- Historic Sites
A Few Men In Soldier Suits
A down-to-earth story of the way in which the German thrust at the Bulge was halted
August 1957 | Volume 8, Issue 5
About two thirty in the afternoon, alter everyone else had gone, he drove out himself to take a look-see eastwards. He had left his jeep and was walking along the high ground, trying to find a way to look over the Trois Ponts intersection, when he heard “an awful lot of noise” in the valley, and there ran and stumbled lour American soldiers, screaming. They were running away from the massacre of the 115 which had just taken place at the crossroad.
The 291st stuck in Malmcdy eight days and, as it turned out, nothing much happened except that they were bombed three days in succession by the American Air Force. The Germans kept throwing feelers at the road blocks in the shape of motorcycle and Volkswagen patrols and a couple of fairly stiff inlantry attacks, but the main pan/er lone bypassed Malmédy, having evidently concluded that the place was strongly defended. After a couple of days it was The 30th Division took over, and its CO greeted Pergrin with: “ What! Do you mean to say you’ve been sitting here with only 185 men? Why the hell didn’t you beat it?”
I asked Colonel Pergrin the same question, and that was when he said he guessed it was psychology. “What do you mean, psychology?” I pursued. It seemed that combat outfits moving up to the front had had a habit of yelling at the road-builders as they passed them: “You engineer so-and-sos! Why don’t you come on up there and fight?”
All through the first two days of the battle this Malmédy pattern kept repeating itself along the route of both panzer columns. The vanguard of the column that bypassed Malincdy went on to a place called Stavelot, where 25 more men of the stjist were sitting on another road block. They had just finished laying a “hasty minefield,” that is, scattering mines on top of the road, when three German tanks nosed along through the dark, which came in that weather about 4:30 P.M. The first tank was hailed by a boy named Goldstein from Brooklyn, who yelled “Halt!” because he thought it might be an American tank. It then ran over a mine and blew its treads off, which confused the oilier two tanks so that they turned around and went back. Goldstein and another private named Liparolla took after them in a jeep to see where they’d gone; they found out, and Liparolla was killed and Goldstein wounded. After thinking it over all night the tanks came back at Stavelot in the morning, but by that time some armored infantry was waiting for them.
The seemingly timid behavior of the panzers was due to their orders, which were to bypass opposition wherever encountered and keep on going, going, going toward the Meuse. But there was always opposition or the seeming of it. There were people like a Lieutenant Yeats of the 5ist Engineer Battalion, who had five trucks; and all one night he ran them up a hill with the lights showing and downhill again blacked out, so that they looked like a big convoy moving up. .And it was thanks to the 1581)1 Engineer Battalion that there ever was a siege of Bastogne and that General McAuliffe had a chance to say “Nuts!”
The southern prong of the panzers was approaching Bastogne on the morning of the seventeenth, when the ioist Airborne Infantry, which made that city immortal and vice versa, was still far away at a rest camp near Rheims. A movie called Saratoga Trunk, with Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper, was showing at the rest camp—I saw it myself in Rheims a couple ol nights later—and when Gary came up behind Ingrid and jnit his arms around her while she was blushing her hair or at some such point, the lights were turned on and an officer said: “You men are on your way.”
Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Sam Tabets, with Ii Company of the 1581!! Engineers, was ordered to chop down trees and lay mines and keep those tanks out of Bastogne until someone ol importance could get there. One of Sam’s boys was a mild-appearing red-headed farm youth from Centerville, Iowa, who received the Silver Star for knocking out a German machine gun singlehanded; he had also attempted to stand off five tanks with a bazooka but it wouldn’t go off. When I saw him his comment on all this was: “I never was much of a fellow to fight.”
I gathered that the rest of them weren’t either. On the night of December 18, B Company of the 1581!! was sitting on top of a road block, peering tensely into the dark, when the first German tank came rumbling and clanking along. It encountered Private Bernard Michin of Providence, Rhode Island, standing like a stone wall with a ba/ooka, a weapon which he had never fired in his life. No more had the rest of them. I he World War II ba/ooka, which looked like a sawed-off length of stovepipe and shot a weird projectile like a miniature V-a, was supposed to be good against tanks up to 150 yards, but Michin waited until his tank was only ten yards away before he fired. He wasn’t trying to be a hero; he simply didn’t want to hit an American tank by mistake.