Fear and panic started to hit me and I grabbed a handful of snow and stuffed it into my dry mouth. We didn't know what would come down the trail next-we were out in the middle of nowhere in a silent and snowbound forest.
Several of the men of the squad that had been behind us then started to appear through the trees. They told us that a column of German infantry had cut through our line and shot them up. We milled around a bit then decided to go down the cart path to see if there were more Jerries coming toward us. Our little combined squads reached a clearing in a few minutes--- just as a platoon of Germans came out of the woods on the other side. We looked at them and they stared backówe were about 150 feet apartóbut neither side raised their rifles. Then we started to yell at them to surrender and drop their weapons. They shouted back at us. Although neither side understood the language, we both knew what the other side was saying. I fleetingly wondered how this standoff would end when bullets started to crack and snap past us. Instinctively we all dove for the snowy ground. I headed for a depression near a tree, but another guy got there first and I landed on top of him. As I went down I saw that three of our own tanks had pushed through the brush on our right and were firing at us. They either ignored or didn't see the crowd of Germans. The bullets and tracers were still cracking over us when several of us tried to wave a cease fire" at the tanks as they approached. We didn't have radios. Finally some tank commander must have seen the error and the firing stopped. The Germans disappeared, but we had one dead; hit in the groin and bled to death before we could help, plus two badly wounded. Things like that happened.
The Task Force, now called" Welborn" stayed in the assembly area from the 9th to the 11th near Ottre and our halftracks came forward to us with sleeping bags and blankets. Hot food was welcomed during the day, but we didn't shower or change our uniforms. We just kept going as we were. When I saw some of the 83rd Div. footsloggers, I thought they looked pretty beat up and scruffy. Then I studied my own squad and a group of German prisoners and realized we all looked the same! No shaves, no haircuts, no showers. Little sleep, same uniform, same long Johns for nearly three weeks giving us all the same "look".
Back into the attack and on the high ground as usual, we were working with some T.D.'s on a ridge overlooking a valley. It was late in the day when we spotted a Kraut tank in the valley near some woods. We pointed it out to the T.D. Commander and they swung around and fired. The range must have been more than 1000 yards. The shot missed and the Germans then fired and hit our tank that started to burn. We got one man out and somehow a stretcher appeared from somewhere (I didn't know where it came from) and several of us got the wounded guy on to it and started to run toward the closest house. I stumbled and was actually running on my knees trying to keep the stretcher level. We made it and got him into the shelter with the Medics.
The next day we were deep in the woods again to relieve a squad in a defensive position. When I met the squad leader, I saw some soldiers, down the hill from us, in the cart path we were standing in. They were bending over a body on the ground. I asked, as usual, "Who's in front of us?" He said, "Nobody." I then said "Who are those guys?" We both looked again at the two soldiers who were now looking back at us. I said, "They're Krauts!" Instead of relieving the squad, we helped them in a short sharp firefight. One of my men, his name long gone from my memory, was hit. I ran over to him, crouched over and saw that I couldn't do anything. I was standing by a tree when something exploded against the trunk near my head. It knocked me down into the snow and things got very dim for a few minutes. I heard one of my men yelling "Cullen's dead." But I wasn't. My right ear was ringing and there were spots of blood on my cheek, but I was OK. I don't know what hit the tree unless it was a U.S. rifle grenade the Germans had captured. Jerry was firing blind into the snow-filled trees just as we were, and the fight didn't last long. Finally the shooting stopped and everything became quiet again.
E company then moved forward on the 13th to take the high ground overlooking Baclain, and the next morning with the 1st Bn 33rd Armored, we took the town.
Sterpigny was our next objective on the 15th, and it was a tough one. The Germans were retreating all over the front, but they put up some nasty rearguard actions and chose this area as one of them. They shelled the field as we attacked, and antitank weapons made a mess of most of our tanks. Light tanks, one after another were set on fire.