Wednesday November 8, 2017
The Drive to Bitche
The day is gray, 40 degrees F, light drizzle, what the 100th Infantry Division was subjected to in November 1944 according to Tom’s letters. This is helpful to understand what the conditions were like at the time during the rainy season. I have attempted to follow the route they took from Raon L’Etappe to Bitche, about seventy-five miles away. The area is very picturesque and as the name implies, the elevation of the Low Vosges is lesser and they seem somewhat similar to the hills of southern New England.
The Low Vosges range from Raon L’Etappe northeast to open farmlands near Sarrebourg. The Division completed intensive training for attacking the Maginot Line and is weary from the weeks of battle since the beginning of the month. After sleeping outside for over three weeks, Tom is fortunate enough to enjoy French hospitality for one night before the march through the Vosges Mountains begins. He describes it in a letter to Kate.
Somewhere in France
November 23, 1944
Tonight I am sleeping inside a house for a change. We are in a French village and the people are wonderful to us. They all love the Americans; the American food and cigarettes too.”
The Germans are reluctantly retreating to fortified positions in the High Vosges and the US troops stop in the area of Sarrebourg for both training and the first hot meals and showers in a month.
In a letter to Kate, Tom writes about the experience.
November 28, 1944
I am now situated in a house for a couple of hours before we push on and I am making the most of it. I’ve washed, shaved, cleaned my teeth and if I can lay my hands on some clean underwear, I am going to get into them and burn the stuff I have on. I haven’t had clean clothes of any kind for almost four weeks. It will be quite a relief to get rid of the odor along with the clothes.
What a wonderful feeling to be clean again! – And I received two packages today, one from you and one from Mom.”
Tom and Kate will continue their correspondence sporadically over the next couple of weeks as the 100th Infantry Division penetrates the High Vosges, driving out the Germans and liberating towns along the way.
As the troops march along the logging roads of the mountains, note that they maintain a distance of five yards between them to minimize casualties in the event of artillery or mortar fire.
The German forces threw every roadblock imaginable to stymie the US advance, fences, tree stumps, and earth . . . . anything that would slow them down.
Foreshadowing the upcoming battle, Tom says “…our easy life will be over for a while.”
La Petite Pierre
December 1, 1944
Still time to write. This opportunity definitely ends tonight though. Things are jelling a bit and our easy life will be over for a while. Every time I write you a letter I think of all the things that I know would interest you, but I have to mentally self-censor it all and, when I am finished, there’s not much more to say than to comment on the weather, say a few words about the country and tell you how I feel. Practically everything else is against regulations.”
The abundance of logging trees provided cover for both the Germans and the US forces as the battle of the Vosges continued.
After a week of intense battle, Tom finds time to write Kate and reflect on the events at hand and the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941.
December 7, 1944
There’s that fateful date again. Remember Danbury three years ago? Quite a shock at the time, wasn’t it? But it did make us make up our minds and for that reason it is a day I remember with mingled sorrow and happiness.
We’re in another town that we have “liberated” today. Most of the people were overjoyed to see us but there were a few collaborators in the bunch as usual. The civilians take care of them, however, in their own way.”
With the birth of their second child weeks away, Tom is unaware of gender and details and he is agonizing over being separated from his growing family.
THG Letter December 10th 1944 – Goetzenbruck
Another two or three weeks and there’ll be four of us (at least). Golly – but it’s tough waiting. I’m really more anxious than worried about you and the new arrival. I know deep down inside me that all will go well but I won’t rest easily until I hear officially that you and the youngster are well.”
As I am driving on these narrow paved logging roads, in and out of clouds, slowing for switchbacks, it does not take a lot of imagination to envision the troops traversing these mountains from town to town. The landscape is relatively unchanged, straight tall trees felled and stacked by the side of the road. Today it is serene, absent the sound of a logger’s chainsaw or the percussion of heavy artillery. There is no rush on this trip; the path is my destination.
On December 13, Tom’s company is part of a crushing offensive against unrelenting German positions as recorded in the History of the 398th Regiment:
German resistance had become increasingly evident as we approached the gates to Bitche. Artillery fire was heavier and curtains of automatic fire screened strongpoints and towns. At the slightest provocation, the Germans poured in artillery. For the next two days, the Regiment moved with caution as it jockeyed into position for the attack on Reyersviller. Then suddenly on 13 December like a cloudburst, the 398th swept in upon Reyersviller behind a rolling barrage of artillery fire from the 375th Field Artillery Battalion. With the 2d Battalion in the lead, pillboxes and strongpoints, which only a short time ago were spitting fire and raking the terrain before them, were blasted open. The Krauts who could, came stumbling out to surrender. The battalion continued on to the high ground north of Reyersviller with
Company F being the first unit of the lOOth Division to reach the Maginot Line and come under the fire of its heavy guns. Outside of the town, the Regiment dug in before the divisional objective, Bitche.
Tom’s action on December 13-14 earns him the award of the Bronze Star Medal.
Headquarters 100th Infantry Division
Office of the Commanding General
APO #477, US Army
26 December 1944
Subject: Award of Bronze Star Medal
To: Captain Thomas H. Garahan, 01296510 398th Infantry Regiment
APO #447, U.S. Army.
Under the provisions of Army Regulations 600-45, as amended, you are awarded a Bronze Star Medal for heroic achievement in action.
Thomas H. Garahan, 01296510, Captain, 398th Infantry Regiment, for heroic achievement in action, on 13 December and 14 December 1944, in the vicinity of Bitche, France. By his skillful leadership and his ability to direct artillery fire accurately, Captain Garahan enabled the Company under his command to secure assigned objectives with a minimum of casualties. On 13 December he personally adjusted artillery fire upon an enemy position and destroyed an eighty-eight millimeter weapon and its crew with a single salvo. On the following day his accurate adjustment resulted in the dispersal of a mine- laying party and the detonation of numerous hostile mines. Entered military service from Brooklyn, New York.
W. A. Burress
U.S. Army Commanding
During a brief pause in combat, Tom’s words express the emotion he feels towards the predicament he faces.
December 16, 1944
That was a wonderful letter of yours in which you told me to let my hair down to you if I ever felt like blowing off steam. It’s a lot like you Kate to want to share some of this muck and misery with me – but really the only thing that makes me miserable is being away from you. A fellow gets used to being cold once in a while, or even being a bit scared on occasion, but I just can’t get used to being without your smile and the laughter in your eyes. That’s really the thing that hurts.
All moaning aside, though, I’m not doing bad at all. Lately I’ve had at least one and sometimes two hot meals a day. The weather is also a lot better. We see the sun nearly every day now, which is a great morale builder. The rainy season seems to be almost over. Deo Gratis!
I won’t expect to hear from you for a while now, and I won’t worry because you’re as healthy as they come and will have the best of care. Just remember how much I love you, and that this mess can’t last forever. I’ll be there beside you someday soon.”
When Tom says “I won’t expect to hear from you for a while now…” he knows that the 100th Division Infantry is about to enter a new and complex phase of warfare, the assault on the Maginot Line. They are surrounding the Ensemble de Bitche with orders to attack and capture Fort Freudenberg and the heavily fortified Fort Schiesseck. The 100th Division is poised to attack.
Tom does not write another letter until 12/24/1944.