The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

German prisoners from the Paris breakthrough
German prisoners from the Paris breakthrough.

History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945

Chateau Modave Belgium

Paris and into Belgium

When: August 1 to December, 1944

Where: From Normandy, France through Paris, France and into Belgium

Troop Movements:

Operating two gravel pits in France
Battalion operating two gravel pits in France. Photo: Army Signal Corps
  • August 1- BN to Moon Sur-Elle near St. Lo
  • August 7- BN to LeJardin
  • August 15- BN to Sept Freres
  • August 21- BN to La Pas- St. Lhomer
  • August 25- BN through Paris
  • August 31- BN to Houville
  • September 2- BN to near Crecy
  • September 5- BN to La Capelle, last location in France
  • September 14 to 16- BN to Modave, Belgium
  • October, November, December BN in Modave, Belgium

The following was issued to the troops in France on 14 August 1944 by General Dwight D. Eisenhower:

Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen

Through your combined skill, valor and fortitude you have created in France a fleeting but definite opportunity for a major victory, one whose realization will mean notable progress toward the final downfall of our enemy. In the past I have in moments of unusual significance made special appeals to the Allied forces it is been my honor to command. Without exception the response has been unstinted and the result beyond my expectations. Because the victory we can now achieve is infinitely greater than any it has so far as possible to accomplish in the West and because this opportunity may be grasped only through the utmost in zeal, determination and speedy action; I request every airmen to make it his direct responsibility for safety either in fight or flight; I request every sailor to make sure that no part of the hostile forces can either escape or be reinforced by sea and that our comrades on the land want nothing that guns and ships and ship crews can bring to them; I request every soldier to go forward to his assigned objective with the determination that the enemy can only survive through surrender. Let no foot of ground once gained be relinquished nor a single German escape through a line once established. With all of us resolutely performing our special task we can make this week a momentous one in the history of this war. A brilliant one for all and a fateful one for the ambitions of the Nazi tyrants.

Signed. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Candel Bridge
Side view of Candel Bridge showing traffic crossing 3 miles southwest of St. Lo, France, 7 August 1944. View is looking upstream. Photo: Riel Crandall
General LeClerc, led his French 2nd Armored Division into Paris on the evening of August 24 and the bells of the Notre-Dame, silent for more than four years, rang out announcing his arrival. LeClerc and his troops fought their way into the heart of the city. The next day would bring the formal surrender by German General Choltitz.

Paris was liberated on August 25, 1944 after more than four years of German occupation and hardships. Even with sniper activity in parts of the city, there was much celebration as the liberation forces marched through the streets. Thousands of loyal Parisians lined the streets cheering and offering wine, cognac, flowers, vegetables and affections to their liberators.

Jacob Reinhardt on through Paris and into Belgium:

We moved again and this time went through the capital of France - Paris. It was a very nice place. It reminded me of New York and women were as thick as flies. That's the main thing that interests a Yank anyway. We moved up to the town of La Capelle where we got the job of stacking an engineer dump which, in three days time, moved out again. The convoys could only get gas to move when they had engineer equipment on them. In order to get mail, they had to bring on these convoys. Boy, what a mess. Old Jerrie spotted the dump on the last night it was there and bombed it the next night but we moved the equipment in time. Just an empty field for Jerrie.

George Garrison on through Paris:

We went right through Paris. We went down the Champs D'Elysees with the Eiffel Tower on the left and there were crouds on the streets waving at us. Anytime a vehicle would stop they would hug and kiss us. I tell you I got my eyes open over there and they were broad-minded. When a fellow wanted to pee he would just go to the curb just like he was out in the field somewhere peeing off the curb.

Leonard Burke describes going through Paris:

Leonard Burke We went into Paris and were pulled off the road. We [the Allies] had already taken Paris. It was our turn to go in. We were in a wooded area when word came down to get off the road and wait. Finally he came by in the lead military vehicle. De Gaulle was standing up waving and his troops came by with their trucks and jeeps all polished up and their pants all pressed. They just landed from England. Once they came through and all got by, we started back on the road to Paris. By the time we got there, de Gaulle was in his headquarters and had returned to power. We went down through Paris - the Arc de Triumph and the city parks. De Gaulle's army had tents everywhere and everyone had a girl on each side with a bottle of wine. We just went on through. On the way we hit a winery and we all got drunk that night.

Dale Williams describes going through Paris in his war-time Journal:

Dale WilliamsParis (Aug. 29)

People are all glad to see Americans and we are glad to see them. In fact, we go through the place twice and see hundreds of people. We are hollering all the time and having a good time. We don't know too many French words but anyway we asked them if they want to go with us and all crazy stuff like that. I can say that I did not do what lots of the pictures said, as none of them kissed me. I can say that we did not march down the streets of Paris as the pictures showed. We got through there with our supplies and kept going as we had a war to go after. Time marches on and we stay in forest and apple orchards and anywhere that we think it might be safe and always we dug in.

Billy Byers remembers the trip through Paris:

Billy ByersI remember going through Paris just after the Germans left town on the opposite side. The people were lined up solid on the streets as we drove through. They would reach over the sides of the trucks just to touch our hands. It was a great feeling to see how happy they were. We drove through the city and under the Eiffel Tower.

Can you imagine being invaded and taken over by another country? There would be no one to come free us, so we must maintain the strongest military in the world, with no question about it. The Japanese General in charge of the attack on Pearl Harbor said that it would be out of the question to attack the West Coast of the United States. Every American is armed. The Second Amendment to the Constitution takes care of that. A little ninety year-old woman with a gun is equal to anyone else.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris describes going through Paris:

Kenneth Morris When we went through Paris, the Germans had surrendered but there was still some sniper fire. The streets were just lined with civilians for miles. They were pitching cognac, bottles of wine into the truck and I said, "Now boys it wouldn't be right not to take it." Colonel Crandall later said at a reunion, "When we went through Paris, I said to myself, boy I had a battalion that was young, bright, intelligent engineers. But when we got out of Paris I just had a bunch of drunks." That was a sight you'll never forget. Those people acted like they were so glad to be liberated. It felt like you were doing something worthwhile. It was really something.

On August 25, Charles de Gaulle made his famous speech from England. "Paris! Paris outrage! Paris Brise! Libere par lui meme, libere par son pouple avec le concours de armies de le France. (Paris! Paris raped! Paris broken! Liberated by her people with the help of the armies of France.)" Among the first to arrive in Paris was the American author Ernest Hemingway. He visited his friend Pablo Picasso and offered him a gift - a case of hand grenades.

Parade in Paris, France
Parade in Paris, France. Photo: Harold Palmer

It is not entirely clear exactly when the 300th went through or around Paris. It is not likely that the entire battalion traveled together but that some units went by Paris sometime around August 20, before it was entirely secure, and other units traveled through Paris before the Grand Parade on August 29. The 300th were under orders to move directly through Paris thus denying them the opportunity to enjoy the "Parisian hospitality." Their orders were to continue to support the pursuit of the retreating Germans.

Commanding General Dwight Eisenhower of the Allied forces set up headquarters for the European Campaign in Paris. Soon after the liberation, Charles de Gaulle returned to Paris from England to take control as President of the Provisional French Government. He was greeted with more parades and celebrations along with a welcome by General Eisenhower in a ceremony in the center of Paris.

Excerpt from the daily War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges, Commander of the First Army, maintained by his aide Maj. William Sylvan and approved by General Hodges:

Thursday, 24 August 1944: The news this morning is that leading columns of the French armored are only ten to fifteen mile southwest of Paris... General Bradley has many interesting things to announce: General Eisenhower will assume command on September 1st. First Army's mission, as it is contemplated now, will be to advance from Mantes to Beauvais to Albert to Antwerp.

Saturday, 26 August 1944: Just after the General (Hodges) left for XV Corps by Cub plane General Gerow arrived at headquarters. "Who the devil is the boss in Paris?" he asked. "The Frenchmen are shooting at each other, each party is at each other's throat, is Koenig the boss, is DeGaulle or am I the senior commander of troops in charge, I must know, I have no instruction on this score." "You are in charge," said General Kean... During his [General Gerow] absence General DeGaulle ordered a grand parade of the 2nd French Armored Division. General Gerow informed General Hodges that he had told General LeClerc to disregard completely these orders and proceed as previously instructed to clean up the city... .During the morning Colonel Dickson had as our "guest" the former [German] military commander of Paris [Dietrich von Choltitz]. He insisted that only our arrival saved Paris from going up in smoke asserting that the internecine war between the French surpassed all his expectations. He added emphatically that he was damn glad to get rid of his job of policing both Paris and the Frenchmen, both of whom he apparently detests.

Tuesday, 29 August 1944; The General (Hodges) left the CP shortly after twelve o'clock to attend the triumphant parade up the Champs D'Elysees of the 28th Division, three Field Artillery Battalions, a TD Battalion, and also the troops. General Bradley and General DeGaulle, General Koenig and General LeClerc were among those who stood on the reviewing stand at the Place de la Concorde and after the parade the party drove up the great avenue itself stopping at the Arc de Triomphe to permit General Bradley to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. General DeGaulle left the reviewing stand before the parade was over - a departure which impressed most present as an impolite gesture, and one more incident to the now accepted opinion that DeGaulle is indeed a very temperamental person to handle. General Hodges was very much impressed with the appearance of the 28th Division which marched smartly and the Parisians lining the streets showed their enthusiasm by wilding shouting and cheering.

Paris Welcome; from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300th Reunion in 1996:

Riel Crandall I probably shouldn't say this in front of the ladies here but I sent 300 soldiers into Paris. Now Paris was real happy since they had just been liberated and everybody was dressed to the nines, great big grins and waved cheerfully at the Americans. I sent in 300 soldiers in one side and when they passed me on that corner on the other side, I was looking at 300 drooling wolves.

Randy Hanes remembers Paris:

Randy Hanes After the German garrison surrendered for political impact, the Americans held back and allowed the French 2nd Armored Division under Major General Jacques LeClerc to move in. Of course, all of their equipment except their uniforms, was American. The first combat groups, such as us, motored through Paris to continue our pursuit of the retreating Germans. The follow up groups stayed longer and participated in the Grand Parade down the Champs Elysees. The drive through Paris was a gala affair except for occasional sniper fire. There were tens of thousands of people lining the streets laughing, crying and shouting, "Viva la France and Viva la Amerique!" We were showered with flowers and fresh vegetables. They would rush to our vehicles handing us bottles of wine and cognac and shouting, "Merci, merci." The women would run along side our vehicles, hold our hands, jump into our laps and smother us with hugs and kisses. This was the fun part of war!

Billy Byers tells about going through Paris:

We went through Paris in a convoy and Kenneth Morris was driving our truck with men in the back. The people on the street were solid and they would reach out and try to touch our hands. They gave us little gifts. Can you imagine how exciting it was for them after being taken over by the Germans and then they were liberated. We went on right under the Eiffel Tower and then on out of Paris. That was really nice.

Don Ross wrote describing the people and environment he experienced while in France and Belgium before the Battle of the Bulge:

Entertaining the troops
Entertaining the troops, most likely in France. Photo: Harold Palmer
Citizens watch setting up show
Citizens watch setting up show, most likely in France. Photo: Harold Palmer
Dinah Shaw, Normandy, France D-Day plus 12
Dinah Shaw, Normandy, France D-Day plus 12. Photo: Willie Hein

Donald RossAugust 18, 1944 [Belgium] - Well, now I can say I've seen Paris, that is, what one can see of it passing thru in a convoy of GI trucks, rather the trailer hauling my water equipment was hitched on behind and being flat on top three of us rode on top of the trailer thru the streets of Paris.

August 25, 1944 [Belgium] - Remember, I told you we saw Dinah Shore one evening. The show itself was swell, besides Dinah Shore, Edward G. Robinson was there and they both went over big. It was an outdoor show, the place was packed and the boys were climbing high into nearby trees in order to see. So many of them would get on a branch and eventually the strain would prove too much, the branch broke and the boys came down. Nobody was hurt though and it gave us a good laugh.

Jerry Barton remembers his trip into Paris:

Jerry BartonArmy units communicated with each other through radio voice transmissions but more often through Morse code which was then encoded to prevent enemy knowledge of any plans that might be included in the message. So Morse code had to be learned and practiced and practiced. We spent much time sending and receiving the coded messages in order to increase our processing speed. I was sent to various training sessions in several different locations. One of these trainings took place in August, 1944 near Paris, France with the 300th not far away. Paris had only recently been liberated by the various Allied forces but there were still pockets of enemy action.

Because of its tourist attraction, it occurred to me that I should see Paris for myself. I managed to go into Paris with some of my classmates and we explored a part of the city as a group. I got lost from the group and began walking around by myself in the streets of Paris late at night. On this occasion I had not brought my rifle and when small arms fire broke out on the next street, I began to be concerned for my safety. Fortunately, I encountered another American soldier who recognized my situation and invited me to accompany him back to his unit to spend the night. The next morning I returned to my training session and did not get back to enjoy Paris until after the war in Europe was over.

military photograph
Co. B constructing footers for Candel Bridge. Photo: Army Signal Corps

The 300th continued on to Meaux and bivouacked in nearby Crecy. They continued north through Soissons and on to La Capelle on September 5 and operated the Transportation Control Office there. They worked at Engineer Deport E5 until September 15 when the battalion traveled northeast across the Belgian border and moved Depot E5 with them establishing Depot E6 near Modave. Headquarters was established in the Chateau de Modave. Depot E6 would become a massive engineer dump with mostly bridging equipment that stretched for almost a mile from the chateau to the highway.

Chateau de Modave dated back in history to the 1200's. The Lords from the House of de Modave held the Modave name from 1233 to 1558. The exact date of the early building was not recorded but the chateau evolved over several centuries. Although it had some older architectural elements, including a medieval keep, it owed its 1944 appearance to Count Jean-Gaspard-Ferinand de Marchin who restored it between 1652 and 1673.

Modave Castle, Modave
Modave Castle, Modave, Belgium. Photo: Willie Hein

Maastricht, an historic Dutch city, was still securely in the hands of German occupation after the Normandy invasion. A British attempt to liberate southern Holland in Operation Market Garden began on September 17, 1944. The British troops were supported by U.S. troops but as they attempted to take several bridges over the Rhine River, they suffered devastating losses. The bridge at Arnhem, Holland, north of Maastricht, proved to be the "Bridge Too Far." After ten days of bitter fighting, Operation Market Garden ended with the withdrawal of British and U.S. troops out of southern Holland.

Maastricht was a fortified city which endured many attacks in history. During these sieges, local residents used the caves of St. Pietersberg as a shelter from the enemy. The caves, just south of Maastricht, were a single system of tunnels, huge caverns and passages formed by the quarrying of local marlstone (limestone). The miners left columns of marl to secure the ceiling. Prior to WWII, there were 20,000 passages with a total length of 125 miles. The walls of the caverns were covered by artistic drawings, some of them centuries old.

During WWII, some of the passages were enlarged, a well dug, storerooms built, a bakery added and a chapel constructed. All this was accomplished before the German occupations. It was prepared to shelter 50,000 people, the entire population of Maastricht, for considerable period of time. It was never used to that capacity.

military photograph
Samuel Amorino, Raymond Dudley, and Raymond Caprin of Co. A-31. Photo: Albert Stein

The 300th made a side trip to Maastricht on October 6, 1944 with truck loads of bridge materials only to be turned back by the Germans.

The 300th worked out of "Mud Hill" in Modave from September 15 through late December. Christmas of 1944 didn't feel or look like Christmas for the 300th as headquarters began to move out of Chateau Modave on Christmas Eve on their way to Janee in the Bulge and its severe winter. Some of the men sent home cards with patriotic themes or one designed by one of their own, Archie Menard.

Allied attacks in the Aachen Corridor resumed in early October. Aachen was an historic city where the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was born and its loss by the Germans to the Allies would be a devastating blow to moral. A German commander evacuated most of the 160,000 civilians of Aachen and offered to surrender the city on September 13, 1944. Hitler refused to allow the surrender and had the commander arrested while transferring five thousand troops to help hold the city.

The German defenders held out in ruined houses and buildings. The ultimate battle took place in the streets involving every building and at times every room within the building. The Americans poured 5,000 artillery shells per day into the city followed by tons of bombs.

On October 10, the U.S. First Army sent a delegation into Aachen with a surrender ultimatum which, based on Hitler's orders, was rejected. Allied attacks intensified from the air and ground. One engineer group even attempted to demolish buildings by filling trolley cars with captured explosives and rolling them into the city. The infantry assault began on October 13.

Attacks and counterattacks continued with U.S. troops gaining control with a building by building effort that pushed the German hold-outs, now down to only 1,600 troops, into an air raid shelter where they were trapped. The price of the battle was high on both sides. Two thousand U.S. troops were killed and the Germans lost 1,500 troops while another 3,500 were taken prisoner. An unconditional surrender was signed on October 21, 1944 and Aachen became the first German city to fall to the Allies. With the capture of Aachen, the U.S. First and Ninth Armies consolidated setting the stage for the offensive to reach the Rhine River.

Billy Byers saves himself:

We were working in a gravel pit and one of the guys decided to pour out the powder in a grenade but he left the cap in place. I scrambled to get out of there slipping and sliding backwards in the deep gravel. I finally got out of there and away from the grenade.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris talks about popcorn in Belgium:

Some boy had got a package from home and it had a package of popcorn. We were in this lady's house. There were two women, an old man and a young boy that lived in this house in Belgium. We got this popcorn out and put it in a pan. The women said, "If you're hungry I will fix you some food. We feed corn to the chickens and hogs." It was mostly in French but we could understand enough of it. So we put a lid on that pan of popcorn and it started to pop. We told her to look and took off the lid and it popped right out. She jumped back, they had never seen popcorn. They didn't know what it was.

Frederick A. Wild, Jr remembers the dentist:

Frederick A. Wild, JrCaptain Leonard Burke, our dentist, was affectionately known as The Loot King. He cultivated an acquaintance with the battalion carpenter, who painted insignia on German steel helmets and crated all kinds of things that the captain liberated, for shipment home. He talked with a kind of lisp and learned some tortured French, which he spoke with an execrable accent, made all the funnier by the lisp. He was a great trencherman and the first words of French he learned were the names of comestibles such as pomme de terre. Once we were quartered in a bowling alley in Xhoris or Filot, Belgium, subsisting on K and C rations. Dr. Burke asked me if I would like to experience a treat and dine on pheasant and pommes de terre. I thought he had gotten "nervous in the service." But he said, Never mind. Just get ready for dinner tomorrow night. Next evening, we went to the home of an elderly couple he knew I think Sergeant Neill was with us. Dr. Burke thought a lot of him and, sure enough, we feasted. But I noticed that the old couple, though they sat at table with us, had only soup. I asked him later about this and he responded, How do you suppose you got such a meal? They didn't eat cause I pulled out all of their teeth! A real operator!

Jacob Reinhardt and the 300th move into Modave:

After moving the dump up to Modave, we had a hell of a rainy spell. The mud was knee deep but we still worked on the dump which had three times the stuff it had before. What a target for Old Jerrie if he only knew where it was. In that muddy weather, we had our officers make us scrape the mud off the trucks. That really got a guy's morale down low. We also had to march to chow in formation with combat equipment on. One day, in a pouring down of rain and mud six inches deep, we had a rifle and bayonet inspection. Boy, what a life. From the beginning of Modave on, we were in Belgium.

While we were taking care of the dump at Modave, they had us building dry run bridges on dry land to practice for the big job of putting a bridge over the Rhine River. We also had a good deal of taking showers and taking in a show in a town named Huy. The first night we went to town, the boys messed up and we had three AWOLs. Everybody was drunk except a few of us. A very few and the MPs had a hell of a time trying to keep us at our trucks. By the way, the town was off limits to military personnel.

The dump moved again and we moved half of it in three days and three nights. That's moving plenty fast. After taking a few more days dry run bridge training, we were called in to move the other half of the dump. After completing the job, we were sent to Holland and had some more bridge training and the Meuse River. For a few days, we bivouacked in a town of Amay. We came back to Amay and lived in a big auditorium and that's when the misery began. We had basic training all over again and close order drilled.

While working on the dump at Monteen, a Jerrie plane came over one night and dropped an egg (bomb) but missed the dump. Boy it shook the building we were sleeping in. While we were at Amay, we saw a and heard plenty of flying bombs going over the town. Boy, what a noise contraption those Jerries rigged up.

Warren Chancellor remembers his time in Modave:

Many of my memories concern our time in the small village of Modave, Belgium. Our unit was there for several weeks. We had tons of bridge equipment there and we were to use that equipment to build a bridge across the Rhine River when the infantry got there. Part of the time in Modave, the medical detachment was located in a building next to the home of the Douhard family (mother, father and 4 children) and we became great friends. The remainder of the time in that town was spent in the grand Chateau Modave. Unfortunately, on the 16th of December the infamous "Battle of the Bulge" began. The Germans began their counter offensive to try to drive us back into the English Channel. Before we left Modave on December 23, we went to the Douhard home to tell them goodbye and to this day I can still see the tears on the faces of that family. They were so afraid the Germans would return.

Randy Hanes talks about the mud at Modave:

Company C had built a POW enclosure for more than eight thousand prisoners. After completion, we convoyed gasoline from Paris to stockpile closer to the front lines.

We were bivouacked there in a sixty or seventy acre area. It rained almost without stopping for six or seven days. The entire area was a quagmire, necessitating 'snaking' the trucks out with a D-8 bulldozer. The water ran into our pup tents even though we ditched around them. We ate in the rain trying to keep our mess kits from flooding. Everything we did was in the rain - rain - rain! We always referred to it as 'Mud Hill.'

My squad truck did not have a tarp at that time or I would have slept in the truck bed out of the rain and slop. One night I decided to sleep under the truck. I put by shelter-half down, crawled under the truck and went to sleep. A dumb-ass thing to do!

When I awoke in the morning, the truck was about four inches from my body and mired down in all that 'slop.' There was no way I could extricate myself. I started hollering for help to some of my men nearby. I told them to get shovels, dig a trench to me and pull me out. I pulled my blanket and shelter-half with me as they pulled me out.

Needless to say, I was a real 'muddy old engineer,' and embarrassed by my stupidity and near demise.

I came close to being buried - BEFORE dying!

Kal Lutsky stayed in the Castle in Modave:

Kal LutskyWe stayed in the Castle in Modave but not in the main part of the Castle. All of the big shots stayed in the main Castle. We probably stayed where the servants stayed. And we had no heat, no fireplace. The Bailey Bridge was in the area traveling with the battalion and we did guard duty on the Bridge. I think we were in Modave a month or two. When we first set up a water point it was in the middle of August and the weather was beautiful. And then the winter came very quickly in late September, early October. It was very cold. It was six or eight weeks of real cold weather and we never had the proper clothing. We had a little green coat and you never took it off and you never took your boots off 'cause you would never get into them again. And I never took that coat off the whole winter.

While in the Modave region, one of the major tasks of the 300th was operating saw mills near Liege, north and south of the Meuse River. These mills, up to 20 in all, had a daily production of 35,000 board feet. The engineers hand-cut the trees with two-man saws and then limbed them with adzes in the forests of the region. They then trucked the logs to the saw mills.

A country estate; from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300th Reunion in 1996:

We got the job of taking over all kinds of little saw mills and we were making lumber. All of a sudden the battalion was spread out all over Belgium. The Battalion Headquarters and H & S Company landed in this one country estate owned and operated by an elderly widow. Her son was really the owner but he was involved in Belgian activities and she was living there alone. She couldn't wait to get American troops in there. As you know there was another army around there and the Commies had caused a lot of trouble.

Sawmill operated by Co C
Sawmill operated by Co. C in vicinity of Flemalle, Belgium. They started operations 15 November 1944 with an average daily output of 3,505 board feet per day. Photo: Riel Crandall
She was happy to have us there because no one would come near where an American unit was housed. She insisted that for her own security that Major [Robert] Jagow who was Exec. [BN HQ Executive Officer] and I sleep in her house. So I had a couple of days of tough going with linen sheets no less. She threw a party for the two of us. So, Bob and I had dinner at her house. When the party was over, I thanked her profusely because she had hit my 30th birthday that day.

300th Engineer Chuck Bice describes the Belgium saw mill town:

Chuck Bice There was a bar just three or four blocks from where we were staying in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge. The town was small and of course it was cold there then. They had a fire in the bar so we would go down and staying as long as we could and they wanted us to. There was an old man about 80. He looked even older and he had a big old beard and mustache. He smoked a big old crooked pipe. I enjoyed talking to him. You know we would hit a word now and then to get the meaning. We got ready to leave and he gave me a pipe, an old pipe. I gave it to my son. Some of it was handmade.

We had a lot of fun and when we got ready to leave that little town, those women and some of the kids cried, like family was leaving.

Kal Lutsky through France:

So now we are going across France. And it took several weeks before we got through Paris. We never entered Paris. We went by just outside of Paris. The Sgt. from Headquarters Company and his was name was Sgt. (William) Culp. And nobody ever liked him. We didn't get along with him. He was very bossy. And he said to us we had to set up a place where the troops can take showers. So they gave us platforms on the bottom and they used the water that we purified for people to drink. And we set up showers. And so we set up ice cold showers. And how many people came for showers -- guess what -- very few. So we all took a shower. And we froze to death.

We bypassed Paris and we went on into Belgium. And I would say we made maybe five stops on the way and every time we would see a stream we had two big tanks which were made of a certain material and we put them in a circle and we put stakes in the ground so it would not collapse. And we would put a hose in the water and we would pump water into these tanks in and Sgt. Ross was in charge to make sure we could drink the water. He would probably examine the water six or seven times a day until the tanks were both full. And in the interim all kinds of troops; combat and artillery troops, tank people and drivers would bring their vehicles to fill up their five gallon cans. And we did that I would say for maybe three weeks.

The following letter dated November 1, 1944 from "Still-Somewhere in Belgium" from 300th Sgt. Donald Ross provides a view of the recently liberated Belgium from an engineer point of view just before everything changed for these men in the Battle of the Bulge:

Dear Mom-

Still in the same old location, maybe I'll spend the winter here - might just as well, it's warm and dry, we sleep in one house and eat in another. Doing just well for ourselves. Had to let a couple of the boys leave for a couple of days for another job, while they were gone I had to do the cooking again, done pretty well I guess, none of the boys had to hunt up their medics anyway. This noon we had sandwiches Vienna sausages, peas, French fried potatoes, tomato soup, applesauce, bread & butter, coffee, also some warmed up Italian spaghetti we had the day before. As long as we keep eating like this I guess we'll be O.K. We are eating off plates again (Thank God.) & using silverware. My own crew (only four of us) eat in a house over here with a civilian & his wife - namely Oscar & Marie. We pool our rations together, & therefore have quite a variety, using their big stove & cooking utensils. One of the boys helps her cook & clean up the dishes & pots & pans. The place is like a second home to us, has a radio, we are listening to the States constantly. We sit around the fire at night, when we are not working, & talk - about things in general, & try to pick up a bit of French. You see, here in East Belgium the people speak French, & most of us have got so we can speak in French among ourselves as much as we can to facilitate matters. One of the boys speaks German so we will probably be talking a little bit of German when we get there. It seems as though we are kind of settling down for the winter now, although it won't take much to put us on the move again. The whole Battalion is living inside now, makes everything O.K., the rest of the boys are living in a chateau, (quite the stuff too they tell me) have beds & mattresses again (some of them) heated room & all. I don't care, we want to stay where we are, the people around here have adopted us practically, & we sure do get around.

At the house where we eat (Marie's) she managed to get some film for their camera, & the other day when the sun was out we snapped some pictures, they came back yesterday. I am enclosing one of them in this letter. Maybe it'll get by the censor. (I hope).

You ought to see this house, the owner (Oscar) is a brick mason by trade, its beautifully built, only 3 years ago, in fact, all of it is made of quarried stone, beautiful masonry, plaster finished inside, except for wood trim & doors, floors are all ceramic tile & here's what makes me like it so well, all the windowsills are marble & the fireplaces are all made of marble, they are really beautiful. Today, this place would cost quite a piece of money, not so much in our eyes but in the way these people look at it, it costs about 5000 dollars. It's a swell place, though. On top of one of the fireplace, it happens to be the room I'm in now, there rests a beautiful clock, the case I mean, is made of marble, pink & black marble, set in together with white strafes running all through it, any which way. It's just another example of the results of patience of these people over here, they really turn out some beautiful jobs, & America, in spite of all its machines cannot equal it. It's mostly all hard-work over here, & these people are really skilled at it, they can do wonders.

Their dress is the same as ours back home practically, except for the fact that they wear wooden shoes, this is due to the Boche, the people here were only allowed wooden shoes, here as likewise in France. Here some of the people, quite a few of them, in fact, do have good leather shoes here, pre-war, I guess, & then they cost 40 dollars a pair.

Today isn't Sunday, it's Wednesday, I think, but you'd think it was Sunday, the way the people are all dressed up, today is a National Holiday to honor the dead here in Belgium, & everybody, today, is visiting the graves of their relatives, friends, & comrades, with flowers, some of them going many miles by bicycle to visit some distant graves.

I received the package with the ink in it, also the one with the cheese, had 2 from Wallie this past week, one with some sardines in it, also one full of cookies. Am waiting especially for the one containing the Plum Pudding & sauce, & also one from Wallie containing some "cough medicine." Wishing you all my best, hoping you are all well & making out O.K. Bye

Love, Don.

Kal Lutsky and the water group move into Belgium:

And we ended up in Belgium and in a little town in on the map it is called Huy. And we were in the town about five miles before it and the place was called Modave. And it was there that we set up our water supply and we took the tanks off the truck. There was a stream that went by and we put the hose into the river and we were all ready to fill up the two tanks and Sgt. Ross went to work and used his judgment from whatever schooling he had and the water was pure enough to drink. And we were there a good four weeks and maybe more. We got there in early August and we stayed into September. And troops were beginning to come up through Paris and we are talking tank corps and artillery people and we would have signs along the road and they would say "300th Combat Engineers. Come and pick up your water" and they would come into this big field and we had an entrance set up and exit and I would say we served between 20 and 25,000 people. Now the 300th Combat Engineers had another setup like us and I never knew the other people and I never met them and I didn't know very many people in Headquarters Company. I would say maybe five people and our group of four. The four of us were together for about 14 months. And it was only one or two people that I met in Headquarters Company because we were out in the field.

And now it is late July or early August and we were making water and we had to fill up those tanks of water because people would come and empty them out and then they would come back and empty them again. And now it is the middle of August and we are still making water and the troops were bypassing us and moving forward and going further into Belgium. And here comes Sgt. Culp and he said you are going to pick up your stuff and I said we are going to stay in a little bit so we faked the books a little bit. And we recorded what outfit came in and out and so we faked it a little bit and so we stayed out there for a while.

Bill McAlexander and his wool scarf:

Bill McAlexander As we moved forward from France to Belgium, we stopped at this little town of Huy. We set up camp and the people who lived in this big house next to it and asked us if we would live with them instead of living in a tent which turned out to be excellent. This man that lived there worked in an electric plant. Right away, I noticed that the lady was knitting a wool head scarf. We were pretty close to the front lines within an hour drive. We got called to the front line and she said, "Here's something I want you to wear." She had the scarf that covered my face and ears and my helmet would go over it and I did take it. I was out in the weather from December 16, 17 on. This head piece saved my ears from freezing off. I still have that scarf.

Aaron Glenn describes a family in Belgium:

I enjoyed the people in Belgium. They were real nice. We stayed in their homes it was so cold at that time. I and one other soldier stayed with our family. It was kind of enjoyable to be there - kind of like back home. They had a little girl and it was Christmas time. We saw a doll in one of those stores and we got the money to get the doll for that little girl. By Christmas morning we had moved out.

Randy Hanes talks about sledding in Belgium:

Dinant, Belgium
Dinant, Belgium, where Germans held the fort for 15 days. Photo: Frank Neuhauser
Now, about Michelle and Nicole. The little Belgian village was built on the side of a pretty big hill, with the main road going down to a second-rate highway. They were riding their sled down this fairly steep road down to the cross-country road. The Mayor of the town came out and forbade them to ride their sled down to this road. He was right, as there were a lot of our military vehicles going by. This 'defiant' Sgt. (me), told Michelle to get on the sled with me, and we proceeded to sled down the road. THE MAYOR WAS FURIOUS! The 'defiant one' said to the Mayor, "You can't tell me what to do." When we went back up the hill into town, I told the two girls we would go across the road, into a field, or meadow. Bradshaw came with us and we pulled them around in this field. I really enjoyed playing like a civilian, again.

Co A breaking rocks with air-compressors
Sawmill operated by Co. C in vicinity of Pont De Bonner, Belgium. They started operating the mill 9 November 1944 with an average output of 1,406 board feet per day. Photo: Riel Crandall

Don Richter describes his experiences operating saw mills and living with Belgium families:

Don RichterWe finally broke out of the beachhead, raced across France through Paris and came to a stop in the nice and friendly land of Belgium. There we set up the engineer dump at "Mud Hill" in Modave. When the wet, cold weather and stiffening German resistance brought our advance to a halt, we settled into life in nice old Chateaus in the area seemingly to spend the winter. The 300th was ordered to go back to logging, something we became familiar with back in the pine forests of Oregon when we were there on maneuvers the previous year. We began cutting down fir trees to be sawed into lumber at several small sawmills scattered about the hilly Belgian countryside.

The Third Squad, Third Platoon of Company B was sent to a fine estate having a nice chateau along with a great stand of fir trees some of them twelve inches in diameter. The estate was owned by a Count who had a brother named Charles, a very nice intelligent fellow, who objected strenuously to losing his beautiful trees that he had seen grow up during his lifetime. We tried to console him but we needed the trees and his brother, the Count, had made a deal to furnish them to us. The weather was damp and cold when we arrived to begin cutting the trees and to keep warm we would pour a bit of gasoline from a jerri can and set it on fire. Charles could not believe that we could be so wasteful as he had a beautiful automobile stored on blocks in a shed that he could not drive due to lack of petrol. To make him feel a little better we supplied him with a five gallon can full of gasoline which later became most useful to him.

I was sent on a detail along with Pfc. Jack Greenhaw, Tec 5 Charles Olive, Pfc. John Gentile and Pvt. Ralph Medina to a sawmill in the small village of Failon where two of us oversaw production of lumber while three of us took turns guarding the facility twenty-four hours daily around the clock. This was great duty, almost like being at home. The people were so friendly, we lived in the living room of the sawmill owner and we ate most meals with one family or another.

Sadly, several young men of the community had been shot down by a German firing line shortly before our army had liberated the area so we were welcomed there with open arms. The Thomas Family had lost the eldest son while the second son and father worked in the saw mill and youngest son, Louis, just hung around there and became a great young friend of mine. There were lovely young ladies who resided there and made life so much more interesting. The civilians became restless as word somehow came back from the frontier that there was a lot of German buildup beyond the Siegfried Line and some became fearful that a counter offensive might overrun Failon as had happened in 1940.

Before long we were ordered to Ciny, another lovely little town where we set about preparing a stone arch bridge over a small stream for blowing when the enemy arrived. We made a daisy chain (a rope with activated land mines tied to every few feet with a length of rope across the road bed. Late in the night a dark auto approached our road block and when ordered to halt slid its tires upon the daisy chain rope jerking the mines out of the ditch scattering them along the shoulder. When we looked into the fine old touring car expecting to find German army officers, there was our friend Charlie, brother of the Count, with his entire household. They were escaping using the gasoline that we had supplied to them. We greeted him affectionately telling him to drive carefully and to expect other road blocks as he proceeded to the rear.

The next afternoon Company C took over our positions in Ciny and Company B was ordered, along with Company A, to move forward and mine bridges along the Lessee River. Before driving away from Ciny, Pfc. Roy Welchel told Sgt. Jesse Ruffin that he had no intention of moving up into harm's way without some cognac and that he knew where he could trade five gallons of gas for a fifth. Jessee agreed and Roy drove the truck with all of the Third Squad aboard to my little town of Failon where a prosperous farmer would finalize his deal.

All of the residents of the village crowded around our truck and when they saw me they asked, "Bosh return (Germans coming back)?" My friend, Louis Thomas looked fearfully into my face and asked me to stay with him and keep him safe. I assured him and all of my friends there that I and my buddies would be going forward and there was no way that we would allow the enemy to return. I never was able to return to Failon and I only hope that the German Army did not come back there.

Kal Lutsky describes setting up a water point in the Belgium winter:

What you to do to set up a water point in the winter first was to find a stream which was legitimate to use for a water point. Setting up these two big tanks in the winter was hard because there was lots of ice and cold weather and sometimes the equipment might freeze up on you. We somehow managed because the water point had to be open 24 hours a day. It was not just nine o'clock in the morning, it was 24 hours a day and in the winter time we never slept very long. And we would move every two or three days because it was so cold and the equipment couldn't manage it. It was just too much.

Dale Williams settles down in Modave:

Here we bedded down for the winter and had quarters and what have you—mostly marking time, and finally the breakthrough ran us out of the sawmill business. Lots happened there as I have already sent pictures of the place and about the room I stayed in. I start moving a few days before Christmas and go forward, and, in fact, so far that the infantry had to come through two days later when we came back for a break.

La Vange – in this place it really snowed and I had guard as I had quite a bit during all this break and excitement. The place I stayed this lady had a big German police dog and I made friends easily so I had me a buddy for a few days. While on guard I fell down in a place where the snow was over knee deep and the Jeep would turn around when I tried to stop, in fact, could not see a thing and guessed at the road.

Frederick A. Wild, Jr at the chateau in Modave:

We stayed in Modave until the Battle of the Bulge, when a messenger advised that we had better hit the road, because a Tiger tank was coming down the road. We left in the snow on Christmas Eve, 1944, but were back within a week. What a beautiful place the chateau was, with the family tree set in bas relief in the ceiling of the foyer. Smaller embrasures were set in plaster in the ceilings of the bedrooms, with the motto Honi soit qui mal y pense. The bedrooms had fireplaces, set off with blue Delft tiles and marble hearths. You may imagine my reaction when I walked in one day and saw a GI splitting billets of firewood on the marble hearth. He had already broken the marble. Across the foyer, one could look down from a precipice. One day, from this terrace, we saw a wounded German parachutist come down. He was brought in and we drew lots for his flight jacket. I won it and gave it to Sgt. Neill. Captain Burke used to take trips from Modave into Liege where there was a crystal factory. He sent home several nice items of cut glass.

Kal Lutsky and Calvados:

Scoop and I were always looking for something to appropriate. And one day we found Calvados. Scoop was part Indian and he managed to get me drunk. He got me drunk just once and I could've killed him. Two shots of Calvados and I was out. I told Scoop, "Don't you ever do that again." The Calvados went to the top of the bottle and it was at least 100 proof. If you drank that, boy. Scoop was always getting information about what was going on and that was why they called him Scoop. Scoop knew everything about everything.

William Lakey and Gen. Patton:

William LakeySome of our men told the story about building a bridge and it was very cold so they built a fire. Three guys was sitting by the fire and a jeep came racing down the road and stopped at the fire. Someone stood up and chewed them out something awful for sitting by the fire and not guarding that bridge. Come to find out it was Gen. Patton.

Letter Home from Charles Olive to his aunt:

Charles OliveBelgium Sept. 19, '44

Well, here I am in a different country. I'm somewhere in Belgium. The countryside's are really beautiful and some of the buildings are rather pretty. The people here seem to like us better than the French. They are all very friendly. I am seeing some wonderful sights; sights that world travelers give big sums of money to see. I've seen many unpleasant sights. I've smelled rancid and pungent odors and I have experiences some dangerous occasions.

I won't know how to sleep on a real bed again. I'm used to sleeping on the ground. I'm ok as I write this letter. I think I've lost some weight. I'll gain it back sometime. Well, this old war can't last forever. Someday, the boys will be going home. I'm sure that the war news looks very encouraging to you and it certainly is to us over here. I'll sign off for now and hope to hear from you soon.

Love Buddy

Ben L. White recalls Lum's General Court-martial:

Ben WhiteWe were in Belgium and a bunch of us went down to a bar and we all got quite drunk. One guy in our unit was called "Lum." I don't know his real first name because we knew him as Lum because he talked like Lum in Lum and Abner. He was really drunk so we look up and here come our commanding officer Captain Swartz wanting to know what we were doing there when we were not supposed to be. Lum was so mad at Swartz that he took a shot at him. He missed but we all got busted anyway. But Lum was in the most trouble. He was brought up on a General Courts-martial and he admitted to the presiding general that he shot at Swartz. He said, "I guess I tried to kill him." So Lum was busted from a sergeant to a private. He stayed a private and with us the rest of the war until they busted up the unit.

Randy Hanes describes living in a farm chateau:

Dinant, Belgium
Left to right: Randy Hanes, Jimmy Franks, Jake Phillips at a chateau in Liege, Belgium, 16 December 1944. Photo: Randy Hanes
C Company was billeted at a farm chateau called Chateau Vyle-et-Tharoul in the province of Liege, Belgium in late November of 1944 for two or three weeks. The furniture was moved out and we slept on the floor of the Great Room, the dining room, and others on the ground floor. The officers were quartered in the upstairs rooms.

There were three sisters, countesses of a Belgian baron who had died in his eighties not too long before our arrival. Their ages ranged from 40 to 52. The eldest, Marie, had married a commoner and could not use the title of Countess. She lived in Liege with her husband and children. She was addressed as Madame de Villers. The youngest two, Germaine, I do not remember the name of the other, never married and lived in the chateau. The proper title was "les Comtesses de Meeus."

The Chateau De Vyle figured quite prominently during the war. A German army unit had used the chateau as their billet when the German forces swept through Belgium in 1940, just as we did four years later. Between the layover by the Germans and our arrival, an important member of the Belgian Force de L'Interieur, who had been badly wounded and was the object of frequent searches by the Germans, was sheletered by the countesses in the same upstairs room where C Company officers were billeted. The countess once proudly pointed out his blood stains on the floor. They would hide him in some inaccessible place whenever a German search party came to the chateau.

The floor in that room could be taken up and between the floor joists they had stashed a powerful and delicious rum which the Baron had procured "Avant la premiere guerre," or pre-World War I. One day the countesses uncovered the rum and gave each officer a liberal portion. They took the rest of it to their quarters in the back of the chateau.

I used to sing a lot. "I Walk Alone" was my favorite. One day, one of the countesses said, "Serjon (Sergeant), you certainly have a beautiful voice. I enjoy listening to your singing. Are you married or do you have a sweetheart?" I told her I had a fiancé. She said, "She is very fortunate to have such a gentleman for a husband with such fine manners and a beautiful singing voice. Do you sing love songs to her?"

She told me, because of my rank, that I should not be sleeping on the floor in the Great Room. She led me to a small, private room on the third floor and told me this is what I should have. It even had a small fire place and it made a very comfortable billet. I was very grateful of her personal concern.

There was a grand piano in the Great Room, the first I had ever seen. She said she would like to play the piano and have me sing sometime. We never did.

Castle Vyle-Tharoul

We thank Marc Lambotte of Modave, Belgium for allowing us to use information from his web site as well as several photographs in his collection. Access to his web site is Halifax JD371 KN-O. Additional information came from the book, Belgie in Oorlay 13 Naar de Vallei Van de Dood, Cynrik De Decker-Jean-Louis Roba.

There is a connection among the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, the community of Modave, Belgium and the Royal Air Force. On August 27-28, 1943, a British bombing mission by the 77th Squadron of the Royal Air Force carried out a mission over Germany. The Handley Page Halifax JD371 KN-O was among the bombers in the attack.

The following account is a description of the incident, translated into English and edited for brevity and clarification.

On August 27, 1943, the crew of the Halifax JD371 KN-O of the 77th Squadron RAF took off from the base of Elvington in Yorkshire at 20.30 pm English time. The objective of the RAF was the bombing of Nuremberg. The raid was carried out with 674 aircraft including 221 Halifax bombers. The return flight seemed to be going well but the bombers passed over flak that stretched from Mannheim to Karlsruhe.

On Halifax JD371 KN-O, the plane's radar signaled that an aircraft was approaching from the rear. The tail gunner gave instructions to the pilot to fly faster. The pilot made one last attempt to get rid the night fighter by making small circles. A first bullet reached the nose of the aircraft, a second exploded in the fuselage near the radio operator William Catley while other shells passed through the wings. The tail gunner recognized the attacker as a German Messerschmitt.

The pilot gave the order to leave the aircraft. The navigator opened the door and jumped immediately. Catley put on his parachute while he saw exploding shells in the fuselage. Then he saw the navigator jump and the bombardier preparing to jump. Catley sat down on the edge of the opening, his legs outside. He no longer knows how he found himself in freefall, his parachute not opening until he realized that he pulled the wrong handle. He landed at 2:15 English time at Clavier (Belgium) in the mud. Three of the four that jumped survived.

Crash site map
Area map of the crash site. Photo: Marc Lambotte

Engines on fire, Halifax JD371 KN-O, was going in a straight line towards the village of Modave (Belgium). Augustine Brannigan, the pilot, managed to avoid the village and went crashing into a meadow at Survillers. All four on board were lost. Many years later, in 2013, Modave citizens described the event.

My Husband, Mr. Chavagne, deceased, was 19 years old in 1943. He had written in a book:

One English aircraft fell into the "pré Lamarche" on the night of August 27 to 28 1943 Friday to Saturday. The Chavagne family lived on a farm near the crash site. They saw the burning plane arrived and thought they were crashing on the farm. Mr. Chavagne's mother said: "My God, the plane comes to us, we will be killed." The plane crashed a little further. The pilot tried to avoid crashing into homes. One member of the crew who had parachuted near Clavier came through the woods before the Germans arrived on the crash. He was hidden by a thick hedge. He wanted to see if there were any survivors. The Germans put a lot of time in to find the crash site. When they arrived, they chased the people who came to see the airplane. They commandeered the farm of the Family Chavagne to accommodate. The Germans prohibited anyone from approaching the wreckage for about 15 days. They cut what was left of the plane and took away the pieces by truck. Mr. Davin, Modave carpenter, was a man who was never afraid. He made a wooden cross and went to put it on the location of the crash, despite the presence of the Germans.

Léa Doris, 16 years old in 1943:

I saw the plane crashing. An aerial combat woke us up. Dad said, there is one that is affected. We got up and we saw the plane crash. It was the Apocalypse, the sky was lit. We dressed and we went to the crash site because there were certainly men killed and perhaps men injured to help. The plane avoided the village Modave and farms of Mr. Chavagne and Mr. Lemmens. The carnage was avoided. It is etched in my memory until I die. A paratrooper was found dead between the town hall at Clavier and Vervoz. The next day my dad recognizes in the train to Ciney resistants with two men, certainly the airmen.

Jeanne Douhard, 19 years old in 1943:

That night I was woken by the explosion of the plane. With friends in the morning, we went to see the plane. We went to Petit Modave and followed the path to Survillers. The Germans were present around the wreck and when they saw us, they fired into the air to scare us away. We headed to Petit Modave as fast as we could.

Jeannine Mathy, 14 years old in 1943 (now 83):

I remember like it was yesterday. I went to see the wreckage with three friends. We arrived on the site of the crash in the afternoon perhaps the next day. The wreckage was no longer on fire and there were no Germans who were watching. It remained 2-3 days before being removed. Parachutes were recovered and served to make several blouses for young girls of Modave.

William CatleyWilliam Catley, radio operator, landed with only minor injuries. He hid in the woods for a day before he was discovered by a young man working in the nearby fields. The man was friendly and took him to the farmhouse of Joseph Lehair in the village of Atrin where he spent ten days. He then made his way by bicycle to Castle Vyle-Tharoul where he was sheltered and hidden by the family of the Castle for another ten days.

In a 2013 ceremony in Modave recognizing the British airmen who sacrificed their lives in the crash of the Halifax, William Catley's son described how his father survived and escaped from German occupied Belgium:

He was hidden in the chateau near the crash site. The family hid him in the roof of the chateau. The ground floor of the chateau was used as a mess for German officers at the same time. The family maid of the chateau was a collaborator with the Allies and had connections to the local underground. My father was given a false identity [Francois Lehaine, typewriter mechanic] and then smuggled from Modave through occupied Belgium and France and into Spain and Gibraltar from where he was flown home.

Dinant, Belgium
Castle Vyle-Tharoul. Photo: Marc Lambotte

It was not until fourteen months later that this story became a part of the history of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. In early November, 1944, the 300th arrived in the now liberated Belgium area of Modave. Company C was billeted in the Castle Vyle-Tharoul for a few weeks. It is not clear what the men knew of this role the Castle played in the war more than a year before and the fate of Airman Catley. What is clear from the photographs is the men of the 300th bonded with the residents of the Castle area and even their pets.

Belgium USO show
Men of Company C at Castle Vyle-Tharoul with local children. Photo: Marc Lambotte
Belgium USO show
Men of Company C at Castle Vyle-Tharoul. Photo: Marc Lambotte

Historical Notes: The Handley Page Halifax Bomber.

  • Built by Handley Page in Samlesbury, Lancashire, England
  • Named after a town in Yorkshire
  • Crew: Seven
  • Top speed: 282 mph
  • Power: 4 Bristol Hercules, 1600 hp engines
  • Wingspan: 104 feet
  • Length: 71 feet
  • Empty weight: 38,500
  • Maximum take-off weight: 65,000 lbs.
  • Fuel capacity: 3,576 gallons
  • Maximum bomb load 13,000 lbs.
  • Armament: eight Browning machine guns
Handley Page Halifax Bomber
Handley Page Halifax Bomber. Photo: RAF

The first hot shower for Kal Lutsky and the German bombs:

It was in Belgium and it was in a little town near Liege. It was the first hot shower we had in months and we even had clean clothes finally. And we landed in this town just outside of Liege and I don't know where the hot water came from but somebody said, "You're going to have a hot shower." And we said, "Great." And it was a hot shower. We hadn't had a shower for months, May, June, July, August, September and it was probably in October we had the shower because in November we were going into the real battle. And I don't know how they got the hot water for us GIs. It was in this big factory where we got our first hot shower. And the Germans at that time had their V-2 bombs and they were flying overhead constantly and who knows where they landed. The Germans didn't even know were their bombs were going.

Cowboy Morris expresses his opinion:

When we were around Liege it was kind of an open town and you could go in on a pass in November. I had to take Lt. [William] Taylor up there to First Army Headquarters and I had to drive his Jeep. So I was waiting and sitting on the sidewalk and talking to a soldier. I didn't have a uniform on or anything and just this wool hat and no leggings. So this Major comes up and the soldier salutes him and he says "Soldier who is that man? (He meant me). And why didn't he so salute me?" So he said, "I don't know sir." So I said, "Where I come from we don't salute nobody, we don't ask them who they are. We don't tell them who we are and we damn sure don't salute nobody." He just looked at me.

Jacob Reinhardt and another castle:

We moved into a castle near Huy and we did a few odd jobs. We got real GI having close order drills, bayonet training, inspection and fall out for reveille and everything that a soldier hates most of all. We played football for two days and a couple of the boys got hurt. The next day an order came out no more football so that was that. A few days later, our squad got water point detail which was a very good deal. We just got settled down on this deal when that night about midnight, they came out to relieve us so that was that. The next morning, we went out to train on a Bailey Bridge in Huy. We built that bridge and was winching it in when the winch cable broke and we almost lost the bridge. But we conquered the job.

We got a saw mill job which was a good deal. They sent four of us to guard and run one mill which was located in Assesses, Belgium. At the mill, we caught a German 1st Sgt. who had escaped from a prison camp at Namur. The following day, the police captured three more. The three the police captured were soldiers for only three months but went to military school for quite some time. Well, we were pulled in from our saw mill deal when the Jerries pulled a counter attack on us so we were put on bridges which we strung with demolition and guarded until the Jerries came upon them. After waiting two days, the Jerries came and we blew them to hell. Blowing those bridges helped slow the enemy down quite a bit. In fact, it stopped the advance. At this time, we were made core engineers once again.

"Black Night, White Night" as told by Kal Lutsky:

In Belgium there were these little clubs. There was a "black night" and a "white night." And the white GIs didn't go out on black nights and the black GIs didn't go out on white nights. And so the Belgium girls didn't know anything about black and white and they called the blacks American Indians. They didn't know the difference between black and white. So the place where the girls went dancing was once on a black night and the next night on a white night. If you were lucky you got a night out once in a while. That went on for a week or two and then we moved on.

Belgium USO show
Belgium USO show. Photo: Frank Neuhauser
Belgium USO show
Meuse River bridge at Dinant, Belgium. Photo: Frank Neuhauser