3rd Bn. Hq Co. 393rd Infantry Regiment
Herbert Liening is drafted in 1942 and assigned to the 99th Infantry Division, which
had been created just 3 weeks earlier. He does 9 months of basic training at Camp
Van Dorn in Mississippi, and 9 months of advanced training at Camp Maxey near
Herb’s Lieutenant at Camp Maxey believes that Herb would make a serviceable spy
because of his German ancestry and ability to speak German. Herb would be
parachuted into Germany and report local military activities. Most such spies were
captured in the first few days, and most of the rest did not last long. Herb replies,
“Thanks, but I think I’ll take my chances with the rest of the guys.” Herb trains as a
cook and is made a Tech Sergeant. Within the 99th Infantry Division, he is assigned
to the 393rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Battalion, Headquarters Company.
At The Front
The 99th ships out and takes up positions on the front lines in Belgium’s Ardennes
Forest between November 9 and 14, 1944. The 99th is spread very thinly over 22
miles of front. Each battalion would normally cover 800 yards of front in this
terrain. The battalions of the 99th are covering 2500 to 3000 yards each. Herb’s unit
is in the middle of the 99th Infantry Division’s piece of the Front, facing the German
Siegfried line. By early December the weather is very cold, close to zero degrees F at
night, with up to 3 feet of snow in some places.
Herb is in charge of cooking in a fortified kitchen set up in a pit with timbers across
the top. The kitchen is in sight of enemy pillboxes 300-400 yards away. They
occasionally draw fire from the pillboxes, and soldiers eat in their foxholes.
On a patrol, Herb and his buddy Corporal Ware attempt to enter Germany, but draw
fire immediately upon reaching the center of the International Highway. The enemy
tenaciously resist American penetrations, which in hindsight is understandable
because they are secretly accumulating forces behind their own lines for the
surprise attack that will start the Battle of the Bulge.
On a scouting expedition, Herb and Corporal Ware stop at a stream to fill their
canteens. Shortly afterwards they find a dead enemy soldier in the water 50 yards
upstream. He had been wounded in the leg, passed out in the water and died there.
He had been dead awhile. I asked Herb if he emptied his canteen after finding the
body. He said, “No, I threw it away”.
On December 16, 1944 Herb and his kitchen crew make pancakes and breakfast at
3:30 AM to serve at 5 AM. At 5:30 AM they are surprised by a massive mortar,
artillery and rocket barrage that lasts without pause until 7 AM. Some have
described it as the heaviest ever delivered in World War II. This is the opening salvo
of the Battle of the Bulge, the beginning of Hitler’s final great offensive that he hopes
will turn the war in Germany’s favor. The 99th Infantry Division faces 4 enemy
infantry divisions and 2 enemy Panzer (tank) divisions. In addition, German
paratroops drop behind the 99th’s lines. The 99th is outnumbered 5-to-1 along the
22 mile front, and 15-to-1 in some places.
When the barrage starts, Herb’s kitchen crew dash for their foxholes to hold the
front. Herb’s foxhole is about 200 feet from the kitchen. It is a 3-man foxhole
covered with logs and dirt. When Herb gets to the foxhole, Sgt. Maynard is already
there, and Corporal Ware dives in seconds later. Enemy forces advance immediately
after the barrage ends at 7 AM. Herb’s 3rd Battalion fights off enemy advances, but
they soon find themselves with enemy to their rear and flanks as well their front.
Herb ventures out of his foxhole at daylight. They decide to blow the kitchen to
keep it from the enemy, so they pour gas into the kitchen and throw in grenades.
Herb said that an image that stayed with him over the years is the sight of pancakes
flying into the sky, slowly turning over and over, illuminated by the gasoline fire.
Herb and the others keep under cover in their foxholes and resist German assaults
throughout the day of December 16. They hold their positions, but are running low
on ammo. The 1st Battalion immediately to Herb’s south actually calls American
artillery fire onto their own positions to stop an enemy assault.
The next morning the 3rd Battalion retreats down the woods trail toward Krinkelt
and the American lines. But the Headquarters Company GI’s are left behind to find
their own way out. Major Studebaker gets on a stump and orders a bug-out, saying
“Everybody for himself! Get back the best way you can…”. It is indeed time to leave.
Reinforcements are not coming, and supplies are not getting through. Herb is down
to 16 rounds of ammo, and some others have even less. The 75 to 100 men break
into small groups and head west through the forest toward where they believe
American lines to be.
Herb partners with his foxhole buddies Ware and Maynard, and they head west.
After about one half mile they come to a clearing with the 3rd Battalion Medical Aid
tent. Enemy paratroops are in the woods around the clearing, but their positions
are unknown. While watching the clearing, thinking about what to do, paratroops
come out of the woods, rapidly advance around each side of the Aid tent from
behind, and then enter from the front. Gunfire follows.
Herb and Ware finally decide the best option is to dash across the clearing as fast as
possible. They leave everything they don’t need in the woods at the edge of the
clearing. They successfully sprint across the clearing, but looking back they see
enemy coming from behind, entering the clearing from the woods they just left.
Late that day (December 17th), Herb and Corporal Ware come to a crossroads with a
small barn. They had left their overcoats in the woods at the clearing, and they are
tired and cold. A haystack in the barn offers warmth. That night they sleep standing
up in the haystack. The next morning they find the barn roof full of holes, and
shrapnel with burned hay around it. The crossroads had been shelled during the
night. Herb and Ware had slept through it, and fortunately neither the barn nor the
hay caught fire. Herb and Ware leave the barn in the morning (December 18), find a
sign on the road pointing to Krinkelt, and take off for there.
Herb and Ware enter Krinkelt on December 18th, and find Lieutenant Brown who
assigns them foxholes. Herb’s foxhole is in the cemetery near the church. After dark
on the 18th, Herb hears a tank come into town. The next morning (December 19th)
he sees that it is a German Panzer, and it has set up at the corner of the church,
across the road from his foxhole. It was aiming up the road and shooting at
American vehicles during the night as they came by.
Herb mans his foxhole throughout the day of December 19. That night he sees 6
enemy advancing along a fencerow toward his position. Herb leaves his foxhole to
go to a lean-to behind the church where GI’s are resting. Herb tells them that the
enemy is coming up the fencerow, and asks for help. The Sergeant there, exhausted,
tells Herb, “Go **** yourself!” Twenty-seven years later, on a 1972 99th Infantry
Division reunion tour in Europe, Herb tells this story on the bus. One of the guys on
the bus turns to him and asks, “Do you recognize me?” Herb says no, and the guy
replies, “I’m Sergeant McKay. I’m the guy who told you to go **** yourself.” They
have a good laugh about that, and McKay goes on to say that he and his buddies
were captured in the lean-to, and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp.
After being rebuffed at the lean-to, Herb returns to his foxhole. He wakes up in Paris
some days later with severe concussion symptoms. The events leading up to his
injuries, and what specifically caused them, are unknown.
Paris to England to Pennsylvania
Herb is in the hospital in Paris several days until he is considered well enough to
move to a hospital in England. However, the ship that is to take him to England is
sunk on the way to France by a U-Boat in the English Channel. Herb must wait for
another ship, and finally arrives at an English hospital about December 29. The ship
Herb was intended to take was the Leopoldville, sunk on December 24 at 8 PM, just 5
miles from Cherbourg, France by U-486.
Herb ships out from the English hospital about February 19 and arrives in country
on February 28. He is assigned to Deshon General Hospital in Butler, PA where he
undergoes treatment and rehabilitation for his injuries. Herb is awarded the
Combat Infantryman Badge, Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his injuries and
actions. He is honorably discharged on June 19, 1945. Corporal Ware survived the
war. Sergeant Maynard was killed in action, circumstances unknown.
By Gene Liening
March 30, 2019