Ronald S. Worden
Staff Sergeant Worden was posted with the 194th Glider Infantry during the war. Here he tells the story of his first day in combat. This story was originally published in "Thunder From Heaven" Vol. 46 #1 March 1999.
First Day in Combat
This is a story about E Co., 194th Glider Infantry and our First Day in Combat. Being a squad leader in the first platoon, I was part of it. Our company moved up to the line the night before. We relieved the 11th Armored Division and spent the night in their already dug foxholes. At daybreak we moved out to try to retake some of the area where the Germans had pushed our troops back. We were spread out in a skirmish line, sometimes in dense evergreen woods, sometimes in open terrain. The snow was deep and it was very cold.
We saw several knocked out American tanks and quite a few dead G.I.s partially buried in the snow. It was then we began to realize this was for real.
As we advanced into a large open area, we were fired at by machine guns. Our own guns and mortars quickly got into action. As the machine guns gave us overhead protection, we crawled in the snow. Their mortar and artillery began dropping in a tremendous amount of fire. We were taking a lot of casualties, but kept advancing as those were our orders.
About 15 feet to my left, our platoon Sgt. Jackinen, crawled up to a foxhole. While trying to get the Germans to come out, he was killed by machine gun fire that was covering the hole. It was probably an outpost. I tossed a hand grenade in the hole and it took care of that. We were doing a lot of firing with our rifles. Mine got so hot, it was hard to load without burning my hands.
We could see movement and hear a machine gun firing about 100 yards to our front. We couldn’t stop it with our rifle fire. Sgt. Ringler, my assistant squad leader, had a 1903 rifle that fired rifle grenades. he put on a white phosphorus grenade and made a direct hit, the first shot, which wiped it out!
A rifleman from another squad crawled up beside me and showed me his rifle barrel. About a foot had blown off the end and he asked, “What shall I do?” I told him to throw the damned things away! He stood up and threw the rifle as far as he could, then hit the ground. He was never hit by the machine guns firing over us. This was a place of death and destruction. Even the evergreen trees that were in the area were stripped of their limbs. Later, as everyone knows, this area was called ‘Dead Man’s Ridge.”
We could see German tanks to our front. They weren’t advancing towards us, but were doing a lot of firing. The casualties were becoming numerous. My squad had one killed and five wounded and it wasn’t even noon yet. The word came from Battalion to ‘dig in’ and ‘hold at all costs.’
Sgt. Ringler and I started to dig as fast as possible. The ground was frozen, making it tough digging. one would dig, then roll away 15 or 20 feet, then the other would dig. The Germans had stopped our advance, so their machine guns had quieted down some. Artillery and mortar shells were still coming in.
All at once an 88 artillery shell exploded between Sgt. Ringler and me. The concussion threw us up and out. We slammed into the ground so hard it really hurt. We both had black faces from the burnt powder and couldn’t hear well for awhile. The only shrapnel that hit us was his rifle sling that was cut in two. We shoveled the loose dirt from the hole and had a good foxhole in a hurry. It smelled bad from the burnt powder but we were glad to have it. I made a vow right then. If I got out of this alive, that after the war ended and we all returned home, I would buy a remote farm in the foot hills of the Allegany mountains and spend my entire life there. That’s what I am doing!
The shelling had slowed down by now. We settled in for the night – cold, hungry, and exhausted. In the night, our platoon leader Lt. Grover said we were ordered to withdraw a squad at a time. My squad was the last to leave. It was getting daylight. We could see German tanks following us 500 to 1000 yards away. We fired at them with our rifles as we withdrew.
Along the withdrawal route we started to find equipment discarded by our own troops. This would never have happened, but we were exhausted. I picked up a bazooka. Some of my men picked up ammunition for it. We lobbed shells at the tanks, not very accurate at that range, but it kept them from catching us.
Finally we came to a small town where the rest of our company was. We were fed hot chow and were assigned to a cellar in a large house. We bedded down anywhere there was room. I crawled into a potato bin. It was wonderful to be able to sleep anywhere!
The town was under artillery fire. Occasionally a shell hit the roof of our house while we were sleeping. No one was hurt. No one even heard it!
This ended our First Day in Combat!