Dutch Schultz’s memories of the Huertgen

Posted by on Nov 27, 2011 in Blog | 4 comments

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.

4 Comments

  1. Many WWII vets I have met were at the Huertgen Forest, their memories too terrifying to recall for more than a few seconds. It was a scene of fog, thick woods, tree exploding and sending missiles of flame and wood. There is a moment in the Band of Brothers where, towards the end, as they walk through some foggy woods, one man says to the other, in a faint, scared voice, “This reminds me of the Huertgen.” His face and tone said it all.

  2. Carol,

    Such a moving essay. Thank you for keeping it real when you write about the killing fields. This line will stay with me: “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.”

    The ending brought tears as I read about the unknown lieutenant who dragged your dad that mile. I couldn’t help but think of my own young lieutenant – my son – and wondered who this unknown lieutenant was.

    Kathy

  3. I had no idea nor thought of what Uncle Arthur went thru; I’ve seen the bodies, know the smell without blinking an eye, but I never thought of what he and the thousands of others went through.

    • I had no idea either until later in my life when I began asking dad questions about the war. And I am sure that most have no idea of what you went thru.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *