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Arthur Brown « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Arthur Brown

Hometown: Yonkers, NY
Branch of Service:
Army, 589th Field Artillery Battalion
Location of Service:
Europe

From My Longest Week, Arthur Brown recounts December 21-23, the last days of his experience in the Battle of the Bulge:

At one time, while I was moving around the position, a sergeant from another outfit and myself were standing in the road and looking north toward Manhay. From the woods that came right down to the crossroads at the northwest point came the terrifying sound a German machine pistol (burp gun). These guns were called burp because of the high cyclical rate of fire, 1600 rounds per minute or so. The tow of us dropped to the ground, and after the firing stopped only I got up. My companion was dead with a bullet hole between the eyes. I ran over to the howitzer covering that sector and we swept the woods with tree top fire to clean out the snipers. As no more was heard from this area for awhile, the mission must have been successful.

One of the men at the defense perimeter was hit in the face with a mortar blast. He had no distinguishable facial features…that brave medic that tended him told me that he was breathing easily an would live. However I found out years later from this same medic that the man mercifully passed on that night.

Up in the second story of the farmhouse where we were quartered, I found an abandoned BAR rifle. The gun was so cold that the automatic parts would not function. While standing at a window for observation, a mortar shell came right through the slate roof about ten feet away from me. Miraculously, the fragments of the shell did not wound me, the roof having taken the brunt of the blow. The building around which we built our defense was a typical Belgian farmhouse…the livestock were quartered on the ground floor at one end, and some living quarters were on the other end. The building was made to stay, built out of stone with a slate roof as mentioned before.

At one time a vehicle marked with the Red Cross on an ambulance came down the road from enemy territory. As this vehicle was out in front of the German assault troops and there were no wounded on that road at that time the scene did not make any sense to me. Suspecting a ruse, I ordered a light tank standing station there to fire. One direct hit demolished the vehicle, and I hope that this truck marked with a red cross was not on a legitimate mission. This incident illustrates well the fact that in the heat of battle there is little time to think. and you do what comes to mind on the spur of the moment.

After several days with our only source of nourishment, candy, even it began to burn as it went down. The unrelenting cold was intensified by the dampness on station at the crossroads. Eventually, we became surrounded. There was no chance to evacuate our wounded. The situation was obviously terminal. However, nobody thought about surrender, as the enemy was enveloped in the winter snow-fog and presented no clearcut front with which we could have dealt. Major Goldstein knew that it was imperative that the enemy be held up here as long as humanly possible, as we were protecting as exposed flank of the entire First Army, so an attempt was made to secure support. The Germans pre-empted an attempt at reinforcement by surrounding and overrunning the position.

At the end as evening drew nigh on the 23rd, I came in and told Capt. Huxel that we had to get out. The farmhouse where he lay wounded was being blown down over our heads. All roads were now held by the Germans, but the road north to Manhay would take us towards out lines, and it was this way that I pointed to the med when telling them to leave.

As soon as I stepped out on the south side of the house, the enemy cut loose with a preparation of mortars and 88s that shook the earth. I took shelter for a time first under a truck and then in a concrete ditch. On the road to Houffalize only a few feet away from me, one of light tanks or assault guns was on fire. My only thought for a while was the hope that thing would not blow up and take me with it.

After awhile it was dusk and alone I headed for the cover a tree line. It happened that this was the direction from which the enemy was coming into the position. They quickly surrounded me. Only by the intervention of a German noncomm was I saved from being clubbed to death by an enraged soldier. This wild-eyed boy who was hitting me with his rifle butt managed two blows before he was stopped. The first lick hit me right in the middle of my helmet putting a crease therein, and the second blow glanced off the inside of my knee, the latter remaining sore for some days to come…