LUXEMBOURG: 24 September: ".Some Where in the ETO.......Dearst Darling Wife.........Darling I will write you a few lines to let you know I'm ok, I hope this finds you fine, I wish I could deliver this letter in person no kidding.........I am writing this in my pup tent I think I must have it pitched up side down for all the water comes in side, I have a little german stove I keep burning to keep it dried out as much as possible...........Honey we are now in Laxinberg we were in Belgium........The people here mostly speak german, it don't make much diferance what they speak for I cant talk eather one, I do well to talk english...........With lots an lots of love, write as ofton as you can............Lots of Kisses Cecil"
27 September - "Some Where in the ETO...........Dearst Darling Wife............Darling I will write you a few lines this morning to let you know I am ok..........I am getting plenty tired of being away from home.......Honey here is five francs in belgique, it is worth about twenty cents in our money the way they value it.............I am hoping to see you soon, With a lot of kisses Love Love Cecil"
The 197th concentrated their work on a ground defense plan for protection of the ASP's. On 29 September, by reason of various redispositions, the 197th acquired the unique distinction of having elements operating in three different countries - Holland, Luxembourg & Belgium. Weather conditions were bad & excessive mud made field conditions very difficult for gun crews. Luxembourg was liberated by the 1st U.S. Army in September 1944 after being under nightmarish Nazi rule since 1940.
BELGIUM: In the cold, winter days of 1944, Cecil was back in Belgium near the German border. AA action & buzz bombs increased during October with the battalion receiving considerable enemy shellfire but no casualties. In his letters Cecil talks more & more about family, old times & how much he wants to come home to stay. Fatigue is obviously taking its toll as his handwriting gets more difficult to read & spelling & punctuation errors increase.
4 October 1944 - Cecil writes: "Somewhere in Belgium - Dearst Darling - I will write you a few lines to let you know I am ok..........Honey I sure would like to see you. I am getting tired of seeing these countries here & I will be plenty ready to take some time off when I get back........The first couple of months I am not going to hit a lick of work. We won't have enough time in two months to get around to see all the folks...........Honey I got the best nights sleep last night that I have had in a long time, I had about 8 or 10 inches of straw with my blankets on it in a building, the first time last nite to sleep since I left England.........Love with a big hug and lots of Kisses........Love Love......Cecil"
When B Battery moved to Bourcy on 18 October, the battalion achieved a distinction not surpassed by any other unit of the First Army. It was operating in four countries: Battery A in Holland; Battery B in Belgium, with a few fire units in Luxembourg; Battery C in Belgium; Battery D in Germany; Headquarters & Headquarters Battery in Belgium - a front of 120 miles.
27 October: "Dearest Wife, Honey I will write you a few lines to let you know I am ok.........Honey I got your letter......I was plenty glad to get it, your wondering if I will get home by Xmas I am beginning to wonder if I will ever get back home again . The way they talk now they think this war will last forever. I am sure ready to get it over & get back ........the way they have things here we can't go in any of the towns everything is off limits to us even the U.S.A. Love for ever & ever - Cecil"
19 November: "Some Where in Belgium.........Dearst Darling Wife........Darling I will write you a few lines to let you know I am ok.........I would sure like to be there today and it would be so I could stay wouldn't have to have any more to do with this army.........Honey I would love to see you it has been so long since I was at home it is hard to imagine what it will be like to get back home again.........With lots and lots of love to my Darling Write often as you can............Love Love Love"
23 November: The first page of this letter was missing. A portion of the second page reads, "Honey I got a box of cookies from mom to nite they were in good shape - I didn't get any letters from home to nite. I would much rather get a letter as a package that is all we have to look forward to is the letters we get.............Honey I am listening to Bing Crosby he really hits the spot with us G.I..........With Lots and Lots of Love to My Darling for ever. With a big hug and lots of kisses Love Love Love Cecil"
24 November: "Somewhere in Belgium...........Dearst Darling Wife.........I will write you a few lines to let you know I am ok............Honey we had a good dinner yesterday, we had turkey. I just wish I could of been home to eat dinner together it would have been much better. I hope I can be home next year by this time to stay............Honey we have a radio here listening to the news, it makes us feel a little better to know a little about what is going on I will be glad when this is over............Honey I have to go on gard at ten so I gess I will have to close for this time I wish I were there to kiss you & hold you in my arms like old times..........Honey sometimes I wonder if I will ever get back again............With Lots and Lots of Love forever and ever......Love Love Love"
5 December: "Some Where in Belgium...........Dearest Darling Wife, Darling I will write you a few lines to let you know I am ok & let you know I am thinking of you..........I wish I was with you this evening, tomorrow, the next day & forever..........If I was there to nite I would be in seventh heaven.......Darling I am going to have to close for this time. With lots & lots of love to my Darling with a big hug & lots of kisses. Love Love Love Cecil" This was Cecil's last letter to his wife.....................
The world must know what happened & never forget.
BATTLE OF THE BULGE: Toward the end of 1944 Germany was losing the war on all fronts so they devised a covert & daring plan - Operation Wacht am Rhein. It would be Germany's last determined effort for success on the Western Front by using most of its remaining reserves to launch a massive offensive in a 75 mile stretch of the dark, dense Ardennes forest which was defended only by battle exhausted American troops. The Germans would attempt to divide the Allies & capture their primary supply port at Antwerp. Preparations were carried out in secrecy, minimal radio traffic & moving over 200,000 troops, 1,000 tanks & other equipment under the cover of night. On 15 December English speaking Nazis disguised as Americans managed to infiltrate American lines where they cut communications, spread rumors & false information. Then on 16 December, nine days before Christmas, at about 5:00 a.m., the cold, early morning silence was shattered when Nazis unleashed a vicious & unexpected blitzkrieg bursting through the front with massive artillery bombardments & surprise attacks. The "Battle of the Bulge" was on. By nightfall there was a strong Nazi Schutzstaffel offensive in Belgium.
The Waffen SS was an elite combat group separate from the regular German Army & they had a savage reputation for inhuman cruelty. By Sunday 17 December, the infamous "Kampfgruppe Peiper" led by Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Peiper from the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" were slowly pushing their way west through Belgium. This brutal, ruthless group was considered to be the worst of all the SS units. It consisted of over 100 tanks, almost 150 armored personnel carriers, over 20 artillery pieces & 40 anti-aircraft guns. Eventually problems with the muddy terrain caused them to turn north toward Baugnez also known as Five Points which was about two miles east of Malmedy. Also on 17 December a convoy of about thirty American Army vehicles of the 285th Field Observation Battalion along with several vehicles from other units were coming from Malmedy driving east toward the Baugnez Crossroads. At around 1:00 p.m. the 285th arrived at the Crossroads & turned right heading south toward Ligneuville. At the same time the first Nazi tanks of Kampfgruppe Peiper popped up over the crest of a hill along a parallel highway about 900 yards east & spied the American convoy moving south. Before the convoy spotted them the Nazis opened fire on the unsuspecting Americans. The first blasts of 75 millimeter tank rounds & machine guns blew the wheels off of one of the lead vehicles of the convoy & another jeep was blown completely away. One of the convoy trucks went up in flames. The Nazis continued the attack with bullets tearing into the remaining vehicles knocking several of them over. The convoy came to a sudden halt as jeeps crashed into each other & some caught fire. Debris was flying everywhere. The surprised Americans returned fire but they were carrying only small arms & were tremendously outgunned. With bullets flying past them & bouncing off the pavement around them the American soldiers abandoned their vehicles & took what refuge they could by jumping into the roadside ditch. As the Germans overtook the convoy Nazi Tiger tanks machine gunned more than two-dozen American trucks & an ambulance then squeezed the ambulance off the road where it exploded. The Americans quickly realized that they were in a very desperate situation. Eventually the decision was made to surrender & the American soldiers were marched back to the crossroads while other Nazis looted their vehicles & pushed the disabled ones into the ditch.
THE CARNAGE BEGINS: In the meantime alarming reports began coming in to the First Army that Germans were in the area & it seemed very likely that the ASP might be overrun by the enemy. As preparations were made to blow-up & evacuate ASP 126 22 year old Sgt. Cecil Cash & 22 year old Cpl. Ray Heitmann were sent to the 304th Ordnance Company in Malmedy to pick up some replacement parts for a halftrack that was having mechanical trouble. They left in their jeep at noon & arrived at the Baugnez Crossroads around 12:30 - 1:00 p.m. just in time to get caught in the ambush on the 285th. The Nazis also fired at Cecil & Ray's jeep causing them take refuge in the ditch on the north side of the Waimes road. This is where they encountered Peter Lentz, a fifteen year old Belgian boy who had also taken refuge there. Peter had been on his bicycle trying to make his way back to Malmedy when he got caught up in the attack. Peter was frightened & wanted to get out of the ditch & run away but Cecil & Ray, concerned for the boy's safety from random bullets, told him to stay in the ditch with them. Then several enemy tanks went by. One of them stopped. A Nazi soldier who didn't look much older than Peter jumped out & was standing only a few feet away pointing a rifle at Cecil, Ray & Peter & ordered them out of the ditch. Having no other choice the three of them complied with the Nazi's orders & vacated the ditch. Cecil & Ray stood with their hands on their heads - a sign of surrender. They were now Prisoners Of War but before they could say or do anything the young Nazi soldier wantonly shot them both in cold blood. Cecil & Ray fell back into the ditch but they did not die instantly & as they lay there in the cold, muddy ditch wounded, helpless & bleeding more shots were fired into them. Then a nearby German officer praised the young Nazi by commenting to him that that was the way to fight in the old SS spirit.
Cecil & Ray's last concern before dying was for the safety of a child. And Peter was spared when he told the Nazi soldier in German, " Don’t kill me, I speak German, my brother is a German soldier too." The Nazis told Peter to leave & as he made his way to a nearby farmhouse he could see American jeeps on fire & crashed into each other. There were many German tanks, halftracks & more Americans surrendering to the Nazis. One American soldier, while being marched back to the Crossroads, was shot in the back for not holding his hands up high enough in the air &, as like Cecil & Ray, was also left laying by the roadside. Over 100 soldiers were captured that day & the Americans followed the standard protocols of surrender. The Nazis disarmed them all & some were searched & robbed of their personal possessions. Then all were herded past the Cafe Bodarwé into an open field 200 meters southwest of where Cecil & Ray had been murdered. The Americans thought they were waiting for German trucks to come pick them up to take them to a prison camp. However when several Nazi halftracks & tanks lined up on the road facing the field many of the soldiers began feeling uneasy. Suspicion & tension increased as one of the Nazis began loading his machine gun & another was attempting to site his tank's barrel on the soldiers in the field. Then at around 2:00 p.m. a German command vehicle drove up. The enemy soldier in this vehicle stood up & took deliberate aim at the Americans & fired several shots with a pistol dropping two American soldiers. As if that had been a special signal the Nazis then mercilessly opened fire on the defenseless, unarmed American prisoners raking the field several times with their machine guns. Many American soldiers fell dead instantly. Some of the GIs bolted for the woods. Some ran into the cafe for refuge but the Nazis set it on fire & as the soldiers ran out to flee from the deadly flames the Nazis shot them down. Over eighty American soldiers lay dead or dying in the field. There were horrible screams & cries of agony. After the machine guns stopped Nazi soldiers then went through the field laughing & kicking the bodies & anyone found still alive was promptly dispatched with a shot or rifle butt to the head. And as the Nazis left the area the remaining column of vehicles of Kampfgrupper Pieper took pot-shots at the bodies in the field as they passed by. A few American soldiers who fell were miraculously able to feign death or "play 'possum" through it all & escaped later after having to lay there motionless & barely breathing while listening to the Nazis killing anyone who groaned or moved.
Eventually there was silence. No more gunshots. No more screaming. No more praying or cries for mercy. The Nazis had gone on their merry murderous way & the carnage at the crossroads was over. It was snowing now & as bodies in a morgue are covered with a white sheet mother nature gently covered the mangled bodies & blood drenched field with a white blanket of snow. For Cecil & the other 80+ men that were murdered near Malmedy that day the war was over - but it was not a happy day. Cecil would write no more love letters to his beautiful young wife reassuring her that he was ok - because he wasn't. And Cecil would not be coming home for Christmas (also his wife's 18th birthday) as he had hoped.
MISSING IN ACTION: Two days after the massacre, on 19 December, a Battle Casualty Report from the Adjutant General's office in Washington D.C. officially declared Sgt. Cash as Missing In Action. Cecil's family was notified of this status on 4 January 1945.
RETRIEVAL OF THE BODIES: It wasn't until 14 January, 1945, a month after the massacre that the Army Graves Registration Team retrieved the bodies. Metal detectors had to be used to locate the corpses in the deep snow. When the remains of the murdered American soldiers were dug out it was discovered that some of the massacre victims had been mutilated. Either Cecil or Ray supposedly had their left hand missing. Some of the soldiers had their skulls crushed - a few of the bodies had had their eyes gouged out - with indications that one or more may have still been alive when this occurred. One had a sign post stabbed through his torso. A few who had made it as far as a nearby roadway before collapsing had their entire bodies crushed probably by being run over by Nazi tanks. All bodies were tagged for identification. Cecil was body #82, tag #71. Each soldier was also photographed in the positions in which they were found including Cecil's crumpled, lifeless body laying in the frozen snow.
AUTOPSY: The bodies were sent to Malmedy for autopsies where they were photographed again after being unloaded from the trucks. Medical personnel had great difficulty undressing the bodies for examination due to their frozen condition & had to cut the clothing off using knives & razors. Cecil's medical diagnosis: "Examination reveals perforating wound through the right parietal region causing compound comminuted fracture of the skull. The wound of entrance measures about one-half inch in diameter. This patient was shot through the helmet & liner & bled profusely, the helmet liner was filled with large amounts of blood clots." The personal effects found on Cecil were: A pair of glasses with case, black leather wallet with social security card, soldiers pay book, 20 francs in Belgian currency, comb, two pen knives, letters, finger nail clip & two keys. Outer clothing was a field jacket, fatigue trousers, leggings, overshoes. Additional personal effects were mentioned in a different report that weren't listed in the autopsy report: New Testament, ETO card, pictures, receipts, cards. Some of these items were damaged & discolored due to moisture & some were bloodstained. His personal effects were eventually shipped to his family.
BURIAL: Cecil was buried in his uniform & a mattress cover on 17 January 1945 in the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Grave #39, Row 2, Plot CCC. He was listed as Atrocity Case #71. Identification tags were buried with the body as well as being attached to his grave marker. The other massacre victims were also buried there & by the end of the war almost 8,000 American soldiers were interred in this cemetery most of them having lost their lives in the American advance into Germany.
NOTIFICATION OF FAMILY: On the evening of 5 February 1945 in St. Louis, Missouri there was a knock on Pearl's apartment door. It was the landlady of the rooming house where Pearl lived. The woman had a very somber look on her face. She said to Pearl, "This telegram came for you today." Pearl took the telegram & read it. As tears welled up in her eyes she went back into the privacy of her room & silently closed the door....................An obituary for Cecil appeared in a local St. Francois County news paper: "Reported Killed In Action - Sgt. Cecil J. Cash - Mr. & Mrs. Josh Cash of Wortham, received a telegram, Saturday February 5th, stating that their son, Sgt. Cecil J. Cash, was killed in action in Belgium.........."
THE WAR IS OVER: Four months & three weeks after the Malmedy Massacre the Bedingungslose Kapitulation der Wehrmacht or German Instrument of Surrender was signed in Reims on 7 May 1945 & ratified 8 May in Berlin. This was the legal instrument that established the armistice ending World War II in Europe & the end of the Holocaust & Third Reich. World War II was the most violent, deadliest, armed conflict in all of human history with more than 100 million people serving in military units. It killed & affected more people, damaged more property, & cost more money than any other war. The number of people killed, wounded or missing was estimated at more than 55 million. The Battle of the Bulge (16 December - 25 January 1945) was the largest & bloodiest battle fought in World War II. More than 1,000,000 American soldiers fought in the Battle of the Bulge making it the single largest battle ever fought by American troops. More than 83,000 Americans were casualties of the fighting.
WAR CRIMES TRIAL: The Malmedy Massacre was considered to be among the worst war crimes committed against American soldiers in the western European Theatre. Kampfgrupper Peiper totally disregarded international law about the treatment of prisoners of war. At the end of the war, Peiper, & 73 others were brought to trial for the Malmedy Massacre & many other atrocious war crimes. They were charged with murdering over 700 Prisoners of War & more than 90 Belgian civilians. Peiper admitted to leading the spearhead in the Ardennes & that his unit captured American soldiers near Malmedy that were shot but denied giving any execution orders. The war criminals were tried at an international military court held in Dachau May - July, 1946. After the trial a judgment was given after slightly over two hours of deliberation. All 73 of the accused SS soldiers were convicted. Forty three of the defendants were sentenced to death, twenty two to life imprisonment, two to twenty years, one for fifteen years and five to ten years.
REPATRIATION PROJECT: On 27 July 1947 a special ceremony was held at Henri-Chappelle Cemetery for the beginning of a repatriation program where American soldiers were disinterred to be returned to the United States for permanent burial. Cecil was disinterred on 26 September 1947. Examination of his disarticulated body revealed an abdominal gunshot wound that was not mentioned in the autopsy report. His remains were prepared, placed in a casket & sealed. Cecil was then transported by truck to Liege. Here he was placed on the barge "Justine" & taken to Pier 140 at Antwerp. He was then put on the ship United States Army Transport "Robert F. Burns" which sailed to New York.
SGT. CASH COMES HOME: After Cecil arrived in the United States he was transported by train to Memphis, Tennessee. Cecil's father had requested that the Army deliver his son's remains to Mineral Point, Washington County, Missouri. Cecil, escorted by S/Sgt. Raymond B. Gray, arrived there by train on 5 December 1947. Bert L. Boyer of J.S. Boyer & Son Funeral Home signed for Cecil's remains. The Cash family requested that the escort stay for the funeral & Cecil was permanently laid to rest in the Adams Cemetery, Wortham Road, Frankclay, St. Francois County, Missouri, United States of America.
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
When they come I will stand my ground
Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid
Thoughts of home take away my fear
Sweat & blood hide my veil of tears
Cecil was finally home to stay.
Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes & remember me
Never more shall I see the sun
For I fell to a German's gun
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
The above poem is from "We Were Soldiers" -- Author: Joseph Kilna MacKenzie
And when he gets to Heaven to St. Peter he will tell
"Just another soldier reporting, Sir - I've served my time in Hell"
COMMENDATIONS: At the time of Cecil's untimely demise he had acquired an Expert Marksmanship Medal (4 bars); Driver's Medal; One Service Ribbon (Good Conduct & ETO); He is listed on the WWII Honor Roll & is included in the album "Men of D-Day" & the album "Men of Malmedy". He would also be eligible for: Purple Heart, American Campaign, WWII Victory Medal, European-African medal with 2 stars, Rhineland, & Honorable Service Lapel Button (Ruptured Duck).
UNIT HISTORY OF THE 197th
By: Lt. Col. C.T. McEniry
DEDICATION: Respectfully, Humbly & Gratefully, this book is dedicated to those of our Comrades who fell fighting for Freedom. Their memory is enshrined in the heart of a grateful nation......[there are 13 names on this list including T/4 Cecil J. Cash & T/5 Cpl. Ray Heitmann]
Page 15: "C Battery was set up at ASP No. 126 near Waimes when Von Rundstedt crashed through on his way to Antwerp on 16 December. So on the next day, when German patrols began infiltrating, the ASP company blew up much of its stores & withdrew..............C Battery sent a couple of boys to an ordnance company in Malmedy. They never came back. But their bodies were found a month later in the roadside snow, where they had been shot by the Germans.
Page 19: "On 7 May  at 1120 hours, the message of unconditional surrender of the Germans was received at [197th] battalion headquarters, the surrender to be effective at 0001 hours on the 9th. All offensive operations were ceased immediately..................10 May on the following day............It was the end of combat for the battalion. The end of 339 operational days on the continent; the end of a road 1200 miles long from Omaha Beach to Weimar, Germany. In that time & in those travels, the 197th had had 106 engagements with enemy aircraft. It had emerged with 23 1/2 confirmed claims for craft shot down or damaged ---13 1/2Category I's & 10 Category II's, or an average of 22.2 per cent "Kills" per engagement...................It [the 197th] came over 6000 miles & worked for two & a half years to do a job. In the doing of that job, many brave men fell. But the job was done! Magnificently! Gloriously!.....................Deactivation of the 197th AA AW Bn. (S.P.) took place on 12 April 1946, at Camp Kilmer, N.J., [USA]." 197th was awarded D-Day assault landing credit - The 197th could also claim the Campaign Streamers of: Normandy (with arrowhead), Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe. Also decorations of: French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star, World War II, Streamer embroidered NORMANY BEACHHEAD (197th cited for action on 6 June 1944, DAGO 43, 1950) - From: Antiaircraft Artillery Battalions of the U.S. Army, Vol. 1
EPILOGUE: There was much controversy over the Malmedy Massacre investigation & also prosecution of the case which dragged on for years. There were accusations of maltreatment of the prisoners in order to coerce confessions & that preliminary investigations were not in compliance with legal standards. Subsequently death sentences were commuted in 1951 & none of the SS Nazis were ever executed. By 1956 all of the war criminals had been released from prison. In 1976 Nazi hunters finally tracked Joachim Peiper down in France & killed him in a fire bomb attack on his home.
EL PASO, TEXAS: During the 1960's on one of our many trips to Mexico - one year my parents decided to cross the border at El Paso. Daddy suggested that we stop & see if the adobe home that mom & Cecil lived in was still there. It was but was vacant & neglected. We walked around looking at the area for a few minutes then daddy went back over to the truck. Mom & I went into the house. We had to go down steps to go through the door way as the two room home was half below ground. Mom choked back tears as she & I looked around inside. When we came back out she stood there looking at it for a few more minutes with tears still in her eyes. Then we went back to the truck where daddy was & left for the Mexican border. I wish we would've taken pictures of the home because I doubt it exists anymore.
WAR MONUMENT DEDICATED: November, 1988 - St. Francois County war dead were honored with the dedication of a monument bearing the names of 208 county men killed in WWI, WWII, Korea & Vietnam. This monument, which includes Cecil's name (on left section of monument), is located in front of the courthouse in Farmington, Missouri. I wanted to attend the dedication but wasn't feeling well & didn't get to go.
ADDENDA: Cecil’s military records at the Personnel Records Center in St. Louis were destroyed the big fire of 1973. My mother never knew any details about Cecil's death other than he was Killed In Action somewhere in Belgium. When my mother passed away 13 December 2007 I inherited all the letters he wrote to her & the keepsakes he sent her. It was my mother's dying wish that it all be donated to a military museum. On 2 May, 2012 I got a message from a retired military officer, Tim Krebs, through Ancestry.com informing me of a newly published book, Fatal Crossroads by Danny Parker, that gave some of the details of Cecil's death. So I purchased the book. With this new information, sources cited in the book & information from the 197th AAA unit history I was able to conduct extensive research & gradually piece together a military biography for Cecil J. Cash. Through this research I discovered the Baugnez44 Historical Center which is a museum at the Baugnez Crossroads where the Malmedy Massacre took place & where Cecil died. I now knew where I wanted to send the items & I could finally fulfill my mother's wish. The Baugnez44 Historical Center gladly accepted my offer to donate the keepsakes/artifacts/letters that my mother kept all those years stating that "There is always a place in our Historical Center for the items of the soldiers who died here!!!" Those items are now permanently housed there in a special display in remembrance of Sgt. Cecil J. Cash. The Baugnez Historical Center, which opened in 2007, receives hundreds of visitors every year. They will now be able to view an additional display – that of T/4 Sgt. Cecil J. Cash. And he will never be forgotten.