Several weeks after the
Normandy invasion, a young platoon sergeant from St. Paul, Minnesota, was
readying his Soldiers in Nancy, France, for what was to come next.
“We were on the water when Normandy
began,” said James A. (Jacque) Michienzi. “When we got to England, they moved us
out to France, where we began to prepare.”
Michienzi, who would later receive
the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in combat while serving with
the 1st Infantry Division in Vietnam, was assigned to the 513th Parachute
Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division, when the call came down to move out.
He and his troops soon found themselves outside a little Belgian town named
That was the starting point
of the regiment’s and Michienzi’s participation in one of the most historic
battles of World War II: the Battle of the Bulge.
“We moved from Monty up to
Flamierge,” Jacque said. “It was the coldest I’d ever been in my life. The
clothing wasn’t very warm back then.”
The path they took from Monty
to Flamierge was open field with little cover and included a path known as
“Dead Man’s Road.”
“We started with 160 or 170
guys, and by the time we were relieved, there were only 25 or 30 of us left
that weren’t dead or injured,” he said. “That was a long, cold, bad month.”
He doesn’t talk much about what
happened while the bullets were flying, but recalls details about the lack of
food and harsh sleeping conditions.
“We slept in our foxholes and
didn’t get a whole lot to eat,” he said. “We would cut holes in our sleeping
bags so we could sleep with our arms out so we could hold on to our rifles.
That way, when they would attack us, all we would do is roll over and start
The back-and-forth battle continued
for what seemed like an eternity, Michienzi said.
“The Germans would drive up
with their armor, and we would shoot at them, and bullets would ricochet right
off of them,” he said. “We thought they were going to drive right over us, but
for some reason, they would turn around and go back to their lines. It’s almost
as if they were afraid of our bullets.”
Jacque and his men moved into
Flamierge, and they found themselves using the houses and barns for cover. The
Germans had snipers all over the town. While Jacque and one of his men were
passing by a window, the other was shot and killed.
Michienzi has a hard time talking
about the events that unfolded after his Soldier’s death. He summed it up with
this: “In all my years, it’s something I’ve never been able to forget.”
Michienzi moved on with the allied forces farther into
Belgium to push the Germans back into their homeland, and later took part in
Operation Varsity, the last large-scale airborne operation of WWII.