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Lest We Forget – Relive The Past

Christmas 1944 in Luxembourg

September 21, 2017 joedemadio 6 Comments

Christmas 1944. A day that I believe every veteran of World War 2 remembers. May it be the people he was with, may it be the house stayed at, may it be the foxhole he shared or may it be the meal he at that day. Christmas is a day you simply can’t forget, especially when it’s your first Christmas not at home. For many soldiers this was the case in 1944. Making it even more remarkable was that around the same time the Germans launched a massive counter offensive in the west which we know as the Battle of the Bulge.

Captain Harold Storey

Captain Harold Storey, Commanding Officer of ‘C’ Company, 10th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division, was spending his Christmas in the snowy woods south of Echternach, Luxembourg. ‘It was hard to decide which was the number one enemy, the Germans or the weather.  Snow and low clouds impeded our movement and had prevented any support from the air. On Christmas Eve, the eighth day of these conditions, the skies became blue, and I stood by a snow laden fir tree and thanked God that I could hear and eventually see a steady line of planes above! [1]

 

Battle of the Bulge: The Southern Shoulder

Echternach was at the most-southern point part of the Battle of the Bulge. German infantry of the 320th Grenadier Regiment, 212th Volksgrenadier Division crossed the Sauer River at Echternach on December 16th 1944 and quickly pushed to the south towards Luxembourg City. The area just south of Echternach was heroically defended by troops of the 12th and 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division and the 159th Combat Engineer Battalion. This resulted in the Germans only pushing 6km south of Echternach.[2]

White-clad troops of the 11th Infantry Regiment attack toward Haller, Luxembourg.

On December 24th Captain Harold Storey’s unit started their attack on the German lines at Michelshof Farm. The whole 5th Infantry Division attacked southern front of the ‘Bulge’ on a line extending from Christnach to Michelshof. The 10th regiment moved along the E29 road towards Echternach with the 1st battalion on the right and the 2nd battalion on the left. G company went up the main road with support of 4 Sherman tanks. By the evening they had pushed as far as the Lauterborn crossroads and captured Hill 313. It was here, to the east of hill 313 where Captain Harold Storey spent his Christmas.[3]

 

Robert W. Cassels

‘Christmas Day – weather beautiful and setting idyllic, with snow on every branch of planted fir trees 10 – 15 feet tall in rows with fire break avenues every hundred yards or so.  I was deeply depressed as I tried to offer some encouragement for these weary folks and we approached the forward slope of the mountain, knowing there would be good observation where the trees played out on the approach to the Sauer River, along which there were mostly damaged and abandoned bed and breakfasts houses and small inns.  As I stood at the edge of a little road waiting for the rest of my folks to get oriented and catch up using more than one firebreak, Pfc Cassels approached me.  He was a replacement medic who had endeared himself to all of us. He wanted to do anything he could – cheerfully – including trudging back a mile or so to bring 5-gallon cans of water when we got messages that water was available.  This time he asked my permission to go back to where he had seen two wounded Germans, an officer and an enlisted man, and try to “fix up” their wounds.’[4] 

 

Storey goes on. ‘At first I told him I’d rather he not go alone, that I really should not be there alone (we tried to abide by the rule about getting separated).  He indicated the direction. Said it was not far and that he would hurry.  I relented with great appreciation for the compassion of this young “kid” and felt it appropriate act for Christmas.  His commitment was to people, not just friends. I became more anxious for us to proceed (mid-afternoon now and darkness came very early) and one of my platoon leaders found me and asked about Cassels.  I told him what had transpired and said I thought I could find him. After searching down a couple of rows, I did find him.’[5] 

Unnecessary Loss

Storey found Robert Cassels, dead, lying in the arms of one of the wounded Germans he tried to “fix” up. He was shot through the head as a bullet penetrated his helmet. Seeing this nearly tore Captain Storey emotionally apart. He felt guilty for allowing Cassels to go up the scene all by himself. On January 22nd 1945, Storey was wounded himself by a German mortar shell that exploded above his head. For a long time after the war tried to find Cassels family, which he eventually did. He wanted to tell them of Cassels and share the details regarding his death.

Not so long ago a family member of Robert Cassels me and by surprise, I received a picture of Cassels. It also became clear that for his actions, Robert Cassels posthumously was awarded the Silver Star. On the day of his death he was only 24 years old. His body was brought back in 1948 and Cassels was buried at the Long Island National Cemetery. His gravestone however shares the date of December 28th 1944 for the date he was killed. However, the Silver Star Citation reads December 25 and even Captain Harold Storey recalls Christmas Day as the day Robert Cassels gave his life.

Source: findagrave.com

With this article I’m paying a tribute to Robert W. Cassels and Captain Harold Storey.

 

[1] Captain Harold Storey http://battleofthebulgememories.be/stories26/us-army25/843-christmas-1944-in-luxembourg.html

[2] Hugh M. Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge (1965) 238-258.

[3] Ibidem 482-508.

[4] Captain Harold Storey http://battleofthebulgememories.be/stories26/us-army25/843-christmas-1944-in-luxembourg.html

[5] Ibidem

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Comments

  1. Edgar N Valderrama
    September 21, 2017 - 4:28 pm

    “Christmas is a day you simply can’t forget”
    Really? All I remember is that I arrived at the front and got sick on the Xmass meal because it had been held for us and was somewhat spoiled…
    Made me sick.
    But then, I was only religious for a brief period during my teens.

  2. Natasha Barber
    September 21, 2017 - 10:11 pm

    Robert Cassels was my second cousin.
    My famiy and I sincerely appreciate the time and service you’ve taken in writing this piece on Robert’s passing and Captain Storey’s involvement.
    Thank you
    Lest we Forget

  3. Bob Nieland
    September 21, 2017 - 11:06 pm

    Thank you for updating Captain Storey’s original post with information about Robert Cassels that has come to light more recently. We hope to take your battlefield tour next July when we’re in the area.

  4. Skye
    September 29, 2017 - 2:48 pm

    wow this is amazing, there was no mention of who exactly shot him?

  5. Bronson
    October 8, 2017 - 8:12 pm

    I really enjoyed reading the personal stories about these men. I look forward to more!

  6. Tom Bergman
    February 7, 2018 - 6:30 am

    Robert Cassels was my great uncle (my grandmother’s brother). He also received the purple heart. I heard the story of his death many times as a child. He was born in England and emigrated to the US as a young boy. I knew his parents very well. His father died in 1981 and his mother in 1976. I have a few pictures of him.

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