Petit Halleux December 1944
Pfc. Malcolm Neel, 82nd Airborne Division, 80th Abn AA, A Battery, 1st Squad, 1st Plattoon
(The following is an edited version of the memoirs of Malcolm Neel (picture below right) as it relates to his experience in what would come to be known as the Battle of the Bulge while
his anti-tank battery was attached to the 505PIR.)
I just watched a documentary on the P-47 and it reminded me of
the time I saw one of these planes in action. It was on Christmas Day in 1944. We (Neel and his green
replacements) came to the top of the mountain, the clouds opened up and the first thing I saw was a
muzzle blast of a cannon in the nose of a P-38, followed by other P-38s, firing at something down in
the valley. They were followed by P-47s strafing and dropping bombs on the "targets" which we
could not see.
We had been through a tough week that began Sunday night, the 17th,
when announcements calling for officers had us all wondering what was up, interrupting a stage show we
were watching in camp.
We went back to the barracks and to bed when we aroused at 1
o'clock in the morning. My buddy Jim Bell was sent on detail to the range to get sandbags and I was
sent to supply to get ammo, rubber artic boots, etc for Bell and me. I also packed both our A bags. It
took all night to get ready and on the morning of the 18th we were loaded into trucks and jeeps on a mission.
I was in a 2 ½-ton, 6X6 truck sitting near the tailgate when I heard one of our guys, looking out at a group of cold, wet, paratroopers standing packed into an open semi-trailer, say, "Boy, I feel sorry for the first Germans those guys get a hold of." (This proved to be prophetic a few days later)
After settling in Belgium the next day, Lt. John Bullis and I were sent to find a passable shortcut east of the area we were supposed to go. There was no way to jet the Jeeps and guns through anywhere other than the highway which we took north, then east then south finally getting to Petit Halleux, positioned on a high hill overlooking the Salm River. This would have been on Wednesday, Dec. 20. We had two gun squads. My gun (57MM) was dug in the yard of a farmhouse. The other settled closer to the bridge. The other six guns of A battery were sent north to support the 2nd battalion of the 505 in Trois Pont. Our section was with the 1st battalion of the 505.
The following day, we learned from Lt. Sam McNeil of A battery that some of our guys, including Lt. Jake Wertich, were hit badly up there. (Four men of the 80th were KIA and three were wounded out of 11 men on two guns attached to E company. The505 and the AT guns were attacked by an armored Kampfgruppe of battalion strength of the 1st SS Panzers. The date of this action was Dec 21, 1944).
That night (probably Dec 22), we were attacked. The paratroopers who had crossed over to the East side of the Salm fell back to the high ground we were on. Cpl. Seddon put two of us on the north side of the farmhouse in front of a small shed. A machinegun pelted the shed just over our heads. The attacking Germans were yelling, more like roaring, as they came down the other side of the river. This was the only time in the war I threw up, waiting for the Germans to come up our side of the hill.
What I didn't know at the time was that the battalion commander, or somebody, planned it that way. As they attempted to cross the river, we opened up with everything we had. I didn't because I really couldn't see anything from my position. But the first battalion of the 505 stopped them cold.
I think it was the next day that the Germans fired some .88s that hit a tree outside the farmhouse. Some of us were inside the kitchen talking when a shell burst struck. Pete Jenson hollered and his mouth filled with blood. I hit the floor and pulled Jenson down with me. Another shell came in and a fragment hit Cpl Seddon behind his left ear. He was reaching for his Thompson sub-machine gun. There was so much blood I thought he was dead for sure. Not long after they were hit a guy we all knew as "Whitey" went berserk. He started saying crazy things. We were worried that he'd be a danger to us in combat so Bill Chadwick and I decided to take him to the battalion aid station.
As we started across the field, a German machine gun opened up on us. Whitey broke away from us and began to run down the hill. I dove behind a hedgerow about 20 feet away. I looked back and saw Chadwick lying on the ground laughing. He said he never saw anything so funny as Whitey running with his white hair flopping up and down
We picked up Whitey's helmet and found him in a mortar emplacement hole, 6 X 6 X 6, his face muddy and bloody. We dragged him out, dead weight, and got him to battalion aid. The next day, Christmas Eve, we got orders to pull out courtesy of Montgomery.
However, our troubles were far from over. The gun was frozen into the mud and we had to boil water in the kitchen where two of our men were hit. John Kibbe was on the way to help out with the stuck gun when one wheel came free and the gun swept around, the barrel cracking his knee. Kibbe couldn't walk and we figured his leg was broken. We tied Kibbe to the trails of the gun after we freed it and then caught up with the convoy.
On this dark, cloudy night, it was blackout driving with Chadwick at the wheel. Sgt Jim Kish was in the center and Lt. McNeil on the right. Bell was on top of all the packs and other baggage. Kibbe was still tied to the trails, Hayden and I were on the apron hanging onto the shield. As we caught up to a truck ahead someone said there was room on the tailgate so Heyden and I jumped onto the truck. Sometime later, I'm dozing off when Heyden yells, "Hey, that Jeep ran off the road."
The truck stopped and Heyden and I ran back to where the Jeep had gone over a steep embankment about 40 feet deep. The Jeep had hit a concrete bottom in a schoolyard, its chassis bowed. I checked on Kibbe who was still tied to the trails. He seemed OK but I couldn't get a word out of him. I started looking for Bell and couldn't find him. I called for him and he weakly answered, "Neel, I'm over here." He had been thrown clear across the schoolyard into the brick side of the school. He couldn't move his arms or legs and I feared his back was broken. Luckily, we found out later it wasn't. Lt. McNeil and Kish were thrown clear but somehow were unhurt. Chadwick, however, had compound fractures in both legs and was in a lot of pain. We gave him morphine and waited for medics.
Ambulances came and got Chadwick and Kibbe but were afraid to move Bell. So Kish and I volunteered to stay with him overnight, in No Man's Land. Luckily, there were no Germans around but they had attacked the convoy earlier and those paratroopers took care of them.
The next morning, medics got Bell and a truck picked up the.57MM. We got to headquarters and Capt.Bill Nelson told me to go get some turkey for Christmas and report back to him. I was hoping with my squad all busted up and no Jeep that the Captain would assign me to headquarters. He had different plans.
"Neel, I've got another Jeep, the gun's OK and I have five new replacements." One was a corporal but I was to show him the ropes as he would be the official squad leader, even though none of the five had ever seen combat.
I spoke to all five of them with a mean, disgusted look on my face. One stout fella named Elmore said he was 30 years old, inexperienced, and would probably be a burden to everyone. He turned out to be the best of them.
The Captain told me to get to the top of the hill and dig in before nightfall and to be careful because it was under observation by the enemy.
It was up that hill that I saw those planes. We dug in and were up there a couple of days when I was standing outside my foxhole and a large mortar round came in so close I never heard it.
The next thing I knew I was on the ground with the breath knocked out of me. The blast had saved me by throwing me into the air and the shrapnel going underneath me, ripping up my artics on top of my foxhole and tearing into some nearby small trees. That was all I got from the concussion. I think that was the closest I ever came to getting killed.
I still thank God to today that He had other plans for me.
Later, in the same area, after a foot of snow had fallen, Lt.McNeil crawled up to me. "Neel, I've got good news for you," he said. I said, "We're moving out?" "No," the lieutenant responded, "but you've been made Pfc." I just barely caught myself before telling him to "Shove it up your ass." I settled for, "To hell with the Pfc. stripe, I want out of this."
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