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A Silent Night on Elsenborn Ridge

A Silent Night on Elsenborn Ridge

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A Silent Night on Elsenborn Ridge

256 Seiten
4 Stunden
Mar 13, 2013


First Lieutenant Joshua Jeffreys comes face to face with the reality that war is hell during the Battle of the Bulge. His unit is torn apart by the advancing German forces, and he is thrust into a nightmare of blood, death, and faith-shaking trials. Jeffreys gathers together a group of stragglers, leading them behind enemy lines. Lost and wounded, this band of strangers must quickly come together in order to survive.

As war is raging around him, First Lieutenant Jeffreys navigates the battlefield while struggling internally with nagging doubts that cause his faith to waver. The outcome of his personal torment is as questionable as is the fate of his small group of GIs.

The Battle of the Bulge cost the United States Army thousands of soldierscaptured, killed, wounded. If Jeffreys makes a mistake, he and his men will be part of these casualties, but the torture of his soul may be the ultimate cost of this battle.

Mar 13, 2013

Über den Autor

Joel F. Pannebaker, a retired air force/air national guard officer, spent most of his career in a ground radar unit that he jokingly said, “was the last remnants of the army air corps.” Today his training in ground unit tactics applies to his hobby of World War II re-enacting. He and his lovely wife, Amy, live in State College, Pennsylvania.

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A Silent Night on Elsenborn Ridge - Joel F. Pannebaker

Copyright © 2013 Joel F. Pannebaker.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

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Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

ISBN: 978-1-4497-8148-4 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4497-8149-1 (hc)

ISBN: 978-1-4497-8147-7 (e)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2013900142

WestBow Press rev. date: 3/7/2013




Wacht am Rhein

Walk to Krinkelt


Elsenborn Ridge

Panzer Killers

Is It Really Over?


About the Author


As a World War II reenactor, I am privileged to meet and talk with veterans of this war, and this is a high honor for me. To those men who endured the horrors, lost their friends, left their families, and freed the world from the scourge of Hitler, Mussolini, and Imperial Japan’s fascism: you are my heroes and this is for you.


This has been quite an experience. There are many people to whom I owe my gratitude, and I will try to include them all.

I will start with Ray and Lyle. These two compatriots sparked my interest in writing when we were attending classes way back when we were enrolled in Rutgers University. Ray and Lyle were getting good grades in college and writing novels on the side. How they found the time is beyond me, but their enthusiasm stayed with me over the years (decades). The character RJ is a merger of Ray and Lyle as I knew them during our college years. I spent some cold nights with both of them during field training exercises, and I wanted to include them somehow for being an inspiration for me. Thanks, Ray and Lyle!

My uncle Bill was the first in my family, of which I am aware, who published a book. He worked hard, sent me his manuscript, and finally sent a completed, signed copy! I was thrilled for him and give him a cameo appearance in my pages. Thank you, Uncle Bill, for the example!

My niece, Sarah, was kind enough to read my manuscript and make suggestions for improving it. Thank you, Sarah, for taking the time to help me improve my story!

Our children are also instrumental in this book. They may wonder why, but it is for my family that I wanted to publish this book. Jeni, Josh, and Luke are now grown and are parents themselves, but they are shining examples of God’s grace and love to their dad. Thank you, my children!

My wife, Amy, is the driver behind me. Without Amy, I would be someone who had a manuscript sitting on a hard drive taking up space. Amy is my bride and my love, without whom I’d be lost. Thank you, my Amy, for believing in me and kicking me in the butt when required. I love you!

Finally, but not last, is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our God is a God of redemption and second chances. It is for Him I hope this book does well because I want this work to draw others to Him. Thank You, Jesus, for saving a wretch like me.

This book is based on an actual unit that fought during the Second World War. I am sure there was a C Company in the 394th Infantry Regiment, but my characters are all the product of my imagination. I hope my story does not in any way detract from the real members of C Company of the 394 INF and the history they made for themselves. Any inaccuracies in this story are mine and are not meant to be a record of what actually occurred during the time period this story represents.


The United States quickly drew down the number of men in uniform after the First World War. This was not only in keeping with tradition but also upheld the law, as it is written in the Constitution to have a small standing army. Our forefathers’ impetus for this was the large British army occupation experienced by the Colonies before and during the Revolutionary War. This was the condition as the smoke of war fires swirled in Europe and the Far East. President Roosevelt saw the inevitability of the United States’s involvement in this expanding war and started to take action in 1939.

The regular US Army (those units in active federal service versus a national guard or US Army Reserve unit) initially expanded its manpower, but the president knew this would not be enough. With the concurrence of Congress, in August 1940 the president ordered all of the national guard divisions into active service. The training of these units was limited as was the equipment with which they trained. Training was ramped up as the headlines coming out of Europe and Asia told the story of destruction and capitulation as nations fell to their attackers. By the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US Army had grown to well more than one and a half million men, but not all of them were combat ready. The president and his war department’s strategy was to flood our Allies with as much equipment as we could manufacture, send as large a force as we possibly could to support our Allies, and train, train, train the rest of the newly created army of the United States.

Of the many newly created army divisions, the US Army Reserve, contributed the one about which this story is written. The Ninety-Ninth Infantry Division was initially made up of men from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. As with all these newly created organizations, as the units trained to higher levels, many of the trained men would be siphoned off to help train newly forming divisions and the process would start all over again.

The US Army trained in a stair-step manner. This building-block approach brought these young men—some would say boys—from learning how to wear a uniform and tie a tie, to fighting as an individual within a much larger fighting force. This meant the divisions would move from quickly created training camps for one type of training to larger camps for the ability to educate in more complex maneuver schemes. The Ninety-Ninth Infantry Division was one of the many units in this pipeline. The end of their training came for them in mid-1944 and the division left the shores of America and arrived in England in October 1944. About three weeks after their arrival in England, they again boarded vessels and were shipped to Belgium in early November 1944. After eighteen months of training, the division was on the ground, ready to make its mark in history.

Wacht am Rhein


Corporal Atkins caught the movement out of the corner of his eye just as he heard the familiar sound of the company executive officer (XO) getting up for his midnight stroll. The routine had been the same for the past—how long had it been? one year, eighteen months … he’d lost track. The corporal did not have to check his watch; the time was standard—somewhere between 2330 and 0000.

The corporal smiled as he remembered the puzzled look on the commander’s face so many months ago when they were stateside in training.

You’re doing what, Lieutenant?

Going to walk the line, Sir, he said with a completely perplexed look, as if to ask, What do you think I’m doing?

Lieutenant, the first sergeant just received his reports from all the platoon sergeants. You yourself have spoken with each platoon leader. The commander seemed uncertain what to make of this announcement.

Atkins chuckled to himself, as he always did, remembering the scene in the swamps of Louisiana. The commander learned, as did the rest of them, this XO had some peculiarities about him.

The command net phone ripped the air and First Sergeant Toland grabbed it. After listening for a bit he rogered and walked past Atkins. I’m going for Jeffreys, he announced to no one and everyone.

Jeffreys was not hard to find. Coming out of the bunker, the XO was easy to spot silhouetted against the sky. First Lieutenant Joshua Luke Jeff Jeffreys had broad shoulders that sat well on his muscular chest and six-foot frame. He was clad in the normal combat uniform of a World War II infantry officer: dirty, rough-out boots with leggings and filthy, olive-colored wool pants that for some reason didn’t have a hole in them yet. His mustard shirt and M1941 battle jacket were covered by a mid-calf horse blanket overcoat. This too was dirty, especially on the elbows and down the front; he wore olive-drab wool GI-issue gloves with leather palms and a pistol belt around his waist, complete with a .45 on his left hip. His face showed lines of fatigue,. even though Jeff had had almost six hours’ sleep the night before. His nose was straight and turned up slightly at the end, while his thin-lipped mouth set above a square jaw that was, at this moment, firmly set.

Jeff stood staring up at the night sky holding his dented helmet with the battered netting propped against his side and his M-1 carbine slung muzzle-down over his left shoulder. His steel-blue eyes seemed to be intently staring at something, although he saw nothing at all. In fact, Jeff was so lost in thought that he didn’t hear his company’s first sergeant walk up to him.

Lieutenant, the sergeant said quietly, as if he knew or suspected the officer was in prayer.

Jeff woke from his trance and grinned slightly at the sergeant. Yes, Fred? What can I do for you?

Sir, we’re all dug in and except for the drizzle and this … cold—the first sergeant knew Jeff didn’t like it when he said something about anybody’s god, so he didn’t say it—or at least tried not to. We’re all set for another uneventful night.

Thanks, Fred, as long as it stays uneventful.

Yes, Sir. Sir?


Sir, the commander asks that you make your walk of the line as quick as possible; he has to get back to headquarters within the next half hour.

Jeff nodded to the first sergeant, and he took that as his dismissal. The soldier walked back to his position.

Jeff plopped the steel pot back over his closely cropped, dirty-blond hair and started to check the lines himself. It was not that he didn’t trust the first sergeant, the commander, the platoon leaders, or sergeants—in fact, he trusted them implicitly—it was just that he needed to get out and show his men he cared.

As he walked the line, he stopped at each foxhole and ensure his men were as comfortable as could be expected. He always took time to chat a little, joke, and generally try to cheer up his company.

God, they’re so young, he said as he slipped and slid in and out of the various positions in his company line.

When will we face the enemy? Do you think soon? were the questions he encountered as he moved among his men. His division was green; his regiment, battalion, and company were green. In fact, so was Lieutenant Jeffreys. Everyone had these questions on their mind and thousands of others ranging from how well they would perform in combat to how well their loved ones were. He had no answers. How could he? Like all the others, he had only been in the army of the United States since November 1942.

Fortunately, their lines had been quiet. Oh sure, there were small patrols by both sides, and once discovered, the following firefight would leave some wounded and all scared.

The Ninety-Ninth Infantry Division (ID), also known as the Checkered Board Division, was named for the blue-and-white checkered pattern originally on the family crest of William Pitt, the founding father of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Checkered Board Division had not been on the Ghost Front in the Ardennes Forest very long, and they made the most of their stay. The biggest complaint was their hot chow had stopped, and even the canned food was running out. They were down to concentrated food bars stuck together with chocolate; the soldiers nicknamed them Hitler’s secret weapon. This was considered the easy life, and most felt the war would be over soon.

Jeff was not so sure the war would end so quickly. He reached the command bunker and slid in after taking one more look around. He glanced at the luminous watch face on his wrist. It was 2326 hours.

Almost the sixteenth, he said softly to himself.

Corporal Atkins, sitting on a small wooden crate in one corner of the bunker, looked up at him and said, What, sir?

Nothing, just talking out loud. Oh, Atty, please let the CO know I’m back, and I’m sending the SITREP (Situation Report) to regiment.

The lieutenant sat on a makeshift bench in the bunker and a shiver ran up and down his spine, Lord, do we really need this drizzle? He picked up the field phone receiver and turned the crank on the body of the unit. A metallic ring sounded on the other end.

The metallic voice sounded with the call sign of Ninety-Ninth Division (REGAL) and the 394th Infantry Regiment (BLUE): Regal Blue.

Regal Blue, this is Blue Checker (Charlie Company) Three (executive officer) ; all clear. The report by Lieutenant Jeffreys was to the point and was the same report heard throughout the Ninety-Ninth ID. After Jeff made the report, he placed the receiver in the slot at the top of the unit where it belonged. He turned up his coat collar, took off his helmet, pulled out of his pocket a knit hat with a small brim on the front, and put it on. Unfolding the cap over his ears, Jeff set the helmet down on his head and tipped it over his eyes. Wake me when you need me, Atty, he muttered stretching out his legs and wriggling his back against the dirt wall.

Will do, Sir.

Before going to sleep, Jeff whispered a prayer. God, be with my men; help them all to survive the night. Amen.

What seemed like a few short minutes was actually five hours when he woke. The metallic click—the click of what used to be the bell on the field phone was chattering at him and the corporal. Jeff grabbed the receiver and sleepily spoke, Blue Checker Three. He listened and grunted, I’ll be right over. He turned to pick up his carbine and spoke softly over his shoulder. Atty, call up the first, second, and weapons platoons and find out if they’ve heard anything, Get the commander and the first sergeant up. Before Atkins could reply, Jeff disappeared into the early morning mist.

As Jeff walked along with the snow crunching under his feet, he tried to pierce the darkness with his eyes. He glanced at his watch; it was 0452 hours. Walking quickly but cautiously, Jeff kept his carbine unslung and carried it ready to use if need be. As he approached the third platoon’s foxholes, he stopped and listened, hoping to hear nothing but expecting to hear the clanking sound of armor.

Tanks were the fear of any infantryman. These huge, hulking, forty-five-ton steel monsters could rain instant death from miles away or drive over top of you as you fired at it with your rifle. German armor was nothing to fool with.

Jeff reached the platoon leader’s foxhole and quickly dropped in. What do you have, Ron?

Staff Sergeant Ron Wilson was the type of person referred to as a tall drink of water, standing about six feet, four inches and probably weighing 175 pounds. Ron had jet-black hair that was just visible under his helmet. His drawn face sported a bushy black mustache that somehow looked out of place, and his face had not seen the edge of a razor in a few days. S/Sgt Wilson had been the platoon sergeant until just a few days before. The platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Leo Wilder, had been stricken with appendicitis and rushed to the regimental hospital.

Wilson shifted uneasily in his foxhole, and one could hear the mud slosh around at the bottom. Nothing definite, sir. We’ve had reports up and down my line of what sounds like tanks. Personally, I have a very uneasy feeling, he replied.

For the first time, Jeff felt the uneasiness. Believe it or not, it was too quiet. Make sure all your men are awake. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Jeff trotted back to the command bunker. Atty, call up first, second, and weapons and make sure everybody is awake.

The corporal got to work, and Jeff reported to Captain Weinrich, the commander.

That’s it, Jeff?

Granted, Sir, it’s not much, but S/Sgt Wilson’s been through this before. I trust him.

Okay, Jeff. Go back out to the third lines and give me a situation update.

Jeff pulled the bolt on his carbine back far enough to ensure a round was chambered and ready to use. He then climbed out of the hole and cocked his head to one side, like a dog, to listen better. He took off his helmet and folded the earflaps up on his jeep cap and— What was that? He glanced around. Tanks … he was sure he heard tanks. He glanced at his watch: 0528 hours. He jumped back into the bunker, uncharacteristically splashing mud.

Tanks, Sir! Tanks! Jeff turned the crank on the field phone. Hurry up, Division, hurry up. He heard the phone being picked up on the other end, but before he could say anything, there was crackling and whistling before the quiet dawn was split wide open by a terrific explosion.

"Regal! This is Blue Checker! We’re being attacked by what appears—" Whomp! Whomp! Shells were landing everywhere. Tanks, tanks! Jeff screamed into the receiver. The line was dead.

Jeff, get out to the third platoon! Captain Weinrich screamed.

Jeff plunged through the darkness. He ran about twenty-five yards and had to throw himself flat on the snow-covered ground as a terrific explosion sounded off to his left. He lay there long enough to be covered by frozen ground and snow and then sprang up, as if shot from a sling, and ran on. Keep your eyes peeled! he screamed at anyone who could hear him. Get you rifle grenades ready!

He stopped at a foxhole and stared in. The hole was smoldering, and through the smoke Jeff could see what was left of two men.

He ran on, not really thinking about the sight, shells exploding everywhere. Now the sound of small arms fire could be heard. Great, now we have infantry as well as armor. Thoughts coursed through Jeff’s brain as he tried to sort out what was really happening, what he’d been trained for and what he had to do as the leader of these men. Some thoughts became verbalized as he raced along his lines. Don’t shoot! You’ll give your positions away! Get your head down! Reposition left! Hold your fire! Even with this he could still hear the crack-crack of the M-1 Garands and the slow budda-budda of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). He reached S/Sgt Wilson’s position and threw himself in.

The sergeant barely looked away from the front of his position. He said over his shoulder, Glad to see you made it back, Lieutenant. Looks like more than a probing patrol to me.

I know, I know, that’s what worries me. Try to keep your men calm and wait until they can see the enemy before opening up, but when they see them, make sure they fire with everything they have. With this said, Jeff listened a little and jumped out of the hole, running this time toward the second platoon farther to the left.

He threw himself

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