The platoon again opened fire as the Germans got to the fence. This time, it was Private First Class Milosevich who let rip with the .50-caliber jeep-mounted machine gun. The armor-piercing bullets, employed by rear gunners on B-17s to bring down fighters, blew holes a foot wide in the German soldiers. But the .50 caliberís field of fire was too narrow, and the gun was not easy to maneuver from its fixed position in the jeep. Milosevich tried to take it off its stand but burned his hand because it had become so hot. He wrapped a handkerchief over the burn and again picked up the gun so he could better traverse the pasture.
Suddenly, Milosevich saw a German paratrooper to his left only yards from Lyle Bouckís dugout. He fired and the German fell.
The enemy fire suddenly became particularly fierce. Milosevich decided to make for his dugout. A German appeared a few yards away, wielding a "potato-masher" grenade. Milosevich let rip, cutting the German in two.80 Milosevich made it back to his dugout and began to fire again. He screamed for Slape, who dived into the dugout, bruising his ribs.
The Germans kept coming.
Slape took over on the .50-caliber machine gun.
"Shoot in bursts of three!" shouted Milosevich, knowing the gun would overheat and they would be out of ammunition if Slape kept firing away without pausing.
"I canít!" shouted Slape. "Thereís too many of them!"
Slape continued to fire, hitting dozens of men with a sweeping arc. Milosevich saw the unwieldly gun start to pour off smoke. When he looked down the hillside, it seemed that they were outnumbered by at least a hundred to one, and the Germans just kept coming.
In their dugout on the extreme right side of the position, Sam Jenkins and Robert Preston had by now run out of ammunition for their BAR and were using their M-1s. Jenkins couldnít understand why the Germans were attacking again without artillery support. If they brought just one tank into play, they would all be quickly blown off the hill.83 He fired again and again, knowing it was vital to hit the Germans before they got close enough to throw a grenade through the holeís firing slit.
Nearby, Private Louis Kalil suddenly noticed that some of the Germans were fanning out and trying to infiltrate through the positionís flanks. A few feet from Kalil, Sergeant George Redmond was squinting through the sights of his M-1.
To the left of the dugout, a German paratrooper crawled along the rock-hard ground. He got to within thirty yards of Kalil and Redmond and then quickly aimed his rifle, loaded with a grenade, and fired. It was a superb shot. The grenade entered the dugout through its eighteen-inch slit and hit Kalil square in the jaw.
But it did not explode. Instead, it knocked Kalil across the dugout to Redmondís side. Kalil was half-stunned as he lay sprawled on the base of the dugout. Redmond dropped his rifle, grabbed some snow, and rubbed it in Kalilís face. Blood gushed from Kalilís jaw. The force of the impact had forced his lower teeth into the roof of his mouth, where several were now deeply embedded. His jaw was fractured in three places.
Redmond sprinkled sulfa powder on the wound and then pulled gauze out of both their first aid kits and started to wrap Kalilís face. There was no morphine in the kits to kill the pain. Once the shock wore off, Kalil would be in agony.
"How bad is it?" asked Kalil.
"Oh, itís not too bad, Louis," said Redmond.
"But Iíve got blood all over myself. It canít be very nice."
"Itís not too bad."
"Okay, Iíll take your word for it."
Kalil knew Redmond was trying to make the wound sound a lot less severe than it really was. He could feel the teeth embedded in the roof of his mouth cutting into his tongue.
The battle still raged. Small-arms fire sounded like radio static during an electrical storm, a constant ear-piercing crackle. Redmondís fingers did not shake despite his fear as he wrapped the last of the gauze around Kalilís jaw. He knew the Germans could penetrate their position any moment. If they were to stand a chance, they would need to return to firing as soon as possible.
Redmond tied the last gauze bandage and met Kalilís gaze.
"Donít worry about it," reassured Redmond.
"If things get to where you can take off, then take off," Kalil replied. Redmond looked at Kalil fiercely.
"Weíre staying hereótogether."
Redmond grabbed his M-1 and began to fire. Kalil was now in terrible pain but did the same, aiming with the use of just one eye at the figures that still approached up the bloodied hillside. It was so cold in the dugout that Kalil could feel blood freezing to his face, stemming the flow from the wound. The damned cold had been good for one thing at least. In the desert, he would surely have bled to death.
While Major Kriz made his last-ditch attempt to find Lieutenant Bouck and his men, Jochen Peiper and his point tanks stormed through the Baugnez crossroads, headed toward the village of Stavelot where they would need to cross their first major physical obstacle—the Ambleve River.
Around the same time, a convoy of some thirty trucks carrying Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion left the village of Baugnez in the direction of Malmedy.
Suddenly, the convoy was spotted by men in Peiper’s point tanks who then quickly opened fire. Shells exploded all around as the Americans abandoned their vehicles and ran for cover. When the firing stopped, they were taken prisoner by a group of Panzergrenadier commanded by a Major Josef Diefenthal, one of Peiper’s most trusted officers.
Peiper was several miles past Baugnez when Diefenthal’s men herded Company B supply sergeant Bill Merricken and 130 other men into a field about a hundred yards south of the Baugnez road junction. Other than Company B men, the group of POWs comprised several medics from different units and some MPs who had earlier been directing traffic in the village.
Merricken and his compatriots, hands above their heads, were hustled into eight rows about sixty feet from the road. The ground was muddy, with the occasional patch of snow. The Germans were SS, but Merricken and the other Americans were not unduly afraid. They were obviously going to stand in the field until arrangements could be made to remove them to the rear.
Then a German officer, thought to be Major Werner Poetschke,
the commander of the 1st SS Panzer Battalion, halted two Mark IV tanks.
They were to cover the prisoners with their machine guns.
Sergeant Bill Merricken saw a German officer aim his pistol at three of his fellow prisoners. The officer fired, killing a jeep driver and then a medic.
An American officer shouted “Hold fast!” so the Germans would not have an excuse to shoot escaping prisoners. Merricken and the men around him didn’t need to be told the obvious. They were already trying their best to stay calm.
The Germans didn’t need an excuse.
“Machen alle kaput!” (Kill them all!)
The tanks’ machine guns roared.
Men flung themselves to the ground, burying their faces in the mud and under their riddled comrades. There were screams followed by what sounded to one eyewitness like the lowing of slaughtered livestock. Merricken was shot twice in the back but not killed. The machine gun raked back and forth for around fifteen minutes. Then the tanks pulled away.
There was a haunting silence, broken only by the groans of dying men. Diefenthal’s SS men had moved on. But the nightmare for Merricken was far from over. Suddenly, more vehicles pulled up. Merricken dared not move as he heard engineers of the 3rd SS Pioneer Company enter the field. The engineers began to finish off men whose bodies still twitched. One lay above Merricken.
“The fellow on top of me was completely out of his head,” recalled Merricken almost sixty years later. “I was trying to keep still, [trying] not to make any noise. But he was in such extreme pain that he started rolling over. I was face down, so I couldn’t see what was going on. But he rolled over the back side of my legs, drawing the attention of two German soldiers. They came over. I sensed they were right over us. Then they shot him with a pistol. The bullet went through him into my right knee. He didn’t move anymore. I kept perfectly still. I don’t know how I did it. But I did. Then I lost all sense of time. I was flat down, my head turned to the left and my left arm covering my eyes and head and face.
“It was so cold that day, just fifteen degrees. If your mouth was exposed, the Germans would see the vapor and they’d know you were alive. So I lay perfectly still. I heard the Germans smashing men’s heads with the butts of their guns. They kicked men to see whether or not they were alive or not. They would ask if men needed medical help. Some of the wounded would answer only to be shot.”
For two hours, Merricken lay under his dead compatriot as German tanks and half-tracks in Peiper’s ten-mile-long column passed the field. Every now and again, some of the vehicles fired into the field of corpses.
When the rumble of trucks finally ended, Merricken pulled himself free of the dead man above him and then, accompanied by a Company B comrade who had miraculously not been hit, crawled two miles to a farmhouse where an old Belgian woman would hide him in her attic and then help him get back to American lines. Merricken’s buddies from Company B would lay frozen stiff, buried beneath deepening snow, for two more months before being discovered.
News of the massacre spread like a frigid gust throughout the Ardennes, brought by a handful of other survivors who reached American lines less than an hour after the mass execution. When President Roosevelt eventually learned of the most notorious massacre of American soldiers of the entire Second World War, he reportedly responded: “Well now the average GI will hate the Germans just as much as do the Jews." Robert Lambert heard about the massacre an hour or so after it happened. “Somehow during combat news such as that travels throughout the troops with lightning-like speed,” he explained. “It is believed by some people that the massacre at Malmedy could have resulted from frustrations of SS Lieutenant Colonel Peiper’s troops over delays to their timetable caused by the Lanzerath defensive action of the 394th I&R platoon on the prior day.”
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