Christmas Hope in a Fallen World
The 104th Infantry Division arrived in northern France on September 7, 1944, about three months after the Normandy invasion. The 104th called themselves the Timberwolves and on their division patch was a howling gray wolf. On October 23, they were sent to the front line in Belgium, near the borders of the Netherlands and Germany, to relieve a British division. In helping the British clear the German Army out of the southeastern provinces of the Netherlands, they suffered 1,426 casualties including 313 dead.
On November 15, they crossed into Germany near Aachen. They captured Stolberg the next day and headed northwest through the Hurtgen Forest toward the Roer River, taking the towns of Eschweller and Inden by December 2. Fighting became more intense as they engaged in urban warfare in capturing German towns. The Timberwolves often surprised the Germans by attacking at night. The weather was typical of the German Rhineland in autumn. It was cold, rainy, and muddy. The humidity and dampness kept infantrymen feeling uncomfortable most of the time. Non-combat casualties from exposure and respiratory conditions were almost as common as combat casualties, especially as frigid temperatures, sleet, snow, and ice arrived in late December.
On December 2, the 415th Infantry Regiment, reinforced with other units from the Timberwolf Division, attacked the citadel town of Lucherberg, containing about 600 German troops. For two days, the Americans attacked, and the Germans counterattacked, the town changing hands several times in building to building and street by street infantry battles. The final German counterattack included 10 tanks but withdrew with little success.
Near the center of Lucherberg, German machine gunners, situated on the second or third stories of thick-walled stone buildings held off Timberwolf infantry with furious raking fire. Howd situated himself at the corner of a building, so that he could stick his right shoulder and head around the corner and fire as many as eight rounds from his M1 rifle at one of the machine gun positions before retreating behind the corner to reload.
It takes courage for a 22-year-old infantryman to forsake full protective cover to fire a few rounds at one or more machineguns continually firing from well protected, strategically placed positions. Howd had the courage, but it was instantly met by a hail of large caliber machine gun projectiles. One bone-splintering round caught Howd in his right shoulder, knocking him down and almost completely incapacitating him. He lay there bleeding and alone as the battle raged. Shortly thereafter, the Americans withdrew, and the machine guns ceased firing. Howd would probably have bled to death had not a young German medic looking for German wounded come upon him. The German medic stopped Howd’s bleeding as best he could and bandaged him. Just as he completed his first-aid, the Americans renewed their attack with more firepower, and he departed. The Germans held them off for awhile and then withdrew. As the Germans withdrew, American medics found Howd and got him to a field hospital. I believe this must have taken place on December 3, 1944. He was still in the hospital when Germany surrendered in May 1945. Howd received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
The 104th Timberwolf Infantry went further into Germany and participated in the major battles for German towns and cities along the Belgian-German border and the Rhine River. On December 16, they were caught up in the “Battle of the Bulge,” officially called the Ardennes Counteroffensive. This was the largest and fiercest German offensive counterattack of the war. The Germans hoped to move through the densely forested, rugged Ardennes hills in Belgium, Luxembourg, and France to recapture the Belgian port of Antwerp. About 83,000 American troops were completely surprised by a Panzer-tank led offensive of 200,000 German troops. The battle lasted until January 25, and was the costliest American engagement in World War II. At full strength, the 104th Division numbered 14,000 troops. The Timberwolves suffered over 7,000 casualties, 1,249 of them killed in action, during the war.
This is a story of the courage and patriotism of my friend Howd Mosher, who passed away in Raleigh in 2005 at the age of 83. It is also the story of the courageous and hard-fighting 104th U.S. Army Infantry Division, the Timberwolves. I salute them.
But this Christmas season, the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, I also want to salute an unknown German medic, who saved the life of my friend in December 1944, and by so doing gives me a bit more hope, humility, and wisdom to celebrate Christmas. God’s providential help often comes from unexpected and little dreamed of places. We often share his grace with people who we counted as enemies. To quote Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol), “God bless us, every one!”