THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
Tales from the old-timer
Bad Day in August 1944I landed on Utah Beach as a Field Artillery Replacement on June 12, 1944, six days after the D- Day landing in Normandy, France. I joined Battery B 42nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division, which was about 19 miles inland by then. A forward observer is needed for every 105 mm Battalion, to call in artillery to support the Infantry. The regular guys in that role became rattled in time so all of us took turns going up with the Infantry to relieve them.
By Aug. 5 our front line had moved about 40 miles beyond St. Lo in Normandy to near the village of Mortain, where Adolph Hitler sent several crack Panzer Divisions to halt the American advance, hoping to drive our front back to the landing beaches. I had served with the Forward Observer near St. Lo, and my second time came due just in time for the Mortain battle.
We were behind a hedgerow next to a sunken road that ran at right angles to the main front lines. I had our lieutenant and a guy named Smith.
The troops of the 8th Regiment were crossing the sunken road one at a time, at intervals far too regular, and a machine gunner at the upper end of the road fired burst at each man as he crossed. Finally a man was hit in the road right through his chest and went down. I dragged him to the relative safety of our position, and used his compress bandage to close the wound. I still heard sucking noises and rolled him over, and used my compress bandage to plug the hole in his back. He had Blackie written on the back of his fatigue jacket.
I ran across the road to the aid station about 100 yards back to get some first aid men to come for him. A man in a stretcher was lying there saying over and over, Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jesus!
I went back to my lieutenant, and he was peering through his binoculars toward the machine gunner, when two shots hit him in the chest, and down he went. It seemed a long time until the stretcher bearers came and took the two men away. The Germans observed the Geneva Convention and did not fire at the aid men.
After and hour or so, a new lieutenant arrived and sat under a tree near me.
We next moved to our right and joined the Infantry to attack the Germans behind a hedgerow that was perpendicular to the sunken road. We were moving single file, and that same machine gunner opened up and knocked over about four men behind me, so I and my partner, Smith, hit the deck. I watched the bullets smacking the hedgerow behind us, but apparently he couldnt depress the gun enough to hit me. After a while Smith jumped up and ran back to our starting point. I waited longer, then joined him.
I was sure happy when our relief guys came to replace us, and we were able to proceed back to where the jeep was waiting to take us back to the relative safety of our battery.