Lost in the Ardennes – Veteran Story
September 13, 2017 joedemadio 1 Comment
Edgar Valderrama was a replacement in C. Company, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division, after the Battle of the Bulge. He joined the division in Luxembourg and crossed the Sauer River with them in February ’45. Ed still has quite some stories to tell us. To keep his memory and all the others of the 5th division alive, he will be a guest author on my blog!
To the Ardennes
‘Barrett and I met on the way to the front line during the Battle of the Bulge. We rode side by side for twelve freezing hours in an uncovered convoy dodging the Luftwaffe while trying to catch up with our future home, the Fifth Infantry Division. My first night at the front was spent in a dugout listening to Barrett’s story. He had felt guilty being a radio operator in balmy Hawaii while the dog faces suffered in the ice and mud. He had volunteered for combat duty in Europe to assuage his conscience. I noticed what seemed a discrepancy between his story and his behavior. We picked up our chow and carried it back to our dugout, walking between sparse pines. Exploding mortar shells started breaking little branches all around us. In my dissociated state (which continues to this day) I had no feeling of danger. I felt this was “surrealand,” and my situation literally incredible. It seems that in spite of Barrett having done such a stupid thing, (never volunteer was the first thing you learned in the army) he was much more aware of the current reality than I was. He looked concerned and jerked about in hesitation causing his food and drink to spill from his plate and canteen cup as we walked back to the dugout.
As soon as I got to the front line I went to the medics with what I felt were frozen feet. “Oh no,” said the medic matter of factly, “they’re not even blue; you’ll feel your toes again come spring – should you happen to be alive, that is.” And he was right; I happened to be alive in spring, and felt my toes tingling back to life again.
‘Our efficient and intelligent squad leader, Sgt. Wilson, straight from the Tennessee hills, came by our dugout before dawn and ordered Barrett to follow him out with his rifle. I later found out that this was known as “going on patrol.”
About fifteen to twenty minutes later, the Sgt. stopped by on his return to platoon HQ. “Where’s Barrett,” I inquired with interest and curiosity. “He got hit,” quoth the Sgt. “What do you mean, ‘hit’?” I further inquired. “He was killed; he’s dead, kaput, finished. There is no more Barrett,” I was told. My “Oh,” must have sounded as if I’d been sucker punched.
Common math told me that if two men (or a man and a boy) arrived together and one died the first day, the other would die the next day, or sometime very soon. Though still living in “surreality,” some part of my brain ordered me to say goodby to my loved ones, and so I did. Our letters had to be censored by the platoon leader. He called me in and told me that I shouldn’t worry the people back home. My nineteen year old logic told me that I was quite justified in worrying about staying alive, so why shouldn’t my “loved ones” be allowed to share my concern, and that is what I told Lt. Putnam.
Later in a foxhole, out of the relatively comfortable dugout, I took my boots off and wrapped my feet in blanket strips, using overshoes as shoes; not the most efficient walking gear. That night, Sgt. Wilson dragged me out on my first patrol. He walked like he was ice skating, or so it seemed to me as I fell further and further behind, stumbling around with my well wrapped feet. Pretty soon I was all alone beneath the pale moon under the majestic trees of the Ardennes. I kept following what I thought was the path on which I’d last seen Sgt. Wilson’s diminishing form. Sure enough, I soon heard soldiers talking to each other, but I had to get closer to hear what they were saying. I am proud to say I managed to get within earshot without being detected. I was roundly disappointed to hear them barking and grunting in German. I figured if I walked straight away from them, I’d eventually reach the American line. I managed to walk straight enough to come within earshot of a group that grunted and barked in English, but decided to approach with caution as I didn’t want to be mistaken for a German, specially as there had been Germans infiltrating our lines dressed as GI’s. Fortunately, I still remembered the two word password, and instead of waiting to be challenged for the second half, I threw out the first word: “red,” as soon as I got near a guard. He peered, a bit nonplussed, into the darkness, and hesitatingly answered: “fox.” The guard was not a typical baseball fan, or was as inexperienced as I was. I’d heard that when GI’s doubted who was in front of them, they would ask who was the pitcher for the Dodgers, or some other well known baseball team all Americans were supposed to know about. I’ve always considered my not being challenged this way a great stroke of luck, as I would have been a dead man for sure.
When I finally reached Lt. Putnam’s HQ in the morning, he seemed more disappointed than pleased at seeing me alive. He said he had already written me up as missing in action, and that my showing up meant he had to write his morning report all over again. I say he “acted” disappointed, because it has always been my secret hope that he was just indulging in a bit of black humor and that he was actually glad to see me alive.
I’ll never know.’ – Edgar Valderrama C Company, 11th Infantry, 5th Infantry Division