There was a brief lull in the fighting in the Fall of 1944.  Senior German Army officers were at a war game, training for what they would do if the Americans attacked through the Hurtgen Forest. They were halfway through the exercise when they were notified that the Americans had entered the Hurtgen in force. They grabbed their game plans and ordered reinforcements into the Hurtgen.

It made little sense. It had been expected that the Americans would just screen the Hurtgen and attack elsewhere. The Hurtgen forest was a nightmare of steep hills and dense forests with only a couple of small roads and a number of old firebreaks. All of the American advantages would be negated—air support, artillery, armor, mechanized units, communications and supply. And the Germans had been preparing field fortifications.

Indeed, the Americans were quickly bogged down in what would prove to be the longest battle in the history of the United States Army. Elements of 10 different divisions would suffer heavy casualties in the dark shattered woods, at first in the rain, later in snow.

On one overgrown trail, possession kept changing from one side to the other. Eventually the medical stations were no longer evacuated and German and American doctors and medics just ran one station together.

A company commander might know the names of every one of his 180 men in a unit that had been together for a long time before entering action, but in the Hurtgen, casualties were so high and so many replacements cycled through that squad leaders often did not know the names of the men that they were leading (this also occurred at Okinawa).

Many of the replacement draft infantry thrown into the inferno at the Hurtgen had, until that time, been soldiers assigned to colleges as students. In spite of the Army having had them trained as engineers or interpreters, they were sent into the line as riflemen—privates—though some had worn as many as five stripes before being sent to college.  They were the men of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

Boston College

In early 1942, colleges across the United States were in shock. Most of their 20-year-old students and older who had not already enlisted had been drafted or were about to be. To make it worse, the Army was pushing for new selective-service regulations that would drop the draft age to 18. Some colleges were looking at having to shut down for the duration of the war.

At the same time, the Army was short of officers and technical specialists. Whether as a sympathetic gesture to the colleges or simply because they didn’t bother to think it through, the Army decided to send 150,000 young soldiers to college for up to two years of accelerated courses.