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A Mile in Their Shoes

The Online Version

2003, 2009 Aaron Elson

Mixed 'Nuts'

Five 101st Airborne Division veterans of the siege of Bastogne

Page 2

    Aaron Elson: How were you wounded in Holland?

    Frank Miller: I got hit by shrapnel from an 88. I was behind a tank when this guy O'Brien got killed in our outfit. He was up on a tank, a British tank, it was buttoned up and they wouldn't move and there was an 88 down the road firing point blank. So this guy O'Brien jumps up on the tank and says, "Open that," he pulled the hatch open and he said, "You open up on these guys, or I'm gonna drop a grenade in on you."

    And they finally started moving forward, and when they did he got machine-gunned. O'Brien died, we took him to the aid station the same time I went back. But I got blown out of the middle of the road, and nothing happened but a little shrapnel.

    Aaron Elson: And what happened to the tank?

    Frank Miller: The tank blew the 88 away finally, with him directing we knocked the 88 out, and when the 88 went out, there was always support infantry, one of the infantry guys who was moving away from the 88 machine-gunned the tank and that caught O'Brien, he had about five bullets in him.

    I was behind the tank with two or three other guys running behind me, we usually followed behind the tanks, the same as the Germans did, and the shell was timed probably, and it exploded behind me to my right, and it blew me a good 20 feet into a ditch. I remember getting up out of the ditch, you know, you're sort of groggy a little bit for a second, but I was fine, I thought. And I went over to pick up my rifle and when I went to pick up my rifle, I couldn't bend my arm. That's when I knew I got hit. I had no feeling in the ulnar nerve. I didn't even think I was hit, I thought I broke my arm from the fall, I didn't see any blood. And when I finally got back to the aid station, about a mile away, I walked back because they needed the ambulance for the guys like O'Brien, and they cut the coat off, the doctor saw this thing, and said "Can you bend it?"

    I said, "No, it just doesn't move." So he cut the coat off, and then he realized, you know, it was all matted with blood, and he says, "Oh, you've been hit," and it affected the ulnar nerve, which paralyzed three fingers on my left hand for a couple of months. I've still got the steel, they cut about eight pieces out of me. I still have about three pieces in me, they got about eight of them out. Little pieces.

    I was lucky, because guys maybe ten feet away from me, one of them was killed and another one was really wounded bad, I never saw him again, I don't even remember who he was.

    Mickey Cohen: What are you having, a private meeting?

    Aaron Elson: Sit down.

    Mickey Cohen: I am sitting. When I get a little taller...

    Frank Miller: He said, "Do you know any battered bastards?" I said, "I know a few battered people but the only bastard I know has just walked up."

    John Miller: Here's two more guys you can interview. He wants to know about Bastogne.

    Len Goodgal: I'm talking, I've been talking about it.

    Mickey Cohen: They had no pro station.

    Aaron Elson: No what?

    Mickey Cohen: He doesn't know what a pro station was.

    John Miller: They don't have them now.

    Len Goodgal: All I know is, in Bastogne I never saw any men. I saw women and children. I didn't see any men. They just disappeared.

    Frank Miller: But do you know why? The Germans had taken most of the Belgian men away as prisoners two or three years before. All the guys who fought against the Germans when they invaded Belgium, there was a small Belgian army. Remember the little guy I told you I met in Bastogne in the mayor's office? He was ten years older than me, and he's up to here, he was the only guy I ever met shorter than Mickey, and he was in the Belgian army, and, I've got a picture of him and me, we exchanged hats, and this little old guy, he couldn't speak English, but this fellow was translating for us, one of the fellows we met there, and he said that he was captured four years before, when the Germans invaded Belgium, they were under the thumb what, four years about? Whatever. Anyway, he said he was transferred to Germany, him and a lot of his friends, a lot of them died, but they were like forced labor. They had them laboring, wherever they needed they took them.

    Mickey Cohen: They were worse than prisons, the forced labor, they worked until they died.

    Frank Miller: Yeah, that's what he said. He said very few of them came back.

    Mickey Cohen: Fed them poorly, chained them to machines.

    Len Goodgal: I noticed that there were no men around, just women and children.

    John Miller: That's why.

    Len Goodgal: I remember being in a cellar in Bastogne, in a house, and we had two women that were making crepes for us, we had champagne and cognac up to here in that place, I don't know where the booze came from. She used to pop the cork and hit the ceiling, the ceiling was low, and it would hit the ceiling and make a dust mark in the basement, and it would pop and we thought that was fantastic, we'd take a couple swigs of champagne, get another bottle. And they were cooking crepes suzettes for us, put jam inside the crepes and we would eat it. That was really fantastic.

    Mickey Cohen: There were liberated countries, and they organized -- you've seen this, right? They organized the prisoners, the European prisoners of the Germans, the insignia was a little piece of barbed wire you'd see on the lapels, remember, Frank?

    Frank Miller: Yeah.

    John Miller: And this is all people, it wasn't just, they did not select Jewish people.

    Mickey Cohen: And kids.

    Frank Miller: Kids over 14, if they were big kids, they took them, a conscription of a form.

    Len Goodgal: The Jews they were gonna eliminate. They didn't want to mix them with the population, they wanted to eliminate them. Actually Dachau was a camp for anybody, originally they had anybody thrown in there.

    John Miller: Well, all of them were originally.

    Len Goodgal: Actually, the extermination camps sprung up later.

    John Miller: In the beginning they were forced labor camps, and then, when they came out with their final solution, that's when they started all kinds of, they didn't originally go to exterminate everybody, they wanted to make forced labor out of them, and then they started exterminating everybody. It was Jews, it was Poles, it was adults, it was Belgians.

    Len Goodgal: They murdered 12 million in those camps and 6 million were Christians. And they were the people that resisted. And a lot of priests they murdered in there.

    Frank Miller: In little towns, the priests -- rabbis of course would be in hiding -- but priests and ministers, in little towns, they're a big figure, they have a lot of clout with the population. If a guy says do this, they do it, if he says resist, they resist.

    Len Goodgal: If you split Germany in half, the northern half is mostly Lutheran. The southern half is very much Catholic. And as we went through, through the middle and then down to the south we saw a lot of the Catholic part of the Germany. If you go to the north, you're seeing the Saxons, the northern part, which are Lutheran basically, so it's an interesting relationship. They had chaplains in the German army.

    Aaron Elson: What were the civilians like in Bastogne?

    Frank Miller: The civilians were very cooperative. There weren't too many.

    Mickey Cohen: And if they were there, they made themselves scarce. There was heavy bombardment all the time.

    Aaron Elson: What was the city itself like?

    John Miller: In Bastogne, they had a convent there, and they made a hospital, and the nurses and the nuns took care of a lot of the people.

    Mickey Cohen: Do you know what a corps of artillery is? That's what surrounded the town. A corps of artillery.

    Bill Druback: It's like five battleships or something.

    Len Goodgal: Mickey, he was interested in knowing were there black soldiers in there.

    John Miller: There was a colored artillery battalion up there that had 155s, Long Toms, and they had all white officers. When the Germans broke through and put on their push, all these white officers told the battalion to blow up your guns, and we're getting out of here. And the white officers, they left. The colored guys in the battalion, they said no, they weren't gonna leave, and they stayed there all the time with us. I forget it, 330 something, 337? I forget what the hell the number was. But after the war, they caught all these white officers and court-martialed every goddamn one of them.

    Mickey Cohen: And they should

    John Miller: That's right. That colored battalion, they stayed there all the time.

    Frank Miller: In those days you stood and fought. You didn't run.

    John Miller: And me and this one guy, Ziegler, was a sergeant, and I was a corporal, we went up to them, because we had to get in touch with the headquarters, and we were talking to them, and this one fellow says, "Which way did you come up?"

    So this guy Ziegler says, "We came up the road coming up over this way, and they were shooting the shit out of us."

    And this colored guy looks at him, he says, "Man, you come up that way, you’re supposed to get shot at."

    Len Goodgal: You know, when I first went into Bastogne I went up the railroad tracks, and I saw these guys coming down the track, and I said, "What the hell's going on here?"

    He said, "The Germans are up there, the Germans."

    I said, "I don't see any Germans." I didn't see anything, just these guys coming down, there's one guy from one outfit, a tank outfit, artillery outfit, all kinds of outfits, different tank outfits, and all of a sudden it started popping, we're getting artillery fire, we're getting tank fire, they're shooting at us. That's where we set up our lines. This was just laid out there. It was along a railroad track that I first saw these guys. I saw guys from all different outfits streaming back in towards Bastogne. Evidently they broke up these outfits, and whoever could walk, came back. So they were just stragglers. They organized these guys. And first, as I can recall, they organized them, and put them to work back in Bastogne, in the kitchens, or whatever they were doing. And then they put some outfits together, antitank guns, because I saw 75s, antitank guns, up on the line outside of Foy, on top of the hill, we had some 75s out there and we didn't have any ourselves that I knew about. That's how I first saw them. Now you guys probably ran into infantry or something up there. I don't know.

    Frank Miller: Well, which one were you in?

    Len Goodgal: The 506th.

    John Miller: I was in division artillery.

    Frank Miller: I was in the 502. We were up near Champs. We were in a different area, and I never got near anything that was artillery or anything. I never saw any of that. The only thing I did see a couple of tank destroyers, those fellows that were trapped in there with us. You know, a lot of stuff got caught in the thing when the Germans went around and made a pincer to go around Bastogne, whoever was in the area, automatically these officers like [General Anthony] McAuliffe gave orders, "Okay, now you're attached to the 101st." And that's how they had so many heavy guns, otherwise we'd have had nothing. Because when we came in, we had trucks, we came in on trucks with what we could carry, and there was very little heavy artillery.

    John Miller: Well, what we had with that colored outfit was 155s, right? The only artillery that we had was 75 pack howitzers. Then they had part of the 10th Armored, two groups of them? Then they had the 705 antitank outfit. Those guys, after the end of it, they all tried to put in a petition or something, they wanted to be attached to the 101st permanently. At that time no airborne outfit had an antitank outfit because they're big guns and everything, it was not part of it, at that time it wasn't feasible. Now they drop tanks and antitank guns together. But at that time it wasn't feasible. They asked to be attached to us permanently. Anyplace you guys go we want to go with you, but they wouldn't allow it.

    Aaron Elson: Johnny, tell me about that wall.

    John Miller: The wall was around a convent. And part of the 501st was in there.

    Mickey Cohen: That's a parachute infantry regiment.

    John Miller: Right. An ammunition truck was there, and it got blown up. And that's what blew part of that wall. And that's where me and [Norwood] Thomas and [Maurice] Tydor and Landrum were.

    Frank Miller: What period of time was that?

    John Miller: Right in the beginning.

    Frank Miller: Before we were relieved from being surrounded?

    John Miller: Yes.

    Frank Miller: You know, the trouble is, Bastogne, people don't realize how big a perimeter that area is. You're not close. What I mean is the area was big. People don't realize that. You know, when you think of being surrounded.

    Len Goodgal: There was a lot of area.

    John Miller: Bastogne, here's one city, then you have all the several little towns around it, and that whole area was surrounded.

    Len Goodgal: We were like on high ground.

    John Miller: It wasn't a little town that had a wall around it. It wasn't like that. It was an area with different small towns. Bastogne was the biggest town because it was a rail and a road junction.

    Frank Miller: It's like New York and the suburbs, and they were surrounding outside the suburbs.

    Len Goodgal: An interesting thing, we took all the high ground. We were always on high ground. Our regiment was all around the town. There was flat land in the center.

    One time I think they said the Germans had 32 tanks behind the lines, and when the fog lifted, our planes came in, and between us and the planes they knocked them out. But when the fog was there you couldn’t move, because there was no way the guys, they could roam wild. You couldn't knock the damn things out unless you got close.

    Aaron Elson: There were 32 tanks inside the perimeter?

    Len Goodgal I think at one time, I recall them saying they had about 32 German tanks behind our lines. That's a big area, you've got to realize, they could go through fields or whatever, it was hard for them to get anyplace but down the road because there were wooded areas, and they couldn't go through the forest. They had to go around the forests.

    Frank Miller: The woods were thick.

    Len Goodgal: It was very heavily farmed in the area and there were wooded areas that separated the places. So if they didn't take those tanks down the road, they weren't going to get through. If you remember, our town, Foy, outside there, the first day I remember there were halftracks and tanks burning along the highway. It was our stuff that was burning. Germans pushed that off with their tanks, but they still couldn't get up the hill, and we just went and knocked out a couple of tanks there and they couldn't move them at all. But as long as there was anything in that highway, they couldn't come up the sides, because they had to come up the road with the tanks.

    Aaron Elson: The sides of the road were too steep?

    Len Goodgal: Not only that, it was wooded. It was so heavily wooded at the top, they had to come through the road. That was a main road. And on other roads I assume they had the same kind of problem. It was very cleverly defended. Whoever set up the defense set it up so cleverly that they had to come through us.

    Frank Miller: Wasn't that Kinard? I remember they were amazed when they realized how young he was.

    Len Goodgal: See, you don't realize it because I don't know what's going on, all I know is I'm in a foxhole and they're coming at me and I'm shooting at them, and we,ve got artillery support or we’ve got air support, we're happy to get it.

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