501st PIR- 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment

The Battle at Wardin, Belgium

Parachute Infantry - PIR - Parachute Infantry Regiment


The following account is taken from the book Vanguard of the Crusade, with the permission of the author Mark Bando.

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.

Carl 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.

A 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 higher ground.

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 his heroism.

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 - we did.

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 gunner wasn't.

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.



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