| Pfc. Daniel
Robert "Bob" Shine
Grandmenil , Belgium
I Company, 3d Battalion, 289th Regiment, 75th Infantry Division
Just after midnight...Twenty
year old Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine squatted in a roadside
ditch in knee-deep icy water, clutching his M-1 rifle; there was
nowhere to go. Moments before, he'd been advancing eastward with
his rifle Company in near total blackness. From around a bend in
the dirt road had come three tanks. As the tanks got closer, the
G.I.'s had realized that they were facing German Tigers. The soldiers
on the right had climbed an embankment and sought cover behind rocks
and trees; for those on the left, the only available cover was a
drainage ditch covered with ice. As they jumped into the ditch,
the ice broke, soaking them.
Closer and closer came
the Tigers. Just as the lead tank had almost reached Shine, one
of the G.I.'s on the embankment panicked and began firing his rifle
at it. The tank came to a sudden stop just an arm's length from
Shine; the turret began to traverse toward the slope as the tank
started to fire its cannon and rake the American positions with
machine gun fire. Shine looked around; there was nowhere to escape
to. He could only continue to squat in the muddy water and hope
for deliverance--or a quick end. The combined noise of the tank's
engine, cannon and machine guns was almost deafening; in the distance
he began to hear the screaming of the wounded infantrymen.
In moments, the column
of tanks began to advance again. What now? Would there be German
infantry following? Shine thought of the previous Christmas he had
spent at home with his family in Connecticut, and suddenly felt
lonely and forsaken; would this be a slaughter? To his young eyes,
the situation appeared hopeless. Their landing in Europe hadn't
been a dramatic one; Item Company, 289th Infantry had come to France
on a troop ship, and docked at Le Havre. Their division, the 75th,
was one of many that had been hastily formed for the final big push
the Allies would make into Germany. The weeks that had followed
their landing had been filled with long, monotonous autumn days,
in a muddy French meadow.
Then, on Christmas eve,
without warning they had been loaded onto roofless semi-trailers.
Packed too close to do anything but stand, the infantrymen had watched
in amazement as their trucks roared eastward for four hours through
the cold night, down the narrow dirt roads of France and then Belgium.
No one had told them what to expect; they had no idea of the massive
German penetration of the Allied lines that was taking place. German
tanks and infantry had, in a surprise attack, created a huge "bulge"
in the American lines in the Belgian forest known as the Ardennes.
The Battle of the Bulge had not even been named yet; but it was
to be a widespread and bloody conflict, as Nazi Germany fanatically
attempted a last breakthrough and the Allies fought desperately
to hold onto their positions. At this moment, the 75th was headed
directly into the path of the advancing 12th SS Panzer Division.Shine
estimated that they were speeding along the dirt road at about sixty
miles per hour. Other vehicles on the road tried to make way for
the convoy of trucks which were traveling through the darkness without
the aid of headlights. If another vehicle failed to clear a wide
enough path, it was smashed out of the way by the semis, which never
even slowed down. The realization began to grow within Shine that
something was seriously wrong wherever they were headed, and that
they would be expected to help make it right.
The Allied generals had
ordered the 75th to move up and relieve the 3rd Armored division.
Outside of Grandmenil, the men of Item Company disembarked from
their trucks and set out on foot toward the village. As they advanced,
they were met by elements of the 3rd, who were retiring from the
field. "What's up this road?" "Nothing. All clear!"
Item Company moved forward, reassured. They advanced in two files,
one along each shoulder of the road. Down the center of the road
came the 3rd, who were pulling back to regroup. Shine's company
passed troops moving toward the rear on foot, along with a number
of Sherman Tanks, jeeps and halftracks. Some time after the last
of the 3rd had passed through them, they saw three more tanks approaching,
and hadn't recognized them as the enemy until it was too late.
It was almost 0100 hours,
and Shine continued to crouch in the ditch. The Tiger had stopped
firing now, and had begun to move toward their rear. When the Tiger
was about 100 yards away, an American bazooka team fired one round
into its radiator, disabling the tank. The other two tank crews,
seeing the flash and the disabled tank blocking the road, turned
and made for the safety of their own lines. The threat eliminated,
Item Company re-formed on the dirt road and continued their march
on Grandmenil. Shine's boots and wool trousers were now soaked,
and would remain so for many days.
Throughout the early morning
hours, the infantrymen marched up the snowy dirt road, through the
forests of the Ardennes, and onward toward Grandmenil. Shine and
his squad led the advance, marching warily forward with their rifles
poised and ready for instant action. With the moon and starlight
obscured by the heavy overcast, it would be nearly impossible to
spot a dug-in enemy until they were almost on top of him. Such were
their fears as they emerged from the sheltering woods and entered
the fields surrounding Grandmenil. The M-1 "Garand" rifles
the infantrymen carried were a familiar burden on these marches.
They weighed almost ten pounds, and quickly sapped the strength
in the soldiers' arms. But the G.I.s loved their M-1s for their
awesome firepower and deadly accuracy. The M-1's 30-'06 cartridges
could propel a copper-jacketed slug through a tree and drop an enemy
soldier hiding behind it, if such was necessary. To be among a rifle
company firing M-1s in battle was truly a deafening experience.
At dawn on Christmas day,
Item Company waited at the edge of Grandmenil, a village so small
that it could be crossed by foot in less than five minutes--unless,
of course the village was filled with waiting German soldiers--and
it was. The task of liberating the village had fallen upon the Americans'
young shoulders. As the soldiers waited for the order to attack,
the Germans began an artillery barrage of their positions.
Item Company was to attack
the village with the support of Sherman tanks. Two of Shine's friends
huddled behind one of the tanks, seeking shelter from the German
small arms fire that had just begun. As Shine watched, a shell landed
and exploded near to the two and flung their bodies against the
tank. They were killed instantly; there were almost no visible wounds,
but the concussion from the explosion left the two dead Americans
looking like lumps of bread dough thrown and flattened against a
The Americans commenced
their attack. The Sherman tanks advanced up the village streets
first, firing their cannons point-blank into the occupied houses
of Grandmenil. Then the riflemen followed. First they threw hand
grenades into the houses; immediately after the explosions, they
sprayed the insides of the houses with rifle fire, and then entered.
Shine and another young soldier entered one house. Inside the house,
a dazed German reached for his gun. There was no time to ask him
to surrender; the soldier with Shine quickly raised his Colt automatic
pistol and fired. The .45 caliber bullet hit the German soldier
squarely in the forehead, and the top of his head was blown completely
The Germans fought desperately;
the Americans were forced to take Grandmenil one house at a time.
As Christmas day progressed, many young Americans and Germans made
the ultimate sacrifice for their countries. At day's end, Item Company
had driven the Germans from Grandmenil, and had dug their foxholes
in a defensive line along the edge of town. Twenty four hours earlier,
none of them had ever seen battle; now they were veterans. Christmas
night would be another cold, cloudy night with temperatures below
twenty degrees. The winter of 1944-45 would be remembered as the
coldest winter in forty years, and the men of the 75th spent most
of it outside, with frozen feet. As he settled down for his first
sleep in two days, Shine became aware again of his feet, which were
painfully cold. Funny, but he hadn't noticed them all day.
Behind him, Grandmenil's
ruins smouldered and burned. Shine thought of his grandmother's
hometown of Zell, in Germany's Moselle valley fifty miles to their
east. He couldn't help but wonder if he had been fighting against
any of his German cousins that day, or if he would face them on
some future day. They couldn't use their sleeping bags that night--"Purple
Heart Bags" they were called. If the Germans counterattacked
during the night, the Americans could be bayoneted in their bags
before they could free themselves and reach for their weapons. So
Shine and the rest of Item Company lay in the frozen earth, with
their frozen feet and shivered themselves into a fitful sleep. A
sleep filled with thoughts of those whom they had killed, and those
friends who would never be going home; friends who now lay frozen
on the snowy ground of Grandmenil.
And meanwhile, back at
home, choirs were singing of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men. America!
Christmas! As he drifted off to sleep, Shine wondered if he would
ever see home again; indeed he wondered if he would live to see
As written down by Daniel Shine, Daniel Robert's
The 75th Division Patch.
Daniel in Nice, France January 1946.