This is Bertrand Close of I Company, 32nd Armored Regiment. The picture to the left was taken in 1945, Picture to the right and interview taken 2000 in Indianapolis IN. In 1944 Bert Close had been a bow gunner in the tank called "In The Mood" commanded by Sgt .Lafette Poole. He was in three tanks with Pool that were knocked out, and he was a gunner in the Ardennes when he lost his 4th. tank at the Crossroads.

     For three weeks we worked and lived together in the same house. We checked out our "new" tank, stocked it with ammunition, but never moved it. During the end of November and into December the weather got cold and we had some light snow fall. The snow usually melted during the day and turned to slush on the roads. We had warm clothing. We ate hot meals. The food either came from the company kitchen or we cooked it ourselves with some potatoes and canned meat. We received Christmas packages from home and shared with each other the varieties of cakes, cookies and candies. About December 7th, I was promoted to corporal to match the usual rank of a tank gunner. On December 14th, Wilbert Richards and I attended a ceremony with officers and other enlisted men, at which time we were presented Bronze Star ribbons. Generals Rose and Hickey shook our hands. Two days later the German armies surprised the American 99th and 106th Infantry Divisions and the entire American General Staff. The Battle of the Bulge had begun.

     On December 19th I Company was ordered to pack up and move out. We stowed our Christmas packages and all our other belongings on the tank and took our place in line on the road leading to somewhere in Belgium. Tank # 3(1 don't think anyone wasted time on names anymore ) was no sooner on the road when it threw a track. We were left behind and towed into a maintenance company a short distance away. We were on the outskirts of Aachen. I did not see one building that stood without a roof or a wall missing. It took one day and a night to repair the tank. I thought we might miss the action. We left the maintenance shop late one afternoon. Someone led the way m ajeep. We drove in the dark to the company staging area near Manhay, Belgium, a trip of about 25 miles.

     The weather in Germany had been wet and chilly for weeks. We had seen some snow. When we reached our company area in Belgium, the air had turned much colder. Two or three inches of snow were frozen on the ground. There was no heat inside the ank from the engine and the cold air blowing in through the open hatches made everything that much colder and more uncomfortable. I looked for road signs to tell me where I was. We had no maps, so "Manhay" did not mean anything to me. The activity in our assembly area seemed as organized as it ever was. I was not aware of the great confusion other divisions were experiencing around us or of our imminent danger from a German attack.
      On the morning of December 23rd our tank and two others were ordered to move out across some open fields and take positions as road blocks at a crossroad about five or so miles from Manhay. This was my first time out as tank gunner. I had been thoroughly trained at Fort Knox. I had rehearsed the gun operating procedures several times after being promoted to gunner. I was confident I could handle the job. As we crossed the frozen field, I turned on the gyro-stabilizer to test its operation. I wanted to be certain it would work if I needed to fire the cannon as we moved. I don't think the tank commander knew what I was doing and yelled at me to turn it off. I did, but not before I knew the gun was as ready for action as I was.

     When we got close to the crossroads. Col. Richardson drove up in a jeep to place where I was. We had no maps, so "Manhay" did not mean anything to me. The activity in us in position. Our tank was placed to look down one road. On the road crossing in front of us, one tank was stationed on our right and one on our left. There were ditches on both sides of the roads. Beyond the crossroad in front of us pine forests lined both sides of the road. On our immediate right side was a heavy wooded area. Our immediate left side was an open field. Our tanks could not have maneuvered across the ditches and hid among the trees. Our infantrymen were in the woods around and ahead of us.
     This was not a road block like the ones we manned in October and November. I don't know if anyone told our tank commander to expect the enemy to approach us from far down the road. I could see quite a distance straight ahead through my gun sight. As the day wore on the bright winter sun faded. It began to get foggy and visibility became poor. The infantry around us had not been firing and the other two tanks had not fired at ny targets. I kept looking down the road through my gun sight. I finally saw something. I told the tank commander that I saw people far down on the road. I don't know if he had field glasses and looked, or if he looked and couldn't see. He calmly told me they were "friendly." I kept looking, but couldn't make them out in the fog.

     Minutes, or maybe seconds later, our tank was hit with an exploding shell. I didn't see where the shell came from, but am certain it came from the "friendly" troops. We all got out of the tank. The tank commander was the first out and the loader then followed me out of the turret hatch. The tank started burning. I got behind the tank to get my bearings and saw our driver. Star Blades. Star Blades told me that he could not see. I felt my face burning and thought I had been hit with shell fragments. I looked around and saw a stone building off to the left rear of our tank about 30 or 40 yards away. The open field was behind it. I grabbed Star Blades and we ran to the building.
     When we got to the building, I was surprised to see that it was the forward command post for a company of the 82nd Airborne Division. It was also the first aid station for the Airborne infantrymen who had been wounded fighting further down the crossroads. Wounded soldiers were standing around and lying on the dirt floor. One of them told me they had been ordered to hold the crossroads "at all costs." The lieutenant in charge was talking on a field telephone, apparently to another command post. He was asking for reinforcements. I heard him say that he was running out of ammunition. A paratrooper was gathering whatever ammunition the wounded still carried. By this time, all three tanks were burning and their ammunition inside was exploding. Star Blades and I stayed within range of the lieutenant's voice. I wanted to know what he was going to do.

     Star Blades and I had been in the building for about an hour. I never saw any of the other crew members. It must have been about 3:30 o'clock. It was getting dark with the heavy fog. I could hear the fighting outside getting closer to the crossroads. The lieutenant told his men to pass the word to get ready to withdraw. They were to split off into small groups and make a run for it. I told Star Blades that I would take him with the Airborne, once I knew 'which way they were going. I watched from the building as the first groups of Airborne took off across the open field. Although the field was covered with snow, the ground was hard. Thank goodness for the heavy fog. As the Airborne started to run, the Germans began firing machine guns and "burp" guns into the field. I took off with Star Blades holding on to my hand. It was dark enough to see the tracer bullets. When they started getting close, I told Star Blades to fall down with me. We rolled over several times away from where we fell, then got up again and ran-just like we had been taught in basic training. The field was getting shelled with mortars. I heard the screams of wounded men calling for help. I couldn't help. I was leading Star Blades back and that saved me from a guilty conscience.

     It was almost dark by the time we reached a wooded area. We kept going as fast as we could through the trees trying to keep up with the Airborne. We finally reached an infantry outpost. Airborne troops had already alerted them and we made our way past them without any trouble. We eventually found the infantry first aid station. Star Blades was taken by the medics and that was the last time I saw him. I have wondered about him over the past 55 years. Did he regain his sight and come through the war alive? I hope so.

The only man I recognized at the aid station was "Gabby" Gaboriault. He had been in one of the other two tanks. He was stretched out on the floor shaking, apparently from shock. It was cold. He wasn't wearing a coat and wasn't getting any attention. I threw my wool field jacket over him for whatever good it might do. Gaboriault was an early replacement who could speak French fluently. He rode with the first sergeant until we reached Germany. When his French was no longer useful, he joined a tank crew.

     I don't know what happened to the loader after he got out of the tank. According to I Company records, the tank commander was killed. I don't know when, but I expect it was that same day. In 1949 I received a letter from Army Graves Registration informing me that Pvt. Daniel Marblo, our bow gunner, was last seen that day running into the woods. He was missing in action. Graves Registration was still searching for him and was asking me for information. I could not give the Army any information it did not already have. The 2nd SS Panzer Division overran our road block and fought its way into Manhay before it was finally stopped. As I reflect on that day, I ask myself if any Sherman tank and crew could have held off the German tanks that came up the road that day. We were sent there to be road blocks. Maybe the three burning and exploding tanks on the crossroads slowed the Germans down. That was as much as the grossly inferior Sherman could realistically be expected to do. Pool and Oiler may have detected the German soldiers on that road and fired off a few rounds of phosphorus or high explosives to make the battle more even. I didn't, and Tank #3 was history.

*I did find that Pvt. Daniel Marblo is listed in The Ardennes Cemetary in Belg. WOM (Wall of Missing). Sgt Jesse Carroll was killed 4/1/45. SGT. Frank W. Math who was listed as going to the hospital with Cpl. Bertrand Close on Dec. 24, was killed later. Five men were reported as Missing in action on Dec. 24 from the day before; Cpl Bertrand Close, Pfc. Edward J. Dlugitch, Pfc. Vern F. Kleesser, Pfc. Carl J. Lenassi, and Pvt. Anthony Dileo. Star Blades is nickname for Rube A. Freeman Gabby Gaboriault is Pfc. Albert Z. Gaboriault

Copy Right Dec. 23, 2000 - Bertrand Close & Charles R. Corbin