|U.S. Army Photo|
Sgt. Jack Wilson walked up to where S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez was sitting, next to a row of poncho-shrouded bodies. Hernandez looked as crappy as Wilson felt, seems like they had been moving and fighting for as long as Wilson could remember. In truth though, it was not that many weeks ago that they had been preparing for a kid's Christmas party in Aubel. The German attack on the 16th of December had spoiled all that.
"Ya wanted to see me, Top?" Wilson asked.
"Yeah, step into my office Jack, pull up a snow bank."
Wilson unslung his rifle and sat down next to Hernandez.
"Smoke?" Hernandez said, offering his pack of Lucky Strikes.
"Yeah Top, don't mind if I do."
The two men lit their cigarettes and sat quietly for a few moments. Wilson looked over at the bodies, men he had known and liked for the most part. Sgt. Greg Jenkins, Pfc. Harry Mitchell, Pvt. Justin Long, Pvt. Thomas Spencer, Pvt. Edgar Freeman, and Pvt. Eugene King had all been killed in action the day before. Wilson recognized Jenkins' boots, one of them had a distinctive scuff mark across the toe, he sighed. Greg had been a friend, a fellow squad leader, now he was dead. Who knows, Wilson thought to himself, I might be lying there in a day or so.
"How's the L.T.?" Wilson asked.
"Doc says he'll be fine. Million dollar wound he said, Hell I'd pay that much to keep him here with us." Hernandez answered.
"Yeah, I hear ya." Wilson took another drag on his cigarette, then asked, "So why'd ya need to see me, Top? I don't want to leave my guys alone too long, ya know how they like to get in trouble." Wilson chuckled, the guys were too tired to get into any mischief. At any rate, what mischief was there to get into in this war-torn area?
"You're the new platoon sergeant." Hernandez stated in a flat voice. "Diego's a solid guy, he should have his own squad anyway." Cpl. Diego Pena was Wilson's assistant squad leader.
"What happens when they send a new lieutenant down, do I get my squad back?" Wilson wasn't sure he liked this new arrangement. Just seven months ago he'd been a buck-ass private storming the beach at Omaha with his buddy Bill Brandt. Bill had made sergeant before getting hit in Belgium, now he himself was a sergeant, leading Bill's old squad.
"There ain't gonna be a new lieutenant. Cap'n Palminteri says I'm getting a field commission. I guess I'm a lieutenant now." Hernandez tossed his cigarette butt, he pulled the pack out, thought better of it, but offered one to Wilson, who declined.
"Damn, Stephen Hernandez, a Second Looey. Man, do you have to start making dumb mistakes and misreading maps now?" Wilson joked.
"Nah, I'm sure I'll make enough other mistakes. By the way, I asked the Cap'n if I could make you a S/Sgt."
"Yeah? What did he say?"
"You need to sew some new stripes on, Jack. You can have mine, they're kinda grimy but..."
"Okay. Can't say I'm thrilled, but the extra few bucks a month will be nice. If we ever get to a place where we can spend it. Guess I'll just send the extra on to my Mom. She'll appreciate it,"
"Yeah, now we have work to do, we're not getting any replacements any time soon, and division wants us to start pushing the Krauts again. They don't want the bastards digging in I suppose, you know how tough they are to root out again."
"Oh boy, attacking through this crap." Wilson gestured at the snow-covered fields.
"Manfred! Come here, we need to get moving, it will be dark soon." Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz had his map out, it was soiled and torn, but still legible. He'd been carrying it since the 14th of December and had been referring to it constantly. It was a good map, from the Wehrmacht's pre-war stocks.
"Herr Major, where to?" Leutnant Manfred Sauer needed a shave, a bath, a haircut, and sleep. Most of all he wanted to sleep, in a real bed, with real sheets. He was exhausted, he remembered the amphetamine tablets the Army used to issue in the early years of the war, he almost wished he could lay his hands on some now.
He and the Major had spent the day under the cover of a stand of pine trees reorganizing what was left of their Kampfgruppe. They had started the month of December with 527 men, a full battalion. Now they numbered just 43, barely a platoon, yet they were still carried on the 6th Panzerarmee's rolls as a battalion. They had orders to march for Losheimergraben, a place they had gone through some weeks ago heading west. Now they were headed in the opposite direction, east, back to Germany. Perhaps further east as well, the Reich was in dire need of troops to hold back the Russians. Sauer rather hoped they would stay in the West, he had no desire to fall into the hands of the Communists.
"I've shuffled things around, we now have three squads of nine men each, based around the MG 42s we have, and we have six of those left. I've created a weapons squad to operate three of the 42s, we had a seventh but it was constantly jamming, so we turned it in." Major von Lüttwitz was pleased with the way Sauer had reorganized things.
"Good, get the boys together, we move when the sun goes down. Make sure everyone stays closed up, I don't want anyone wandering off in the dark. They'd freeze to death out there. If we keep moving we should be all right." von Lüttwitz looked at his watch, "We've got about ten kilometers to go, on a road which has been badly torn up over the past few days. But with any luck, we can be back in the Reich by morning."
"We march, the wrong direction perhaps, but we won't be stuck in a frozen mudhole in Belgium. I'll get the troops assembled." With that Sauer offered his hand to von Lüttwitz.
Von Lüttwitz took Sauer's hand and grinned, "Just like France again, eh Manfred?"
"Jawohl Herr Major, but a lot colder!"
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