This is part three of a four part series which began Sunday. The Matthews brothers, veterans of World War II and the Cold War during the Korean Conflict, share their stories. Today, Jack Matthews’ memoir describes the bond between soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.
“Another time my guardian angel was looking after me was in Belgium in the Ardennes forest during the Battle of the Bulge. We were moving through a dense bunch of trees in an attack formation when an artillery barrage opened up on us with shells screaming in on us all around. We called it “incoming mail.” You can hear them whistle in for a few seconds before they hit and in this case on that day they were exploding on striking the tree tops quite often, with a murderous downpouring of shrapnel. My friend Cole dove into a shell hole which wasn’t real deep in the snow covered ground. I dove on top of him and in seconds another soldier (I didn’t know his name) dove in on top of me. The next second a shell whistled in and exploded in the trees above us and the guy on top of me grunted and said he was hit in the back, but didn’t feel it was real serious. When it let up we were told to pull back to an old farmhouse where the attack had started. It was nearly dark. I and Cole made a stretcher out of our rifles (one up each sleeve of our coats). The guy talked and cut up with us most of the way back but when we got to the old farm and laid him down, he was dead and we didn’t even know it till then. The shrapnel must have got his spine.
I had a single artillery shell come in the day before about 200 yards from that old farm house while I was digging a foxhole. I heard it coming and started to lay down in my partial built fox hole but the concussion knocked me down and threw dirt in my mouth and all over me and my ears were ringing real bad. My shelter (tent) half laying there was riddled but I had no blood or wounds. Keaton (my partner in the foxhole project) was up by the farm looking for an old door or lumber we usually used to reinforce our foxholes. He said when the shell hit, someone hollered, “Matthews just got it.”
The day after that attack where Cole and I carried that boy back, we went through those same trees and when we came to the other side, I crawled up on top of some rubble to look between two bombed out buildings. When I straightened up to look, a bullet whizzed by my head and Keaton pulled me back down in the same instant.
Cole was from Texas, a big real friend. He had been wounded in France too and returned during the Bulge. He survived the war. It’s hard to describe the feelings you have for somebody like that who would die for you, and damn near did. Like Keaton, too.
Cole was the only one I personally know who ever had to use his bayonet in fighting. When I joined the 2nd Division at Brest, the first thing I was told was never to sharpen my bayonet (they were really dull on purpose), because one of the squad named Cole sharpened his one day and had to use it the very next day. He was in the hospital with wounds when I got there, but I was handed a submachine gun right off and of course couldn’t’ use a bayonet on it anyway.
I never asked how it came about or any particulars and never questioned Cole when I met him later. All I know is he survived the war. And if you ever had to pick someone to be by your side in a battle, him and Keaton would be my first choice ever.”