid for success. I spent my first night in the Ardennes Forest close to the scene where the 4th Armored Division had established the only route of communication to the men in Bastogne.
On an early morning during the last few days of the waning old year of 1944, the 1st Battalion, Company "C" included, began a day long trek through woods which were being constantly shelled by the enemy. By late afternoon we had broken through and established contact with friendly 101st troops in the town of Marvie near Bastogne. I'll never forget the feeling I had as I double-timed across an open field to the outskirts of the city to evade enemy machine gun sniper fire. We had already sustained a few casualties from this source in the course of the day. My heart pounded as I watched our planes diving and strafing the "krauts" who were firmly dug in, in the surrounding areas. At last we entered the town and began relief of the airborne troops.
During the next few days we remained in a defensive holding position, expecting the "krauts" to counter-attack at any time in their effort to break the vise that was gradually tightening on them in pinching off the bulge.
In the meanwhile, the weather was turning more wintry from day to day as the snow began to fall almost daily. We were beginning to realize how much of an enemy the weather could be. Everything possible was done to keep us comfortable. We would relieve each other from our fox-holes every few hours so that we could return to a warm fire for hot soup or rations. Fighting the extreme cold was a battle by itself.
During the nights we got our first hand view of some of Herman Goering's Luftwaffe, as they returned to bomb and strafe Bastogne. Although not seen much by day, they still remained active at night as their power waned and we wrestled air superiority from them. However, they threw mortars and artillery barrages in day and night without a let up. We absorbed and withstood this punishment with some casualties.
At last, on the night of January 3, 1945, we were in turn relieved and assembled in the town of Marvie. Word was then received that we were going to attack at dawn of the morning of January 4.
I spent the night and early morning hours of that day taking my regular turn at security guard. It snowed all night but the "heinies" were undaunted. They kept throwing the mortar shells and artillery shells just the same. At about 0400 we received orders to "roll 'em up" - an expression that became as much a part of our movements as taking a drink of water. The faint light of dawn showed the new morn to be just another typical day so favorable for Von Runstedt. When we "jumped off", the snow and wind was driving in our faces and cutting visibility down to a minimum. We proceeded to move out in a column of two's with the last few words of advice from our superior officers clinging to us - "keep plenty of interval".
Our mission was to flush out some patches of woods and then dig in at a certain road that ran through one of them. Other companies of the Battalion had similar missions to perform that day. We left Marvie in semi-darkness with an occasional German flare to add to the eeriness of the breaking day. A terrific barrage came in on our right rear as we neared the woods. Luckily no one was injured and we continued on without a halt. We moved through one finger of woods without mishap. We labored through snow covered open field burdened down with equipment and ammunition. The snow at times was knee deep, but we kept doggedly moving forward. We passed some knocked out Nazi equipment which gave us evidence of the proximity of the enemy. Soon we had more. As we continued combing the woods, I heard a GI exclaim, "There goes a kraut"! We stopped momentarily and then pushed on. I then noticed "heinie" fox-holes all around me, but was too green to realize what that may have meant. As we reached a clearing, we could see what appeared to be the outline of a "kraut"vehicle refueling at a distance of several hundred yards. We were debating whether to push on or not when suddenly, like a bolt of lightening, the krauts opened up on us. A stream of hot lead struck us on our flank. German machine guns, 'burb' guns, rifles and 20mm guns rattled out their tatoo of death and injury. At the initial burst I saw one of our men on my left stagger and slowly sink to the ground. Weighted down by equipment he awkwardly assumed a reclining position on his left side while his life's blood gushed out in spurts from his severed jugular vein. He had received this mortal wound from a piece of shrapnel. His demise was hastened by his accelerated respiration due to the effort required in moving through the snow and dense forest. Immediately afterwards, a man to the right of me received a wound in the thigh. Cries of "medic" began to resound around me, casualty after casualty began to pile up. The medics worked like trojans trying to succor the wounded and dying. However, the casualties we sustained in a short period of time were so great, they were unable to render aid to all. As a result, some of the less seriously wounded men were told to administer self-aid while the more fortunate men began to assist those unable to help themselves.
While this was going on, the heavy fire continued. I could hear the occasional scream of painful anguish that rent the air as friend and enemy went down. In a brief space of time, we sustained approximately 35 casualties, not withstanding the heavy damage we inflicted upon the foe. In one instance, an entire squad was wiped out when an enemy 20mm shell burst in a defilade where they had sought shelter and cover. As the fire grew heavier I heard a piece of shrapnel whiz over my left shoulder where I had been crouching. It buried itself in the ground nearby. I began to dig in but it was impossible to use the entrenching tool effectively with all the missiles flying so close. I virtually was forced to claw at the earth, still soft, with my bare fingers in the effort to avoid getting hit. Finally, after what seemed like hours, the enemy fire lifted somewhat, and we were ordered to withdraw a short distance and start digging in to set up a line.
Our plight in the meanwhile had been radioed to our lines. As we eventually learned through this medium of communication, we had over-shot our objective by some 600 - 800 yards, became lost, stumbled into a nazi bivouac area, cut off from our line and surrounded by "krauts" and more "krauts". No one seems to be able to explain how it happened. Whether the snow and visibility had to do anything with it in changing the appearance of the terrain and our objective, or whether it was one of those queer quirks of fate that determines the outcome of the day's battle, remains an unsolved question mark to this very day. But that was the position Company "C" found itself in on the morning of January 4, 1945.
While we were setting up our line, word was received that several enemy tanks were approaching us. Our capable Battalion CO, sensing additional danger and not wanting to have any more losses of men, sent a direct order for us to withdraw into a 'safer' part of the woods. We hated to go. It meant leaving our seriously wounded buddies behind to a fate unknown. As we got ready to move I can still remember some of the men begging, imploring and entreating us not to leave them behind. I distinctively recall one man in particular. He had received four wounds, one being in a vital part, struggle to his hands and knees and attempt to follow us by creeping along on his fores. What a sight to see him finally collapse, unable to keep up. To carry him as well as the others was impossible due to the haste and urgency of carrying out the orders to evacuate the immediate area. Besides, we were taken up with the walking wounded who gauged the speed with which we were able to proceed. We were prodded constantly with word from the rear of the column of the approaching German tanks, substantiating the reports from our Battalion Commanding Officer. Finally, after what seemed like ages we came to another portion of woods, successful in eluding any further encounter with the enemy. Sporadic bursts of fire and individual shots could still be heard as we dispersed. Then began a period of waiting and "sweating it out", as our officers worked feverishly to extricate the remainder of the company from the dilemma we were in. It was during the afternoon that Captain Denny*, "C" Company's CO won the confidence of the new men. Despite the desperate straits we were in, he circulated among the men and with his calmness and assuring remarks, instilled renewed confidence in us, that somehow or other we would get out of our plight. I can't forget the remark he made to me in a jocular manner as he said, "Schaeffer, your nose is dirty". It was - I had practically burrowed into the wet earth in my effort to secure cover during the hectic morning. That single quip went a long way towards restoring myself to near equanimity.
The minutes ticked by into hours which seemed like days. The men stood around numbed and cold, conversing in low whispers as to our possibilities of getting back to our lines. The six PWs we had captured somehow in the morning's melee, remained in abject silence while under guard. I often wonder if they knew what the score was. The radio was in constant communication with Battalion as plan after plan was discussed for our escape. Meanwhile, our other enemy, old man winter, was taking his toll. The intense cold and fatigue from our experience was rapidly sapping the physical vitality of the troops. It snowed intermittently as the bitter cold pierced through our clothes. Some of us had gotten wet and cases of trench foot and frost bite were developing. Building fires for source of heat was out of the question. The ensuing smoke would surely have revealed our hiding place to the Germans. Very few felt hungry although some attempt was made to nibble on D bars for a little energy. For those who got thirsty, we scooped snow from the trees and allowed it to dissolve in our mouth. Our canteens had become frozen stiff, while others had consumed their water in aiding the wounded.
As the late afternoon waned into dark, an ominous silence settled over the troops as we waited to put into execution the plan finally decided upon to bring us back to safety. It was as follows: From the estimated coordinates we gave on our maps as to our possible location, it was determined that we were near the small town of Lutrebois. Although this town was half in Nazi hands and half in American hands, and still being hotly contested for by hand to hand fighting, we were to attempt to reach that town under cover of darkness. It was admitted however, that we had a 50-50 chance of getting into Lutrebois on the only road that was still commanded by the enemy. We were willing to gamble.
Darkness came and with it a further realization of the task and dangers that lay ahead of us. The order was given to assemble and line up in a column of two's, human chain fashion so as to not lose contact in the inky darkness. Friend and foe alike held on to each other as we started out after receiving final instructions. Occasionally, the cold moon broke through a rift in the clouds to cast its light on the snow. As we trudged through the crunchy flakes of ice, all that could be heard was the labored breathing of the men from the effort required. Out of the pitch black forest into an opening, around some more woods and then the road lay before us that led to our lines. Cautiously we moved forward. If we could negotiate this road without being discovered by the foe, we would have it made. Step by step the column probed its way further. All we could see on either side of us was snow covered trees and more snow covered trees. What lay therein, we had no inkling. We had worked our way onward about 100 yards when "brrrp, brrrp" crackled through the frosty still air. A German 'burp' gun opened up on our right flank. We had been spotted by a "kraut" outpost. With the opening burst the column halted momentarily, wavered and then dissolved into disorganization. I dropped to the ground at the sound of the automatic fire. Rolling through the snow I reached the edge of the woods and scrambled into it, enveloped by darkness. Complete disruption and disorganization of the men resulted from this time on. By chance I met up with 1st Lt Chappell, then Executive Officer of the company, at present Captain and Commanding Officer. He tried his utmost to reorganize the men around him and calm them down. But the psychological moment for control had passed and the situation resolved itself into the law of self preservation - "every man for himself".
May I insert my opinion here, that had the men paid heed to Capt Chappell, we would have sustained far less casualties that night than we did. By sticking together in a large group we would eventually have succeeded in working our way back to our lines. As it was, the men broke into small disorganized groups with resulted in their capture or surrender, while a small handful managed to get through.
Reverting back, after everyone sought cover in the forest, we started to receive fire from our let flank. One of our outposts facing the enemy, sensing danger opened up in answer. The result was that now we were caught between fire from friendly troops as well as that of the "krauts". Upon recognition of our M1 and machine gun fire, we hurriedly started to attempt contact with our troops. The group I managed to stick with had a radio. As we tried to contact our lines, many of the GI's virtually fell asleep in the snow from sheer fatigue, exhaustion and intense cold that had overtaken us. We had lost all track of time as the night wore on. At last, contact was obtained and we were told that we should be near friendly troops. Now the problem was to find them. Once more we started wandering through the pitch blackness and we hadn't walked 25 yards when I heard a babble of excited voices. At first I thought we had stumbled into the "heinies", but as I approached nearer I learned that we had reached the outpost of Company G. With a sigh of relief I quietly thanked God for sparing me on this day.
Explaining the circumstances, we learned that it was they who had fired on us. They couldn't tell whether it was friend or foe who had slipped into the woods. Glad that they didn't inflict any further casualties, they provided a guide for us to be taken to the company CP. Most of the men were successful in following the guide. A few of us, including myself, who were with some walking wounded were unable to keep up with the group. The wounded suffering from loss of blood and subsequent weakness made it difficult to maintain the pace, The aftermath was that we became detached and found ourselves lost once more. Up and down the trails we marched seeking contact. Providence was with us. We stumbled upon another sentinel on his post and were finally directed to a supply point. We waited there until conducted to the aid station in a chateau. The wounded were promptly given aid and evacuated while the rest of us were loaded aboard trucks and returned to Marvie, the scene of the start of these events. After getting some hot "chow" I looked at my watch and saw that it was 0300, January 5. In less than 24 hours we had become battle-scarred veterans of the "Battle of the Bulge".
In the morning when a count was taken of the men who managed to trickle in during the night, some 37 men were accounted for from the 120 who comprised the original task force that started out on the morning of the 4th. In the words of our able Battalion CO, Col Craig, "We accomplished an important mission which subsequently paved the way for further successes, but at a high cost of men to us". In true fashion of our Regimental motto "All hell can't stop us", -- all hell didn"t.
Pfc Nathaniel Schaeffer
Company C, 134th Infantry
*After the day's action was over it was found that Captain Denny was unaccounted for. He was subsequently listed as missing in action and for several months nothing was heard of him. Recently, we were all glad to hear that he had been liberated from a German PW camp and was recuperating from his ordeal in the United States.
Download a scanned copy of Pfc Nathaniel Schaeffer's interview
Company C men Killed in Action during this battle
Pvt William H. Burns, 34913540
2nd Lt James H. Copeland, O-1060742
Sgt Frederick H. George, 20721958
Pvt Alphonse A. Giunta, 33891633
Pfc Grady T. Hicks, 34812911
Pfc Sam Leone, 38652318
Pvt Jack W. McCullough,Jr, 36988655
Pvt Russell D. Stein, 33930577
Pvt Arlie Watts, 35843858
Pvt Joseph F Wimsett, 35078084
Company C men captured and taken prisoner during this battle (POWs)
Pfc Raymond H. Allen, 31464770
Pvt Harry J. Allison, 37641610
Pvt William L. Alton, 37635128
Pvt Frank J. Anuszewski, 33891686
Pvt Max B. Bartasavich, 33891613
Pfc Russell R. Blake Jr, 31425847
Pvt Bunnie W. Blalock, 34863194
Pvt William G. Blanchard, 34996076
Sgt Alvin J. Boutte, 38185585
Pvt D L Bozeman Jr, 34837012
Pvt Norman W. Bragg, 31466717
Pvt John W.Brantley Sr, 34837017
Pvt Robert P. Burke, 34837016
Pfc Glenn M. Burnett, 36621099
Pvt Willie B. Butler, 34836740
Pvt Chester R. Chrisman, 34913838
Pvt Fred L. Collins, 34924846
Pvt Robert H. Cowan, 34987935
Pfc James J. Cross, 37545133
Capt William M. Denny, O-404647
Cpl Harold W F Dorschner, 36260722
Pfc William C. Dushane, 36548313
Pvt Alfred Feher, 33891697
T/5 Rudolph U. Garland, 38476655
Sgt Wendell F. Hamman, 37726909
Pvt John F. Hinton, 36989006
Pvt Winston J. Hodgkins, 31471209
Pvt Herbert N. Hoppe, 36988592
Pvt Dale J. Hughes, 36989036
Pvt James F. Inglis, 42137624
Pvt Thadeus Kalinoski, 42103443
S/Sgt Robert M. Keene, 15055039
Pfc Troy O. Keyser, 15339516
Pvt Charles J. Kopriva, 33891710
Pvt Walter L. Kulikauskas, 36958341
Pvt Harold L. Lanb, 35079613
Pfc William J. Lyons, 37696237
1st/Sgt Dale M. McClara, 37085127
Pvt Homer V. Mosier, 37641724
Pvt George S. Mueller, 33891714
Pvt Louie E. Neighbors, 36989211
T/Sgt Markey Nezovich, 6896516
Sgt Ganzie L. Nicholas, 35807182
S/Sgt James O. Noland, 34707897
S/Sgt Johnnie Nosser, 34624553
Pfc Oscar L. Padgett, 34200550
Sgt Leonard R. Pelz, 35249206
Sgt Albert R. Petrocy, 35873959
Pfc Rodney R. Pritt, 35747895
Pfc Clair W. Reed, 13184741
Sgt Elmo S. Renoll, 13094013
Pfc Harry W. Richmond, 35833505
Pvt Charles M. Ricketts, 35813049
Pvt Milton M. Roth, 13185360
Pvt Martin W. Sawdy, 6152105
Pvt James R. Secord, 36989025
Pfc John C. Sheley, 35881776
Pvt James F. Silvia, 11018849
Pfc Raymond J. Smith, 35751512
Sgt George B. Stutts, 20810918
S/Sgt Claude M. Sutton, 36774226
Pvt Russell C. Switzer, 35836650
Pfc Howard D. Thomas Jr, 35085123
Pvt Frederick D. Thompson, 6883620
Pvt Thomas R. Tobey, 31462065
Pvt Albert Turek, 12231265
Pvt Robert L. White, 34837023
S/Sgt Horace E. Wiggens, 38079372
Pvt Leonard J. Wohlfort, 33891730
Pvt Harold Womble, 35842472
Company C men shot by the enemy while being held prisoner
Pfc David I. Bowen, 34794378
Pvt Russell J. Johnson, 36988980
S/Sgt Wilbur C Pyle, 18198599
S/Sgt Carl R. Sahli, 35588131
Pfc Robert L. Stone, 36974306
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