308th Engineers, 83rd Infantry, Battle of the Bulge, Belgium, Christmas, Germany, history, Hurtgen Forest, Luxembourg, nostalgia, World War 2 history
December 1944. The 308th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 83rd US Infantry had moved from Steinsel, Luxembourg to Gey, Germany, where they were dug in from December 18 to 25. It was the coldest, snowiest winter Europe had seen in more than thirty years.
Hitler’s army was pushing a last ditch counteroffensive against the Allies and the 308th was in the thick of it. It would become the bloodiest battle of the war: the Battle of the Bulge.
The Engineer companies supported the Infantry regiments in their attack and support missions. They worked on extensive road repairs and maintenance, mine sweeping and mine laying, bridge demolition and construction, splinter proof shelter construction and assistance to Artillery battalions in getting to forward positions.
Roads in the area were in very bad condition from heavy shelling. Shell fragments covered road surfaces, causing the engineers about fifty tire punctures daily as they hauled gravel in dump trucks to fill shell holes. Working long hours and having support from a Corps Engineer Battalion who worked exclusively on the roads, they kept the most important roads open.
For my dad, SSGT Harry J. Kirby, Jr, Co. C, and for most American GIs, no matter what else was going on, it was still Christmas. Herr Hitler was really making himself a nuisance with his Panzers and their big guns. The 83rd pushed back with all they had. But hey, it was Christmas.
Just before Christmas, Harry and the fellas found a treasure trove of beautiful glass Christmas ornaments in the cellar of a ruined farmhouse. Just what they needed!
In the forest, they picked out the perfect fir tree, not difficult in the Hurtgen Forest. In between their regular duties, they decorated that little tree and had their own little Christmas there amid the deep snow, bitter cold, and booming shells.
One of the guys had his camera. The gang gathered round the tree for a ‘family portrait’ and the soldier promised he would make sure everyone got a copy of the photo. It was a warm moment in the midst of a bleak winter far away from home for these American boys.
A few days later, in the hell that was the battle in the Hurtgen, that soldier was killed. Dad never told us his name or I would remember him here. But no one ever saw the precious photo of that Christmas tree, that little piece of home.
In 1994, the veterans of the 83rd returned to Europe, visiting Gey and the Hurtgen. Driving through the dark, dense forest, the old soldiers murmured to each other about ‘snow’ and ‘so cold’ and ‘minefields’ and ‘tree bursts’. It was a solemn moment for them, rife with memories.
The 308th departed Gey on Christmas Day 1944 and pushed on through Ossogne, Janee, and Biron, Belgium, where they remained into January 1945. In the beginning weeks of the new year, the 83rd was employed in the 7th Corps zone to defeat the German breakthrough in the vicinity north of Houffalize, Luxembourg. On 21 January, they assembled near Hamoir, Belgium, for rest and rehabilitation.
Pat Arone said:
How nice to honor your dad and his fellow soldiers. We are safe and warm in our homes because of their sacrifice. And, somewhere in the world, there are soldiers who are still serving our country, protecting our freedom so we can sing about and wish our friends peace on earth. It’s a big wish.
Marianne On a Mission (M.O.M.M said:
Keep wishing, Pat!
I really enjoyed your stories Marianne, my Dad was 1st Lt. Richard E. Fletcher S-1 Adjutant, HQ, 308th combat Engineers, 83rd Infantry (that’s a mouthful). He rarely spoke about the war so I depend on stories like yours to add color to my itinerary Dad left in his photo album. Funny, I enjoy the stories of the 83rd infantry but the 308 engineers followed a slightly different path and schedule- D-Day plus 10 was what my Dad said was his arrival but I find no other arrivals that day, and Christmas ’45 he noted he was in Gey Germany and your story was the first corroboration; as I had thought the 83rd was already in the Bulge battle by the 20th… thanks for the great story and keep up the good work!
Marianne On a Mission (M.O.M. said:
Thank you for the response, Ross. My dad rarely talked about the bad stuff but this Christmas story was special because he absolutely loved Christmas. Also he talked about his Thanksgiving in Luxembourg….a pleasant moment in the midst of such horror. Did you see the Thanksgiving blog post?
I have a copy of the 308th after actions reports..I’ll look for your dad. As we kids got older, we realized that The War wasn’t a little trip to Europe…it was incredible to take dad back in ’94 and ’99.
Antoine Noslier said:
If you read the reports, you will see that the father of Ross had signed some of them.
Tom Timmons said:
My Dad was a Combat Engineer. He loved to talk about the war. I heard the stories so many times that I speak like I was there. He often spoke of the Hurtgen where he lost two good friends.
Marianne On a Mission said:
Sorry I missed your comment! I’m hoping to write dad’s memoirs from his own words gathered by my daughter. This past summer, my sister and I traveled the battle route of the 331st infantry and 308th engineers of the 83rd Infantry. The 308th supported the 331st. We traveled with a group of relatives whose dad was an officer in the 331st. It was absolutely amazing.
Paula Nezezon said:
Thank you Marianne for keeping their memoires alive. My dad talked about sitting in rubble on Christmas day. I think that’s why he didn’t seem too happy at Christmas time for several years. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Marianne On a Mission said:
Dad never lost his childhood excitement over Christmas, no matter what. Guess he focused on the good and kept the bad stuff inside. Merry Christmas to Bill’s family! 🎄🎅🏻❤️😘