Vet can still feel sting in his feet on cold Kansas nights

By Lt. Col. Sean J. Ryan | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | June 11, 2014

Jim Sharp was trying to make the 30-inch deep, three-feet-wide depression they called a foxhole bigger, as he and his battle buddy heard an artillery round coming their way. There was no way the two of them could fit together, so they started improvising and placed their combat packs on the outside.

One had to stay crouched low on guard duty, while the other tried to stay as small as possible, each hoping the rounds would find an unsuspecting tree far from their foxhole. The plan was to try and rotate every hour between guard duties, but between the fear and blistering cold, it was futile.

The small shovels the two Soldiers were using had little impact on the frozen ground. Overhead cover was nowhere to be found, and, in attempt to try and stay warm, Sharp used “canned heat” from his combat pack. The canned heat was meant to warm food, but he was trying desperately to unfreeze his feet.

After taking his boots off, he realized one end of his foot was way too hot from the flame and the other was frozen from being uncovered. Sharp, born and raised in Morris County, Kansas, and fresh from Army training just weeks earlier, was quickly finding out war was not glamorous by any stretch.

“What was I thinking,” Sharp asked himself as he crouched in the tiny hole trying not to freeze.

After all, he received an agricultural deferment. His two older brothers were already serving in the military, and that meant he could have held out until the end of the war and ran the family farm. That didn’t feel right to Sharp, whose friends were serving and dying in the war, and he chose to enlist to do his part. That put him on the front lines in combat in the Ardennes region of Belgium, fighting a lethal enemy in the Battle of the Bulge.

It wasn’t just the fighting and moving against a trained enemy that worried him. One of the strongest blizzards in 40 years also was battering the area, and he was ill-prepared to live in a foxhole for two months. No Army training prepared him for that, Sharp said recently from his home in Manhattan, Kansas, and he definitely second guessed his decision.

“It was a necessary war, but trying to dig foxholes in 18 inches of snow and frozen ground, and trying to keep warm was nearly impossible,” Sharp said. “I really did not know what else was going on more than 30 feet away. The anxiety of sitting in a foxhole, freezing, fighting the enemy and sometimes waiting for the next shell to land is very stressful.”

Sharp, who was serving with the 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, would survive the enemy and weather during the Battle of the Bulge, but considered himself lucky to be alive after having so many close calls during combat.

The pocket-sized journal where he kept copious notes of his battle experiences serves as a reminder of that time. The journal allowed Sharp to rehash his war-time experiences to his own children and shed light on what happened during the battle to fellow veterans, like Bill Stahl.

Stahl, from Junction City, Kansas, was captured by the Germans early in the fight and did not know what happened until years later when he contacted Sharp. Despite both being Central Flint Hills Region natives, they didn’t know each other until well after the war.

Sharp said the war forever changed his life, and on cold nights in Manhattan, Kansas, he can still feel the sting in his feet from the bitter nights in the Ardennes.