He seems to have reached the decision alone. Capt Arthur C. Brown, the third-ranking officer at the scene and the only firing battery commander to have escaped the earlier battalion ambush, wrote: Major Parker, was ordered to withdraw from this untenable position, but he delayed doing so because he probably sensed the importance of dividing up the enemy at this point. Further, he did not want to leave the people from other outfits there by themselves (he did not give me a vote!). It wasn’t long before we reached the line of no return, as we became surrounded. Parker knew that a powerful enemy armored and mechanized infantry force lay 6000 M west at Samrée, for he had laid observed fire on it that morning. More armor was approaching up the road from the south, and his supply route through Regné then Vielsalm, some 10.000 M east, was bare of support traffic. They were at the end of a very long limb.
The terrain around the crossroads is deceptively flat though it stands on one of the highest elevations in the Belgian Ardennes, with broad, open fields of fire in all directions. But two large stands of evergreen woods afford easily infiltrated, concealed routes of approach nearly down to the junction. Once an enemy cut the road north to Manhay, only 6000 M to the rear, the crossroads became a trap. Escape on foot through the snow would have been extremely difficult and by a vehicle on the road an impossibility. On the other hand, the deep snow and trees tended to canalize enemy movements and the howitzers were laid for direct fire down the three roads, the roads to Samrée, the one to Houffalize, and the one to Vielsalm.
Capt Brown had rejoined the battalion at Vielsalm and was put in charge of the guns. The perimeter was dug in, howitzers and machine guns installed, mines laid in the road, observers and outposts linked to battalion headquarters in a stone barn about 100 M from the junction.
Not satisfied with this, Parker had gone to Fraiture another hamlet about a 1000 M northeast, to request help from the glider men holding the right flank of the 82-A/B’s thin line. He was given one rifle company and none too soon. The enemy was already feeling out his position and was quite aware of its basic weakness.
During the next two days, two company-sized attacks were repulsed with loss, while the Germans built up their fuel and forces. By sunrise on December 23, parties of Volksgrenadiers had worked around both flanks and threatened the lifeline from Manhay. In the predawn darkness, an enemy patrol was hit by the quad-50s, its officer, and an NCO were taken prisoner. They were from the 2.SS-Panzer-Division and were just coming up from Houffalize, scouting, for an attack position.
During, the previous day’s hasty attacks, Maj Parker was wounded by mortar shell fragments, lost consciousness, and was evacuated. Maj Elliott Goldstein, the original battalion executive officer but actually junior to Parker, took command. Goldstein proved himself able in holding the position as Parker had been in selecting it. Until the final, coordinated attack of two rifle battalions supported by tanks and preceded by a fierce artillery preparation, the Germans never managed to breach the perimeter.
The Alamo Defense had been a splendid success, holding firm for two days against elements of a German Panzer Division whose two mechanized regiments had to make a deliberate attack on a weak patchwork force in a few stone buildings.
The overstretched 82-A/B stretched some more, swung back, and covered the gap. The 3-AD was given time to form another tank-infantry delaying force just south of Manhay. If more proof of the Alamo’s Defense’s success is needed, it lies in the fact that, though German armor took the Manhay’s crossroads after a bitter fight, they got no further north.
Although the 2.SS-Panzer-Division still held Grandmenil and Manhay on the morning of Dec 26, it had lost much of its bite and dash. The 4.SS-Panzer-Grenadiers had lost heavily’, particular in officers, during the fight for Baraque de Fraiture.
With elements of the 75-ID, solidly in place before them, the frustrated Germans turned west again in a futile lunge for the Meuse River crossings they never came close to reaching. The 589-FAB (106-ID) was effectively destroyed. A few officers and men fought or slipped through to the friendly line, but the guns, tank destroyers, armored cars, and AA half-tracks were lost. Of the 116-man of the Glider Co, only 44 rejoined their parent company. But in June 1945, the battered 106th Infantry Division reconstituted, and Parker returned to command the new 589th Field Artillery Battalion of the 106th Infantry Division.
To a professional readership, this account demands some conclusions. First, there will be more such actions in the future, and this one should be studied as a classic example. After the Nazi surrender, Allied interrogators learned from defeated commanders that the prime reason for the German armored mass failing to come forward as planned was that the initial American defense had been more tenacious than anticipated; complete and rapid rupture of the defensive positions had not been achieved. And the official history adds: not only did the Germans fail to comprehend the degree of initiative that training and tradition have placed in the hands of American corps and army commanders, they also misunderstood the American doctrine largely unwritten but universally accepted, that major formations having no pre-battle relationship, may under fluid conditions, unite on the field after the battle is joined.
Nowhere is this principle more perfectly illustrated than at Parker’s Crossroads, where small units instinctively coalesced into an effective fighting force under a superlative leader. Second, the concept is the current doctrine. FM 100-5 Operations (May 1986) states: Whenever an unintentional encirclement occurs, the encircled commander must understand the mission and the higher commander’s intent and concept of operation clearly. He must judge whether the next higher commander wants the force to break out or to defend the position. If it cannot breakout, the senior commander must continue to defend, while planning for and assisting in a linkup with a relieving force. Both Parker and Goldstein, demonstrated a perfect understanding of these principles as laid down in Field Service Regulations.
Third, both senior and subordinate commanders, aware of the possibilities, should plan for the worst. The key issue is the voluntary assumption of a last-ditch stand, even against orders. Only the most urgent and vital considerations would justify this if the junior commander survives, he might face court-martial and disgrace. Nevertheless having made the decision the Alamo force commander must carry it through. Parker committed himself and his men to victory or death, probably the latter, and he must lead by personal example. A little band of strong men, resolved to die with a sword in hand can be an extremely thorny twig to grasp, and an enemy trying to meet a tight schedule may well hesitate. All the better for the Alamo force-it’s just what they want. And the higher commander should prepare himself for the loss of valuable combat power, perhaps one-third of his command if his junior commander decides on an Alamo Defense. Both should ensure that no neglect or omission of support will suggest this desperate action and, with prudent foresight, avoid the necessity. But if it comes to the pinch, do it for the cause.
Fourth, it appears that Parker and his men went largely unrewarded for their valor. Parker received a Silver Star, Goldstein a Bronze Star with V device. Several NCOs and soldiers got individual decorations. The Belgian government granted the battalion a Croix de Guerre with Silver Gilt Star, but no unit decoration was authorized from their own government. For a Medal of Honor performance by Parker that seems a bit thin. Lapse of time and current regulations prohibit any further mark of recognition for an action that may very well have saved two divisions. Filth, we may speculate that somewhere in today’s Army walks another Maj Parker perhaps wearing a lieutenant’s bar or sergeants stripes. If it were possible the Army should find that man and cherish him, for one day it will need him very badly down some cold, perilous road he will see great adversity rolling toward him. Then he will become ‘Major Parker’ and fight like a wild cat. But now the Major’s battle is over, and he sleeps among warriors. And in a grassy plot near the crossroads of the two Belgian highways stands a carved granite boulder that proclaims it Parker’s Crossroad, where Maj Arthur C. Parker breathed spirit into his GI’s and all acquitted themselves most honorably against enormous odds. Finally, one does think that, had Leonidas of Sparta had a ‘Major Parker’ to hold that fatal footpath, the Persians never would have turned his flank at Thermopylae.
589-FAB – 106-ID, Golden Lions
Last Man Stand, Baraque de Fraiture
Thanks to the following 589-FAB veterans for contributions of personal history: Sgt Barney M. Altord, Chief 2nd Section Battery A; Cpl John Galen, Chief-Gunner Section Battery A; Maj Elliot Goldstein, Officer in command after Maj Parker was WIA; Sgt Charles F Jacelon, Forward Observer under Lt Crowley Battery A; Pfc Harold J. Kuizema, Wireman Battery B; Prime Mover Eldon E. Miedema, Battery A; Pierson Randolph, Forward Observer, and Cpl John R. Schaffner, Battery B.
On December 19, in the afternoon, what was remaining of the 589-FAB arrived at the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture to establish some kind of blocking force against the German advance. There were approximately 100 men and 3 105-MM howitzers to set up the defense at this time. The weather was cold wet and foggy with some snow already on the ground. Visibility was variable, clearing from maybe fifty yards to two or three hundred on occasion. I didn’t know who was in charge of the ragtag group that I was with until I saw Maj Elliot Goldstein out in the open, verbally bombasting the enemy (where ever they were) with all the curse words he could think of and at the top of his booming voice.
I thought at the moment that he won’t be around too long if there are any Germans out there to hear him. Apparently there were none, he drew no fire. I was taking cover behind the rear wheel of one of our trucks at the time and felt rather naked. The 3 105-MM were ordered into position to defend the crossroads and I was told to go out there, dig in and look for an attack from that direction, still having no idea of the situation. Most of the night we spent in the foxhole. All was quiet on the front line.
When I was relieved during the night to get some rest I tried to find a dry place in the stone barn to lay down. The floor was deep in mud, but the hayrack on the wall was full of dry hay so I accepted that as a good place to sleep. Pushing the cows aside I climbed into the hay. I guess that the cows just didn’t understand, because they kept pulling the hay out from under me until I became the next course on their menu. Anyway it wasn’t long until I was outside in another hole in the ground.
December 19, 1944! What a way to spend my 21st birthday! We are headed north to fight Panzers again! That’s great! Maj Arthur C. Parker, now commanding, received orders to split the reduced battalion into two elements, one element to move west and establish a defensive roadblock at a village I never heard of, and the second element to move north to the crossroads located at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, to repel an expected Panzer attack. I was assigned to the advance party of the second element and arrived at Baraque de Fraiture about 1400. My responsibility was to help establish the CP, the Fire Direction Center (FDC), the Message Center, and a local communications network.
To order an already beat-up artillery unit to fight Panzers was really stupid! We were not trained as infantry nor tank destroyers. What were we supposed to do? I could not comprehend why Panzers would attack here. Before we arrived there was nothing to attack but three or four empty buildings and a few milk cows. Why would the German army fight for this bleak, windswept, cold, snow-covered, open spot in the Belgian Ardennes Forest? This terrain is worth nothing! We had not seen our commanding officer, Col T. Paine Kelly, in three days now. This bothered me! What had happened to him?
There was snow on the ground, it was cold and so foggy that it was impossible to see more than 100 feet. Soon the order came to move to the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture. We took over some of the larger family homes there. The home we took over had an attached barn with cows and hay to feed the cows. The elderly gentleman whose home we took over had taken the time to milk the cows before he left. As he left, he offered me some milk which I refused. I’m not sure why since that was the last time we saw fresh milk for some time. The picture of the old man walking off with his little pushcart with his belongings is still vivid in my mind.
This house was later used as our CP. We all found a variety of places to sleep in this house. There was always someone who pulled guard. My memory would say we were on guard for two hours and then off for four hours. I don’t recall sleeping much there. My buddy Bernard Strohmier remembers sleeping on the hay. The cows kept eating and so by morning, Bernie was wedged in the trough that the cows had eaten from.
The weather remained miserable, cold wet and foggy with a little more snow for good measure. If the enemy was around he was keeping it a secret. The day went very slowly. This kind of time is usually spent getting your hole just a bit deeper, you never know how deep it is going to be deep enough. Now and then one of our guys would pop off a few rounds at something, real or imagined. We were joined by some AAA people with a towed trailer mounted with four .50 cal MG’s and a 37-MM cannon. I thought at the time, I’d hate to be in front of that thing when it went off. I only saw the one unit then but the books reporting the action mention that there were four of these units there from the 203-AAA-AW Bn (7-AD).
This weapon was positioned to fire directly down the road to Houffalize. Frank Aspinwall also reports that we were joined by a platoon of the 87-CRS. Later in the evening, Capt Brown sent me with another B Battery guy, Ken Sewell, to a foxhole in the ditch at the side of the road to Houffalize, about a couple hundred yards out from the crossroads. We were the outpost and had a field telephone hookup to Capt Brown’s CP. Capt Brown told us to just sit tight and report any movement we observed. There was a Daisy Chain of mines strung across the road a few yards ahead of our position to stop any vehicles. The darkness was made even deeper by the thick fog that night, with a silence to match. Now and then a pine tree would drop some snow or make a noise. I think my eyelids and ears were set on ‘Full Open’.
There we sat in this hole in the ground just waiting and watching, until about midnight when we could hear strange noises in the fog. It was very dark and our visibility was extremely limited but we were able to discern what was making the strange noise as about a dozen Germans came into view on bicycles. They stopped in the road when they came on the mines. Being unaware of our presence, not 10 yards away, they stood there in front of us in the middle of the road – probably talking over what to do next. We could hear the language was not English and they were wearing square helmets. Sewell and I were in big trouble. This was a first for us to be this close to the enemy.
Thinking that there were too many for us to take on with a carbine I took the telephone and whispered our situation to Capt Brown. His orders were as follows: ‘keep your head down, and when you hear me fire my .45 the first time we will sweep the road with the AAA quad 50’s. When that stops I’ll fire my .45 again and then we will hold fire while you two come out of your hole and return to the CP. Make it quick!’
And that’s the way it happened. That German patrol never knew what hit them. On hearing the .45 the second time Ken and I left our hole and keeping low, ran back toward our perimeter. I was running so hard that my helmet bounced off my head and went rolling out into the darkness. I thought, to hell with it, and never slowed down to retrieve it. I lost sight of Ken and honestly don’t remember ever seeing him again. I heard many years later that he was captured along with Bernard Strohmier and others after the Germans took the crossroads. By calling out the password, Coleman, I got safely past our defense perimeter and was then shot at and missed by somebody at the howitzer position as I approached it. After a blast of good old American obscenities, they allowed me through and I reported to Capt Brown.
The official book ways that there was an eighty man patrol from the 560.VGD and the 2.SS-PD out there that night. Maybe the rest were back in the fog somewhere.
December 20, 1944. It is cold, almost 20 degrees below freezing. The north wind is brisk. I was glad I got to spend the night in the security of the root cellar under the stone CP building. During the night, and early this morning, Maj Parker had persuaded stragglers to stand and fight with us. They were one light tank and crew from the 87-CRS; four 3 inch HVAP-AT guns and crews from the 643-TDB, and four AAA half-tracks from the 203-AAA-AW Bn, 3 mounting Quad .50s, one mounting a 37-MM gun. We received our first fire mission at approximately 1500. The target was some enemy infantry entering into Samrée. This was strange because our defenses were facing east and north and Samrée was to our west. We successfully completed the mission and got the report to the cease-fire, the enemy infantry was withdrawing from Samrée.
Where in the hell is the enemy? Another typical situation that no one knows anything about, SNAFU (Situation Normal, All Fouled Up). Our second activity occurred at about 2300 on the same day. Enemy infantry reported approaching our positions from the east. Alerted the quad .50s half-track covering that sector delivered devastating fire, which I watched from the road in front of the CP. It was beautiful, looked like four lines of giant fireflies chasing each other. I could not relate this beautiful sight to the carriage being created on the enemy end. A combat patrol was dispatched to mop up enemy survivors. The patrol found only one wounded German, many dead bodies, and scattered mangled bicycles. The main question is, what was this patrol doing? Why is it here? We could only guess. The wounded man died without speaking. We will never know.
December 20, 1944. Weather conditions were the same, Cold, Snowy, and Foggy. Today we positioned ourselves around the house. My buddies were busy laying land mines across the road. Others had set up machine-guns. We placed our trucks which were the weapon carriers and used them for hiding or defense. We lay right underneath the trucks.
That day, the Germans made their first attack. I fired my carbine from behind a truck wheel. Many Germans were wounded and would call out, ‘Comrade, Comrade’. One dead German soldier that lay approximately 50 feet from us was a very young soldier, perhaps a sixteen-year-old. Maj Parker wanted us to round up those who had been taken prisoner. He asked me to accompany him with the prisoners as we directed them to the CP for interrogation.