A Night Near Bergeval
by E.W. "Bill" Bolin
Recollections of the night January 4-5,1945 by Bill Bolin, 1st Sgt., "C" Co., 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team

"A" and "C" company left Bergeval shortly before dark to take up defensive positions at higher elevations to protect the village from counter attack. We soon came to a wide stream of water and floating ice. There was no good place to cross since the ice was not strong enough to support our weight. Nearly everybody got wet above the boots.

It was very cold; below zero degrees F. I came from cold country in eastern Oregon in the Idaho Panhandle and had a good sense for that sort of temperature. There were quite a few men from the South in our outfit and they were affected by the severe cold.

"A" Company took the lead out of Bergeval and "C" Company led after the stream crossing. We soon came to a plantation of evergreens. "C" Company separated. "C" Company proceeded into the plantation. The trees were planted in need rows much like an orchard. It was a very vulnerable place because sniper or machinegun had wonderful lanes of fire and could cover a large area. I believe Col. Boyle was wounded here.

The trees were 15 to 20 feet tall, fully limbed and weighted with soft snow. It was like wading through four feet of snow. It was impossible to keep our weapons free of the snow. We were very exposed in the firing lanes and crossed by crouching low and running. We were soon completely covered by snow.

It was difficult to hold our course as we zigzagged through the plantation. I felt we veered to the right a considerable amount. Our progress was up a rather gentle slope until we came to a road. The road was narrow, but was improved with good ditches on both sides. German communication lines were in the far ditch.

"C" Co. stopped at the road and Captain La Chaussee and the Operations Sergeant studied the map to orient themselves. Everybody took a break along the road. Captain La Chaussee directed me to set up a temporary CP about 100 feet beyond road. I took the company clerk and three runners. The Operation Sargent and radioman remained with the C.O.

I was cautious about penetrating the thick forest and entered in patrol formation. As I remember Private Coyle was the point. We were soon hand-signaled by the point to stop and take cover. We heard German voices and other noise ahead to our left. The point went ahead alone and soon returned to report an enemy patrol (or stragglers) of about a dozen men moving toward our right on a trail paralleling the road we had just crossed.

It was at this time that I discovered that my weapon was full of snow. I pulled my folding stock carbine from the hip scabbard and it looked like a milky ice sickle. I had to pry some of it off with my trench knife, where it had melted against my body heat. It seemed prudent to withdraw so we all returned to the road to report contact. At this moment a vehicle engine started up to our left and started coming toward us. We left the road and setup the bazookas. We soon saw that it was an American half-track with the white star markings, so we revealed ourselves to it thinking it would stop to talk and exchange information. Not so, it continued through us at slow speed and continued along the road until I was out of sight. We could plainly see the German helmets as it passed within a few feet of our position.

Captain La Chaussee then decided to follow the road to our left toward where the half-track had come from. We soon came to an intersection. No enemy contact was made and Captain La Chaussee chose to dig in below the road to defend the intersection. The terrain was quite flat but sloped slightly upward across the road we had come along. Our position was in an old forest with many large deciduous trees, possibly oak.

As we were digging in we were suddenly fired upon with small arms and suffered casualties. Sgt. Starkey was wounded in the arm. He was evacuated to battalion medical by the route we had come along. There was a lull in the fighting after that and the digging intensified. A patrol was sent out to scout for enemy positions. Shortly after the patrol left all hell broke loose and we were completely pinned down by small arms and cannon fire. We soon realized that most of our weapons were frozen and inoperative. A few M-1 rifles, the BAR, and a machine gun were the extent of our firepower. Captain La Chaussee called to battalion H.Q. for help. I will refrain from a personal experience from this point.

Soon afterward a artillery tree-burst killed Sergeant Jacosini and wounded Captain La Chaussee. Captain La Chaussee and other walking wounded were evacuated Lt. Marks took command of "C" Company. He immediately called for help again on the 300 radio. None came that I was aware of. We remained pinned down all night. Ammunition was running very low. The Germans made several attempts to cross the road, but were not successful and seemed to settle down to the night in a sniper mode. They may have been low on ammunition also. At day break we were rescued by somebody who came from our left and swept the area across the road. I thought it was "D" Company at the time. It was a miracle we weren't overrun and captured. The only weapon I had all night was a trench knife.

Author: E.W. Bolin, 1st Sgt., "C" Co., 517