Voices of the Battle of the Bulge: 'Other than that, there wasn't much going on'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the eighth installment of a 10-part series about asking the same five questions to 10 World War II veterans who served during the Battle of the Bulge Dec. 16, 1944, through Jan. 25, 1945. The veterans returned to Europe for 70th anniversary observances of the battle in Belgium and Luxembourg, Dec. 9-18, 2014. 

'The Greatest Victory'

Clayton Christiansen
99th Infantry Division, 324th Combat Engineer Battalion, Company A

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, July 18, 1924, Christiansen was drafted in his hometown April 8, 1943. Reporting for duty at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina, he shipped overseas in September 1944. Like so many of his fellow GIs, he arrived in Europe via Omaha Beach. He saw his first action Dec 19, 1944, during the legendary American artillery campaign waged against the German advance from Elsenborn Ridge in East Belgium. In addition to serving in the Bulge, he continued on to the Rhine and Central Europe campaigns, ending the war in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Recommended for the Silver Star, he shipped stateside in March 1946. Currently living on the North Carolina coast, Christianson worked primarily in sales until his retirement in 1990.

Where were you during the Battle of the Bulge?

I was too close to what was happening. I was dug in on the Elsenborn Ridge. Just parts or remnants of two or three divisions--they knew where two companies of engineers were dug in. For the first 48 hours, we'd lost about half of a division. Word came down that two companies of engineers would dig in and act like infantry. So I had three machine guns set up - two heavy 30s and a light one - and we had a battery of 105mm's back at Camp Elsenborn about five miles behind us for our exclusive use. When they fired in there, my captain would give them 'Left' or 'Right' or 'Forward,' and we destroyed 19 of 21 German tanks that day and wiped out a ton of German soldiers. ... Other than that, there wasn't much going on.

How does it feel to be back 70 years later?

As far as it unfolds, I just enjoy all of it. The M&M museum up near Henri-Chapelle, [owners Mathilde and Marcel Schmetz] are just two great people the owners. Every time they come to the states, she brings me Belgian chocolate. I try to help them a little each year to run their maintenance program over there; I know it costs money. That's been a tremendous part of this trip. But all of it's been great.

[The Belgians and Luxembourgers] love us, and, of course, I love them. I met a young man at Bastogne 10 years ago on the trip. I've corresponded with him ever since. He and his wife took off from work last Tuesday and had lunch with us. Just great people.

'The Greatest Victory'

What was the proudest moment of your military career?

The day I got discharged. I walked up on a stage, and some colonel [saluted] me. I returned the salute, crossed over the side of the stage, and there was a two-star Chinese general there. He asked me if I had a minute. Of course, I did. He had a record of everything I was and did in the military, had all my MOS numbers, my military IQ, and he says 'I'd like to give you a captain's rank and have you go to China for three years and train our cadre if you will. And I said, 'Sir, I believe I need to go to Charlotte, North Carolina, TODAY.' So I turned it down. It's great to have that ranking official ask me to do things because of what I had done in the U.S. military. But that would have been to long away from home. Training their military officers wouldn't have been a bad job, I'm sure. They were going to give me a Thompson submachine gun and 10,000 rounds of ammo. Man, I don't know where I would have used up that much ammo! That was in March of '46, and I've been on the loose ever since.

What got you through some of the toughest of times?

Just having faith in the Lord, and just trying my best to stay out of harm's way. That helped a little bit. During that battle, on my first trip after the German's hit us the first time, I'm going up to the three machine guns to make sure everything's good, the guns are good, the people are good, the ammo is good, and somewhere, pushing that stupid M-1 rifle ahead of me, shrapnel got me in the right forearm. But it wasn't much. When I saw it wasn't bleeding me to death, I put my jacket back on and went about my business. Now, on the third attack which was already dark, I'm up checking the guns, and when I got back to the foxhole, of course it was covered with big logs, and when my head got down to where it was at or below that log-level, I was totally deaf when my feet hit the dirt in the bottom of the hole. I was totally deaf for 42 hours, and the Lord had His arms wrapped around me and gave me back my hearing. So I didn't ask to report it to the medics or anybody. But I had to go back to them a little later for my frozen feet. I don't know whether I mentioned this when I saw them then. I was excited as I approached the first aid station or whatever it was, I saw one of them stupid B-1 bombs drop to the ground and kinda wiped out that end of the building, the stable end of it. The other end where the people lived was all right. I got to sit in there in an easy chair in front of the fire. They bathed my feet and padded them dry and put me on two pairs of socks. The next day, whoever it was said 'You go out of here; you're all right now.' So back to the hard life. That's about it, and about three other instances. Everybody over there had those instances where might have slipped up a little bit and something came around and bit you.

'The Greatest Victory'

What advice do you have for the men and women in uniform today?

Just be sure the regulations mean what they say. And those you can't enforce, get rid of them.  Other than that, have a good day.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Christianson's biography provided by the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.
Video by Senior Airman Rusty Frank
Photos by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden and Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim