Late January 1945, the 82nd was back in battle.
Early in February 1945, the division arrived at a scene my father described as resembling Dante’s Inferno – the Huertgen Forest, in the Ardennes along the Belgian-German border. In those dark woods which resembled dark fairy tale scenes of Hansel and Gretel, catastrophic losses had befallen the American Army in November 1944. As dad and his fellow troopers marched through the killing field, the snow was slowly melting and the “Bloody Huertgen” was giving up its dead. Body parts were sticking through the thawing snow – a head, partial torso, arm or leg was visible. Hundreds of corpses, tank hulks and all manner of war detritus had been left behind for months. The majority of dead and decomposed were attached to the 28th Infantry Division of the Pennsylvania National Guard, a unit demolished from heavy German shelling, mines and snipers. Gerald Astor in The Bloody Forest estimated the casualty toll from Huertgen to be 24,000, in a battle considered a military failure and relatively unnoticed by the brass and press. It wasn’t unnoticed by Dutch – he never witnessed such carnage and inhumanity. The odor from the decaying flesh was overpowering. In his ill and exhausted state, my father collapsed and lay on the side of the road. Dutch: The path that we were using had recently been cleared of mines by the engineers. However, there were still mines on the both sides of the path and so it became crucial that you didn’t stray too far from the center of the path….I became violently ill and fell to the ground. I laid there no caring whether I lived or died. A first lieutenant helped me to my feet. This unknown lieutenant dragged Dutch a mile to an aid station, saving his life, since he had double pneumonia and would have died from exposure if left in the cold woods.