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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Near Mortain in Normandy, France August 1944

It was about this time of year, August of 1944, and it was again my turn to go forward with the Infantrymen of the 42nd Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division as one of two men to assist the forward observer of our Battery B of our 105 mm howitzers in going after German targets. We traveled by Jeep to about 600 yards of the front lines, then walked forward to join the Infantry. I peeked through the roots of the hedgerow and observed some dairy cows peacefully grazing in the lush grass. Some artillery shells exploded in the mist, knocking over three or four of them.

Those not hit milled around for a while, then resumed grazing amid their dead or dying companions. We saw where three or four foxholes had taken direct hits and they had Garand rifles with their bayonets thrust into the ground so the graves Registration guys would find and identify the corpses. Everybody wore dog tags for that reason.

We were attacking toward the Germans who were behind a hedgerow about 200 yards ahead, and then a German machine gun opened up, knocking over three guys at the rear of our single file. My companion and I hit the deck, and the bullets were flying inches over us, but the gunner didn’t seem able to depress enough to hit us, but we could see the bullets hitting the hedgerow a foot or two away.

We had a radio and a battery pack strapped on our backs, and the machine gunner knew what they were for. My companion, who I knew only as Jim, got up and sprinted around a corner to relative safety, but I waited a few more minutes, then I made my dash.

A man was lying on the ground, badly wounded, and he kept kicking me in his agony.

Things quieted down so we walked behind the hedgerow ducking down, and joined our lieutenant, who was calling in artillery to try to get that machine gunner, when two bullets went right through his chest. The Infantry guys were running at each man as he ran across. The intervals were too close, and finally one of them went down in the road with a bullet through his chest. I laid our lieutenant down and plugged the hole in his chest with his compression bandage but I could still hear air sucking out of him, so I rolled him over and plugged the hole in his back with my own compress. I dragged the wounded guy to safety behind the hedgerow and plugged his hole, using his compress. He thought his legs were sticking up in the air but they weren’t.

I ran across the sunken road to the aid station about 100 yards, and got some aid men to come after our wounded guys. They came well marked with red crosses and the machine gunner didn’t fire on them. I saw another man on a litter at the aid station and he was writhing and saying over and over, Help me, Jesus! Help me, Jesus.

After about 30 minutes a new Forward Observer lieutenant arrived, and he was calling our artillery to try to get that machine gunner, but he didn’t have his steel helmet on, and an 88 mm German shell exploded right near him. He put on his helmet then (must have been fresh from the States). The helmet was pretty thin, but gave psychological protection, at least.

At last our relief guys arrived, and I was glad to see them! We rode back to the battery, and they told us about a big German air raid the night before.


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