|US Army Signal Corps Photo|
Privates Fred Strickland and Irving Dixon managed to make their way down the ridge without dropping 1st Lt. Nathan Paddock from the stretcher. Though they had struggled at times as the slope was slippery from the recent rain, which had frozen under the snow which fell later. Paddock's wound was no longer bleeding, but the bandage Doc Milbury had wrapped his neck with was sodden from the blood he'd already lost. Paddock was conscious but woozy. He'd lost a lot of blood.
"You hang in there L.T., stay awake and just watch me, okay, Sir?" Pfc. Jackson Hebert was in a lot of pain. A German bullet had smashed the field glasses he had been using to spot for the platoon's sniper and had torn his right hand up pretty bad. Doc had bandaged him up and sent him back with the lieutenant. But his concern for Paddock helped him focus on something other than the pain in his hand.
There were six other wounded men up on the ridge they'd just descended from: Peter Romanov, Brad Gonzales, Pete Moreno, Homer Ginter, Riley Taggert, and Brad Chapman. Most of the wounds were fairly minor, with the exception of Pete Moreno. Doc was worried that moving Moreno might kill him. So they made him comfortable.
"Whaddaya think Doc, think Pete's gonna make it?" Sgt. Woody Sherman was the platoon guide, he was still pretty shook up over the lieutenant going down, he'd been next to him when he was hit. Paddock's blood had splashed over Sherman's face and the shoulder of his field jacket. When Moreno had been hit in the thigh, it was Sherman who had stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet improvised from the strap of a kit bag Pete had been carrying.
"I dunno Woody, that wound looks pretty bad. You probably saved him from bleeding out, but if we move him, the wound will probably start bleeding again. The cold is helping stop the bleeding as well. But man, if we don't get him to an aid station, I just don't know." Doc Milbury went to check on the other wounded, cuts and abrasions mostly, though Gonzales probably had a broken ankle.
"Hey Fred, here comes a jeep, think that's for the L.T.?"
"I dunno Irv, keep an eye on 'em, remember that rumor about Krauts running around in our uniforms?"
"Yeah, they try anything funny, I'll pot 'em."
The jeep rolled up and the men relaxed, they recognized one of the guys from the aid station, Pfc. Lou Perkins, who was driving the jeep.
"Hey guys, holy shit, is that your lieutenant?" Perkins exclaimed.
"Yeah, Doc stopped the bleeding, but he needs a doc. Bear here has a mangled hand, he needs to get that looked at." Strickland explained.
The other guy in the jeep stepped out, he was a corporal. He looked around and asked, "You guys are 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, right?" He spoke with an accent.
"Yeah, Corp, that's us." Dixon grunted as they got the lieutenant onto the stretcher strapped onto the hood of the jeep. "Who are you?"
"John Chapman, friends call me Johnny. Ain't ya gonna ask me about my accent?"
Strickland chuckled, "No need for that Corporal, we had a guy in our outfit from down Louisiana way, name of Andre Tremblay, he was a Cajun. We're used to the accent."
"What happened to him?" Chapman asked.
"Got his foot all f**ked up in the Hürtgen. Million dollar wound, Hell, he's probably back home eatin' gumbo and crawdads by now. Lucky bastard." Strickland answered.
"Damn. Anyway, I'm supposed to report to you guys. I was with the 18th, got hit back in October in Aachen, just got outta the hospital. I don't know why the damned Army sent me to you guys, I've been in the 18th since D-Day." Chapman didn't sound happy about joining the Blue Spaders of the 26th Infantry Regiment. His Vanguards, the 18th Infantry Regiment, were in the same division, but had their own proud history.
"Ain't that the Army for ya? Hey, at least you're still in the Big Red One." Hebert said, "Now can we quit yapping and get these guys to the hospital?"
"Yup, the lieutenant is secure, let's go." Perkins hopped back into the jeep.
As the jeep drove off, the three men stood there watching it go. "Was your L.T. a good guy?" Chapman asked.
"Yeah, the best." Dixon answered.
At that point Strickland said, "Let's get back up there before Top thinks we've deserted."
"Ya got any smokes, Corp?" Dixon wanted to know as they headed back up the slippery hillside.
Leutnant Manfred Sauer was morose and very angry with his commanding officer. A fire fight had raged behind them that morning and into the afternoon. While the rear guard under Unteroffizier Karl-Heinz Köhler seemed to have done their job, the firing had ceased a short time ago. No one from Köhler's squad had joined them.
"They were wiped out, Herr Major. You left Opa and his men to die. We should have stayed together, fought as a unit."
Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz looked across the snow covered field at what had to be German positions, he didn't think the Amis could have gotten in front of them. But he couldn't tell, the men some three hundred meters away weren't showing themselves. Pausing in his observations, von Lüttwitz sighed and turned to look at Sauer.
"You're right Manfred. It may have been a mistake to leave them behind, but Opa insisted, he said that it gave the rest of us a better chance. He was right you know. But I don't like it either, but what's done is done. Now we have to figure out a way to rejoin our forces. I think those are SS over there. Silly bastards like to shoot first, ask questions later, if at all."
Sauer was still angry but he knew the Major had a point. If they had tried a fighting withdrawal with the entire Kampfgruppe, at that Sauer shook his head, a fifty man Kampfgruppe, they all would have probably died. But he still didn't like the fact that Opa wasn't coming back, none of them were. Seven good men lost.
"I suppose out of the millions we've already lost, those seven men are but a drop in the bucket." Sauer grumbled.
"Yes, but we knew these men, they were our men, my men." von Lüttwitz raised his field glasses again. "We wait for dark I think."
"Yes Sir, I agree."
The men across the snow-covered fields were indeed from the 12th SS Panzer Division, Hitler Jugend. Most of them were former airmen and sailors, dragooned into the SS to raise their numbers. These men weren't fanatics, they were mostly scared boys who just wanted the war to be over.
They were also very nervous and tended to fire at anything which moved.
The remnants of Kampfgruppe (mot) von Lüttwitz had only 300 meters of open field to cross, but to those men it felt like a thousand kilometers.
Von Lüttwitz made his decision shortly after night fell. He went to each of the sergeants and corporals with Leutnant Sauer. They would break up into small parties of five to seven men and try to make their way independently back to German lines.
Von Lüttwitz fully expected half of his men to sit in place and wait for the Amis to sweep them up, but he had to make the effort. It was his only card to play.
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