The Baptism of the Golden Lions

106th Infantry Division


The first German shells came as a jolt. It was 0530 on the morning of December 16, 1944.  The 106th Infantry Division had just gotten to the front a few days before, relieving the 2nd Infantry Division in the Ardennes Forest, a sector of the front so quiet and uneventful that the GIs had

Position of 106th Infantry Division on 14 December 1944

 

started calling it the "Ghost Front." It was a perfect place for a green unit to get acclimated to the

rigors of life in the field and to the routine of front-line duty.  It is of one of the men of the 106th Infantry Division that we will be telling more of the story but for now we must set the stage.

As the Germans opened up with everything from 3-inch mortars to massive 16-inch railway guns, the “Ghost Front” didn't seem quite so peaceful. The "Battle of the Bulge" had begun and the men of the 106th (the "Golden Lions" as they were called) didn’t know it, but they were about to plunge into one of the worst disasters in US military history.  Within days, their division would be destroyed, and most of them would be spending the rest of the war in German POW camps.

 

 

American prisoners march toward Germany past a German tank. Photo by US Army Center of Military History.

 

 Caught by surprise, the men of the 106th did what soldiers in such a predicament have done from time immemorial. Depending on their location at the moment, they tumbled out of bed, or ran into each other in their haste, or they desperately tried to get the ice-cold engines in their jeeps to turn over. Their officers from the divisional commander, Major General Alan W. Jones, on down, never did get their troops under control, and the result was a complete lack of cohesion and fighting power.

The Germans never assaulted the positions of the 106th directly, their plan was to rapidly link up two pincers behind the Eifel and encircle two entire US infantry regiments of the 106th Division, the 422nd and the 423rd.

Now with the story of Corporal John Schaffner who was assigned to B Battery, 589th Field Artillery Battalion, 106th Infantry Division.  John and his fellow members of the Survey Section had just relieved the 2nd Infantry Division, east of the Our River on the front line in Auw, Germany.  The 589th Field Artillery Battalion, with 105mm artillery, was providing support to the 422nd Infantry Regiment.  On 16 December 1944, John was on out post guard when the artillery bombardment started.  Within days of the German Assault both the 422nd and the 423rd Infantry Regiments were surrounded, killed, or missing.  PFC John Schaffner and over 100 other soldiers were ordered to cover the battalion’s retreat for the next couple of days.  Once again John is on out post duty on the night of 19 December 1944 when a German Patrol on bicycles stopped in front of John’s fox hole.  The captain in charge of the position ordered John and his bubby to get down when they heard a 45 shot because the quad fifty (four fifty caliber guns) where going to open fire.  Once the fifty’s had stopped firing, the captain would fire his 45 and John and his buddy would run back to the command post.  That is what happened and John said “it must have looked like a road runner cartoon as we were running back to our lines.  My helmet was bouncing on my head and then fell off and I just left it”.  As the Germans advanced on 23 December 1944, PFC Schaffner’s position was overrun and the barn that John was hiding in was being shelled, he escaped by running next to the diary cows!  John made it back to friendly lines and with other members of the 589th FA they were ordered to defend the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture, the highest point in Belgium.

 

 This crossroad was one of only a handful that lead into Bastogne.  John was one of the few survivors of the battle at the crossroads. In April 1945 his unit was relocated to the French Coast to facilitate the surrender of the Port of Lorient, which was a German Submarine Base.

 John Schaffner was not yet 21!

 

 

 

Baraque de Fraiture  "Parker's Crossroads"

John Robert Schaffner’s Picture From 1945 and his Registration Card

 

This story is from numerous sources including John Schaffner’s son Robert.  I would like to thank John’s family for all their support in telling this story!  We must save one piece of history at a time!

Military Awards:  Army Good Conduct Medal, WW2 Occupation Medal, American Campaign Medal, European – African – Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, WW2 Victory Medal  Expert Marksmanship Badge with Carbine Bar

Unit patches:  106th Infantry Division, 104th Infantry Division

Director

Museum of Military Culture

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