Fighting for freedom on Christmas Eve

Posted December 20, 2012 at 6:00 am

Neil G. (Mick) McLane was a 1st Lieutenant with the 4th Infantry Division during World War II. He and his wife, Peggy, lived in Akron from the late 1930s until the mid-1990s and raised their seven children Neil, Oralee, Pat, Mary, Norma, Linda and Mike here.

Mick was an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves leading up to World War II and was called to active duty to train troops before the United States got involved. I am Mick and Peggy’s sixth child, Linda McLane Burris and was born April 18, 1944 in Akron. On April 19, 1944, Dad took the train to Boston, Mass., and soon shipped out for overseas duty. He came home two years later.

After the war, when I was older and Christmas time came around, he would say, “Christmas Eve 1944, I was running for my life.” I finally asked him one night to tell me about it. I took notes and this is his account in his own words:

“Christmas Eve 1944 — on the Belgium border between Germany and Belgium. My men and I were on detail outpost, guarding a bridge when a U.S. Army jeep pulled up with four soldiers in U.S. uniforms. They wanted permission to go across the bridge. We made small talk and they spoke perfect English. Then I said, ”Black Jack,” and they said, “Pershing.” (That was the password. “Black Jack” was the nickname for General Pershing.”) I let them pass but I had a feeling something was wrong. After they got across the bridge, I had a gut feeling so I ordered my men off the bridge.

Sure enough, they were Germans impersonating U.S. soldiers, and they opened fire on us. We took cover and fired back. The Germans had artillery that could shoot two miles — mammoth guns mounted on railroad cars. They blew up the bridge.

Company Headquarters called on the radio and said there was a complete breakthrough. “You and your men are on your own. Get out any way you can.” I split up my men into groups of three. We had to go west to get back to headquarters.

We could hear machines moving and artillery shells. Germans were on the road with artillery. We ran for three nights and hid during the day. One day we hid in a haystack. They shot into the haystack with us in it but missed us. That was the end of hiding in haystacks.

We thought the Germans would make a big move on Christmas Eve, which they did. Christmas Eve 1944. It was snowing, a pretty night, and my men and I were running for our lives. I never saw a tent, bed, or cot for six or seven weeks after the Normandy Invasion.

In April 1945, I got a Christmas package from Peggy and you kids. In it were letters, cards, moldy cheese, crackers and an ashtray! Was I ever tickled to get those precious gifts from home.”

That fighting was later known as The Battle of the Bulge. And my sister, Norma McLane Haan, and brother, Neil McLane Jr., added some interesting information leading up to the Battle of the Bulge:

Dad and his platoon went into Normandy at Utah Beach the night of June 6, 1944. The troop carriers were stopping short of the beach for fear of being hit by mortars. The men were jumping into the water and they were being sucked under and drowning because of the weight of their gear. Dad told each of his men to only carry a weapon, ammo, a couple days of C-rations and leave the rest of their gear. All his men landed safely. The 4th Infantry secured the beach with fewer casualties than Omaha Beach.

They went on and helped capture Cherbourg, France, and were involved in heavy fighting through June and July. They were part of liberating Paris, France, in August. From there, they went into Belgium and fared very badly at the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, which was along Germany’s Siegfried Line where they were trying to break through. He lost many men there, and many were killed or wounded when mortars exploded into the treetops and pieces of trees were driven into the soldiers. That battle took place in November 1944.

The bridge event started on Christmas Eve 1944 when the Battle of the Bulge began.

For his efforts during the war, he received four Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart.

Mick and Peggy truly were from “The Greatest Generation.”

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