George Phillips survived from ‘The Battle of the Bulge’ to the end of WWII

   George Phillips of North Port is pictured with a shadow box full of his World War II medals and his sergeant stripes. He served in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. Sun photo by Don Moore

George Phillips of North Port, Fla. is pictured with a shadow box full of his World War II medals and his sergeant stripes. He served in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. Sun photo by Don Moore

George Phillips of North Port, Fla. was an 18-year-old soldier serving in Company G, 347th Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe during World War II.

He sailed in battle aboard the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth converted to a troop transport. He arrived in Scotland in October 1944, and took a train to Manchester, England, where the soldiers in his division lived in people’s homes until they headed for the French war front.

“Our baptism of fire came on Dec. 12, 1944, outside a little French farm town just before ‘The Battle of the Bulge,'” the 81-year-old former soldier said. “We were walking along the side of a road in farm country when the Germans opened up on us.

“They hit us with three machine guns dug in on the hill in front of us. We were ordered to walk forward into the German machine guns; World War I tactics. They slaughtered us. At least 10 men from our platoon were killed that morning,” he recalled as he sat at his kitchen table remembering the battle more than six decades ago.

Eventually the Americans captured or killed the enemy machine gunners, but not before they had paid dearly with their buddies’ blood.

“Our company commander ordered me to take the two German gunners who surrendered back to battalion headquarters. I remember I relieved one of the Germans of his watch,” Phillips said.

“While I was at headquarters I scrounged a pair of overshoes from the battalion aid station,” he said. “Those overshoes are what saved me from trench foot during ‘The Battle of the Bulge.'”

Their advance came to a halt. Their division was turned around and trucked back the way they came toward Bastogne.

“By then it was snowing hard and freezing cold as we were put on open trucks without canvass tops. We had no idea where we were going because privates didn’t know squat,” he said.

When they arrived near Bastogne, along with the rest of Patton’s 3rd Army, it was just before Christmas 1944. By then much of the German advance had been stopped for lack of gasoline and the fighting spirit of American forces. It was there his division helped break through to the encircled 101st Airborne Division, which was hardly hanging on in the face of overwhelming enemy firepower.

“I remember eating a cold Christmas dinner at Bastogne. The next day we started advancing on the Germans,” Phillips said. “By then our platoon had been reduced from 40 to 12 men. The rest of our men had been killed or wounded along the way.

“German resistance was faltering. As we continued to advance we took the first four or five Belgium towns without much resistance. There was just enough to aggravate you,” he said.

“It was at this point we ran into ‘Gen. Guts — our blood and his guts,” Phillips recalled with a smile. “Patton was standing along the side of the road as we walked by with his riding crop and his two pearl-handled six shooters on his hips.

“The snow finally stopped and the sky was full of our planes shooting the hell out of the Germans. The planes were everywhere,” he said.

After American forces stopped the German advance at Bastogne, it took Allied forces about a week to cover the 20 miles between “The Bulge” and the “Siegfried Line,” Hitler’s impenetrable artillery fortifications along the western entrance to “The Fatherland.”

“I chucked a hand grenade into one of the massive enemy bunkers that was suppose to house a German 88 millimeter cannon. It was empty,” Phillips said. “The Germans were gone.”

Occasionally along the way into Germany his division would run across a group of fanatical SS troopers who would do a more serious job of holding the line than the average German soldier.

“The German Storm Troopers would start firing at us, but when we’d return their fire they’d run,” he said. “They weren’t going to give up their life for Hitler, not this late in the war.

“We crossed the Rhine River at Boppard, Germany, on a pontoon bridge. Buzz bombs were flying over our heads, but we faced little resistance from enemy soldiers,” Phillips said.

After crossing the Rhine, his unit continued to advance to the east as thousands of unarmed, discouraged and hungry members of Hitler’s Third Reich were making their way along both sides of the road trying to escape the advancing Russian Army fighting its way westward.

“By the time we reached the Czechoslovakian border there were only four members of our platoon of 40 soldiers still in the line that had fought from the Battle of the Bulge to Plauen,” Phillips said.

For a short while his unit bivouacked at Plauen until they could round up enough small 40 & 8 boxcars, used during World War I to transport 40 soldiers and 8 horses into battle.

“I took one of the little boxcars back to ‘Camp Lucky Strike’ at Le Havre, France, along the Atlantic coast,” he said. “There were probably 20 of us guys per car as we rolled along in the boxcars.

“It was summertime so we had the door of the boxcar opened as we rolled through one town after another. The French would wave at us as we went by,” he said.

Phillips and his 87th Infantry Division took the liner USS Constitution home. Crammed full of 15,000 American soldiers, the luxury liner sailed into New York Harbor filled with throngs of revelers who were waiting at the dock.

With a 30-day pass in his pocket, 20-year-old Sgt. George Phillips came marching home to his parents’ house in Amenia, N.Y., wearing his uniform with three battle stars on his chest. He had survived World War II almost without a scratch.

“I’m lucky to be here,” the old soldier said, remembering the war so long ago and the part he played in it.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, June 24, 2007 and is republished with permission.

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  1. my dad was also in Pattons third army I have a lot of old photos from that time of men did anyone remember Iddo Hamby? I would like to post to see if anyone kows who these guys are

    • Lynn – I’m sure you can find forums on the internet that cater to the unit your dad belonged to. If you have his DD-214 (discharge papers) it will tell exactly where he was during his service and you can do an internet search for groups of that unit.

  2. My Dad was there..95th Infantry Division..38 months from boot camp till the end of the war..He was very lucky too as he returned home and was truly blessed to be married for 68 yrs to the Love of his life,, my mom..He lived to be the Grand old age of 93 when he passed away in 2009.. My Mom passed away at 93 yrs,, almost 2 yrs to the day…I think of both of them daily and THANK ALL of The Bravest of the Brave for ALL of the sacrifices that ALL the women and men of that era gave up,, for the freedoms that we All have today,, because without them,, there is no telling where this country would be today let alone their sons and daughters..I Thank You Sir for your service..My Dad lost a brother to that war in Luzon in the Phillipines..May they ALL forever Rest in Peace…

  3. My Uncle, Clifford John Hoyt was in Company L, 347th regiment.
    If anyone has any info on my Uncle we would greatly appreciate it. Most of these brave men are gone, but their memory and sacrifice will live forever.

    Frank Hoyt

  4. My Dad Charles Markham Berry was a lieutenant in the combat engineer battalion attached to the 347th regiment 87th division He was captured at very end of December near Bastogne. I finally got him to write up his story. he did this in a series of incredibly detailed letters mentioning many soldiers and events by name. He starved down to 87#s and was freed 3 months later in Limburg Germany by his own 87th as one of the first liberation events. Because of this he was pictured in life magazine and in Churchills time life 2 book volume on the war.

    • Charles –
      It’s brilliant that you got your father to write his experiences down. Not enough veterans have been able to do that – for various reasons. I’m sure you understand. Thank you for sharing this with us on War Tales.

    • Charles – is your father still with us? If so, then you may be interested in submitting a DVD of him talking about his service – to the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. The link is on each page of this website.

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