This is Bertrand Close of I Company,|
32nd Armored Regiment. The picture
to the left was taken in 1945,
Picture to the right and interview
taken 2000 in Indianapolis IN. In
1944 BertClose hadbeen a bow
gunner in the tank called "In The
Mood" commanded by Sgt .
Lafette Poole. He was in three
tanks with Pool that were knocked out,
and he was a gunner in the Ardennes
when he lost his 4th. tank at the
For three weeks we worked and lived together in the same house. We checked out our "new" tank, stocked it with ammunition, but never moved it. During the end of November and into December the weather got cold and we had some light snow fall. The snow usually melted during the day and turned to slush on the roads. We had warm clothing. We ate hot meals. The food either came from the company kitchen or we cooked it ourselves with some potatoes and canned meat. We received Christmas packages from home and shared with each other the varieties of cakes, cookies and candies. About December 7th, I was promoted to corporal to match the usual rank of a tank gunner. On December 14th, Wilbert Richards and I attended a ceremony with officers and other enlisted men, at which time we were presented Bronze Star ribbons. Generals Rose and Hickey shook our hands. Two days later the German armies surprised the American 99th and 106th Infantry Divisions and the entire American General Staff. The Battle of the Bulge had begun.
On December 19th I Company was ordered to pack up and move out. We stowed our Christmas packages and all our other belongings on the tank and took our place in line on the road leading to somewhere in Belgium. Tank # 3(1 don't think anyone wasted time on names anymore ) was no sooner on the road when it threw a track. We were left behind and towed into a maintenance company a short distance away. We were on the outskirts of Aachen. I did not see one building that stood without a roof or a wall missing. It took one day and a night to repair the tank. I thought we might miss the action. We left the maintenance shop late one afternoon. Someone led the way m ajeep. We drove in the dark to the company staging area near Manhay, Belgium, a trip of about 25 miles.
The weather in Germany had been wet and chilly for weeks. We had seen some snow. When we reached our company area in Belgium, the air had turned much colder. Two or three inches of snow were frozen on the ground. There was no heat inside the ank from the engine and the cold air blowing in through the open hatches made everything that much colder and more uncomfortable. I looked for road signs to tell me where I was. We had no maps, so "Manhay" did not mean anything to me. The activity in our assembly area seemed as organized as it ever was. I was not aware of the great confusion other divisions were experiencing around us or of our imminent danger from a German attack.
On the morning of December 23rd our tank and two others were ordered to move out across some open fields and take positions as road blocks at a crossroad about five or so miles from Manhay. This was my first time out as tank gunner. I had been thoroughly trained at Fort Knox. I had rehearsed the gun operating procedures several times after being promoted to gunner. I was confident I could handle the job. As we crossed the frozen field, I turned on the gyro-stabilizer to test its operation. I wanted to be certain it would work if I needed to fire the cannon as we moved. I don't think the tank commander knew what I was doing and yelled at me to turn it off. I did, but not before I knew the gun was as ready for action as I was.
When we got close to the crossroads. Col. Richardson drove up in a jeep to place where I was. We had no maps, so "Manhay" did not mean anything to me. The activity in us in position. Our tank was placed to look down one road. On the road crossing in front of us, one tank was stationed on our right and one on our left. There were ditches on both sides of the roads. Beyond the crossroad in front of us pine forests lined both sides of the road. On our immediate right side was a heavy wooded area. Our immediate left side was an open field. Our tanks could not have maneuvered across the ditches and hid among the trees. Our infantrymen were in the woods around and ahead of us.
This was not a road block like the ones we manned in October and November. I don't know if anyone told our tank commander to expect the enemy to approach us from far down the road. I could see quite a distance straight ahead through my gun sight. As the day wore on the bright winter sun faded. It began to get foggy and visibility became poor. The infantry around us had not been firing and the other two tanks had not fired at ny targets. I kept looking down the road through my gun sight. I finally saw something. I told the tank commander that I saw people far down on the road. I don't know if he had field glasses and looked, or if he looked and couldn't see. He calmly told me they were "friendly." I kept looking, but couldn't make them out in the fog.