Christmas Day

In wars, Christmas isn’t any different from any other day. Elsenborn Ridge was no exception. Though, it remained a special moment for both sides. The great majority of the men, Catholics or Protestants, said the same prayers, directed to the same God, sang the same carols. If Christmas meant family, warmth and dishes shared with loved ones, loneliness and homesickness was the most collective emotion.

Pfc Wesley G. Peyton, Co C, 395th Inf :

« … Christmas Day dawned clear, bright and cold. We could see our own Air Force B- 17s heading east from England to bomb targets in Germany, wispy vapor trails streaming from their wing tips. On the ground things were better too. Hot food came forward along with ammunition and replacements. I began to believe I might celebrate my 20th birthday after all.
Then it happened. A single German fighter plane, Messerschmitt ME-109, screamed out of the east and over the ridge at treetop level. He was probably on a photo-reconnaissance mission because he didn’t offer to strafe us, but he was too low to pull it off. Our .50-caliber antiaircraft guns opened up on him, and almost instantly smoke began to belch from the engine cowl. The pilot hung the 109 on its prop using his momentum to grab altitude. Then he rolled the smoking wreck over on its back and bailed out. Every grimy GI on the ridge broke out into a roar of glee. And that might have been, indeed should have been, the end of it – one more Luftwaffe lieutenant sitting out the rest of the war in a POW cage somewhere. But it didn’t happen that way.
The damned fool unholstered his pistol and began firing at us as he swung in his parachute harness. By the time he hit the ground there was hardly enough of him to bury. We had been through too much to take a sporting view of the odds. He shot first; we shot last.
It was then that I knew, not rationally, but with certainty of the revealed truth, that we would win the war and I would survive it. That German pilot knew he was beaten, that Germany was beaten. He didn’t want to live. I wanted very much to live, and this suicidal German had just told me I would. He was finished because we weren’t… »

S/Sgt Richard H. Byers – Battery C, 371st F.A. Bn. :

“…While we slowly reorganized and gathered new equipment, we settled into a farmhouse on the west side of Sourbrodt. The town got sporadic shelling and I remember thinking it ironic that the morning sick call was held in a house numbered “88”… By Christmas Eve we were really feeling low down and depressed, not having had any letters from home for at least a week. If I ever saw a movie of the Detail Section’s Christmas Eve in Sourbrodt , I would probably throw up and condemn it as being too sloppily sentimental to be true. However, what happened is true.
We were on the second floor of the farmhouse gathered around a canteen full of gasoline with a rope wick, trying to get high from one bottle of really terrible cognac. Downstairs there were about 8 to 10 young children. Some of them were the farmer’s and the others were orphans the farmer had taken in. In the fields beyond the farmhouse was a battery of 240 howitzers. The kids were singing Christmas carols in their clear soprano voices and the sound effects went something like « Silent Night- BLAM!! Holy Night – CRASH! » Somebody would have to get up and put the cardboard back in the window after the house stopped shaking. We were all just about ready to give it up as a bad job and go to bed when someone downstairs yelled « Mail call! » and there it was, our Christmas mail! I received two boxes from my wife and in each box was a can of candy corn and in each can was a two ounce medicine bottle filled with good whiskey. I shared the fruitcake and the cookies with the boys and gave most of the candy to the kids downstairs but I only let each one have a taste of the whiskey and managed to go to bed on Christmas Eve as usual.
The next day, the weather was a Christmas present in itself. It dawned bright and crisp and clear for the first time since December 16th. By the middle of the morning the B-17’s started coming over, and they came and they came and they came. We all stood out in the yard, awed by fine feathery white streams of vapor streaked across the sky and the fighters scrawl wavy designs as they try to murder each other…. Every so often we would see a B-17 get hit and start falling, leaving a trail of smoke which would break up into two or three streamers and then we could see the parachutes blossom out and we would count them, hoping that everyone got out of that plane alive. But, in many cases, none did. Then we thanked God we were on the ground where it was a bit more personal. They had to hit you to get you, not simply hit your vehicle to get you… There is a war going on and Christmas day is no exception”-

Pfc George W. Meloy – Co I, 393rd Inf :

“… I crawled out of my foxhole that night of Dec. 25, 1944. I had been in that foxhole for days. All day long we all stayed in our holes because we didn’t want to be shot. A dark spot of clothing could be easily seen by enemy eyes wherever they might be. There were no better marksmen than we were; but they might, by chance, misfire and hit someone.
Few of us left our holes at night because, like groundhogs, moles and rats, we felt safe underground protected somewhat by inadequate roofing, but also by much snow that made our positions nearly invisible.
But now at midnight I was beginning my two hours of guard duty and paced restlessly back and forth getting used to the chilly breeze that was so different from the musty foxhole where my buddy and I had dug ourselves underground for protection against the elements as well as the enemy.
All was quiet. Not a sound. We always listened for them and we knew that they were listening for us. Would they attack again? Would we counterattack from our retreat … and reverse the tide of battle?
I looked around but there was nothing to see as far as the horizon two or three miles in every direction — only endless snow covering a battlefield that only days before had been raked by enemy artillery that cut down everything that might have been standing. Not a light could be seen. A light would draw enemy fire… Yet there was much light.
For then I looked up. From horizon to horizon a million stars shown with a brilliance I had never noticed before. And standing there in awe, into my mind flashed the words. « The heavens declare the glory of God! » And then the words just spilled out through my body, « Glory to God in the highest. And on earth, peace, good will to all men. » It was the night of Christmas!
And there, in silence with only the stars declaring the greatness of God, I thought to myself, « In the silence of this Christmas night, sons of men, enemy facing enemy, brother against brother, ready to face each other in death, know that only life through Christ’s birth will bring peace. »
And the glory of that night has been indelibly fixed in my mind for more than two score years.

S/Sgt Harold F. Schaefer – Co G, 394th Inf :

“…Christmas was certainly not one of my fondest memories. They claim we were served Turkey and Dressing. I didn’t see any of it, if they did. Or maybe I just couldn’t recognize it. I would have settled for any ‘hot chow’ but what I remember was luke warm and the best of the day was that Jerry was celebrating also and did not shell us. Other than that, for me it was just one more day on the Ridge…”

T/Sgt Bernard Nawrocki – Co B, 393rd Inf. :

“… Christmas day was a day of sadness. The mail delivery came in and the chaplain asked us to send a detail of men to open the individual packages of those lost in each companies. We were to take out all the perishable foods to eat. Valuables were sent back to families in the States. So many of Co B were dead that we had a lot of food which came in handy for our frozen soldiers…”

1Lt Samuel L. Lombardo – Co I, 394th Inf. :

“…I awoke with the best morale booster to date. The roar of hundred of bombers filled the sky heading for the heart of Germany. I had been saving all the caramel candy bars from our rations and I decided to dump a few into my canteen cup full of coffee. What a discovery! The coffee turned out to be creamy and sweet. It’s amazing that such a simple thing would raise our morale that much…”

PFC Byron O. Wilkins – Co K, 393rd Inf. :

“…On Christmas Day 1944, a bunch of us, K/393 guys, were at a « classification » Stalag atop a mountain near Bonn. We sang carols and passed around my pipe with the last load of tobacco. The Krauts took four full packs from me. Our present was to watch a P-51 Mustang come down and fly over to knock down a Me 109, right over our Stalag! …”