Minutes, or maybe seconds later, our tank was hit with an exploding shell. I didn't see where the shell came from, but am certain it came from the "friendly" troops. We all got out of the tank. The tank commander was the first out and the loader then followed me out of the turret hatch. The tank started burning. I got behind the tank to get my bearings and saw our driver. Star Blades. Star Blades told me that he could not see. I felt my face burning and thought I had been hit with shell fragments. I looked around and saw a stone building off to the left rear of our tank about 30 or 40 yards away. The open field was behind it. I grabbed Star Blades and we ran to the building.
When we got to the building, I was surprised to see that it was the forward command post for a company of the 82nd Airborne Division. It was also the first aid station for the Airborne infantrymen who had been wounded fighting further down the crossroads. Wounded soldiers were standing around and lying on the dirt floor. One of them told me they had been ordered to hold the crossroads "at all costs." The lieutenant in charge was talking on a field telephone, apparently to another command post. He was asking for reinforcements. I heard him say that he was running out of ammunition. A paratrooper was gathering whatever ammunition the wounded still carried. By this time, all three tanks were burning and their ammunition inside was exploding. Star Blades and I stayed within range of the lieutenant's voice. I wanted to know what he was going to do.
Star Blades and I had been in the building for about an hour. I never saw any of the other crew members. It must have been about 3:30 o'clock. It was getting dark with the heavy fog. I could hear the fighting outside getting closer to the crossroads. The lieutenant told his men to pass the word to get ready to withdraw. They were to split off into small groups and make a run for it. I told Star Blades that I would take him with the Airborne, once I knew 'which way they were going. I watched from the building as the first groups of Airborne took off across the open field. Although the field was covered with snow, the ground was hard. Thank goodness for the heavy fog. As the Airborne started to run, the Germans began firing machine guns and "burp" guns into the field. I took off with Star Blades holding on to my hand. It was dark enough to see the tracer bullets. When they started getting close, I told Star Blades to fall down with me. We rolled over several times away from where we fell, then got up again and ran-just like we had been taught in basic training. The field was getting shelled with mortars. I heard the screams of wounded men calling for help. I couldn't help. I was leading Star Blades back and that saved me from a guilty conscience.
It was almost dark by the time we reached a wooded area. We kept going as fast as we could through the trees trying to keep up with the Airborne. We finally reached an infantry outpost. Airborne troops had already alerted them and we made our way past them without any trouble. We eventually found the infantry first aid station. Star Blades was taken by the medics and that was the last time I saw him. I have wondered about him over the past 55 years. Did he regain his sight and come through the war alive? I hope so.
The only man I recognized at the aid station was "Gabby" Gaboriault. He had been in one of the other two tanks. He was stretched out on the floor shaking, apparently from shock. It was cold. He wasn't wearing a coat and wasn't getting any attention. I threw my wool field jacket over him for whatever good it might do. Gaboriault was an early replacement who could speak French fluently. He rode with the first sergeant until we reached Germany. When his French was no longer useful, he joined a tank crew.
I don't know what happened to the loader after he got out of the tank. According to I Company records, the tank commander was killed. I don't know when, but I expect it was that same day. In 1949 I received a letter from Army Graves Registration informing me that Pvt. Daniel Marblo, our bow gunner, was last seen that day running into the woods. He was missing in action. Graves Registration was still searching for him and was asking me for information. I could not give the Army any information it did not already have. The 2nd SS Panzer Division overran our road block and fought its way into Manhay before it was finally stopped. As I reflect on that day, I ask myself if any Sherman tank and crew could have held off the German tanks that came up the road that day. We were sent there to be road blocks. Maybe the three burning and exploding tanks on the crossroads slowed the Germans down. That was as much as the grossly inferior Sherman could realistically be expected to do. Pool and Oiler may have detected the German soldiers on that road and fired off a few rounds of phosphorus or high explosives to make the battle more even. I didn't, and Tank #3 was history.
*I did find that Pvt. Daniel Marblo is listed in The Ardennes Cemetary in Belg. WOM (Wall of Missing). Sgt Jesse Carroll was killed 4/1/45. SGT. Frank W. Math who was listed as going to the hospital with Cpl. Bertrand Close on Dec. 24, was killed later. Five men were reported as Missing in action on Dec. 24 from the day before; Cpl Bertrand Close, Pfc. Edward J. Dlugitch, Pfc. Vern F. Kleesser, Pfc. Carl J. Lenassi, and Pvt. Anthony Dileo. Star Blades is nickname for Rube A. Freeman Gabby Gaboriault is Pfc. Albert Z. Gaboriault
Copy Right Dec. 23, 2000 - Bertrand Close & Charles R. Corbin