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Tales from the old-timer

Memories of War

Something I had forgotten these 65 years popped back into my memory recently, and deserves mention in the Old Timer column. I was the right age to get involved in World War II and since the Navy, my first choice, wouldn’t take me, the US Army was the inevitable choice. I had 17 weeks of basic training at Fort Bragg, NC, a month of idleness, then rode to England on LST 49, (Landing Ship-Tank) getting to a camp at Barry, Wales about Feb. 1, 1944. I was a Field Artillery Replacement, and knew by then what I needed to know about the operation of a 105mm howitzer.

I landed in Normandy, France on June 12, 1944, and became a crewman on Section 4, Battery B, 42nd Battalion, Fourth Infantry Division. We went through the hedgerow country in Normandy, then took Cherborg, a port city in western France, then on to Paris and north to the German frontier.

We fired maybe 8,000 rounds of 105 shells up to then.

The Field Artillery has to have “eyes” as they are usually a couple of miles back of the front lines. A forward observer section provides the eyes, and must be right up there with the front line infantry.

We had to take turns for this hazardous job, and I was up there in the hedgerow country in Normandy for three days, at a place called Mortain for three days, where my Forward Observer Lieutenant got two bullets through his lungs, and the final time inside Germany, in the Huertgen Forest.

Not much hoopla was put out by Huertgen, as it was not a spectacular victory like the “Battle of the Bulge” about a month later, but a slow, bloody, multi-casualty mutual slaughter with the Germans, with the dense forest and lack of roads canceled our advantage in air power and tanks, and our side kept pouring in fresh Infantry divisions all in vain. My 12th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division arrived there in the night time on Nov. 6, and I and my partner, named Smith, spent most of our time in a roofed shelter, as artillery and mortar shells were landing night and day all over the place.

Dead American soldiers were collected and put in rows here and there in the forest, along with a few, not many German dead. In a fixed infantry situation, your own dead far outnumber those of the enemy.

On the 4th morning of Nov. 10, our Battalion staged an attack, which broke down immediately when our infantry ran into a minefield called a shu-mine field, which blew off one foot, bringing our attack to a complete halt. About that time the Germans started an attack of their own, and we went back to our starting point, the dugout where the Company Commander hung out. Our crew went in for the shelter, but we soon heard the Germans coming, and somebody said, “We got to get out of here.” My Lieutenant gave me a push, as I was nearest the door, so I went out and began to move toward the “rear.” I took a wrong turn, and soon found myself alone.

I jumped into a German foxhole. Theirs were maintained with the earth scattered, so they were not visible from the air. I heard a lot of mortars exploding, then someone shouting in a foreign language. They were approaching my hole, and I dropped my pistol belt with the German P-38 I had captured in July and jumped out with my hands up. They were in a V-formation, and one guy tightened up on his trigger, but didn’t fire. The German noncom had me sit down on a stump, and asked me, “Vere are your Komerads!” I answered him, “All kaput,” which meant “All finished.”

Then it happened, the unexpected act of humanity on the part of a German Lieutenant, who came along. He looked down at me in my dirty, unshaven condition, and said very clearly, “For you der var is ofter.”

I was then marched through the woods to the German Company Command post in a dugout, then to the Battalion Headquarters a couple of hundred yards back. For me, the war was not quite over, but I was to survive.


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