Chapter: Battle of the Bulge (Belgium)
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Orv' WWII Autobiography
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Orv Iverson's WWII
So on September 10, 1944 we arrived at Verviers, Belgium almost in walking distance from the German border. In fact on October 13, Lt. Col. Bain and I drove to a point on a hill in view of Achen, Germany to observe our P-47's bomb the city. Because the 9TAC operated the fighter control center at Verviers we were able to know ahead the location and the time the fighter-bombers would strike.
At Verviers all kinds of things were happening. About a month after we were settled into a more permanent building, the Palace of Justice, we were bombed and strafed by our own P-38's. I can remember looking out the window and seeing the P-38's circle low over our building. Then shortly we could hear the cannons of the P-38's, then came the bombs, but not much damage, only some broken windows. I can remember the General waddling down the corridor and muttering, "What the hell is going on around here?" A Belgian match factory and a GI truck were the only casualties. The P-38 pilots were newly arrived from the USA. They were supposed to be bombing a German town not far away. The pilots were court-martialled and sent back to the USA.
October 19 Colonel Garland signed my rotation orders. That meant that I would be going back to the USA for a leave. To put it mildly I was excited about this possibility. So now I was on the wait-list. As soon as transportation was available I would be flown to the USA.
On October 23 we saw and heard an unfamiliar sound in the sky. It was a beginning of a long siege of V-1 rockets, nicknamed the "Buzz Bomb". I do not know why, because it did not make a buzzing sound, it was more like a pop, pop sound. These flying bombs with a ton of explosives flew over us to the city of Liege, probably about three or four per hour. About a minute after the V-1 passed over us at Verviers our windows would be rattled.
On December16 I was summoned by Colonel Garland to drive him and General Quesada to Spa, about a distance of five miles. The Colonel's driver, Frank Losket, could not be found and this was an urgent trip. Spa was the location of the First Army top officers, General Bradley, Hodges, and other high ranking officers were to have an emergency meeting. I can remember on the way to Spa that the roads were icy with frozen snow surface. As I was driving the '41 Ford down a long hill an armored half-track made a left turn in front of me. Because the roads were icy I could not use the brakes so I guided the '41 Ford around the half-track, barely missing it. The officers, there was another officer, maybe Colonel Bain, were busy talking so they did not know how close we came to having the course of the war changed.
Now I was next on the rotation orders. However the war was beginning to change. The lighting in the sky began to get brighter each night. Civilians were asking questions on the street. We began to hear rumblings in the distance. More V-1's passed over, some landing in the fields nearby, at least we believed this to be the source of explosions. Later I was informed that these were German shells with rocket boosters,
On December 23, I can remember one of the war correspondents came back to the school where we stayed. We had just gotten off duty so it must have been about 5PM. I can remember it was almost dark and we could see many military vehicles on the move. The 7th Armored Division had passed through Verviers going toward the front. However, now the vehicles were moving in the opposite direction, away from the front, and moving fast. Now the correspondent informed us that we would be leaving Verviers in fast retreat. For both Roy and me this was very hard to believe. After all we had been moving forward at a very fast pace all these past months. Well, within an hour we were told to grab our personal belongings, load the signal section truck and leave for a new location, back to Liege, Belgium, about fifteen miles to the rear. In other words retreat.
The road to Liege was congested so we did not arrive until late at night. The weather was near freezing. Rain was changing to snow. Just as we arrived in Liege a buzz bomb cut out above us. We were on top of the load on the six by six truck. We jumped off the truck and crawled under the truck in the slushy snow just as the buzz bomb exploded. This was the night of December 23.
The telephone lines had been cut, so now communication had to be done via radio using coded international Morse code. My classification was high speed radio operator, even though I had been working in a different area, I was required to go back to radio operating. Although I cannot recall being transferred, I was now with the 926 Signal Battalion, Co. A, as radio operator. The worst was yet to come here in Liege, Belgium
The possibility for rotation back to the USA no longer existed. I was no longer with my 9TAC comrades. Christmas was approaching. Our mail was no longer coming through. There were many other priorities, The weather had turned cold and rain had begun to turn to snow. The sky was heavily overcast and remained this way day after day. Only the buzz bombs continued to come over, seemingly every fifteen minutes. I can remember the window glass falling as we walked the mile or so from our billets, a Catholic girls' school, to the radio van. We were on duty six hours then off six hours.
On the night of December 28, I finished my duty at midnight. As I walked back to our billet with the other radio operators, I can remember one operator especially, Jim Monger. He sort of took me under his wing when I was placed with Company A of the 926 Signal Battalion to work as radio operator. The buzz bombs were dropping very close to us as we neared our billet. Jim decided to sleep down in the basement so he would be rested to go back on duty again in the morning. I was feeling extremely tired so I did not want to move my cot and bedding down into the dirty, damp basement. Even though the bombs were falling very close, I crawled into my cot, pulled the blankets over me, also I placed my jacket over my feet to help keep them warm. Immediately, I fell asleep
The next thing I found myself buried under the wooden chalkboard that had been hanging on the wall above my head. A buzz bomb had exploded just outside of our window. It was difficult to breathe. There was a strong smell of gunpowder. My cot had broken from the weight of the debris resting on the wooden chalk board. I was able to extricate myself from the debris. As I emerged from the debris I could see just less than twenty feet from me, a blue flame. I believe it was a magnesium part from the buzz bomb. I hurried as fast as I could in the opposite direction over piles of debris. As I was passing through what was left of the doorway, I could see one of the GIs, I believe his name was Harris. He was face up, buried under large beams. His face was pure white in the moonlight. He did not make any moves so I assumed he was dead. Later I found out he had survived.
I tried to go to the building across the street where the others were housed. I staggered almost all the way across the street, but I collapsed by a wall. The next thing I knew I was being carried by a very large GI into the building where I was put on a cot. I began regaining my senses on the cot when Lt. Staib was brought in. He was bleeding badly from a large flap of skin hanging from his cheek. I got up to give him my cot and as I was going out the door Chaplain Brooks gave me his trousers. I only had my summer underwear on. Also as I got out the door two medics grabbed me and attempted to put me in their ambulance. However, just as I was getting into the ambulance, Jim Monger came along and told me there was a need to help dig out the GIs who were still buried
The sky had cleared so the moonlight cast an eerie effect over the demolished building which only minutes before had been our dormitory where most of the GI's were sleeping soundly. I walked back to where the other GI's were still buried. Because the chaplain was very tall the legs of his trousers folded over the bottom of my feet, sort of protecting my bare feet from the cold and the broken glass and other sharp debris. Snow was all around us, but the explosion had scattered dirty debris so very little of the snow was evident. The blood from my leg injuries had caused my borrowed pants to stick to my feet. I was coughing up blood, and had blood trailing from my nostrils. My chest was giving me some pain. However as I try to recall feeling the cold and pain, it seems like some kind of a dream I was locked into. I didn't seem to feel the cold even though at this point I only wore my summer underwear and the chaplain's GI pants. It was as if the pain and cold was irrelevant.
At first I came upon Sargent Hunt. Some of the other GI's were feverishly pulling away with their bare hands the bricks that covered Sargent Hunt. Apparently he died instantly while he slept on his cot. We carried his body out of the debris and the medics took him away. In the meantime we could hear the muted voices of the kitchen crew from far under the debris. There were some timbers which left an opening so with flashlights we could see someone's hand. By now more help was arriving so we took turns pulling off the debris at a feverish rate. After awhile we did not hear any sounds coming from under the debris. It was too late. No one was alive. We found Fritz in his bunk. There was blood oozing from his ears, but seemingly no apparent injuries that caused his death.
My bunk had been in the same room so my friend Jim helped me recover some of my belongings. A wooden chalkboard had fallen off the wall and covered me and John Pasquale, but my cot had broken from the weight of the debris. I think this may have saved us. I was able to find my British issue battle jacket that I used to cover my feet at night for warmth. The inside lining was shredded from flying debris.
I find it difficult to remember the next phase of this the night of the 28th of December, 1944. I must have passed out again, at least I cannot remember much until I woke when daylight arrived and found myself on a pile of debris in what was left of the basement of the building across the street.
I guess I was not sure what I was supposed to do at this point. Actually I was supposed to be on duty at the radio station, but it was as if I was forgotten. I walked over to the 9TAC operations where I Major McCabe saw me and said, "Iverson, it looks as if you've had a tough night, why not use the officers' washroom to cleanup?" I gave no explanation for my condition, but thanked him and promptly washed my face and washed the blood off my legs and feet.
I managed to find a cot and set it up down in the basement of the operations building. It was a reinforced concrete room about seven feet by five feet. The floor was covered with about four inches of water, but I placed some broken concrete slabs for stepping stones to my cot. When I slept I had to keep all my belongings on the cot with me. I felt relatively safe and it was not far from the radio van. Some of my old comrades from the 9TAC stayed there so that helped.
We were assigned to the 29th Infantry Division for rations. Most of the time I would skip meals because it was a long walk to their messhall. I became very nervous and sometimes when the buzz bombs would cut-off above and I couldn't see them, I would run back to my "catacomb" as we called our living space. It was too dark in there to write letters so I would go to the Red Cross which was located upstairs in a nearby building. However when the buzz bombs would fall nearby I would shake so much I could not finish letter writing. Then I would retreat back to the "Catacomb" and finish letter writing using a flashlight. There was no heat and no place to bathe so we slept in our clothes.
One day when I was finishing my radio tour of duty, I noticed the GI relieving me had a very frightened look on his face. He told me a buzz bomb had landed in the nunnery just on the other side of a stone wall behind the radio van. It did not explode on impact. Without giving him my summary of messages I took off and ran back to my "catacomb". Sure enough about two hours later the bomb exploded. However because it had not gone off on impact it was buried and the explosion did very little damage and no one was hurt. I can remember walking with a radio operator who I had known in Africa. He had been sent up from the 414th in Paris to replace one of the radiomen lost in the bombing. A buzz bomb cut off above us and was blocked from view by buildings. I jumped down in the nearest basement well window and tried to get him to do the same. He looked at me as if I were crazy. If I remember correctly these buzz bombs came over every fifteen minutes for about a month.
Finally after about a month in Liege we returned to Verviers. I can remember being billeted in a Catholic school in a large classroom with a large enclosed courtyard. One day I was just about to enter my room where we slept. There was a loud sound like having two boards slapped together next to my ear. I turned slightly toward the door and noticed a hole as large as my finger in the glass on the door. Then the first sergeant came out and wanted to know who fired their gun. Well, the bullet had just missed me and was fired by a GI across the court who was cleaning his gun. The bullet hit a helmet hanging on the inside wall and ricocheted around the room.
But more important, one day a young Belgium lad about fifteen approached me as I came out of the school where we stayed. He spoke English and invited me to his house. Although I had had some social contact in Verviers before the retreat, I had never been invited to a Belgium home. I had attended dances at the local dance hall and spent some time at the ice cream parlor. I walked with Claude, my newly met Belgium friend, to his parents home which was up some flights of stairs about a quarter of mile from my billet. I met his parents, who were staying down in their very clean basement. Mr. Jacquet was with the Ministry of Finance, so he did much traveling. He spoke English fluently.
Claude had an older sister, Ninette. She also spoke English. This was the beginning of a long friendship. She called me "Ivy". We began to have more time off. In fact the radio operators were now working a more normal schedule, six hours on and twelve off. So I was able to spend some time with the Jacquets. Ninette and I would go off on excursions, including trips to Spa and sometimes long walks. They invited me to stay upstairs in the feather down bed with its feather down comforter. It was wonderful to get away from the smoky classroom where the GIs slept and lived. I would disappear in the evening and would not show up until breakfast. It was my secret, and I don't think anybody knew about my home away from home
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