Item Company entered the fray
at Bastogne on the early morning of 19 December with Captain Claude
Wallace at the helm. All the senior non-commissioned officers
in the company had been transferred during the stay in Mourmelon
due to a scandal started by a French camp follower.
Sargis from B/501st replaced the erstwyle first sargean, and Staff
Sergeant Erminio Calseran, formerly of D/501st, had also arrived
recently. These were good men, as were some of the replacement
officers, but they didn't know the individuals in I/501st nor
their capabilities. the company was about to be subjected to the
severest of tests, a desperate fight for survival against overwhelming
German panzer forces and King Tiger tanks. Colonel Ewell, in retrospect,
regretted the shifting of leaders in the company, but that was
with hindsight. The entire Bastogne battle happened with no advance
notice, and the debacle at Wardin could not have been foreseen.
The approach march to Wardin, which is over five miles southeast
of Bastogne, took several hours. The company took a difficult
route decided on by the new leasers, passing through numerous
wooded areas. There was not yet snow on the ground, and many troopers
shed their overcoats and other winter accessories on the sweaty,
difficult approach march. they entered Wardin without resistance
after turning left at a small bridge that crosses a stream on
the edge of the villages.
company CP was established in a farmhouse on the western side
of the street. Bill McMahon led his machine gun section up a small
rise facing south at the southern edge of town. Radioman Frank
Guzy had a radio, but was unable to make contact with 3rd/501st
or a group of friendly tanks that sat back to the southwest on
Guzy later realized that he was under German observation as he
sought higher ground just outside Wardin on which to set up his
radio. When German tanks opened fire, they started toward the
church from the south. The opening 88mm round went through the
CP into the attached barn, killing First Sergeant Car Sargis.
McMahon's group swept a line of German panzer-grenadiers coming
over the ridge, then saw the tanks.
Being a survivor of Normandy and Holland McMahon made a snap
decision to get out of town as quickly as possible. he told his
squad to take off, heading west. They re-crossed the main road
in town, leaving the light machine gun behind with much other
equipment. Given cover by smoke from the exploding tanks shells
the retreating troopers splashed right through the stream on the
far edge of town and made their way uphill to the nearest patch
of woods. From there, they watched the town burn.
Marvin Wolfe witnessed a crucial action by Wilbur Gauthier of
his company, who was normally a machine gunner. After firing a
light matching gun for a while, Gauthier left the gun and ran
onto the road with a bazooka. He fired a rocket into the lead
tank, disabling it and causing a critical delay for the Germans.
This enabled many of his comrades to escape from the town. Guthier
was killed by machine gun fire from another tank in the process.
He remains one of the many heroes who was never decorated for
Of the 140 men who went into Wardin on 19 December only 83 escaped
to reorganize the following day. The survivors made their way
back piecemeal, surviving any way they could.
Ermino Calderan and Robert Vaughn joined a group of Belgian civilians
who were walking west, pushing their possessions along in carts.
the troopers obtained a woman's coat and dress and donned them,
then walked west in the group, pushing a baby carriage. The Germans
in the distance spotted their boots and opened fire. The duo hit
the ditch and managed to make their escape.
Richard Hahlbohm survived Wardin, but was captured. Hahlbohm
wrote of his experience:
Wardin is a small town, about six or
seven houses, and was of no value to us or the enemy. We
were just to find out where the enemy were. Believe me -
There was a long wood pile, neatly stacked to my side,
so I crouched behind it. I was waiting for the Krauts to
come through the hedgerow, but they must have backed off.
I then heard a tank coming up the road. He stopped in plain
sight of me, to my left. I notice right away that it was
a new Tiger Royal. He was firing down into the open field.
I gather my company, or a part of it, was making a run
for it as we only had bazooka to fire at them. The tank's
machine gunner was firing, but he didn't see me. I looked
over my shoulder and saw my buddy, Julius J. Shrader, behind
a tree to my left. I was in the only position to fire at
the tank. I noticed behind the corner of the house was a
bazookaman. I yelled, "Tank!" and pointed. When
I took another look, the bazooka man was there, but the
Meanwhile, I had knocked off the machine gunner in the
tank turret and drew some attention. The 88 swung in my
direction. I knew he couldn't penetrate the whole wood pile
with his first shot, so I got up on my haunches to make
a dash behind the house after he let the first one fly.
But he realized this also, so he backed his gun up to make
a ricochet shot from the house so it would get me and whoever
was in back of the house.
I figured now was the time to make tracks, as a new turret
gunner was peppering the area. I started my 10-12 foot leap,
and he let loose and the bullets imbedded in the house.
The 88 concussion caught me halfway there. It made me like
a rag doll flying through the air. As I hit the ground,
I heard the machine gunner open up at the same time. Someone
pulled me behind the house. My overcoat was ripped in a
few places by shrapnel, but luckily, I wasn't hit.
We took refuge in the house. My ears were ringing like
two dozen phones. We were trapped in the house. As we were
preparing to fight from the house, it caught on fire. As
I looked out the window, I saw wall-to-wall Krauts. It looked
like a whole regiment. After a few minutes of debate, I
told the other seven men with me to break down their weapons
and scatter them all over and in the walls as I had heard
the Krauts shot you with your own weapons. Surrender was
a bitter pill to swallow, but we had to survive. I was wondering
how Captain Wallace, my CO, was making out and hoped he
saw the odds against him.
They took us out and put us up against a hedgerow and brought
up a GI halftrack with a .50 cal. on top. The gunner cranked
in a round and leveled the gun on us. I figured we had had
it for sure. A machine gunner who had been wounded earlier
was shot through the ass, in and out. His bandage was falling
off. I forgot about being a prisoner and leand over to push
the bandage back on. I almost got shot for my trouble. So
I quickly said in German, "My comrade has been wounded."
The Germans took one look at his wound and all started
to laugh. The interrogation office came out and took us
away. They put us against two more times and again we were
saved by the officer. He then took us to the rear.
The survivors of I/501st regrouped at the regimental CP in the
Bastogne seminary or at the farmhouse CP of 3rd/501st at Mont.