Dec. 16, 1944: All hell broke loose!
With lightning speed and savage fury, von Rundstedt's forces rolled forward on the heels of a pulverizing artillery barrage. Using tanks and infantry in battalion spearheads, the fanatic Wehrmacht hurled its full force against the entire arc of the 99th Div. front. Outposts and front-line companies reeled under the blow. The final effort of the Nazi war machine was under way.
Striking in the same place where in 1940 the French and British forces had been driven to defeat, the German's knew every road and hillock of the countryside before them.
Von Rundstedt's plan was simple: to strike a thinly-held line of a green, untried division with an overpowering force. Behind the 99th was the highway to Eupen; paratroopers would drop there in strength. Panzers would follow SS troops, hook up with paratroopers, and strike for Liege before the Americans could shift their forces.
The initial weight of the attack fell on the 393rd Inf., holding the center, and on 1st Bn. 394th, maintaining the right of the division line. The blow was parried but the Germans came on—wave after wave. Each successive thrust was beaten off with greater difficulty. As platoons, companies and battalions faced the terrifying prospect of being cut off and hacked to pieces, many Checkerboarder heroes stepped forward.
When the ring of German steel tightened around Co. C, 393rd, a makeshift relief of cooks, KPs, and Anti-Tank Co.'s mine platoon was sent to the rescue. Enroute, artillery blasted them from their vehicles, pinned them flat in the snow only 200 yards from their goal. Casualties mounted. It was time for inspired action or the situation was helpless.
Lt. Harry Parker, Johnson, Vt., leader of the relief squad, rose to his feet. "Hell, there's no use lying here and getting killed," he said. As the lieutenant advanced, every man moved forward, although no order was given. Bayonets were fixed. Men broke into a run, yelled as they ran.
It was a wild, screaming bayonet charge by desperate men. German infantrymen in the woods ahead couldn't see what was coming, but they could here it. They fled in the opposite direction. The relief squad succeeded in saving what was left of Co. C as well as re-establishing a line from the company CP to the platoons.
Still, the German attacks spread, beating with fury all along the line. Crack ski troops glided silently over the snow in one sector to be cut down by machine gun cross-fire. Half a Nazi company lay dead in the drifts. The Volksgrenadiers charged on. Some were swatted down like flies; others emptied their burp guns and surrendered. By nightfall, every available man in the division was on the line—a line that held.
Before the next morning, panzers were on the rampage in the 394th's area—the same panzers that had been held up 18 hours by that regiment's I&R platoon. Under 1st Lt. Lyle J. Bouck, Jr., St. Louis, the platoon had fought to the last man in staving off the furious attack astride the Losheim road. Clerks dropped their portables and grabbed M-1s when these tanks roared up from Losheim and Lanzerath into towns that were rest areas only a few days before. A frenzied battle raged at Bullingen where the 801st TD Bn. succeeded in piling up German vehicles and foxing the panzers into bypassing the town temporarily.
S/Sgt. Elmer E. Keener, Sanger, Calif., 393rd Unit Personnel Section clerk, was so busy firing at Mark Vs that he was left behind when the remainder of his section, alternately loading service records and firing at Germans, pulled out. Keener then teamed up with two doughs and the trio, blazing away with a bazooka, knocked out three tanks before rejoining a division unit.
While German infantry and armor roared ahead to the Elsenborn-Eupen road where they were to join forces with their paratroopers, Nazis cut off and surrounded the 1st Bns. of both the 393rd and 394th Inf. Regts. The 324th Engr. Bn. was split, nearly trapped. Although most of the artillery planes got off the ground, pilots underwent fire from a German tank at one end of the field. S/Sgt. Richard H. Byers, Cleveland, 371st FA Bn., whisked his artillery survey section out the back door of a house as Krauts entered the front.