Herald Journal - Enterprise Dispatch - Delano Herald Journal
Winsted vet survives Germans, frostbite, and gripping fear

November 10, 2008

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

WINSTED, MN – Lying in a foxhole Dec. 16, 1944, outside a small village called Hunningen, Belgium, Art Guggemos of Winsted was in the middle of the heaviest artillery barrage he had ever seen.

He was cut off from his platoon and was all alone.

“The sky was like the Fourth of July,” Guggemos said. “After the artillery let up, the Germans started coming up the slope in waves – thousands of them. I could see them through the foxhole. I stayed hidden until it was completely dark outside.”

What Guggemos did not know at the time, but was to learn later, was the attack was part of a major German offensive made towards the end of World War II known as the Battle of the Bulge.

During the Battle of the Bulge, which ended officially Jan. 28, 1945, the US suffered the worst casualties of World War II. More than 19,000 Americans died.

In that first attack, Guggemos’ company lost 220 enlisted men and 10 officers. He was one of only 47 men in his company to survive.

For almost 50 years following his service, Guggemos did not share his World War II experiences with anyone, not even his wife, Donna, to whom he has been married since 1951.

“It was hard to talk about,” Guggemos said. “You went through it and you came home, and you were so dang glad you did come home. You wanted to forget about it.”

It was during a newspaper interview done in 2001, when Guggemos was asked to be a part of a special veterans’ edition, that he finally began to open up and talk freely about his experience.

“After that interview, I started reading a few books on it and learned a little bit more and then started putting the pieces together,” Guggemos said.

By July 31, 2006, Guggemos completed a written, 19-page account of his World War II story which he titled “World War II . . . From My Eyes.”

His story begins 65 years earlier, shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

That was the same year that Guggemos graduated from Holy Trinity High School.

He left Winsted, where he was born and raised, and moved in with his older brother, Ken, in Hollywood, CA when he was 19.

Art was certain he was going to be drafted and he began attending radio school at the CBS radio studios in Hollywood three nights a week.

“I had the idea if I had a little training, I would go into the service with a better position,” Art said.

To have some spending money, he was able to get a job at Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank in final assembly.

In the spring of 1943 Art was drafted at the age of 19. His supervisor at Lockheed had told him he could have gotten him a deferment, but it was something that Art never even considered.

“The feeling back then was when your time came, you went,” Art said. “There were tons of military people walking around on the streets and they would look at you like, ‘why aren’t you in the service?’”

He entered the US Army Air Corps on May 25, 1943.

Nearing completion of basic training, he was tested and qualified for college academics and was assigned to Kansas State College in Manhattan KS.

“We were all given the rank of “cadet” and were considered officer candidates,” Art said. “The studies were hard, and 10 hours per day, with three additional supervised study hours at night. It was grueling and tedious, but the quarters were good, the food was good, and the alternative was the infantry, so it became tolerable.”

However, the school closed in March 1944, as the US was beginning to realize it needed every able-bodied man in its infantry for D-Day.

Art was transferred to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO and assigned to a rifle company in the 386th Regiment, 97th Division.

“The training was hard,” Art writes. “We were now preparing for battle, as a unit, and we all knew that in the days to come, we would be on our way.”

Art was able to go back home to say goodbye to his family late August 1944. When he returned, he was sent to Fort Dix, NJ where he prepared to cross the Atlantic to the British Isles.

From England he boarded a small troop ship in Southampton and set sail for France.

On October 5, 1944 Art arrived on the French coast.

A landing craft brought them to shore on Omaha Beach almost four months after the D-Day landings.

The first man to jump in the water sank under the weight of his equipment and drowned. Everyone else then threw their equipment in to the water before wading in.

“There was no action there, but I tell you, you sobered up in a hurry,” Art said. “These landing crafts were down in the water where they were shot down, and big criss-crosses of barbed wire. All of the wreckage is pushed to one side so we could get a ship through.”

“We went up this real steep cliff. When we got up to the top there was a cemetery with wooden crosses,” Art said. “Thousands and thousands of crosses. You are on foreign soil for the first time in your life and you are walking into that. It is very scary for a 20-year-old kid.”

On October 15, 1944 Art was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, 23rd Regiment, Company B and 1st Platoon. They were in Germany, near the front and could hear the artillery bursts in the near distance.

Art’s division was holding 50 German pill boxes (bunkers) of the Siegfried Line, previously captured by other US troops.

“The line was the western-most line between Germany and France,” Art said. “We were one of the few American divisions that had people in Germany at that time. It was considered a quiet part of the front.”

The weather was starting to get cold and Art’s division began building big bunkers back inside the woodsline on high ground. The bunkers were holes that were seven feet deep and 10 by 12 feet wide. Cots were built into the bunkers out of chicken wire.

On Nov. 1, the 50 pill boxes were blown up and Art’s division moved back inside the woodsline in the new bunkers, which were on higher ground.

“I think they were afraid we would be cut off and lost with winter coming on and they wanted to keep the line straight,” Art said.

“On Dec. 15 we knew we were going to be pulled out of there and would be moving north going on the attack,” Art said. “They did that with troops. Everybody had to take their turn at the action, and we had been in a holding pattern so it was our turn.”

Guggemos’ unit moved north to relieve the 99th Division. The 106th Division was brought in to replace them.

“The very next day, when the Bulge hit, we were in our new positions and this whole 106th Division that replaced us lost 16,000 men,” Art said. He referenced a book titled “The Death of a Division,” by Charles Whiting, who said the 106th Division had 16,000 casualties in just a four-day period.

“‘I’ve often wondered if we’d have fared any better,” Art said. “The division was green. They weren’t organized yet. None of their equipment had come up. They were put into our position, which had been a pretty much peaceful place.”

But Art’s division wasn’t much better off. That same day, about 40 miles north of its previous location, it arrived in a small village called Hunningen, Belgium.

They set up platoon headquarters in a small stone house on the south edge of town which overlooked open fields to the east and south. The fields were crossed at intervals with hedgerows and occasional windbreaks of evergreen trees.

“Our lieutenant sent us out on the forward slope in front of this house and told us to dig in for the night. He said we were there as the second line of defense behind the 99th Division.”

In the light of day, Art’s platoon took shifts going into the house for change of socks and a warm meal. Art was in the first shift and when he returned to the hillside he started looking for a better foxhole, getting it ready for the next night.

“I was really proud of myself. I found the best hole on the hill,” Art said. “It was down behind a hedge and down the hill further. It was a more protected area.”

And that was when the Germans attacked – at about 4 p.m. Art jumped into his shelter and remained there until about 9 p.m. that night.

Art was the only one of the men on the hillside who survived.

After dark, Art was making his way to the house where the headquarters were.

“I had two fields to go across to get to the house and there was a line of evergreens behind the first field. I had just got underneath the evergreens, and I ran into a guy I thought was one of our guys.”

When Art saw the cross eagle on his cap, he raised his rifle and shot him. And within another 15 seconds he shot two more Germans. He realized he had just wiped out a machine-gun nest.

He arrived safely back at headquarters and all of the straggler units still remaining in Hunningen headed out of town. The following day they moved to the Elsenborn Ridge, just outside the town named Elsenborn.

“This is where our guys made their stand and stopped the Germans. This became known as the “Northern Shoulder of the Bulge.”

Guggemos does not recall the exact day, but shortly after Christmas Day 1944, the skies cleared and allied bombers went back and forth all day long – hundreds and hundreds of planes. Up until that time, the weather had kept the allied planes grounded.

The planes were able to cut the German supply lines and the Germans simply ran out of gas, supplies and ammunition.

“After two to three weeks we got fresh troops in and we went on the attack and slowly pushed them (Germans) back,” Art said.

But even as the Germans were retreating, they left snipers and booby traps to slow the allies down.

“One night we moved into a town, and one of the guys went to start a fire in the stove,” Art said. “It had been booby-trapped, and he was seriously injured. After that we didn’t even touch the stoves, but just built a small fire in the corner of the room to keep warm.”

The winter of 1945 was bitterly cold, according to Art.

“I don’t think it was above 10 below zero for 20 days straight,” Art said. “We were out in that weather. I don’t know how we survived.”

“Unfortunately a lot of the recruits that came froze their feet by the time they got to the front line because they were riding in trucks or the old freight trains. Many lost their limbs and never saw any action,” Art said.

On Feb. 4, Art was wounded while his unit was back on the attack heading back into Germany.

“We were all dressed in white so the Germans couldn’t see us but I thought it was funny because we had an orange bullseye on our back so our planes would recognize us,” Art said.

“We were approaching this town, and I got hit in the upper left leg with a piece of shrapnel. I didn’t know how bad it was and the medic came and took me to an aid station. There I found out that my feet were frozen, and I didn’t even know it. He told me another 24 hours and I would have lost both legs.”

He was hospitalized for six weeks and reassigned to Paris until the war was over in Europe.

Once the Germans surrendered, Art was sent to Berlin.

“The scenery was truly a grim reminder of the horrors of war,” Art said. “No matter where you looked there was destruction. Nothing was untouched. Just utter desolation. The streets were only a bulldozer path through each block. The entire city was like that.”

He was one of the first group of Americans in Berlin, and his job was to set up all ground lines of communication in and out of Berlin via highway and railroads.

On Feb. 26, 1946 Art returned home. He ends his account of his war years with the following entry:

“As we entered the harbor, we were met by tugboats on either side. They were covered with huge banners which read “Welcome Home.” They blew their horns all the way through the harbor. It was great! We disembarked the ship, and boarded buses for the short ride to nearby Ft. Dix, in NJ. We were tired! We were beat! But we were “home.”

Art is the son of Charles and Ruth (Roufs) Guggemos of Winsted. He has an older brother Ken (deceased), and younger brothers Harold and Don.

He married his wife Donna in 1951, and they have eight children.

• Gary Guggemos lives in Winsted.

• Nancy is married to Rick Greenfield, and they live in Minnetonka.

• Jon Guggemos lives in Minneapolis.

• Jill is married to Dave Gunderson, and they live in Brooklyn Park.

• Greg Guggemos lives in Winsted.

• Lori is married to John Stephan, and they live in Shoreview.

• Charles lives in Winsted.

• Neal is married to Julie, and they live in Eden Prairie.

Art and Donna have 11 grandchildren.

Art Guggemos will celebrate his 85th birthday on Nov. 9 with his family at his home in Winsted.


 

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