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October 26, 2012

Veteran recalls battle

— Chuck Katlic is known all over Parker County for his contributions to the community, but most notably, for his service as a military veteran.

Now, almost 70 years later, Katlic recalls his time during the Battle of the Bulge, which took place from 1944 to 1945 and saw 19,000 American soldiers killed and more than 47,000 wounded, with 23,000 either captured or missing.

Below is Katlic’s hand-written memories of the time he describes as violent and cold.

It all began at 0500 hours. I recalled being on watch 68 years ago, Dec. 16, 1944, in the Ardennes, one of 70,000 men in four and a half divisions, covering a 70-mile front. I looked out across the Siegfried line from my log fortified, snow-covered foxhole. The quiet was shattered by German artillery and mortars, as the enemy opened up on the 99th Division.

The Battle of the Bulge had begun.

The weather was cloudy and cold and artillery landed in our area all day and night. Company F was awake and on the alert when it started, but thank God we have covered our foxholes with logs.

I believed that the logs were the only thing that saved me and my buddies from being ripped to shreds by shrapnel and wood shards from trees blasted to smithereens. Some men who were caught out of their foxholes were wounded or killed.

Artillery continued to hit our positions on Dec. 17 as German and American planes went at one another overhead. Eventually the German artillery ceased. The 2nd Battalion was surrounded by Germans and separated from their regiment. We received orders to withdraw and we did, leaving a covering force to an assembly point near Hunmgen, Belgium. No artillery fell Dec. 18 and the evidence of the past two days’ barrage was concealed under a blanket of new snow. The temperature dropped to near 5 degrees and circumstances grew dire as we were low on ammo and food. The Germans were closing in for the kill. We moved along a draw but the mortar rounds started landing in the draw so the company moved into the woods where we were temporarily held up for a few hours. The company was given orders to fix bayonets. Company F and the rest of the battalion moved toward Merrigan. At about 1500 hours, a German burp gun opened up on our column and pinned us down. Heavy weapons were called for.

The Americans attacked in German positions and met stiff resistance. Our company commander was given command of the battalion. Lt. Goodner led the battalion through the draw to the town of Elsenborn, believed to be an Allied control. But the battalion fell under intense artillery and small arms fire. We were wet and cold and hungry and the 2nd Battalion was given up as lost in action.

Rumors of the battalion’s demise are premature. We reached the outskirts of Elsenborn and the men of Company F slept in a barn until about 1000 hours. Hot chow was served around noon; hot pancakes and syrup — a feast. It was our first hot meal in days.

The company moved to Elsenborn Ridge to take the high ground. We dug foxholes and set our defenses. Our meals would be cold C rations until our kitchen was set up in Elsenborn. We improved our positions and sent out patrols. On Christmas Day, we were served a cold turkey dinner.

We stayed there for awhile and I celebrated my 21st birthday Jan. 8, 1945 in a foxhole on the Elsenborn Ridge.

It was the coldest day of my life. The 99th Division held the northern shoulder, preventing the Germans from expanding the bulge. We spent the month of January defending the north shoulder and despite many attempts, the Germans could not break through and eventually withdrew to a defensive position.

Wet, cold weather met us as we climbed from our foxholes at 1 a.m. Jan. 31, 1945, to answer the long-awaited call to attack. Our company left the area at 0300 hours and started moving toward our objective. Snow was waist deep and rain had made a slushy surface on top of that, delaying our departure. By 0600 hours, we had advanced only about 700 yards.

No enemy resistance was initially met. The Company F commander led the way and with covering fire from light machine guns and 60 mm mortars, we moved forward into enemy installations. We were moving due north through the enemy’s outpost when light resistance met us. Swinging the company due east, we drove the Germans from our objective and into the dense woods. That’s where we were held up by intense automatic and sniper fire, which inflicted heavy casualties on our infantry and medics. The company was pinned down in four feet of snow for the remainder of the night.

Artillery was called in to eliminate the enemy fire and shells landed within 50 yards of our position. We spent a miserable night laying in the snow, wet, cold, hungry, sleepy and tired. Eight of our men were killed and many who were wounded did not make it through the night. Myself and my brothers in arms regrouped and advanced back to the lines where we had been Dec. 16.

The next day, we began to push the Germans back to the Rhine River and into Germany. It was the end of the Battle of the Bulge. In those six weeks, Americans suffered 90,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed in action. It was the largest land battle ever fought by the U.S. Army.

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