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3rd Armored Division Association
51st Annual Reunion - Asheville, North Carolina

Speech by Steven L. Ossad
September 10, 1998

  Members, Family, Friends, and Honored Guests of the Third Armored Division Association.

I want to begin with a special word of thanks to your President Charlie Corbin for the invitation to address you, for his wonderful words at this morning's Memorial Service and for his many kindnesses over the past several years. I also want to thank Haynes Dugan, your Historian, who first gave me encouragement and made it possible for me to build my relationships with this Association, including friendships with some in this audience, and some who are unable to be here tonight. I also want to congratulate and thank the Rev. Walter Stitt and his wife Betty for their acceptance of the duties so ably filled by Leroy and Jean Hanneman. As a historian there are few things more important to my work than the Newsletter. Like all of you I anxiously await its arrival and read it from cover to cover.

Lastly, I want to thank your incoming president Bill Ruth. When I attended my first reunion at Valley Forge in 1995, I didn't know anyone. It was Bill and his wife Eulalia who first welcomed me - kidnapped me really - and took me to the wonderful hospitality suite of Service Company, 33rd Armored. To all of them, and to you, I want to express my appreciation for the personal satisfaction that this Association has brought to my life.

Tonight I want to speak to you about Maurice Rose and the Third Armored Division at the Battle of the Bulge. This past summer, my wife Barbara and I spent three days driving and walking around the Ardennes, basically retracing your footsteps. Well, not exactly. We slept in a beautiful Inn in Comblain La Tour and ate in fine restaurants, a far cry from C rations and cold, muddy foxholes, but it's the thought that's important. At one point, she turned to me and said, "This battle is really confusing". I'm sure you will agree no historian could put it better. In the interests of time, I can only concentrate on a few aspects of the battle, first, the role of the Division during the first ten days, and finally, my analysis of what happened to Olin Brewster at the Belle Haie crossroads on Christmas Eve, 1944.

When the German attack slammed into the US First Army on December 16, Maurice Rose was, like all of you, bone tired. The lightning advance to the borders of the Reich was followed by bloody assaults towards the Roer River displaying nothing of the dash and brilliance of the drive through France and Belgium. Three months of hard fighting and mounting casualties had left Rose's HQ just where it was in mid-September, at the Prym House in Stolberg.

On December 18, Third Armored got into the battle, but in piecemeal fashion. In fact, it was not until after Christmas that the Division's main elements were re-united, partly explaining the difficulty of describing the battle in coherent terms. CCA moved out first attached to Vth Corps to defend Eupen and hunt for paratroopers trying to cut the Eupen-Malmedy road and remained detached December 22. Task Force Doan remained detached after that, but Task Force Richardson would soon play a crucial role in the unsuccessful struggle to hold Manhay.

CCB was attached to Vth Corps on December 19 to defend vital supply installations located in Verviers and Theux, but on December 20, it was assigned to XVIIIth Airborne Corps and immediately committed to the fighting. That same day, Task Force Lovelady was attached to 30th Infantry Division, in the desperate attempt to recapture Stavelot, and hold back the advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division. One can already see in these early assignments the confusion that prevailed in the allied camp. Detachments, re-attachments, shifting of boundaries, confused command responsibilities, and the flood of orders and counter-orders would soon have tragic consequences.

It was during these early battles in the tiny hamlet of Parfondruy that members of TF Lovelady saw with their own eyes the atrocities committed by the 1st SS Panzer. In the midst of intense combat, men of the task force came upon the remains of men, women, and children shot, beaten and hacked to death. Some people now say that the atrocity stories about the Nazis are propaganda, or exaggerated, or that Americans also committed similar acts. Let them say that to the men of Task Force Lovelady. Let them say that to Charlie Corbin who was wounded right after seeing the murdered infants. Let them say it to the men in this room who crashed through the gates of Nordhausen concentration camp.

Just before noon on December 19 what was left of Rose's Division was also attached to XVIIIth Airborne Corps under the command of paratroop veteran Matthew Ridgeway, a man with whom Rose was not particularly comfortable. Complicating Rose's situation was the mission "to initiate intensive reconnaissance in the Hotton-Grandmenil Sector, to locate the enemy and to secure a line running east from La Roche to Crossroads (CR) 576853." This position would forever after December 19 be called Parker's Crossroads, named for Maj. Arthur C. Parker, exec of the 589th artillery battalion of the 106th Infantry Division.

There was irony in the mission. At one of the critical moments of the entire war, Maurice Rose was called back to his days in the cavalry. He was charged with a critical reconnaissance coupled with flank security for a higher headquarters, both classic missions for men on horses. Perhaps it was fate that his only intact unit was the 83rd armored reconnaissance battalion under LTC Prentice Yeomans, also later KIA near war's end. The 83rd was the closest surviving vestige of the horse cavalry in the modern armored division.

The mission assigned to Third Armored would, if successful, achieve several objectives. First, it already anticipated the American counterattack, as Rose's position would screen the gathering of VIIth Corps, a major counterattacking force. Second, if the German objective were Liege, then N-15, the Bastogne-Liege highway would be an important enemy axis of advance. If the enemy were headed west, however, N-15 would still be important because the enemy would need to hold the vital crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture and Manhay to secure their lines of communication. The importance of holding Parker's Crossroads was still very much on Rose's mind in the immediate aftermath of the battle, when he noted just one month later on January 25, 1945 that "the defense of CR (576853) from 20 Dec to 23 Dec was very important for the Division, since it gave time to organize our position. Without the action of the unit at the crossroad, the Division most likely would have been overrun." He should have added his appreciation of the additional thirty-six hours that Brewster bought the Division at Belle Haie the next day, but more on that later.

Rose was well aware of how precarious his position was. Stripped of his main combat power at the outset, he had no reliable intelligence on the strength or location of the enemy and only the vaguest idea of what friendly forces were close by. It was at this point that Rose made one of the crucial battlefield decisions of the entire Ardennes campaign, and perhaps the greatest of his entire career. With the full realization that he was exposing his command ­ and himself ­ to total destruction, he split his already weakened force into three columns, and sent them off on aggressive reconnaissance in a general advance across his entire front. As he later told the historians of the First Army, he knew full well that at that moment the enemy "had sufficient forces to overrun the Division". As Rose saw it, "During the ten days of the first phase, the Division succeeded in its mission essentially because it adopted a policy of attacking, instead of initiating a passive defense. The policy of attacking, even with insufficient strength and against superior numbers, thus permitted the Division to hold when other methods would probably have failed."

In the annals of American military history, there are few examples of such an audacious, almost reckless, and potentially disastrous strategy. The desperate attack of Chamberlain's 20th Maine at Little Round Top on the second day of Gettysburg immediately comes to mind.

I don't have the time now to recount the heroic exploits of the three thin columns -TF Hogan on the right, TF Orr down the middle, and TF Kane on the precarious left. Their bold advance against the full force of the 116th Panzer and 560th Volksgrenadier Divisions bought the Americans precious time to organize the defense of the critical northern shoulder of the Bulge. The historians have fixed the attention of most people on the Southern shoulder and the heroic actions of Patton's Third Army, but it was Hodges's First Army that made the critical stand, and broke the enemy attack. Too few remember that the crucial German objective was the Meuse River, and it was Rose's Third Armored and Harmon's Second Armored - also in some way Rose's outfit - that stopped the most dangerous German thrust just short of the Meuse.

The men of HQ Company, 143rd Signals, and 23rd Engineers, and units from the 36th Armored Infantry held Hotton on the right, and with help from the 517th Parachute Infantry cleared the Soy Hotton road. Hogan, finally forced back to Marcouray, stood fast delaying the enemy before withdrawing in a thrilling escape. Orr held at Amonines and Kane helped to hold the critical left flank in the face of ferocious enemy pressure. It was, Rose later said, the most critical five days of his Division's role in the Bulge. But it was on Christmas, 1944, that Rose faced his worst moments when Manhay was lost.

When I first addressed the Association two years ago in Fort Worth, I closed with these words, "One final thought. General Rose was a great Commander, but he also made mistakes. During the terrible ordeal of the Bulge he misjudged Major Olin Finley Brewster. Brewster should have been decorated for saving his men, not threatened with relief. Legends also have their unfinished business. I intend to see this part of the story is also told."

Now, as I promised, I want to turn to that story. Along with Major Thomas Howie, the fallen hero of St. Lo, Brewster may very well be the most written about Major in the US Army. In researching his story I have referred to more than 15 books, as well as unpublished manuscripts, memoirs, interviews, and letters, including some from men in this room.

Time does not permit a complete description of the course of the action from the time CCA entered the battle on December 22. Nor can I here describe the epic defense of Parker's Crossroads by the scratch force ­including elements of TF Kane- that held after being driven from earlier positions. By the time Brewster, then Exec of the 3rd Battalion, 32nd Armored, led his quickly assembled Battle Group south from Manhay, Parker's Crossroads was already lost. His orders were simple: retake the crossroads. As we now know, and as must have also been apparent then, that order was clearly impossible; had Brewster been ordered to hold the Germans from advancing further, the whole story would be different.

After doing a reconnaissance under fire with Maj. Eliott Goldstein, Parker's second in command, he set out with 6 Shermans from H Company, 32nd Armored, and about 150 men of A Company 509th Parachute Battalion. With this force he was to battle the full might of the veteran 2nd SS Panzer, the conquerors of Mortain. Tanks and Panzergrenadiers were already moving north up the Manhay road and through the forests on each flank. Later, about noon on Christmas Eve, Brewster received C Company, 290th Infantry, from the just arrived, green 75th Infantry Division. By that time, in spite of artillery and air support, the several attacks he had mounted to retake the crossroads had all failed. Another attack by C Company, supported by tank fire, was also unsuccessful with heavy loss, probably due - at least partly - to the inexperience of the Company Commander.

Brewster held all day. Rumors of relief accompanied the medics evacuating the wounded and that evening Col. Richardson alerted Brewster to be ready to pull back at a moment's notice. Even after he heard the sound of tanks to his rear, he held, but by that time Manhay was in critical danger. The full implications of the changes in unit boundaries, Corps assignments, the confused withdrawal of Seventh Armored, and the interference of Bernard Law Montgomery with his mania for "line straightening" had combined to cause its loss. CCA didn't know what was happening. Orders were not communicated between headquarters and, in fact, the 2nd SS Panzer hit Manhay just as 7th Armored was withdrawing. Still, Brewster held through the night. The village Odeigne to the west was lost and Kane had to move back. The 504th Parachute Regiment was driven out of Malampre, but still Richardson told him to hold. Finally, early on Christmas, the order came: "Get out now if you can, but don't use the road you went up on, try east." By that time, Brewster had been bypassed on both flanks and enemy armor was maneuvering in his rear. He didn't know that Malampre had been lost, so they went out on that road. Shortly afterwards, the lead tank and two in the rear were knocked out and heavy machine gun fire hit the column from the right flank. There was no choice but to get out on foot, so they destroyed the remaining vehicles and took off. At about three in the morning Brewster told his CO he was heading towards Bra. The sky was clear, there was snow on the ground, and the moon was bright. By dawn most of them were safe.

Brewster got back to Divison HQ at Barvaux and was called to General Rose's office. Looking immaculate, Rose asked what had happened. The general was upset that Brewster had quit fighting while he still had fuel and ammo. Brewster said he thought that saving his men was the best choice and he never mentioned that he had been ordered to retreat by his commanding officer. Rose ordered Brewster placed under arrest for "misbehavior before the enemy" and he cooled his heels for about a week. On January 2 at about 12:30, accompanied by the chief of Staff, he saw Rose for the last time. The general looked at the major intensely and spoke, "Brewster, I want you to know that I never change my mind. But in your case, I am. Colonel Richardson says he needs you and right now. However, I am going to keep an eye on you and if you ever screw up again, I will throw the book at you". Brewster returned to duty and the offensive began the next day. On January 8, he was wounded and evacuated and his war was over. General Rose's war ended on a lonely stretch of road outside of Paderborn.

What happened? General Rose could not prefer charges by himself. Richardson or General Hickey had to agree, and both of them, to their credit, resisted Rose's pressure. General Richardson corroborated this fact in a radio interview in 1990 and to me personally at the Ft. Worth re-union. The loss of Manhay, even though it was soon recaptured, caused immediate recrimination among the American commanders. Ridgeway ordered an IG investigation and was furious. Equipment had been abandoned, but it was part of the rout of 7th Armored. The Third Armored boundary was west of Manhay, but Rose hated to be even close to failure. While he may have looked like he just stepped off the bandstand, even to the shaken Brewster, he was under intense pressure, and I believe that Christmas day was the worst moment of his entire war. While General Rose relieved many officers, in this case, his reaction seems out of character.

Now I want to turn to another story, from another battle, another time. During the Battle of Kernstown on March 23, 1862, BG Richard B. Garnett ordered the withdrawal of the Stonewall Brigade when it was on the verge of being overrun. For this "unauthorized" retreat, Garnet was relieved of command and charged by General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, although a courts martial was never held. In May 1863, at the Battle of Chancellorsville, Jackson was killed accidentally by his own troops. While paying his respects, Garnett turned to Jackson's aides, and said these words:

"You know of the unfortunate breach between General Jackson and myself. I can never forget it, nor cease to regret it. But I wish here to assure you that no one can lament his death more sincerely than I do. I believe that he did me a great injustice, but I believe also that he acted from the purest motives. He is dead. Who can fill his place?"

Pendleton invited Garnett to be one of the pallbearers and he accepted gratefully. Garnett later led a brigade in Pickett's Division, and on July 3 at Gettysburg, he took position in the front rank of that immortal charge. Some say he went in mounted to dispel once and for all Jackson's charges that hung over his name. He disappeared twenty yards in front of the Union battle line.

Olin Brewster should rest easy during his last days. He did what honor and courage demanded and moved only when ordered to do so. He did his duty to you, to the Third Armored, and to Maurice Rose. Had Rose lived, I like to believe he too, would have seen it that way, and said as much himself.
I want to close on a personal note. Next month I will celebrate my fiftieth birthday. I will do it, God willing, surrounded by the love of my wife and children in peace and security. The work I do as a historian with you, I do out of gratitude to my parents and their generation, all of you, who bought my freedom and comfort with your blood and sacrifice. A day does not go by that I don't think of you, and those who have already passed on.

It is an honor and a privilege to address you, and to tell your stories.
Keep on Going. Omaha Out.

Thank you and God Speed.

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