Task Force Hogan
TASK FORCE HOGAN
|Lt. Colonel Sameul Hogan|
|"Spearhead In The West" 1941-1945|
THIS STORY holds for me (the former WWII Web Manager), a very personal and emotional discovery.
For most of his adult life, my grandfather (William M. "Bud" Nelsen – Tank Driver) could not talk to anyone about his experiences with the 3d Armored during World War II. He could not even watch WWII shows on television or at the movie houses. He especially loathed the TV comedy "Hogan's Heros", he saw nothing funny about it… he'd walk away to the kitchen, sit at the table, open a beer and enjoy a smoke just looking out the window at nothing… quietly remembering those war years and a feeling of "guilt" too awful for any man to be burdened with.
It wasn't until 1982 when I came home from the Navy did he begin to tell me some of his memories.
Some of the memories he shared spoke of being "cut-off" from the main group and trying to find his way back (with others) to American lines… No tank to drive and cold as all hell. Other stories very much fit what you are about to read and compounded with my most recent discovery (he served with Lt. Colonel Hogan in the 3-33rd from official records of the 3AD, St. Louis, Missouri), answers many questions I have had for years. It all makes since to me now.
He was a survivor of "Task Force Hogan" known to the world as "Hogan's 400" or "Hogan's Black Face Boys".
Here is their story as written in the book "Spearhead In The West 1941-1945" subtitled "The Third Armored Division" and at times, interjected with my grandfather's words (paraphrased of course as best as I can remember).
HOGAN'S FORCE was small but advanced rapidly in an effort to seize the crossings of the Orthe River between Gouvy and Houffalize, but was beaten back by a stone-wall defense and was thereupon forced to pull into the little town of Beffe. Maneuver and constant fighting soon depleted both gasoline and ammunition, so Hogan set up a strong perimeter of defense based on high ground at Marcouray. The Nazi tide of conquest rolled around this little spot of resistance and, within hours, the small "Spearhead" group was completely surrounded and facing annihilation. A german commander, sensing this situation, promptly sent an ultimatum to the trapped Americans. Sam Hogan chuckled. "If you want this town," he said softly, "come right in and take it." The Kraut tried, but after several abortive efforts he contented himself with siege tactics.
|William M. "Bud" Nelsen|
|"Task Force Hogan" Trooper/Tank Driver|
"We kinda overextended ourselves at one point and the damn Krauts flanked us and got between us and our lines.. I thought we were goners, there was a hell-of-a lot of confusion"…. PFC. "Bud" Nelsen.
The panzer spearheads attempted a sort of compromise. In so doing they isolated Hogan at Marcouray and battered both Orr and Kane, but it was a hollow victory as events later showed.
The "Spearhead" Division's usually attached to the 703rd TD Battalion was still fighting a vicious action with the 1st Infantry units up on the right flank of the "Bulge."
Task Force Hogan, still surrounded at Marcouray, was running out of medical supplies as well as gas and ammunition. The 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion attempted to shoot bandages and plasma in the besieged area, but the effort failed. Parachuted material also fell into enemy hands. The task force, now called "Hogan's 400," was hammered with German guns of all calibers, hopelessly surrounded, and at least given up as lost. Finally General Rose contacted Colonel Hogan by radio and ordered all vehicles and equipment destroyed.
The work was done very quietly so that the enemy might not suspect, and then – on Christmas night, the weary, beat up GI's who had given and taken so much punishment – proceded to infiltrate back to American lines through enemy siege forces.
"When darkness came, we got orders to pull out and head back to our lines. We smeared grease from the tank over our faces making them black so the Krauts couldn't see us and began to go back where we started from… back to our lines. The smell was awful and I'll never forget it". …. PFC. "Bud" Nelsen.
There was no peace on earth for the "400." Behind them were the wrecks of their fuelless vehicles, the wounded, and the medics who volunteered to stay, Ahead – the long hills, the German Army, and a desperate gamble for life. The "400," faces blackened, stumbled back to safety through the snowy hills of Belgium.
"Finding our way back was a chore. My friend Cliff and I became separated from the main group heading back and were lost. We found a Kraut standing by a motorcycle and killed him. We took the motorcycle (which had a side-car), and made our way back to the main group and touring the countryside… That was the damb'dist contraption to figure out and we couldn't help laughing at ourselves". …. PFC. "Bud" Nelsen.
After 14 hours of stealthy marching by compass and the stars, Hogan's men contacted friendly infantry. Their story was flashed around the world in a matter of hours.
Hogan, the lean Texas tanker who drove through the first Belgian offensive with a flag of the lone star state flying from his command vehicle, came in last – grinning to hide the hurt and the memory of those dead and wounded men he had left behind in Marcouray.
"Bud" Nelsen never mentioned being ordered to destroy his own tank nor leaving behind the dead, wounded and a hand-full of medical volunteers to face the wrath of the Nazis. Not the kind of thing one would like to tell his children and grandchildren.. I fully understand, but I also feel that considering what was happening and the orders given, there was no choice and I might never have known him if he hadn't.
Not long after crossing the Rhine River, my grandfather's best friend Clifford was killed by enemy fire right in front of him. The photograph of my gramps you see on this page was taken by Cliff… my grandfather through Cliff's eyes.
Periodically on Christmas nights, my grandmother would lean over to him and ask "Remember where you was ** years ago this night?", "Bud" only responded to that question twice that I remember and it was short and bitter-sweet.. "Freezing my ass off…" or "Hold up in a barn…"
I owe a special dept of gratitude to Mr. Matt Kaufman who has loaned us this book "Spearhead In The West", and inadvertently reintroduced my grandfather to me.
My "gramps" left this world on 4 April 1990, taking with him what he thought was his most embarrassing and painful secret. I wish I could tell him that he and all of Hogan's men are heros. I miss him very much.
Jim "Jimbo" Moran
Former WWII Web Manager
Association of 3d Armored Division Veterans