This might be one of the most heroic and unlikely stories of the battle of the bulge: a young officer acting like Rambo in the Ardennes woods during the battle of the bulge. This is the story of Eric Fisher Wood.
Eric Wood was a 1st Lt with the with Battery A, 589th Field Artillery Battalion, 106th Infantry Division, and was stationend at Herzfenn/Belgium on december 16th 1944. At first he wasn’t the first Lt. But the Germans run over the forwarded OP of Cpt Menke, who was surprised and got caught. That made Wood in charge of the A battery.
During the first day of the battle, Woods troops were the last ones to retreat from the Losheimer area.The calvary had allready retreated, leaving a wide gap open at the North flank. At about 14.00 hrs three Sturmgeschutze rolled down the road to Auw and came in sight of the 589th FAB. Wood, who heard the first tank approaching the HQ building, ran up a small hill to get a clear view on the road. He gave direct orders to Sgt. George Shook and Cpl John Gatens to man the gunners position. Without having a clear sight on the tanks, Gatens managed to take out the first tank, using armored piercing ammo. Right after that, all 4 remaining 105mm Howitzers open fire on the other tanks. Woods direct approach stalled the German attack for hat moment.
What Wood and his men did not know, was that the Germans were building up their strength in this sector. They only needed some time to go for the big push. And when they did that, it would crush Woods battalion.
When night fell, the order was given to fall back, taking their howitzers to the rear. That was easier said then done. The trucks, wich were used to tow the howitzers, made a muddy mess of the roads, wich made it difficult to get the guns on the road. C battery even had a harder time: they did not manage to get all of their guns on the road again and had to destroy them. Without the howitzers, C battery could get out to the Belgian border much faster. On the right side of the road, known as Skyline Drive , the men took new positions. B battery went into the field as first, together with 3 of A battery’s howitzers. The last howitzer was used as a roadblock and the truck that towed it, got damaged.
That next morning, december 17th, the Germans launched a big attack. Pushing through Andler (Andlermuhle) from the North and another force was coming from the South, out of the direction of Bleialf. Overseeing this, Major Arthur Parker gave the order to pull back, towards Schonberg and move up to St. Vith. Wood ordered his men to pull back with two of the three guns, leaving Wood and a guncrew behind to help getting the third gun, wich got stuck, moving again. Time was running out and the Germans were overrunning the crew. The crew abanded the guns, but Wood and his men got the howitzer back on the road. The lead of the column allready had reached Schonberg.
B battery drove like hell to catch up with Wood the others.
By the time A company reached Schonberg, the village was already crowded with enemy troops. A German tank ambushed Woods truck and the men left it.
The crew only had one heavy weapon, an M1 bazooka, wich was dragged around by pfc Campagna and Scannapico. The rest of the crew had only M1 carines.
The tank pulled back into town, wich gave the two bazooka men the chance to approach it. They found it next to a house. Campagna first shot missed. Truckdriver Kenneth Knoll, who got the truck on the road again, slowed down to let Scannapico in. Unfortunatly Knoll was killed by machine gun fire. Another guy took over the wheel, crossed the Our bridge and drove the truck right into the center of the town. They saw another enemy tank. All men jumped out of the truck, just before the tank blasted the engine with an HE Shell. The men, accompanied with some Afro americans from the 333rd FAB*, dove into a ditch and the situation seemed hopeless with firing Germans everywhere… The men started to surrender. But not Wood. He stood up and started to run, crossed the road, run through an open field and made it to the woods.
At that time B battery made it to Schonberg, discovering they were amongst Germans. Many of these men were captured. Some got away, like Captain Arthur Brown, who managed to escape the next day and got back to the 589th and fought with Major Parkers during the battle of the crossroads on Baraque de Fraiture (december 24th 1944).
(*We could nog find another source of this. I fit is true, these men belonged to the Wereth 11 group, who got brutally murdered on the same day!)
That next day, december 18th 1944, Peter Maraite, was looking for a nice christmas tree in the woods of Meyerode. Whatever the circumstances were, he wanted a tree for his family. When he is pulling away some low hanging treebranches, he finds two American soldiers. One guy is a tall officer and the other one is a soldier, armed with a rifle. (note: In the heavily wooded area of the Ommerwald, just north of the main road, Wood met up with another soldier separated from his unit, accoridng to the Chester County Hall of Heroes). Peter doens’t speak a word English, but he tries to tell the men not to be afraid of him. He convinces them to follow him to his home, knowing that if he gets caught by the Germans, escorting these two Americans, it would have huge consequenses for him and his family.
At Peters home, accompanied by his neighbour, Johann (or Jean) Schroder, who speaks English, Peter listens to the story of Eric Fisher Wood.
Wood explains that he wants to go to St. Vith to join the 589th FAB. Peter Maraite tells him that the way to St. Vith is crowded by Germans and it is to dangerous. Wood insists to go to St. Vith. He would fight his way back to his Battery or he would start his own personal war against the Germans in the woods, looking for Germans who stayed behind.
The Maraite family drank and ate with the two US men and Wood was very optimistic about his plans to rech St. Vith. Wood and the soldier cleaned their weapons and slept till next morning.
It was still dark when Peter woke the men up. An hour later, he escorted the men to the woods. It was the last thing he ever saw of the two men.
But…. A few days later the civilians of the tiny town heard the noise of some riflefire and explosions. And that is very perculiar, because the frontlines already moved several miles to the west. Peter is guessing that the two US men, who stayed in his home. Later, there are more sounds of gunfire. And they only occured when small groups of German soldiers entered the woods and never when big columns got in. From the German soldiers they hear that there are saboteurs and guys from the resistance are hiding in the woods. Snowploughs, needed to keep the roads open, are heavely armed with guards. Even Sepp Dietrich, who’s HQ is in the house of the mayor of Meyerode, keeps complaining about “the scoundrels and bandits”. General Dietrich issued orders to his SS units to find and eliminate them.
For Peter Maraite it is clear: Eric Fisher Wood is doing what he said he was going to do: hs started is guerilla war against enemy troops.
On january 23th 1945, the little town of Meyerode was liberated by American troops for the second time in 5 months time. The civillians wanted to know what was going one for weeks in their woods. Their mayor, Jean Pauels, sends two woodmen, August Pauels and Servatius Maraite, to take a look.
A mile south of the town, not far from the six way trail crossing, they found the frozen body of an American soldier. Around him, there were seven dead German soldiers. A unit of the 424th Graves registration came to the town to collect the body. (a source is mentioning february 25th 1945) They found out the the American soldier was Eric Fisher Wood. According to doctors,who were joining the Graves Registration unit, Wood got killed on january 22th, just one day before the liberation of the town.
Another source stated: “It was estimated that Wood and the Germans had been dead for about ten days.”
The Belgians claim that Eric Wood had not been touched by any Germans, because his identity tags and more than 4,000 Belgian francs were found on his body. German soldiers routinely searched the Allied dead, looking for side arms, documents, and money.
The graves registration unit not only found Wood’s body and the seven German soldiers. They found about 200 dead german soldiers, burried in shallow graves, some of them were stripped of their equipment. They also found burned out trucks. German soldiers stated that the woods were fierefull, because of small unit of American soldiers, led by tall young officer.
In may 1945, the family Maraite was visited by the father of Eric. It was Eric Fisher Wood sr, a US general. He shows some pictures of soldiers and ask the Maraite’s if they recognise any of the soldiers in it. Peter and his daughter Eva recognise one of the men as being the one who was in their home on december 17th 1944. It is Eric Fisher Wood jr.
The general, together with the people of Meyerode, donated a memorial cross, wich was placed in the area spot where Eric was found. General Wood also donated a chalice to the church, in gratitude for their hospitality.
No. The story left open many questions.
During the years, several stories were written about these events. Some were very humble, thoughtful and well researched. Others were looking for facts that never occured.
William M. Mauser wrote an article in World War II journal 3 about Wood, titled “Miracle at Meyerode. Six Americans against SS panzers in the Battle of the Bulge.” The article was published in Ray Merriam’s book “Battle of the Bulge”. It has been written as if the writer himself stood next to Wood, when he made his dash through the open field in Schönfeld. In this heroic article, it is written how Eric Fisher Wood came to his end, while fighting many Germans, including King Tigers, Panzerkampfwagens IV, grenades and machineguns.
According to the author this all happend on…Christmas Eve.
A fairy tale? Must be…
106thID veteran John Gatens made his own statement about Wood, who was his battery executive.
“Now that is as much as anyone that I know, has any knowledge of what happened to Eric. I know that there are many stories written and I have read most of them, all I can say is, knowing the kind of Officer that Eric was, he could have accomplished what is written. However, none have any first hand knowledge as to fact. I’m on Eric’s side and hope that it is true.”
John said it. It is such an akward story, that one only can hope it is true!
In other accounts authors mention a group of at least six Americans, attacking the German troops in the Meyerode woods.
“They conjectured that out in the forest a small but organized group of Americans roamed. They had plenty of arms, they had at least one medium mortar, and they were taking a steady toll of the Germans. And all the stories added up one way: that these American guerrillas were led by the young officer who had visited the Maraites, a man “very big and powerful of body and brave of spirit.”, Dutchman6 wrote in an article “The 65th Anniversary of Eric Fisher Wood’s Private War”, published on december 16th 2009. He mentions something important: After being freed from the German suppressors, the Meyerode villagers went out looking for these nasty and fearless US soldiers. They did not find any traces of a camp. How did they survive the vicious cold, the snow and lack of food? On the other hand: There are still som any US soldiers missing in the Ardennes…
But anyway: How many guys were chasing these German troops through the thick forest of Meyerode? Some say six. But where did they came from and, even more important, where did they go?!
Another book mentions the whole story as well: In the shadow of the forests by Armand Blau (1996). He said that the two men left Peters house, armed with a rifle and a colt. According to Armand the villagers later found several bivouacs with fireplaces. Blau is suggesting that the villagers fed the two soldiers, kept quiet about it because of a huge chance of retaliation by the Germans.
Like 106thID specialist, Carl Wouters, says in his article “What happend to Lt. Eric Wood“: “The lack of any GI survivors was his key argument. No one who was part of this guerilla-like war ever came forward after the battle.” And also: the GI that joined Eric Wood was never identified either. And there was never a second body found.
And then there is this fact, that Wood was listed KIA on december 17th 1944. It is also the ABMC that is stating that Eric died on december 17th.
Another source is stating that Wood got KIA while defending Schönberg on december 17th 1944.
And there is a nasty suggestion: The story was made up because Eric’s father, general Eric Fisher Wood sr wanted to portai his son as great hero, who would never be forgotten. We’ll get back to that later.
But, Carl wouters has a strong point. “Army doctors determined that he was killed sometime in late January. This would have given him almost a month of surviving behind enemy lines.”
And: “After the battle, Graves Registration reported that almost 200 bodies of German soldiers were found in those same woods, some hastily buried in shallow graves.”
But…there is lack of evidence for this…
There is practically no source who can tell what happend before his death.
Some tried. Like here:
“Eventually, an enemy patrol approached along a logging trail in the woods near the village of Meyerode, and surrounded Eric Wood. Wood fought back, but was overwhelmed by sheer numbers. He was killed in his desperate attempt to evade capture.”
Again: no direct evidence was found and this must be speculation.
And then there is the question who found him?
Gerald Astor (A Blood Dimmed Tide) mentions two soldiers of the Graves Registration who found Wood on February 25th 1945. That is quite a gap between january 23rd and february 25th…
According to most of the sories, it was the Graves Registration who did.
Other accounts say, the liberators of Meyerode, a patrol from the 99th Infantry Division, found him, after the villagers took them to the place where he got killed.
Hey! Wait a second! Who was the other guy!?
That question kept me going for a while. By accident, I found an account of John R. Schaffner, 589th FAB/A. He stated: “It was well known that there was another Americna soldier’s body with Lt’s Wood body, when they were discoverd later in january 1945 in the area of Meyerode, but I never had seen him identifeid.” It was a researcher, who told Shaffner who it was: “John, the soldier found beside Eric Fisher Wood was named Lehman Wilson, 82nd AB division. The researcher got this information from the daughter of Peter Maraite, Eva. (She passed away in feb 7th, 2012) and it was published in august 2012.
So, that seemed to be cleared out.
But, of course we wanted to know all about this soldier.
It wasn’t that difficult to find him on the web. He is mentionend in “Snow and Steel: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45” by Peter Caddick-Adams.
He wrote: “Charles Whiting in two of his books about the bulge, also wrote of Wood’s lonely six-week war against the Germans, and of the locals finding his body surrounded by seven dead Germans, whom he had despatched. Nearby lay the remains of pfc Lehman M. Wilson of the 82nd Airborne Division. Their remains were discoverd in early february with a date of deathfixed at late january.”
Teammember Michel van Eerst dove into this material and came up with new stuff. Lehman is indeed mentionend in the roll of honor of the 82nd airborne. He was part of Headquarters Company – 82nd Airborne Division.
But….was this the young man who fought together with Eric Fisher Wood?
We don’t think so.
In “A blood dimmed tide” by Gerald Astor you can read: “In addition to Wood, the searchers found the body of a GI, some 250 to 300 yards away, with his still loaded weapon. He was identiefied as pfc. Lehman M. Wilson of the 82nd Airborne. “
Wood was KIA on january 22th, the doctors said. But Lehmans Stone contains the date of death of january 29th.
And there is the distance: Lehman wasn’t found next to Wood, he was found more then 250 yards away. (appr. 220 metres). That is quite a distance.
The place were Eric was found appr 1,5 kilometres from Meyerode, as the crows flies.
We tried to figure out where Lehman came from. The papers only say HQ.
We tried to look up the whereabouts of the 82nd AB around Meyerode.
We found that the 325th glider infantry regiment was there at the end of january. “By 2030 hours the 325th, having attacked south from the line Born, Ambleve road, past Medell and then east and north of Meyerode, was on the high ground overlooking Wereth.”
This was after january the 25th, because the 325th GIR stayed at Pepinster until that date. They relieved the 7th AD, who were holding defensive positions at Meyerode and Medell.
“The plan of manoeuver was that the Regimental would move out of Medell from which the 1st Battalion was to attack at about 0630 hours on the 28th January 1945; the 2nd Battalion was to go to the high ground north of Meyerode (Hill 532) and attack almost north-east and clear the ridge north-east of Meyerode.” This brings those troops at the east side of Meyerode, overlooking the hamlet of Wereth.
It can be that some troops got mixed up, wich happened more.
It is possible that Lehman got killed during the attack on Meyerode, just a day before he was found, January the 29th.
To me it is implausible that Wood and Lehman Malone Wilson were together as a killing team because of the simple fact the 82nd AD wasn’t in the area before the 25th of January.
Lehman Malone was the only son of Lehman Bailey Wilson and Alfretta Rosetta Tyree Wilson. He was born june 30th 1925 and was KIA january 29th 1945, at the age of 19 years old.
That leaves a lot of question open in this story: Where were the other guys of Woods small armed group? How many men were there? We could not find a statement abut the 200 dead Germans, destroyed trucks and equipment. Where did they hide in the woods?
Or, like one source stated, was he hiding at the Maraite house? That’s a story, going around too: Eric stayed in the Meyerode houses, hiding for the Germans and got killed later.
The monument for Eric Fisher Wood
According to Gerald Astor, general Wood tried to get a Congressional Medal of Honor for his son. But it was disapproved. “To General Eric Wood, the end of the shooting presented an opportunity to bury his grief under monuments to his son.”
General Wood obtainened statements from several civilians, as well as soldiers. And in a long letter to a friend, Wood noted that the Belgian decoration (Belgian Order of Leopold I with Gold Palm) was the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor. He wanted that final tribute for his fallen son.
Although the request was supported by a lot of people, the application was disapproved by the War Department. Although there were several statements, none of them containend… an eyewitness report… Nobody could tell what Eric did during the moment he dissapeared in the woods of Meyerode and the moment he was found dead.
Later, it was Sgt Frank Aspinwall, HQ company of th 589th, was suggesting that “General Wood browbeat enlisted men and junior officers into statements, that lionized the general’s son during the initial phase of the attack.”
Aspinwall finally took the Eric Fisher Wood story as implausible.
In april 1947, General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief of Staff, United States Army, presented the Distinguished Service Cross to Mrs. Margaret W. Wood, of Wayne, Pennsylvania, whose husband, 1st Lieutenant Eric F. Wood, Jr., was posthumously awarded the nation’s second highest decoration for extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy.
Eric Fisher Wood jr is buried at Henri Chapelle, Plot: Plot G Row 3 Grave 46.
May he rest in peace
– Distinguished Service Cross,
– Silver Star,
– Bronze Star,
– Purple Heart,
– Belgium Croix de Guerre
– Teammembers Michel van Eert and Marc Brand
– Tjarco Schuurman
– Donald van de Bogaert
– Brian Sidall
We used 22 sources for this article:
– The 106th Infantry division, by Carl Wouters
– 589th unit journal
– Together we served
– Find a Grave
– 65th anniversay of Eric Fisher Wood
– In Honored Glory
– Ray Merriam – Battle of the Bulge
– The Incredible Valor of Eric Wood (by R. Ernest Dupuy, Col. USA, ret.)
– A Blood-Dimmed Tide: The Battle of the Bulge by the Men Who Fought It, Gerald Astor
– What happend to Lt. Eric Wood
– Indiana Military
– Snow and Steel: Battle of the Bulge 1944-45, Peter Caddick-Adams
– Lehman Wilson Malone:
– In the shadow of the forests by Armand Blau (1996).
– Airborne Units
– Interview with Colonel Charles W. Billingslea
– Chester county hall of heroes
– WWII memorial website
– The National Archives
– Eric Fisher Wood, someone I’d like you to meet
– Traces of war
© Bob Konings, April 25th 2016