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Jan 18, 2021

table with memorabilia from world war 2   In this picture, you'll notice a yellow manuscript on the table. I asked Jim Koerner about it. He said after the war he worked as a night foreman for a trucking company. He had time on his hands, and began writing down his experiences while they were fresh in his mind. He then put it in a drawer and didn't take it out for more than forty years. Its title was "Nine Lives." Read this excerpt and you'll understand why.

(From the book: 9 Lives: An Oral History" (c) 1997, Aaron Elson)

Highway to hell

Dec. 16, ’44. Hot mission coming up. All big brass running around (rumored big push coming off). Grabbed all NCOs, told to be on two-hour alert to move out.

News came down to load. Must be big; convoys started off like first race at Belmont. Traveled all day and into night; even had convoy headlights on. Pulled into small town in middle of night and told we were to be here for night. Picked out red schoolhouse for most of platoon, private house for Lt. Hanel, myself and two corporals.

Boy invited us home, told us to expect air raid, but no bombs, only pictures. Sure enough, he was right. He told us we were here in Luxembourg to stop Von Runstedt’s drive.

All taverns open, even ice cream, most all spoke English. Seemed like transferred U.S. town.

Bright and early next a.m., off for unknown. Saw MPs chasing jeep loads of soldiers, said they were Jerries dressed as our boys. What a shock this was.

Went all day and into night at full pace. Around 11 p.m. ran through town, saw sign to Bastogne, went right through and out onto highway to Ste. Margaret – now could see and hear heavy shelling. Convoy came to halt and orders went out to get security out in all directions.

I was in second halftrack from rear vehicles, radio truck. Slept on hood as motor was always running, nice and warm. Sure felt more and more like snow.

Truck came roaring out of rear. Could hear rear guards halt and check same. Was gas truck from Bastogne, driven by colored GI.

Was all out of breath and shook up, claimed Jerries rode into Bastogne in civilian clothes and he was last to get out.

Loaded last truck with gas. Also our halftrack and one in front of us was busy loading Sherman tanks when the sky lit up like day. Got report Jerries lay on side of road and threw grenades into gas.

As soon as truck lit up road we were clobbered by everything that fired.

Sgt. Marks, myself and one corporal and one private set up a heavy water cooled .30-caliber machine gun. I had a light air-cooled .30 MG set on a little rise. Caught a patrol going back to their lines across open field. We cross-fired till my .30 light was showing a very nice hook as each tracer hit the dawn sky.

We were now getting a constant stream of 106th Infantry and 9th Armored Division wounded and combat shocked troops. Must have been 500 laying from one side to the other of the road as fire increased or decreased from both sides.

Jim Koerner

We had a constant battle going between ourselves and German infantry. We had gotten an M-90 .50-caliber equipped six-wheeled armored car and we put the turret over a knoll and with a 105 self-propelled gun that had a track gone. We managed to yell fire commands as the need arose. Which was getting closer and closer.

Now we looked to dig into the hill for night security, but our shovels just bounced back.

The town behind me had five houses that were in our hands and the Jerries had the rest. We started to pick up equipment. We now had an extra jeep that we got from a field. And we had a mean run to get to our ammunition trailer on the road, getting potted at as we ran.

Next step was to head back to this small town and our five houses. Most had a whole load of shocked GIs.

By nightfall we were lined up bumper to bumper with eight or nine tanks, two halftracks, one M-90 and three jeeps. We had set charges in the tanks and other vehicles that were disabled and set them off.

I was next to the last in line to the west of the houses when Jerry started to move in. The first notice I had was a head peering over a hedge 15 or 20 feet from where I stood at the .50-caliber on the M-90.

I fired five rounds and I had to hand operate after this or I’d get a jam.

I went up to the captain in the lead house and asked him our intentions. He said if we had to move out on foot to head north and we’d run into paratroopers.

I started back and noticed two Sherman tanks with no security and buttoned up. I jumped on the first and banged with my grease gun on the turret.

A head popped out and said, “We have room for two more in here, how about it, Sergeant?” I didn’t get a chance to tell him I didn’t like tanks, I’m claustrophobic, when two dogfaces jumped out of nowhere and hopped in. Down went the hatch.

I jumped up on the second one and did the same banging. About that time I found myself on the ground and saw the Shermans belch flame. I hopped up to the bogey wheel of the first tank again. There was an explosion and I was laying over a barbed wire fence with a burning sensation in my left heel and my butt (Five and four lives).

The screams of the boys in the tank still live with me.

A second loud explosion and they stopped.

By this time a mass migration of men were heading across an open field for the woods.

We gathered short of the woods and found there were close to 150 men and four officers in our group. I couldn’t see anyone I knew from my outfit but I knew the action was so fast and I wasn’t sure how long I had lain on the barbed wire fence before my reflexes made my legs move.

The four officers told us to put security out and wait as they would try to make contact with our boys.

We waited for six hours; still no return of the officers.

We sent four men out to see if we could contact any outfit, myself and three other sergeants.

I started across a barbed wire fence when I heard a loud yell in German. I hit the ground and lay still; so did the others. We suddenly heard a flare and in its glare two machine guns opened up and sprayed all around us for close to five minutes. As soon as they stopped, we did a slow backward retreat till our legs could do the most good.

Back to the challenge of the boys in the woods. Still no officers.

We decided to head north in three split patrols.

I had used up my pills but still didn’t have time to see how bad I was hit. (Two days later I got to see about ten or twelve small pieces and one fairly big piece in my left heel, which I dug out with my knife. The others less one are still traveling in me as one showed up in my chest five years ago and came out. It was the size of a large BB.)

I buddied up with a Corporal Smith from an antitank outfit. He’d seen a lot of action in Africa and had returned on rotation to the States and here he’d come back to get stuck in this deal.

We fought everyone and anyone in this heavy pine forest for the balance of the night, and also part of the next day.

Ran into a lot of Jerries and all were paratroops. I guess these were the boys we were told we’d meet if we headed north.

Smith and I decided to try to go behind the Jerries and back out in a less busy place. I had a compass and we headed northeast. Got to cut telephone lines in two or three places. Missed patrol of 10 men by 10 feet and some high bushes.

Had a grease gun and one clip of ammo. Smith had a carbine and 10 rounds. Both were loaded with dirt from crawling and laying on the ground.

Screaming meemies were all around us both back and front.

Smith said he’d had it and was going to give up. I tried to talk him out of it, but he headed to an open field and the artillery outfit set up there. I stayed put in woods.

He waved a handkerchief to two soldiers and they ran to grab him. He turned quite nonchalantly to where I was watching and waved me in. I was covered before I had time to do anything.

I said, “Smith, I think we’re going to get the business.”

To my surprise we were treated with respect.

We were taken to a farmhouse for questioning and here I saw a cripple I believe to have been Goebbels. He was at the center of a group of officers and had a few questions by an interpreter as to our outfits and condition of same. The boys showed him how rough they were as we gave only name, rank and serial number.

From here we started a slow march with about 500 more GIs. We passed 9th Armored tanks that had been blown with shape charges lined up like so many ten pins. They must have had 25 to 50 vehicles and also alongside the road I saw our Christmas packages opened and looted.

All the troops we passed looked older than the boys we tackled elsewhere. But all had ideas this was to be our end in the ETO [European Theater of Operation], at least all the Jerries that spoke English tried to convince us.

Marched all day till just short of dark. Ended up in burnt-out factory where we had our first food – oatmeal eaten out of our steel helmets. Didn’t like the idea but it sure tasted good.

Spent part of night unloading about six-inch shells. Tried to mention Geneva treaty but was told to shut up while I still had a choice.

Got so disgusted near morning that we were throwing shells onto piles. Jerry guard gave us a safe distance but still let us know he didn’t like our crazy working methods.

Could see things begin to change as we marched into Germany. Guards were very young and rough on us.

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