(Excerpts from his ‘How Parker’s Cross Roads Happened’ Dec 5 through Dec 23, 1944) December 19, for the next couple of nights we traveled with an AAA group that was heading for France. After that Maj Parker reported to division headquarters in Vielsalm. He was told to bring the battalion to Vielsalm the next day. We returned to the battalion on the road between Salmchâteau and the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture. We proceeded to the crossroads, past the crossroads a few hundred yards, to a large open field on the left, west side of the road, and bivouacked there. This was the road to Samrée. Early the next morning we started out for Vielsalm. I was driving the lead jeep with Maj Parker in the passenger seat, as we entered the point where the two roads actually cross. A Dodge army truck came speeding toward us from the direction of Houffalize. Maj Parker yelled ‘whoa’ and I stopped the jeep. The Major got out and asked the driver of the truck where he was speeding to. The driver said that a German tank attack was heading our way from Houffalize. By this time Maj Goldstein had walked up from his jeep which was the second vehicle, and he said ‘You know, we came over here to fight a war and this looks like a good place to start’. Maj Parker said ‘I was thinking the same thing, Major, set up for the defense! of this crossroad’ Goldstein said, ‘I am going to ask my big friend here with a tracked vehicle and a dozer blade, to dig me some gun pits’. This is the true – verbatim – conversation that led to the story of the crossroads.
I believe that initially, Maj Parker entered the building that became Capt Beans CP. This building had a bar, and while Maj Parker was doing his planning and map work by flashlight, someone handed him a bottle of beer that had been found in the basement. Maj Parker drank half, then handed it to me, saying, ‘here driver, I want you to have some of this’. A young woman resident rushed in to get something from a drawer or cabinet and Maj Parker said to her ‘You do not have to leave, we will protect you’, her reply was, ‘Boches come, I go’ (Krauts back – I leave), and she left. The guns were emplaced and a sentry, John Schaffner, in a foxhole, was in front of the howitzer and the quad .50s local machine guns in a turret on a half-track.
In the middle of the night, the sentry reported that a German patrol on bicycles was examining the Daisy Chain, a string of antitank mines tied together in a line so that it could be pulled into place across a road in front of the lead enemy vehicle. At that time the howitzer and the quad .50s guns fired blindly, and when the volley ended our sentry ran back to the command post. When the mist and the night lifted we found dead and wounded Germans. I did not know of Maj Parkers’ wounding or of the death of the Sgt reportedly conversing with Capt Bean. I remember a GI truck on fire speeding through the crossroads from Samrée toward Vielsalm. I remember that on the evening of December 22, Maj Goldstein told me to take a forward observer sergeant to his unit in Manhay about ten miles away. We had a pleasant ride, found Manhay completely deserted and as we returned to the crossroads the German tanks (which overran our position the next day) were blasting an American tank that was bombed out in the first action a month or two before.
When the German tanks stopped firing I drove to the crossroad, turned left and drove a hundred yards or so to the CP, and turned into the yard. That night there was sporadic firing around the perimeter, and on December 23, we fired carbines and rifles which were all we had left at the tanks and soldiers too far away to be hit. Late in the afternoon, the tanks moved across the field between the Vielsalm and the Houffalize roads. As our CP started to burn down around us I could see no alternative to surrender, so with several others, we walked past the head of the tank column into captivity.
The main theme in all the stories about Parker’s Crossroads has been about the three Howitzers. I feel by now that everyone knows that there are actually four Howitzers to a firing battery. In the article, ‘The Incredible Valor of Eric Fisher Wood’, Section Chief, Sgt Scannapico’s Section No. 3 is mentioned in the Saturday Evening article. It is unfortunate that he was killed. Also, Section Chief Sgt Barney Alford’s, Section No. 2 is mentioned. In our own unit history, St Vith, Lion in the Way, Section Chief Sgt Johnnie B. Jordan’s Section No. 4 is mentioned in the Saturday Evening Post article. There are also other references to these sections. Nowhere, including the story about Parker’s Crossroads is the name of the Section Chief named for Section 1. For the record, I would like to get into the record Section Chief Sgt George Shook, and Gunner Cpl John Gatens, and tell you my story about Section No. 1. In the story ‘The Incredible Valor of Eric Wood’, it states that Section No. 4, which in reality was Section No. 1, was the only piece in the entire battalion which could reach the oncoming tanks. In a direct-fire situation of a 105-MM Howitzer, a gunner like me, has complete control of the firing, because he has to set all elevations and traversing actions.
In the case of the tank mentioned in that story, I had traversed and set the elevation to my satisfaction. I missed on the first shot. Sgt Shook, standing behind me, hollered I was a little high. I lowered the elevation and gave the command to fire. It was a direct hit. We fired another round for effect and scratched one German tank. Truly a deed that warranted recognition for the No. 1 Section. When march orders were given by Lt Eric F. Wood, Sgt Shook was nowhere to be found. This left me as second in command with double duty as Section Chief and Gunner. Now to Parker’s Crossroads where we ended up on Lt Wood’s march order while he, unfortunately, disappeared. We ended up at the Crossroads without and officer in command of my section. Another error that has been compounded over the years is the placement of the Section No 1 gun site at the Crossroads. In St Vith, Lion in the Way, it shows my gun in the corner of the crossroads of the Regné – Houffalize quadrant pointing toward the Manhay – Samrée quadrant. The error is that my gun was actually directly across the road, in the corner of the Manhay – Samrée quadrant, with the Howitzer facing towards the Regné – Houffalize quadrant, exactly across the road from the tank and the two buildings.
That tank of the 3-AD, shown in front of the buildings, came to that point the second day we were there. We were happy to see a tank in our area. As they pulled up one of the crew jumped out, walked to the corner, and looked down the road toward Regné. Being targeted by a German sniper, he suddenly hit the ground with a bullet hole in his head. Unfortunately, he was wearing only the soft tanker’s hat. We fired a few rounds into the woods along the Regné road and never heard any more from that direction. Maj Parker visited my position at least three times. He was always in good spirits and giving encouragement. He would leave saying, ‘don’t worry, we will be leaving here soon. Little did we know that he had ignored the order to displace northward toward Bra-sur-Lienne, as described in the story, the Alamo Defense loss of this crossroads junction would have given the Germans freedom to move in all directions, to flank or penetrate the 1-A line.
The most unusual fire mission I received was from Maj Parker. At the time I had no idea what he was doing. The story ‘The Alamo Defense’ explains that Maj Parker knew a powerful enemy Armored Infantry force lay four miles west of Samrée. Maj Parker told me to turn my Howitzer around, approximately 180 degrees. That was done with difficulty since we were dug in. In that direction, there was a house. He gave me the elevation and then said, I want you to come as close to the peak of that house as you can, without hitting it, and we will fire. I looked through the sight, as well as the tube, and asked my No. 1 man to confirm, which he did. I told Maj Parker we were ready at which time he gave the order to fire. We fired four rounds.
There is another accounting of this action in the book St Vith, Lion in the Way. We also had a few encounters we acted as infantrymen. Capt Brown (another courageous man and great leader) cautioned us that there was a group of Germans on bicycles near a Daisy Chain of AT mines that had been placed on the road. He told us when the order to fire was given that we should fire down the road. Boy, when those quad-mounted .50’s opened up, so did we. The roar was deafening. The order was given to stop, then all night long you could hear men in pain, calling for help. As much as I knew that they were the enemy, I had to feel sorry for them.
Around mid-afternoon on December 23, we started to receive an artillery barrage. It was light at first, then got heavier. Capt Brown warned of an infantry attack after it lifted. With that order, I ran across the street to the building where the crew was trying to get warm. Before I got to the door the shells were falling all around us. The house was hit and burning. The shelling stopped. The German infantry was all around and a German tank had its gun stuck through the door. A German officer ordered us out or the tank would fire. That was the end for me and the collapse of a great stand known as Parker’s Crossroads.
Sgt Scannapico section No. 3 was dead, Sgt Barney Alford (later to become a Lt) and Sgt Jordan section No. 4 escaped and were able to give their accounting of the battle. Section No. 1 was captured and was not able to give their accounting. So we became to be the three guns in any and all articles. This is my story as I lived and remembered it. I hope it is of interest to those that may read it.