Sunday, Dec. 24, 2006

     

 

 

Kiwanis prepares to hand out gifts and groceries

Monitor Photos/Kerry Yancey
Kiwanis member Paula Kimball drops off a loaf of bread into a food basket, while Tate Cramm adds flour and sugar to another food basket Wednesday, as Kiwanis members made final preparations to hand out food and toys to needy families at the community room of The Library at Cedar Creek Lake in Seven Points.

Monitor Photos/Kerry Yancey
Kiwanis members Shannon Steakley (left) and Carol Eubank review lists and names to make certain toys and gifts are properly labeled and ready to hand out to needy area families.

Battle of Bulge veteran recalls key WWII fight
By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Writer

PHALBA–Sixty-two years ago this Christmas, the tide turned on what was then called the Western Front, as Allied troops began to cut off the German armies that had pushed a huge “bulge” into Allied lines.
For 18-year-old Phalba native Davis H. Marable, it was a time to forget – and now remember.
“The American people have no idea how close the Americans came to getting shoved back into the sea, like at Dunkirk,” Marable said. “They don’t realize how few people are still around who were in World War II. I’m 80, and I was one of the younger ones.”
Young Marable found out quickly how life would be on the front lines in December, 1944.
“The snow was not quite tabletop deep,” he recalled. “They said, ‘Dig you a hole. That’s your home’.”
Marable, who now lives on the old family farm in Phalba along State Highway 198, literally feet from where he was born, joined the U.S. Army Aug. 8, 1944, following his two older brothers, Elmer and Willie (Bill), who joined Dec. 30, 1941, and Feb. 14, 1942, respectively.
As a youngster, Marable attended school in Canton, and received his basic training at Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) in Central Texas.
When the Battle of the Bulge began, Marable’s Texas training was cut short, and he was quickly shipped overseas to join the 11th Armored Infantry Division, and the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion at St. Vith, just north of the besieged city of Bastogne.
Marable crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth, but crossed the English Channel on a much smaller craft.
He vividly remembers his embarkation onto French soil.
“I had to climb over the side of the boat, down a rope ladder, with a full field pack on,” he shuddered.
Autumn Fog
German dictator Adoph Hitler himself came up with the idea for a lightning attack in the Ardennes Forest, the same area where German forces had swept into France in 1870, again during the Great War of 1914 and again in the blitzkrieg of 1940.
The idea literally struck Hitler like a lightning bolt during a Sept. 16 conference with his top generals.
During Gen. Alfred Jodl’s report on the deteriorating situation, he mentioned the Ardennes, and Hitler stiffened, then pounded on the map, saying the Ardennes Forest would be where his armies would counterattack.
As he quickly outlined the proposed offensive, Hitler looked almost like his old, dynamic self, shaking off the continuing physical deterioration noted by everyone after the failed bombing attempt on his life July 20, 1944.
(Hitler’s personal physician actually was slowly poisoning him with “anti-gas” pills containing small amounts of strychnine.)
Jodl drew up plans for the offensive under intense secrecy. The code name for the operation was changed weekly, in an attempt to foil the spy Hitler knew was in his headquarters (the spy was actually the British Ultra, the cipher machine that had broken the German secret codes).
Three entire armies – 250,000 men, plus tanks and support vehicles – were secretly moved into place, and the operation, finally known as Autumn Fog, was set to begin either Dec. 15 or the next day, whenever the weather turned bad enough to ground American airplanes.
The shivering German troops heard a message from Field Marshal von Rundstendt: “We gamble everything!”
Hitler’s plan was to drive a wedge between the American forces and the British forces.
If Hitler’s armies could reach the sea, the Western Front would be split, forcing the Allies to sue for an armistice. That would allow Hitler to disengage his forces and turn east to halt the Russians.
The area marked for the German advance was held by just six divisions. Of these, three were brand-new, and the other three literally bled white by continuing action.
It was known as the “Ghost Front,” and neither side had done much to annoy the other for two months.
At 5:30 a.m. Dec. 16, the Germans launched an intense artillery barrage across an 85-mile front, and began pushing forward behind their Tiger tanks.
Incredible confusion marked the entire front, as the Germans tried to outrun news of their assault, and, in many cases, succeeded.
Hitler’s personal commando, Major Otto Skorzeny, had the brilliant idea to infiltrate seven squads of German soldiers in American uniforms to sow disinformation and sabotage behind the lines.
While Skorzeny’s 28 men didn’t do all that much, they told their captors there were thousands of them behind the American lines, and that lie did more to distrupt the Americans than the group’s actual activities.
In the deep snow of the Schnee Eiffel, some 8,000 (perhaps 9,000 – no one knows for certain) American troops were captured. It was the largest capture of American troops in the war, aside from the surrender of Bataan in early 1942.
The 11th Armored Division lost 6,000 of its 15,000 men during the drive into Germany, Marable said.
Overall, the Allies lost 76,980 casualties, while the Germans lost at least 70,000 casualties and had 50,000 troops captured.
In retrospect, Marable’s unit was incredibly lucky. “We only lost one man out of 19 in five months,” he recalled.
Marable’s first action would again be memorable.
“The first thing they did was put nine of us in a half-track and send it over a wooden road to see if it was mined,” he recalled.
Marable was his platoon’s radio operator and machine-gunner, using both .30-caliber and .50-caliber weapons.
“Another guy, Albert Adams, said I was too small (generously listed at 5-7, 154 pounds) to carry the radio, and he carried it,” he said.
Marable was in I&R, intelligence and reconnaissance, operating in the spearhead of American forces. Nearly every day, he would join in a group of two Jeeps and a half-track that would probe ahead, seeking the enemy and reporting their positions.
The Ardennes Forest was virtually impassible, he said.
“Those woods were so thick, a squirrel couldn’t get through,” he said.
Those heading into battle couldn’t tell Americans from Germans – everyone was wet, muddy, freezing and starving.
“We wore every bit of clothes we could beg, borrow or scrounge,” Marable said.
He recalled going three weeks without a mess call, because the food couldn’t get to them.
“Americans just don’t know what it’s like to have to do without food,” he said. “My brother (Bill) was hauling gasoline and food to us, but he didn’t know I was there.”
Allied counterattack
Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had forces both north and south turn to cut off the German spearhead, which was halted just east of its intended target, the major Allied base at Dinant, on the Meuse River.
On Christmas, the weather cleared, and the Allies could use air power to pound the German supply lines and troops or tanks caught in the open.
Air power and Eisenhower’s ability to call up reserve troops, which Hitler couldn’t do, turned the battle, and by Jan. 28, 1945, it was all over.
Hitler’s desperate gamble had failed. The Allies were pushing into Germany itself.
On Jan. 12, Russia launched a huge offensive, which quickly broke through the thinly-spaced German lines and began driving towards Berlin.
Marable recalled the hottest action he was in came Feb. 21, 1945, when his column found itself coming under fire from three sides, after advancing less than 1,500 yards.
“I was the getaway guy, because I was the short guy,” he recalled. It was Marable’s responsibility to get back to American lines and report the danger ahead.
“I was too young and too small to get hit,” he said with a chuckle. He did have a piece of shrapnel hit his foot, but it failed to penetrate his boot.
March 7, 1945, the Americans got lucky, and captured an intact bridge across the Rhine River at Remagen.
“We crossed the Rhine about nine miles downstream from the bridge at Remagen,” Marable recalled. “We could watch the dogfights over the bridge.”
By then, Hitler’s “wonder weapons,” such as the world’s first jet-powered fighter, the ME 262, were in production, but there were too few of them and too little available fuel to make a difference against the Allies’ overwhelming air superiority.
With the Russians less than two miles away, Hitler killed himself in his armored bunker deep under the Reichchancellery in Berlin April 30, and Germany surrendered May 8.
The war in Europe was over.
During the Allies’ drive into Germany, and after the surrender, the world began to see the horrors hidden behind the Nazi flag.
Marable was among the first Americans to arrive at Camp Mauthausen, just outside Linz, Austria.
The 2,400 German guards there surrendered to fewer than two dozen GIs, finding the Americans preferable to the advancing Russians.
Inside the camp, the Americans found thousands of prisoners literally starving to death.
“We buried 1,600 people the day after I got there,” Marable recalled with a frown. “We dug a hole with a bulldozer and pushed them off in there.
“That was all we could do with them,” he added. “They were nothing but bones.”
Marable and an interpreter were sent out to collect the camp’s commander, who had holed up in a nearby house. The interpreter went upstairs to fetch the commander, and they escorted him back.
“We put him in the gas chamber, and they were really perturbed when we didn’t turn the gas on,” he recalled. “You can guess how they might feel that way.”
After the war, Marable briefly attended North Texas State University, and later enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, later to become the Air Force.
He spent 20 years in Air Force intelligence, and after retiring, joined the U.S. Postal Service, becoming a postal clerk in Dallas. He retired again after 20 years with the Postal Service, and returned to the family farm in Phalba.
Marable has attended a few reunions, but admits he can’t spend thousands to travel to reunions each year. “If there’s anyone else in the area who was there, I sure would like to get ahold of them,” he said.
He and his wife Mae married Oct. 3, 1947. They have three living children, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The horrors of the Battle of the Bulge are long behind him now, but he still remembers, and hopes that younger generations learn what it takes to stay free.
“The American people have no idea how the world turns,” he said. “It would be nice if they woke up and smelled the roses.”
Editor’s note: Historical information in this story was collected from the autobiography “Adoph Hitler,” by John Toland, published in 1978, and “The Two World Wars,” by Susanne Everett and Brig. Gen. Peter Young, published in 1982.
Courtesy Photo
Davis Marable in 1944.
 
Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
Davis Marable holds the Bronze Star he was awarded for his service during the Battle of the Bulge.