I have corresponded with John Schaffner for 8 years.|
I first met him in June, 1998 at a Banquet at the
Crossroads for the 589th Field Artillery of the 106
Infantry Division. A month later I was visting
near his home and he came over to make this
taped interview. Later we attended a ball game at
Camden Yards and quaffed some beer sitting
on the water front in the harbor. We gave a toast to
The Star Spangle Banner
BARAQUE de FRAITURE, BELGIUM
On 19 Dec 1944, in the afternoon, what was remaining of the 589th FABn arrived at the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture to establish some kind of blocking force against the German advance. Whether or not there was any intelligent planning involved in this move I really don't know. I had the feeling that nobody knew anything, and that we would resist here in this place as long as possible and hope to get help before we were blown away. There were approximately 100 men and three 105mm howitzers to set up the defense at this time.
The weather was cold, wet and foggy with some snow already on the ground. Visibility was variable, clearing from maybe fifty yards to two or three hundred on occasion.
I didn't even know who was in charge of the rag-tag group that I was with until I saw Major Elliott Goldstein out in the open, verbally bombasting the enemy (where ever they were) with all the curse words he could think of, and at the top of his booming voice. I thought at the moment that he won't be around too long if there are any Germans out there to hear him. Apparently there were none, he drew no fire. I was taking cover behind the rear wheel of one of our trucks at the time and felt rather naked.
The three howitzers were ordered into position to defend the crossroads and I was told to go out "there" and dig in and look for an attack from "that" direction, still having no idea of the situation. Most of the night was spent in the foxhole. All was quiet on the front line. When I was relieved during the night to get some rest, I tried to find a dry place in the stone barn to lay down. The floor was deep in muck, but the hay rack on the wall was full of dry hay so I accepted that as a good place to sleep. Pushing the cows aside, I climbed into the hay. I guess that the cows just didn't understand, because they kept pulling the hay out from under me until I became the next course on their menu. Anyway, it wasn't long until I was outside in another hole in the ground.
Next morning, 20 December, the weather remained miserable, cold, wet and foggy with a little more snow for good measure. If the enemy was around, he was keeping it a secret. The day went very slowly. (This kind of time is usually spent getting your hole just a bit deeper, you never know how deep is going to be deep enough.) Now and then one of our guys would pop off a few rounds at something, real or imagined.
We were joined by some AAA people with half-tracks mounted with a brace of four .50 caliber machine guns and a 37mm cannon (anti-aircraft weapons.) I thought at the time, I'd hate to be in front of that thing when it went off. Little did I know at the time that I would be. (I only saw the one unit then, but the official books reporting the action mention that there were four of these units there from the 203rd AAA, 7th Armored Division.) This weapon was positioned to fire directly down the road to Houffalize. Frank Aspinwall also reports that we were joined by a platoon of the 87th Recon Squadron.
Later in the evening, Captain Brown sent me, with another "B" Battery G.I., Ken Sewell, to a foxhole in the ditch at the side of the road to Houffalize, about a couple hundred yards out from the crossroads (hard to remember the distance exactly). We were the outpost and had a field telephone hookup to Captain A.C. Brown's CP. Captain Brown told us to just sit tight and report any movement we observed. There was a "daisy chain" of mines strung across the road a few yards ahead of our position to stop any vehicles. The darkness was made even deeper by the thick fog that night, with a silence to match. Now and then a pine tree would drop some snow or make a noise. I think my eyelids and ears were set on "Full Open".