WAR IN THE WEST – ROLLING ON TOWARDS THE BELGIAN TOWN OF LIEGE

Three stories from the Allied front against the Germans, where units were cleaning out enemy pockets behind the lines as forward columns raced through Belgium.

By Cpl. John Preston

YANK Staff Correspondent

WITH U.S. FORCES IN BELGIUM [By Cable]—A fat, spruce Belgian priest ran out from the crowd on the sidewalk and jumped up on our jeep. Smiling and nodding, he shook our hands. His thick, glistening black hair and loose white collar ends flapped excitedly as he talked in excellent English.



“Are you going to Germany today?” he asked the lieutenant.

“No, not today. Anyway I don’t think so.”

sherman on the belgian border

An M-4 Sherman tank moves through a belt of steel and concrete antitank obstacles in the Westwall. The path was created by engineers of a demolition squad.

The priest looked slightly crestfallen. He was like a spectator at a football game, cheering his team forward, only to see its drive halt with the goal in sight. “Germany is only about 100-odd kilometers from here,” he said.

“Yes,” replied the lieutenant, “but we are going northwest toward Liege.”

sherman tank crosses a bridge near the belgian border

Sherman tank rolls onto a pontoon ridge built by American Engineers at the Meuse near Liege.

“Ah, Liege,” said the priest, and he was silent for a moment. Then, very politely: “Well, that will do.” His face was wreathed in smiles again and he shook hands all around a second time. Then he jumped off the jeep and disappeared into the large crowd.

The convoy moved on and our jeep went with it, spreading a holiday atmosphere through the streets and country roads. There was a steady rain of hard fruit, butter, biscuits, flowers, confetti and small children beating in upon us from all directions wherever we moved. The Belgian people were giving the Americans as active a welcome as anybody could hope for, and the GIs made the most of it.

A soldier on a half-track just ahead of us kept banging two canteen cups together. This would invariably bring a girl on the run from the nearest house with a pitcher of milk of cognac.

At one bend in the road, a redhead in a brown sweater and grey flannel skirt saw her chance and sprang onto a jeep. She was carried down the road for 100 yards, slung diagonally and hysterically across the knees and shoulders of four grinning wiremen.

Now that we were in Belgium, we were making good time. With towns like Soissons, Mons and Chateau-Thierry behind us, we had expected to see battered brown fields, gray skies, rain, red poppies, Flanders mud—everything that we had read in novels and seen in movies about the First World War.



artillery fires into belgium

A 155-mm Long Tom, mounted on a Sherman tank chassis, sends a shell toward the Nazi lines across the Moselle River in Belgium.

But there was none of that this time. Instead we found broad, open rolling fields and hills, thick low forests and a high cold wind. When we stopped for lunch we wrapped ourselves in blankets and ducked underneath the jeep to get some protection from the wind. Some of the men cut holes in their blankets and wore them like Mexican serapes. One GI wore a faded brown fur piece around his neck.

After coffee and 10-in-1 rations we all felt more conversational. There was much talk about the crossing of the Meuse some days before.

From high positions on the opposite shore, the Germans had opened up the tanks, tank destroyers, big guns and machine guns while the U.S. assault craft were right in midstream. But they made it across the Meuse and the infantrymen kept on moving, in spite of German tanks and flame throwers, until our own armor came up and cleared a path for the advance. Everything went okay from then on.

Now we were on the move again, stopping every half-hour or so at small fields or clearings. Evidently the lead battalion up ahead was running into some opposition, and that was the reason for the delays.

About 1600 hours we drove to the top of a hill. Blue smoke rose from the forest on the left of us, and there came the occasional sharp sputter of a machine pistol. Our regiment had surrounded a group of Germans with tanks and TDs in the forest ahead. After some skirmishing, the Germans waved white flags. Our men were told to stand by and wait as the Germans marched out of the woods in double file. Then, unaccountably, a tank opened up and the Germans broke and scattered into the woods again. So the GIs had to follow them in and fight it out to a finish.

After that we reached our objective for the day and bedded down for a night in a small village. Belgian farmers made us welcome. In their soft, warm double beds, sleep came down quickly over our heads.

Early next morning we stood in the village’s only street and watched the Infantry move up over the hill. The men were brisk and light on their feet and moved along whistling, some with hands in their pockets, all of them right in step. The whistling and the smart pace were as much because of the cold weather as because the outfit was very near the German border and really in motion again.



WW2 GI kisses belgian girl

Let’s have no cracks about war not being hell.

One of the men in the outfit emerged from a local dry-goods store with 11 new packs of playing cards in his hands. We stared rather doubtfully at him, and he silently flourished a magician’s union card by a way of explanation.

Once we stopped in a small town for glasses of cold strong beer. They offered us whisky at $14 a bottle but there were few takers. No one seemed to have that much money. At the bar a Lt. Buren of Knoxville, Tenn., introduced us to Roger Young, a member of the Belgian resistance movement, now on detached service with the First Army. After 1940 he had been taken prisoner. He remained in Germany three years before he escaped. He had run into Buren and his group a couple of weeks earlier near the French-Belgian border, where he was hitchhiking his way east. They asked him where he was going and he merely said “Pour les Boches (For the Germans).” As this was the same general direction the Americans were taking, they told him to climb on and he had been with them ever since. Roger was only one of the Belgian Maquis who were now working with the Allies.

About an hour before we reached a river crossing, a Piper Cub got in touch by radio with an artillery observer in the jeep directly ahead of us. The Cub reported that Germans were dug in at a steep incline on the opposite bank of the river, which we were scheduled to cross at noon. A hurry call was sent back to the artillery to lay a few shells in that area, but they were too late. One minute before our shells landed, the Germans had blown up the bridge and they were now heading rapidly eastward in trucks.

Things still looked promising by the time we got to the river bank. The open sky above us was flecked with bombers, and one of our patrols, led by Maj. Keene Wilson, was scaling a high brown cliff on the opposite side. Maj. Wilson, who had come over to France three months ago as a lieutenant, was no battalion commander. He had a habit of going up to the front lines and staying there when things were hot.

We waited about a half hour before crossing. I picked up a couple of small pieces of paper lying in the streets. They turned out to be Nazi eleventh-hour propaganda:

“Where are the German Tigers?

Where are the German U-Boats?

Where is the Luftwaffe?

Allied propaganda claims have told you they were wiped out long ago.

We, your comrades of the opposition, wish you the best of luck during the months ahead.

And remember we still have some very delicious surprises for you.

We repeat—Wait and see.

You won’t have much longer to wait.”

Finally we climbed into our jeeps and drove to a bridge father down the river. Then there were more delays and more consumption of pears and bread showered on us by the local inhabitants. One or two of us got out to take in the view. The sun came out again. Looking down over a parapet at the shimmering water, everyone agreed that it was a fine afternoon—in fact, just the kind of afternoon the war might suddenly end on, and none of us would know anything about it.



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