This is an almost unprecedented hour for writing you from the continent – at least in the Winter. It just so happens, dear, that I’m trying to heat some water for shaving and I’m not having much success. I’ve already had breakfast and it’s getting light enough out to see. Shaving, by the way, sweetheart, is quite an ordeal. I used to think that once you got into a combat zone, you could just forget all about your appearance and tidiness. That’s so for the infantry and for our own enlisted men in many cases. Some of our officers have slipped a bit, too; I just can’t get away with it and I feel uncomfortable if I try. I feel much better when I have to take care of a soldier and I’m somewhat tidy and clean-shaven. I haven’t missed a day in weeks and that takes in a plenty rough stretch of time. It’s really going to be something to turn on the faucet and get hot water; in this damned section of the country – if you’re lucky enough to get into a house – there’s no faucet anyway or any other kind of water. I just can’t understand how these people lived. In that respect, and in several others, too – the Germans are way ahead of the French, the Belgians, the Dutch and the English, too.
I sound too didactic, better change the subject, dear. Let’s see – I wrote you forenoon yesterday, I believe. In the p.m. I went back to our rear area to see a couple of patients. I can’t go into details, sweetheart, but we’re sort of split now and I’ve got a house back in our last area where I keep some sick and not too seriously injured soldiers. By so doing, I’m able to return them to duty much more quickly than if I evacuated them thru channels. It’s very handy in selected cases and our present set-up just happens to allow it. That took a good part of the afternoon and then I was back here in time for chow. The evening was long and boring and I just couldn’t find a way to relax. I’ve got a dozen letters to answer but I’ve been letting them pile up; I just don’t feel like writing and when I write you and my folks – I’m satisfied. I’ll get around to the others some day when I snap out of this mood.
You mentioned – in a letter of yours some time ago – that Nancy was happy because Abbot was going into a new business. The whole thing seems so strange – it’s hard to understand. I can’t conceive of doing such a thing – myself. Anyway – if the stuff we read about the U.S. in the Stars and Stripes is true – he probably won’t be allowed to start any new business. At least that’s what happened to Al Zetlan. Some time ago he planned to try his hand at something other than law – but the gov’t told him no go. I suppose it depends on the type of business; seems to me he (Ab) ought to be re-classified anyway. There’s lots of jobs he could be doing for the Army – bad shoulder or no – but that again, dear, is between you and me.
You made me laugh when you wrote – in closing a letter – that you wished you felt gay and could write something clever or funny. That was funny enough, darling. I suppose I should express the same wish – but I know you excuse me if I’m not witty these days – i.e. – if I ever were before. It’s hard not to be just plain practical and serious – but you must understand it’s only because everything and everyone about us is just that. Warfare has a strange way of being dead serious, despite all the cartoons to the contrary. But it’s temporary and not lasting and one day it will be over and we’ll all be happy and gay and unserious – when we want. Thank God now for our love for each other – which runs constantly true regardless of distance, bad news, cold and disappointment. That love – Sweetheart – means everything in the world to me these days – and that love is the seed that will start us on the right road when all this rottenness is over with forever. So long for now, darling and always remember I’ll love you eternally
The juncture at Houffalize marked the completion of the first phase of the campaign to push in the bulge. It also meant the break in communications between the United States' First Army and Third Army, which had caused General Eisenhower to put the First Army under Montgomery's 21st Army Group command, no longer existed. At midnight on 17 January 1945, the First Army returned to Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group.
From the viewpoint of the First Army, the juncture at Houffalize marked no interval in the offensive to erase the bulge, but it pointed up a shift in emphasis that had gradually been evolving as linkup neared. Having begun to attack early in January in support of the VII Corps, General Ridgway's XVIII Airborne Corps took over the main assignment, a drive eastward on the road center of St. Vith. Collins's VII Corps was to support this drive briefly by also turning east; but because of the northeastward orientation of Patton's Third Army, the VII Corps soon would be pinched out of the line.
A more important supporting role was to be performed by the V Corps, which was to seize a defile along upper reaches of the Ambleve River, thereby springing loose an armored division for a direct thrust southward on St. Vith. The armor, once free, was to come under command of the airborne corps to constitute the northern arm of a two-pronged thrust on St. Vith.
For the Third Army, the juncture at Houffalize did represent a distinct break in the offensive, since it gave Patton an opportunity he would embrace with relish - to return to his original concept of an attack close to the southern base of the bulge. With General Eddy's XII Corps, Patton's Third Army resumed its role in pushing the Germans back with surprise crossings of the Sûre River before daylight on 18 January 1945. The rationale for an attack from the south, directed almost due northward in the direction of St. Vith, was not envelopment, but rather a hope that threat from the south would prompt the Germans to shift enough strength from the vicinity of Houffalize and Bastogne to enable III Corps and VIII Corps to advance with relative ease toward the northeast. The 12th Army Group commander, General Bradley, also proposed that once the First Army took St. Vith, General Hodges should send a corps south to link with the Third Army's XII Corps, a shallow envelopment that might trap any German forces still remaining farther west.
Meanwhile, the state of the weather gave the little Ardennes towns an added dimension as prizes of war. Not only did the towns control the roads needed for tanks and trucks but they also afforded shelter, a chance for the men to thaw out and dry out, to get a night's sleep under cover. The towns, unfortunately, were almost always in a draw or on a reverse slope, making it necessary to seize the high ground beyond and hold it from foxholes blasted out of frozen earth with small explosive charges. It became a matter of constant nagging concern to forward commanders to rotate their men and allow all at least brief respite from the cold.
Partly because the German soldiers, too, wanted shelter, and partly because buildings made good strongpoints, the villages and small settlements at critical road junctions were hardest to get at. Although sometimes delayed by mines hidden by the deep snow, tanks and tank destroyers proved almost essential for blasting the Germans from the houses. Artillery could chase the defenders into the cellars, but it could not keep them there. As men of one battalion of the 23d Infantry entered a village close behind an artillery preparation, Germans emerged in their midst to promote a fight so intimate that at one point an American soldier reputedly engaged a German with his fists.