14 December, 2011

14 December 1944

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
14 December, 1944        1025

My dearest girl –

I wish it could be empty and quiet here just once in a while – right now, for example, so that I could sit down and write a coherent thoughtful letter. I’m particularly anxious to have that because I’d like to answer your letter of 29 November, dear, when – so to speak – you fired at point blank range. I got your letter yesterday and was anxious to answer immediately – and I was unable to write at all – either to you or my folks. That was the first day missed in a long while. The Colonel and I left for a little trip on business – and we were gone the whole day.

When I first read your letter, I was a little bit peeved – I must admit. For one thing, darling, it’s not fair to read one batch of letters and then another from a different period, compare the two – and find one batch wanting. For instance – if I did that with your letters – I could find that sometimes you have time to concentrate and you really write a swell letter – and then other times – you’re visiting a good deal, going to a movie, playing Bridge – etc – and your letters are a bit more hurried. As a group – that would be noticeable. Individually, I love each and every one of them – they’re from you – and to me; they’re personal; you write to me as you do to no one else – and I’m aware of all that and love you for it.

So far, dear, what I’ve said of your letters – is probably true of mine – except that – when my letters are hasty, show some lack of concentration etc – it’s more often for a different reason.

Now – another point – you mention Lawrence having heard some details that he wouldn’t tell my folks and you act hurt because you thought surely I’d tell you. If I haven’t told you all, darling, it’s because I love you – just as I haven’t told my folks all. I never told Lawrence – until he went into Active service. It makes no difference at all how close we are; I can’t see any sense in telling you the gruesome side of this war that I have seen – and I don’t think you should feel that because we are so close – you should hear it from me. It’s different telling it – and then only some of it – to Lawrence. You must understand the difference, dear.

Now, sweetheart, you tell me you don’t doubt for a minute that I love you. I’m glad for that because if there’s one thing I want you always to be certain of – it’s that. So it boils down to my manner of expression – and how it has changed. I don’t have to go for a walk, darling, to clear my mind – and besides – this isn’t quite the country in which to go strolling with your mind in deep thought; the fact is plain and simple to me – dear – I love you – much much more than when I first left the States. I know so much more about you, your likes, dislikes and mannerisms; we’ve talked about our future together, we’ve made sort of tentative plans about what we might do immediately after our marriage – in short – sweetheart – we’ve been as intimate with each other as two people in love can be who must be an ocean apart. My enthusiasm changed? Hardly, dear – as you will surely see when I get back. Then what? – that’s what you want to know. I don’t want to look for excuses – for the fact is – darling, I have not realized that my letters were fundamentally different – although perhaps I should have. But darling – can’t you realize where I’ve been since June and where I am now? Take a look at that 7th Corps Christmas Card I sent you and realize how much in the war we’ve been and still are. Think of what my moods have been when I’ve sat down to write you; think of the casualties I’ve cared for – writing you a paragraph, stopping for two hours, and continuing; think of some letters which took me all day to write – even though I didn’t so indicate – and then wonder how I ever get a letter off to you at all sometimes – and I didn’t miss many days in six months – no more than you did when you had a busy week-end perhaps. No –dear – I haven’t changed one bit – in my love for you, in my enthusiasm, in my plans for the future together with you, in my potential wit – which you refer to; in anything – darling. But what you haven’t entirely grasped is the fact that my environment has changed – and there isn’t anyone over here who hasn’t been affected by it. It’s temporary though, sweetheart and we’ll break out of it – but please try to understand. Take my individual letter per se – and don’t line it up against one written when I was living in comparative luxury – when the war was still something I personally hadn’t seen. Bear with me, dear – I haven’t slipped –

I’ll stop now, sweetheart. I’ll re-read this to see just what I’ve written. Whatever I’ve said, I know you’ll take it in the correct spirit – because you must know what I’m trying to say. Eventually this will all pass by and we’ll have each other and then letters will be a thing of the past. I think you’ll find my love – true, warm and real.

For now – so long, dearest. I hope I answered what you wanted to know. If not – say so – and I’ll try again. My love to the folks.

All my sincerest and deepest love,


about The Roer River Dams

The information that follows was extracted from The Siegfried Line Campaign written by Charles B. MacDonald for the U.S. Army's Center for Military History (1990). Go to that site to see footnotes and attributions.
As the 78th Division was attacking through the Monschau Corridor to the north, then northeast along the Strauch-Schmidt highway through extremities of the Huertgen Forest and finally through Schmidt to reach the Roer River dams from the north, the 2nd Division was to attack northward into the Monschau Forest from twin Belgian border villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath, southeast of Camp d'Elsenborn. The 2nd Division was to break a West Wall strongpoint at a road junction marked by a customshouse and a forester's lodge named Wahlerscheid, and then fan out in two directions, northwest to clear resistance opposite the Hoefen-Alzen ridge between the Wahlerscheid road junction and Monschau, and northeast along a higher ridge line, the Dreiborn ridge, which leads to the Roer River Dams. Perhaps in cognizance of the tribulations exposed flanks had wrought in the Huertgen Forest, General Gerow directed that a regiment of the 99th Division make a limited objective attack within the Monschau Forest alongside the 2d Division's exposed right flank.

Aiming first at the Wahlerscheid road junction, the West Wall strongpoint deep within the forest at the meeting point of the Hoefen-Alzen and Dreiborn ridges, the 2nd Division had but one road leading to the first objective. This was a secondary highway running north through the forest into Germany from the twin Belgian villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath. Faced with this restriction, the division commander, General Robertson, had little choice of formation for the first leg of the attack other than regiments in column. He directed the 9th Infantry (Col. Chester J. Hirschfelder) to attack astride the road, take the Wahlerscheid road junction, then swing northwest to clear those Germans opposite the Hoefen-Alzen ridge. Following in column as far as Wahlerscheid, the 38th Infantry (Col. Francis H. Boos) was to be committed northeast from the road junction along the Dreiborn ridge in the direction of the Roer River Dams. The 23d Infantry in division reserve was to remain near Camp d'Elsenborn.

That part of the Monschau Forest through which the 9th Infantry first was to push was a kind of no man's land of snow-covered firs, hostile patrols, mines, and roadblocks. Though the sector belonged within the 99th Division's defensive responsibilities, that division held such an elongated front that defense of some parts had been left more to patrols than to fixed positions. Not for several miles on either side of the forest-cloaked road to Wahlerscheid were there any friendly positions in strength. The gap on the right of the road was of particular concern because the southeastward curve of the 99th Division's line left the sector open to enemy penetration from the east. Approaching along forest trails, the Germans might sever the 2nd Division's lifeline, the lone highway to Wahlerscheid.

2nd Division moves through the Monschau Forest
December 1944

Because the forested no man's land between Krinkelt-Rocherath and Wahlerscheid was some three miles deep, obtaining accurate intelligence information before the attack was difficult. About all the 2nd Division knew was that the strongpoint at Wahlerscheid was held by troops of the 277th Volks Grenadier Division's 991st Regiment. Any real estimate of enemy strength at Wahlerscheid or any pinpoint locations of German pillboxes and other positions were missing. This situation made it particularly difficult to plan artillery fires in support of the attack.

The Monschau Forest was almost uncannily silent as troops of the 9th Infantry moved forward on foot in approach march formation an hour after daylight on 13 December. Because the highway was known to be mined, the men had to plow through underbrush and snow drifts on either side. When a partial thaw set in, branches of fir trees heavy with snow dumped their wet loads upon the men beneath them. In some ravines the ground was so marshy that icy water oozed over the tops of the men's overshoes. So impressed had been their commanders with the misfortunes of the 28th Division when depending upon but one supply road at Schmidt that they had ordered the men to carry enough rations, ammunition, and antitank mines to last for at least twenty-four hours without resupply.

At 1240 the column neared the clearing about the Wahlerscheid road junction. "Both battalions have dropped packs," Colonel Hirschfelder reported; "contact imminent." The 9th Infantry faced a formidable position that in some respects possessed the strength of a small fortress. Grouped compactly about the road junction and sited to provide interlocking fires were machine gun and rifle positions in and about four pillboxes, six concrete bunkers, a forester's lodge, and a custom house. The forest and deep ravines formed a kind of moat around the entire position. Where trees and underbrush had encroached upon fields of fire, the Germans had cut them away. In some places rows of barbed wire entanglements stood six to ten deep. The snow hid a veritable quilt of lethal antipersonnel mines.

It took only a matter of minutes after the attack began for Colonel Hirschfelder to determine that his hope of surprise was empty. The road junction bristled with fire. Mortar and artillery shells burst in the treetops. Exploding mines brought down man after man. One after another, eight men whose job was to clear a narrow path for the 1st Battalion were killed or seriously wounded by mines. Bangalore torpedoes set beneath the barbed wire failed to ignite because fuzes were wet. One platoon of the 2nd Battalion nevertheless pressed through five aprons of barbed wire before enemy fire at last forced a halt; yet several more aprons of unbreached wire lay ahead.

As night came the weather turned colder. Drenched to the skin, the men were miserable. Their clothing froze stiff. Through the night they tried to keep warm by painfully etching some form of foxhole or slit trench in the frozen earth. In the woods southeast of Wahlerscheid, experience of the 99th Division's 395th Infantry roughly paralleled that of the 9th Infantry.

Repeated attempts to assault and to outflank the Wahlerscheid position through the day of 14 December ended in failure.

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