Red Legs Of The Bulge
Corporal John Gatens, Battery A, 1st Gun Section, 589th Field Artillery Battalion.
Scottish-born John Gatens of Patterson, New Jersey, was the gunner corporal (T/5) for section one, Able Battery, 589th Field Artillery Battalion. He worked the M12 panaramic scope that controlled deflection on the 105mm M2 Howitzer (left side of breach).
John was eating breakfast when the attack began and he would not have another good meal for 5 months. He and his crew took out a couple of StgIII (German mobile artillery), late in the morning of the 16th. After escaping encirclement on the 17th, the remnants of Battery A ended up at a windswept crossroads called Baraque de Fraiture. They held out for four days against overwhelming odds. John was captured on December 23rd and not released until April 1945.
Private John Schaffner, B Battery, 589th Field Artillery.
Baltimore native John Schaffner of B Battery, 589th, was on guard duty when all hell broke loose. Schaffner was one of the few men from his battery to escape encirclement on the 17th. Like Gatens, he eventually ended up at Baraque de Fraiture, surviving the 4 perilous days and escaping once again. He remained with the 106th till the end of the war.
Mr. Schaffner and Mr. Gatens once served in the same battery back in the States, but did not get to know each other. Even during the battle at Baraque de Fraiture, they never met. But then in 1986, they were reintroduced at a reunion and have been close friends ever since. They have traveled back to Belgium frequently over the past 15 years.
Sergeant John "Jack" Roberts, 592nd Field Artillery Battalion
Ohio native Jack Roberts joined the 592nd Field Artillery of the 106th ID in March 1943 as well. His natural intelligence led to him becoming part of a forward observation team. In a stroke of incredibly bad timing, he was due to move to a forward observation post the morning of December 16th. He would be taken prisoner later that morning but escape. He and two of his comrades made a harrowing trek through enemy held territory to get back to the 592nd.
Lt. Robert Ringer, Service Battery, 591st Field Artillery Battalion
Lt. Ringer, another Ohio native, joined the 106th ID after graduating from Ohio State and serving as an instructor at the school’s ROTC program. By the time of his arrival overseas, he was the ammunition officer for the Battalion’s Service Battery. The start of the battle was the beginning of an odyssey that would last for two months. He would survive ambushes, artillery barrages, bad weather, broken down trucks, and transported thousands of rounds of ammunition. After surviving the Bulge, he continued serving with Service Battery and eventually became its commander.
Lt. E.V. Creel, A Battery, 590th Field Artillery
An Alabama native, and graduate of Alabama Technical College (now Auburn University), he was a member of their ROTC program. Trained as a forward observer, he would never get to use those skills. The 590th was hit hard that first morning of the Battle. Able Battery lost it’s commanding officer John Pitts and several others. On the afternoon of the 19th, Creel led a group of 25 men in an escape attempt through the encirclement. After several hours of marching, they were ambushed and captured. Most of the 590th would be prisoners by that evening. While a POW, Creel would be a witness to one of the war's most controversial actions, the infamous Hammelburg Raid.
Sgt. Randy Pierson, HQ Battery, 589th Field Artillery
A native Floridian, Sgt. Pierson seemed to have nine lives throughout the entire battle. As a fire control technician at HQ, he had an enviable position. But as was the case throughout December 1944, the battle came to him. He was asked to set up an outpost to observe German movements the first day of the battle. The small band of men were forced to use a bazooka for the first time, knocking out a German tank. After a harrowing escape through Schonberg on the 17th, he wound up at Baraque de Fraiture as well. He managed to escape the final assault, but he was captured a short time later. But the next day, he escaped again. While on the run, he was even taken prisoner by American paratroopers who thought he was a German spy. He spent the rest of the war serving at various artillery battalion HQs and was eventually promoted to lieutenant.
Sgt. Richard Hartman, HQ Battery (Survey Section), 590th Field Artillery
Another Baltimore native, Sgt. Hartman was at Battalion HQ when the barrage started. Shortly afterward, he was ordered to reconnoiter alternate positions west of the Our. So Hartman and his survey section headed out toward Schonberg to seek out the new positions and then attempted to reach St. Vith. German fire and heavy traffic made the trip futile. They were ordered back to Radscheid. He was captured on the 19th with the rest of his men. The photo to the left is his POW ID photo taken by the Germans upon arrival at the POW camp. Hartman was lucky in one respect because one of his best friends, Sgt. Dick Ferguson, remained with him throughout his imprisonment.