Lt. Colonel Hagerman was assigned to the 193rd Glider Infantry Regiment during the war. Here he tells two stories, one of his deployment, and one of his experience at the Battle of the Bulge.
Activation, Training and Deployment
The 17th Airborne Division originated from a cadre selected from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC. The division was officially activated on April 15, 1943, and from the beginning, the 17th Airborne was commanded by Maj. Gen. William M. "Bud" Miley.
Troops arrived from various reception centers throughout the United States to begin basic and advanced training. Subsequent to the original activation, additional subordinate units were activated and designed as part of the 17th Airborne.
"Recruits who did not know their destination as they stepped off the trains at Hoffman, NC, found that they had been designated as 'Airborne.' It was a big day in the lives of hundreds of men as they clambered from the train coaches to gaze out across the miles of sand dunes and pines that marked the location of the Airborne Command Training Center at Camp Mackall. This desolate appearing spot was the be their home and training ground for the next several months. Theirs was the task of obtaining a grim education in the bloody business of killing or getting killed, and they set to it with a vengeance."
The "Sightseeing Seventeenth" was comprised of 506 officers, 29 warrant officers, and 7,970 enlisted men. By September 1, 1943, its strength had changed to 563 officers, 19 warrant officers, and 9,060 enlisted men. This fighting unit had spirit from the beginning. The men walked proudly down the North Carolina streets of Charlotte, Pinehurst, Southern Pines, Aberdeen, Rockingham and Fayetteville. The gold and black patch on their long sleeves showed them to be members of the Golden Talon, the 17th Airborne Division.
The Sandhill Citizen, Aberdeen, NC sold for a nickel a copy or $2 for a yer's subscription. An early December, 1943 edition had headlines, "Night Maneuvers Hold Interest of Sandhill People This Week." The article states that "residents of the town stayed up waiting, waiting for something big to happen, but everything went off very calmly in Aberdeen and the other Sandhill towns. The big happenings were pulled off in the rural areas. Between Aberdeen and Pinehurst, scores of gliders landed. A few cracked up. Between Southern Pines and Pinehurst along near the race track, hundreds of parachutists landed. Civilians driving along that road could observe scores, probably hundreds of parachutists still in the trees and on the ground." The newspaper tells that the local Civilian Defense group cooperated splendidly in seeing to it that all lights were quickly extinguished as soon as the siren sounded at 9 p.m.
Battle of the Bulge
The 17th U.S. Airborne Division was stationed at Camp Chilsedon, England. It had become part of XVIII Airborne Corps of the First Allied Airborne Army, comprised of American, British, French, and Polish units. On December 19, the 17th Airborne Division was put on alert, and by the next day it was ordered to begin its movement to the Battle of the Bulge.
On December 20, the troops began moving to the marshaling area. Here they were briefed on the situation on the Contenent, serwed small American flags on their combat jackets, and readied themselves for tactical air-landing in France. Word was rampant at that time about German infiltrators i American uniforms and paratroops dropped behind the lines. Although the reports were exaggerated, the real threat was there and the 17th troopers were on the alert.
The men, equipment, and supplies were flown across the English Channel to several air strips in the area of Moumellon, France. On December 25 - 27, they were taken by the truck loads to Charleville, France, to guard against a possible thrust by the Germans to cross the Meuse River. The weather during this movement was extremely cold and clear. "It was a hell'uve way to spend Christmas".
On January 1, the 17th Airborne Division was reassigned to XVIII Corps (Airborne) and attached to Pattons's Third U.S. Army. Orders were issued on January 1 to begin movement from Charleville, France, to Neufchateau, Belgium, and to releieve the 28th U.S. Infantry Division. The 17th Airborne Division Command Post was established at the war-torn town of Morhet, Belgium. The weather was very cold, and visibility was poor.
The German forces were making one last desperte stab at shutting down the Bastogne corridor by attacking fiercely from the northwest, not far from the remaining shambles of Bastogne. The best panzer SS grenadiers and armor were being used by the Germans in this drive. They were elite units, with first class equipment, well able to withstand the rigors of winter an sustained periods of battle. Supplies captured with these elite soldiers included such things as mustache cups and manicure sets. One grenadier had eight pairs of eye glasses.
The Allied forces were ordered into position just outside of Bastogne to rebuff this German effort. Orders were given for the Allied forces to attack at 0815 hours on January 4th. Three U.S. divisions were being used: the 101st Airborne Division on the right, the 87th Infantry Division on the left, and thenew-to battle 17th Airborne Division in the middle.
The 17th was hit hard by the crack German units. The battle was fierce. Casulties were extremely high. Some battaions lost nearly half their men. This was no longer training maneuvers; this was the real thing. This battle pitted raw courage and human flesh against the hard metal of the panzers.
The cold was penetrating. Men suffered extreme frost bite during the freezing nights. They soon learned that in order to survive, instead of wrapping up in their blankets, they needed to cover the top of their foxholes with their blankets. Their warm breath was trapped under the blankets, raising the temperature in the foxholes. They kept their trigger fingers warm and nimble enough to use by holding their hands under their armpits. Blankets were also cut up and used a sliners in jackets and to wrap their boots to keep their feet from freexing. Still, the men spent much time stamping their feet to keep the circulation going.
The men of the 17th Airborne Division dug in in the rear slope of what cam to be known as "Dean Man's Ridge." It was a narrow strip of road that climbed from teh village of Monty to Flamierge, about one-half mile in length along a ridge.
The Germans and Americans attacked and counteratacked from January 4 - 9, in what has been remembered as the Battle of Dead Man's Ridge. Weather played a manor role in this battle. It was terribly cold, cloudy, and unsuitable for air support. Men on both sides suffered frostbite and frozen feet. Snow was knee-deep, and the men faced ice, cold and wet, day after day. Forward scouts wrapped their hand weapons in white cloth to camouflage their positions from the enemy.
In this, the first actual battle the 17th Airborne participated in, the men fought with courage, valor, and style, depicting the long arduous training they had undergone. After suffering severe casualties during the first three days, much o fthe time on the defensive, on January 7th at 0900 hours, units of the 17th Airborne Division struck out at the towns on the high ground. Lightening their loads by shedding their packs, overcoats, and over shoes, they stumbled up th ehills in knee-high snow yelling "Geronimo" until they were hoarse, showing total disregard fro the heavy barages of enemy fire.