A Survivor’s Story
In Tribute to
Chester Grant Jones
Died: May 24,
WWII Army Corporal
European Theater, Tank Gunner
Awarded 3 Bronze Battle Stars for Campaigns in Central
Europe, Rhineland and the Ardennes
(Battle of the Bulge)
Company A 38th Armored Infantry Battalion
7th Armored Division
Transcribed 1999 by
Gerald L. Jones, son
During seventeen weeks of intense
physical training at Camp Robinson, Little Rock Arkansas, the Army prepared my
body for combat. The Army however did not prepare me to endure the mental
trauma associated with the horrors of war.
I fought as a combat soldier and tank gunner in three
battle campaigns: The Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe, and received 3
Bronze battle stars, the combat infantry badge, Good Conduct Medal and Victory
There were no reporters with us
in combat. Only the survivors can document what happened. The memories of war
remain fresh in my mind to this day. They are vivid and emotionally
1. During the Battle of the
Bulge, beginning December 18, 1944 – our task force of the 7th
Armored Division was given orders to set up a defense line at St. Vith –
because it was a vital road and rail center. In route to St. Vith, I saw
around 25 US tanks that were retreating. Each tank was covered with injured
and dead Gis.
We set up a defense line at St. Vith,
Belgium, where, for five days we endured relentless mortar shelling. The
shells were coming in so close, dirt was coming in on me. Needless to say I
was very scared. I asked myself, do I want to get it lying on my back or on my
stomach. I was lucky and didn’t get hit. On the 24th of December 1944 we lost our position. 300 men died from our company. Over the course of
the war our company lost 950 men killed or badly wounded. Out of our entire
company of 350 men, only 25 survived the Bulge. I was the sole survivor in my
squad, which received replacements 4 times. We lost so many men we had to call
up the cooks to help in the fight. For a week we stopped their best forces,
the German SSS and the Wehrmacht, lead by the battle wise von Rundstedt. We
were outnumbered. Their 100,000 men to our 17,000.
2. We retreated to a railroad
trestle where we decided to go around the town of St. Vith, which was on fire.
At about 2 a.m. one morning we broke through the German defense line. We cut a
wire fence and waded through waste high water in a ditch. It was foggy, and
the temperature was near freezing. What was left of our company walked through
the German line. We looked down and saw the Germans sleeping in their fox
holes. That was very scary. Some of my close friends who went with me around
the town, made a right turn, instead of a left turn. I had seen the map, and I
knew they were going the wrong way, but it was too late to stop them. Those
men were captured and machine gunned to death in an open field at Manhay Belgium.
I witnessed the remains of those slaughtered men when we returned to Manhay,
after our division was rebuilt. We recaptured St. Vith.
3. After being surrounded and
cut off by German forces we got orders from division headquarters command to
rescue the 28th Infantry Division and make a corridor for them to
walk through. We did this with 4 tanks and about 40 men. In this operation we
took casualties under stressful combat conditions. We successfully freed 8,000
men because of our action. We were being fired on by snipers and at this time
an enemy bullet hit the butt of my rifle I was carrying by my side. The bullet
lodged in the butt of my rifle. Close Call. Very scary.
4. My first personal encounter
with the horror of attending to a seriously wounded soldier came when one of my
buddies was shot in the chest. We were trained to “plug the hole” (sinking
chest wound), which I did. It was a bloody mess.
5. One night, I was ordered by
the company commander to go across the railroad tracks and bring back a certain
Sergeant. I found the Sergeant, and two other men in a fox hole. They argued
about who was going back with me. As I stepped out of their fox hole, it took
a direct hit from a mortar shell and blew me back fifteen feet into another fox
hole. I was knocked out. When I came to, I had difficulty breathing, and had
ringing in my ears. When I recovered my breath an aerial flare went off, and
let me see what happened. The three men I was just talking to, were mangled
I have a very difficult time
describing what happened during the next two hours, where combat was at very
close range, an intense fire fight. Only the commander and about 50 men
6. On another occasion a friend
of mine walked over to my fox hole. Before he could take cover, he took a
direct hit by a mortar shell. I witnessed the explosion that blew his face
7. Near Manhay, the air corps
was attacking an enemy tank with a 500 pound bomb. The tank was destroyed
while it was parked near some houses. I looked in the window of one house near
the destroyed tank, and found civilians sitting at their kitchen table – as if
they were alive, but they weren’t. The concussion from the bomb had killed
8. While riding as a gunner on a
half track, an enemy shell hit in front of our vehicle, then another fell
behind the vehicle. We know the next shell would be right on us, and it was.
I jumped off the half track just in time. Had I not jumped, the shell would
have come down directly on my head. Other soldiers on that half track were not
so lucky, and were killed or seriously wounded. All our personal belongings
9. I was given demolition
training, and was ordered to assist in taking an enemy pill box. (Concrete
bunker) My buddy had a flame thrower, and it was my job to blow a hole in the
pill box. It was my buddy’s job to stick the flame thrower in the hole, and
shoot flames inside the bunker. After we blew the rear door off with TNT, one
of our tanks made a direct hit in the opening where the machine gun was
firing. I witnessed three Germans who were killed inside the pill box.
Several others were able to walk out, but they were torn up badly. We tried to
sleep in that pitch black bunker, until one of my buddies was accidentally shot
through both ankles. A rifle must have fallen to the floor and discharged. We
applied first aid and took him to a rear position for further medical
10. Over a period of eleven
days, while fighting a rear guard action, it was very cold – to eleven degrees
below zero at night. I was living with little food, and without shelter. I
slept on the hard frozen ground. We melted snow in our hands for a drink of
water. The ground was too hard to did a fox hole. The bottom half of my
overcoat was frozen with ice for five days. Subsequently, my hands and feet
became frost bitten. I could have been sent back to England, but I wanted to
stay with my men.
11. Another horrible event
occurred when one of our fighter planes crashed near our position. It landed
upside down, and I witnessed the horror of seeing the pilot with the top half
of his head cut off.
12. During one battle campaign,
I remember that the ground was slippery from the blood and guts of fallen Gis
and Germans. The ground was covered with dead Gis.
13. During the battle of the
Bulge, early one morning, five of our tanks were hit by one German tank that
was camouflaged with a shed over it. I saw Gis running and heard them
screaming, because they were on fire, after they came out of their tanks. (Our
tanks were carrying gasoline on the outside of the tanks, which made the
14. Once, when we were spear
heading, we ran across a company of Germans dug in with six machine guns, and
three hundred men. Our task force commander decided we should use infantry to
take them out. I was selected to lead the attack, with fifty men. We walked
out in front of the field, made a 90 degree turn and went straight at them, and
defeated their position. After the attack, one of my men picked up a German
rifle by the barrel, and hit it over a fence post. The rifle discharged and
this man was shot in the groin.
15. The Last Battle of the Bulge
– came near Antwerp where we retreated into a valley. Our forces were on both
sides of this valley at the top of each ridge. At the far end of the valley,
demolition engineers blew a hole in the road so deep and wide that the German
armor would be stopped. We waited for the Germans. What came down the road
was a mile and a half of solid armor. Once the German convoy was stopped, all
hell broke loose. It was a slaughter – not a pleasant memory.
After the battle, I walked down
into the valley to take prisoners. I mentioned to one of my buddies that I
needed new boots. He said – there’s a boot over there, but there’s still a
foot in it. I didn’t want the boot that bad – it was a horrible sight.
16. There were many encounters
with the enemy, too numerous to describe during ten months of continuous combat
during and after the Battle of the Bulge. Without a bath for 4 weeks, we were
lousy from sleeping in barns. They sprayed us with DDT.
17. I witnessed slave labor
camps and a concentration camp. I saw people that were just skin and bones. I
saw the crematoriums and piles of bodies, stacked like cords of wood.
All of the above events, and many
more, have caused me emotional distress since the war, over 50 years ago.
There hasn’t been a day gone by that I haven’t thought of some horrible war
experience. I’ve tried not to think about it – but the images flood my mind.
I still think of those brave men I knew, who fought beside me. Those that were
injured, maimed and killed. I often wonder why I survived and they did not.
Maybe I survived because I had
one secret no one knew about.
I put my trust in God.
(Please share these stories if
you wish – especially with history teachers. As my Father said – there were no
reporters with them – so his stories are personal historical accounts. You may
agree – this man from Edinburg IL, a very small town, is a hero you didn’t know
you had. I hope you are as proud of him, as I am… Gerald Jones, son of Chester