Letter: Local remembers his role in Battle of the Bulge
By Lt. Col. Ret. Samuel Lombardo
Near the end of the Battle of the Bulge, I arrived at a large, snow-covered field on the Belgian-German border along with the rest of the 3rd Battalion, 394th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. We were organized for a final mop-up operation, with each company in a column formation and separated from each other by several hundred yards. Although this operation took place during the final surreal days of “the Bulge,” it demanded much of me — maybe more than any other operation.
Company L was on the extreme right. Company K was in the middle. Company I, my company, was on the left flank. We all faced the snow-covered field. The wait for orders was intense. This was to be our last operation of the Bulge before advancing toward the Cologne Plains and the Rhine River.
Orders finally came to move out. Company L ws to move our first. Their first man stepped out into the snow-covered field and stepped on a mine. We could see him lying in the snow. Someone was trying to pull him back to safety. His moans of pain carried all the way to our position.
Company K was next to move out. Their first man also stepped on a mine and was lying in the snow, moaning from his wounds.
I could feel the tension building up among my men. Capt. J.J. morris, my company commander, then informed me that our company was next to move our and my second platoon was to lead.
I ordered Sgt. Leitz, my scout, to lead. Instantly, his eyes turned opaque and I could not communicate with him. He collapsed into a crunching position. I knew he had reached his breaking point. I ordered two men to pick him up and take him to our aid station.
The rest of my men milled around, wondering what was going to happen next. The moaning from the two wounded men could still be heard. It was very unnerving. I knew that I had to take immediate action. I called all my men together and told them that I would lead them across the snow-covered field, which was probably all mines. It was move important that they follow and step in my footprints, unless I stepped on a mine, in which case Sgt. Rosen, my platoon sergeant, would take over and pass this information back to all the men in the company.
I looked up into the sky and said to myself, “God help me.” Then, from old Army habit, I lifted my left foot and slowly set it down, compressing the snow as far as it would go. Nothing happened. I repeated with my right foot, and again nothing happened. I was so relieved I had not stepped on a mine. I continued the same way for several hundred years to the end of the field, looking back occasionally to make sure all the men were following in my footprints. When I reached the bank at the end of the field, I climbed about 20 feet and looked back across the field. It was such a relief and good feeling to see not only my platoon men, but also all of Company I in a long line, all following my footprints.
We followed the logging road and mopped up the surrounding hills for two days. During this period, the early rains came and melted all the snow. We returned by the same logging road and ended up near the minefield we had crossed two days earlier. I asked Morris if I could walk over to the vicinity of the field to take a look. He approved.
I took one man with me and arrived by the logging road within a few minutes. I was almost in shock when I looked at the field without snow. As far as I could see, it was covered with a large cargo-type net. Each square was a meter in size. We walked down the embankment to get a closer look. In the middle of each square was a loose piece of sod about a square foot in sie and a little higher than the surrounding. This sod covered the hole that contained the mine. I thought of lifting the sod to identify what type of mine was there, but I changed my mind and told myself, “Don’t stretch your luck.”
The fact that we crossed the entire minefield without stepping on one of the mines laid there was really a miracle. I believe I had divine guidance.
This article first appeared in ARMY, the magazine of the Association of the United States Army in December 2014. Lt. Col. Samuel Lombardo, Ret., now resides in Destin.