Dead Man's Ridge

By Hugh McLain 


At 8:15 a.m. on January 4, 1945, in the middle of a snow storm, the 17th Airborne and other units began the Allied counter-offensive in the southern part of the Bulge.  The 17th Airborne was a green unit and this would be their first day of combat.  The battle would be fought along a ridge line that followed the Bastogne-Marche Highway, an area about 10 miles west of the town of Bastogne.  Digging in along the ridge and using armor to counter-attack, the Germans repelled several of the 17th's attacks.    Over the course of the next  nine days,  the Division's casualties were catastrophic and several battalions were nearly annihilated.  The fortified ridge would latter be dubbed "Dead Man's Ridge" since so many men lost their lives trying to take it.


Some things stick in the mind, embedded so that they never go away. The night before my company was committed I was sleeping in a hole in a patch of woods with about seven or eight guys from C Company, my company being HQ1, a heavy weapons company. My very best friend, Richard Reed, a red headed, good-natured Irishman from St. Louis was huddled up next to me and all of us were trying to keep warm out of the deep snow outside our foxhole. Lucky me, I was sleeping on the end and had nobody to huddle up close to on one side.  Sometime during the early morning, C Company moved up on line and left me sleeping by myself, not waking me at all. It was dark as pitch, except for the moonlight on the snow, outside the woods, when I woke up. I raised up to see out of the hole and couldn't see a single thing moving nor did I hear any noise whatsoever. I crawled out of the hole, in near panic, scared as hell !! I thought for sure I had been left there. As I crawled around through the snow, I fell into another hole, felt a warm body and just crawled under the blankets and went back to sleep. To this day, I don't have any idea who
was in that other hole.

Just before daylight, my company moved up into position and I was sent out as forward observer with the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant. Naturally, I carried the radio. Our artillery began laying down fire and it seemed they would never stop. When they did stop, the Germans opened up with their 88s about time the rifle companies jumped off. Our mortars were laying down
smoke but we couldn't really see where we were hitting. A Company, which took off over our observation post, was cut up pretty bad. During all the 88 fire, our CO got hit and our platoon leader was called to the rear to take over the company CP, leaving the Sgt. and myself alone. A Company reached their objective but asked for permission to withdraw. I had to relay messages
through my radio to Battalion and Battalion ordered them to hold until further notice. After what seemed like an eternity, A Company was finally given permission to withdraw to the IP. I think all the other companies were allowed to withdraw at the same time.

Our mortars laid down smoke for A Company to withdraw and after they had cleared our observation post, we withdrew. The Sgt. and myself went to the Battalion CP. A few minutes after getting to the Battalion CP, our company commander came in asking for help for some guys back down the road. Three guys were laying in the road, all wounded from 88 fire, and one of them had an arm hanging on by just a thin piece of skin. We got them out on stretchers as fast as we could. It was the most ghastly sight I had ever experienced in my young life. I never knew the names of the guys on the road.

My best friend was killed that morning and I never felt the same since. I saw a lot of dead bodies after that but nothing ever affected me like that first day. Richard's wife had a baby while we were aboard ship going to England. His wife sent him pictures and he was one more proud father but he never got to see his son. I know this happened many times over during the War but I only had one best friend. I had every intention of going to see his wife and son after the war, but I could never think of what I would say, so I never did go.

I know this isn't much but it is the thing that sticks in my mind and will until the day I die.

Huey C.McLain
Hq1, 193d/194th Glider Infantry Regiments
17th Airborne Division


Huey McLain Virtual Reunion 1998