Veterans’ Reflections: Fighting in the Battle of the Bulge

WASHINGTON — John Reep almost missed out on his chance to serve. On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japan­ese bombed Pearl Har­bor, he was turned away at his local Marine Corps recruit­ing sta­tion in Chica­go.

Alexandria National Cemetery, Va.
Vet­er­an John Reep dis­cuss­es his Army ser­vice from 1943 to 1952 dur­ing a Sept. 11, 2010 inter­view at Alexan­dria Nation­al Ceme­tery, Va.
DoD pho­to by Navy Pet­ty Offi­cer 2nd Class William Sel­by
Click to enlarge

The med­ical per­son­nel test­ing new recruits said he had tuber­cu­lo­sis and was inel­i­gi­ble for ser­vice, so he went to the Cook Coun­ty San­i­tar­i­um to seek med­ical assis­tance. “I was in there for six weeks before a doc­tor said, ‘Get the hell out of there, you ain’t got TB,’ ” Reep said. It would take years before the cause of his plight would be discovered. 

“Final­ly, when I was liv­ing [in the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., area] – I had asth­ma – a doc­tor asked me if I’d ever been hit in the chest as a kid,” he said. “My old man was drunk, he came home one night want­i­ng to fight, and he hit me in the chest and knocked me out. But what hap­pened is there was a spot on my lung, and appar­ent­ly it stays with you for life – but I nev­er had tuber­cu­lo­sis. I’d prob­a­bly have been in Guadal­canal with the Marines.” 

After a year of med­ical check­ups, Reep was draft­ed into the Army in 1943. The spot on his lung had­n’t changed, but he had med­ical records stat­ing clear­ly that he did­n’t have tuber­cu­lo­sis, so he was allowed to serve. 

“They asked me if I want­ed to join the Air Corps, and I said, ‘No, infantry,’ and boom, there I was, in the infantry,” Reep said. 

His unit, the 30th Infantry Divi­sion, “Old Hick­o­ry,” was sent to Southamp­ton, Eng­land, to sup­ple­ment infantry forces after the June 6, 1944, D‑Day inva­sion of Nor­mandy. The casu­al­ties of the inva­sion were so high that his divi­sion had to be sent in to replace the troops who were killed on the beach. 

“We had three-day pass­es to Paris,” Reep said. “We got up in the morn­ing and the sergeant says, ‘Hey, where are you going?’ We said, ‘We’re going to Paris,’ and he said, ‘Like hell you are. You’re going to Bel­gium. The Ger­mans broke through.’ ” 

Reep’s next steps would take him straight into the Bat­tle of the Bulge. His unit start­ed mov­ing from one city to the oth­er, sift­ing through the wake of repeat­ed Ger­man assaults and retreats as they head­ed toward the Siegfried Line, a series of for­ti­fi­ca­tions on Germany’s west­ern border. 

“In [one vil­lage] we saw a lot of bod­ies – women and chil­dren,” Reep recalled. “[Ger­man forces] came through and said they were trai­tors in that town.” 

They also came upon the after­math of the Malm­e­dy Mas­sacre, in which 84 Amer­i­can pris­on­ers of war were mur­dered by their Ger­man cap­tors. Reep said the men had been cap­tured and grouped in a field, where a Ger­man truck backed toward them, osten­si­bly as a trans­port to take the pris­on­ers into cus­tody. When the can­vas was lift­ed, a machine gun opened fire. “It was just a slaugh­ter,” he said. 

Reep said the most mem­o­rable thing about being in Malm­e­dy was the time an Amer­i­can sol­dier in his unit took out what appeared to be three Amer­i­can tanks and 17 U.S. sol­diers on Dec. 21, 1944. The Amer­i­can sol­dier, Sgt. Fran­cis Cur­rey, had been sus­pi­cious of a ruse and asked a sus­pect sol­dier if he was excit­ed for the Rose Bowl that year. 

The man’s response, “No, I’m not inter­est­ed in flow­ers,” was enough at the time to tip Cur­rey off that the sus­pect sol­dier was­n’t Amer­i­can, Reep said. 

“He machine-gunned them all down – the kid was crazy,” Reep recalled. “He had a bazooka and a lot of rounds, and he took out the three tanks.” 

Cur­rey earned the Medal of Hon­or that day. The tanks he destroyed were Ger­man tanks repaint­ed to look like Amer­i­can tanks, and the sol­diers he killed were ene­my sol­diers who had tried to infil­trate his unit. 

Though the fight­ing even­tu­al­ly land­ed Reep in a Dutch hos­pi­tal for a few weeks – the wet cold of north­west­ern Europe in the win­ter had giv­en him pneu­mo­nia and frost­bite – he would con­tin­ue to fight until he left the Army as a staff sergeant in 1952 and returned home after 10 years of service. 

(“Vet­er­ans’ Reflec­tions” is a col­lec­tion of sto­ries of men and women who served their coun­try in World War II, the Kore­an War, the Viet­nam War, oper­a­tions Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day con­flicts. They will be post­ed through­out Novem­ber in hon­or of Vet­er­ans Day.) 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →