Protected Again – Chapter 5

We had successfully breached the Seigfried line and were headed on toward the east.  Our armor would be on the highway just to the east of the line because we had punched several holes thru the line and for all practical purposes the Germans had lost that one and it only took a few days.  We were anxious to meet the armor because we had not had anything to eat since the rations we had carried with us ran out and no vehicle could climb the path we took.

At this point I need to recall a conversation I had with a poor frightened kid from Indiana, I never knew his name.  He was in our squad and was a quiet lad.  He told me he was terrified because he knew he was going to be killed.  I of course told him that was not the correct attitude and tried to get him into a conversation about God and God’s protection.  He would have none of it.

The next day we were headed east in a single file between the blockhouses we had conquered.  I am sure we were visible up and down the line and not all the Germans were unaccounted for.  I was watching him and all of a sudden there was a blinding flash, a huge sound and he literally blew apart.  I will never forget the sight of the smoking foot as it flew past me without the boot.  How the boot was blown off I’ll never know.  Two men in front of him were wounded with shrapnel and one behind me.  I never got a scratch because he absorbed the full force of the mortar shell and it hit him squarely in the middle.  Needless to say we hurried on past that place and fortunately the three wounded could walk. 

I know the danger of ignoring God.  I know the power of the spoken word.  He accurately prophesied his end and I saw it.  I don’t know how you could have a closer call than that.  Even 50 years later the vivid recollection of his death is a reminder to me that God watches over us. 

The next day big Sergeant Bill from Maine went back and picked up pieces of him and put them in a mattress cover so the men from graves registration could find him.  I wonder how many millions of German and Russian boys were never accounted for and the families of those men never knew anything except that they left for war and never came back.

The next incident was more humorous and actually fun.  We came across a couple of Germans who were busily cooking some dead horse meat.  Of course we were as hungry as they were so we stopped and helped ourselves also.  The Germans still had some horse drawn artillery and the team that pulled this cannon were killed by either our air force or our artillery. It was a welcome meal and horse meat is excellent when you are hungry.  The Germans were happy to surrender to us and went with us to where we could turn them over to the prisoner of war group.

Sometimes you can get too self confident.  We had had almost smooth sailing for a couple of days and I have no idea of where we were but we were getting low on fuel.  We needed a stopping place.  We were on a road parallel to a railroad track and at the point where we went under a railroad overpass there was a nice open field so we pulled in to wait for the red ball express to bring us gasoline and PX supplies and food. 

We were ambushed.  The road we came in on was blown up and we didn’t know the way out and the field was suddenly full of flak.

The 88mm antiaircraft was shooting shells above our heads which exploded and filled the air with shrapnel.  It was a terrifying experience until we found and put the 88 out of action.  I got a new job as a result of this incident.  Lt Oakes dispatched me to go see if I could find the next platoon.  Our radio had been demolished by shrapnel.  I became company runner for a while and carried messages from the company commander to different platoon leaders.  It was very exciting and I was shot at by our own men quite often.  It is amazing how you can survive what seem like an impossible trip.  I began to feel like I truly was invisible.

The Bronze Star was given for bravery, but actually it was a foolhardy kid feeling his oats.  I did however make some moves that saved lives.   I was stopped one time sitting down in a ditch and heard a whistling sound like incoming shrapnel and a chunk of steel about 18 inches long and maybe 3 or 4 inches wide came crashing down in the mud right beside me.  I can still see the steam coming up out of the dirt where it hit and it missed me by inches. 

One advantage of being the Company runner was the ability to get a few extra K rations.  For the first time in weeks I wasn’t hungry, and I guess I had become so numb to the danger that I began to feel like I had a front row seat in the most spectacular incident of this century.

One more close call and I will quit because it is not the most pleasant thing to talk about but it is clear evidence that I was supposed to survive.  I don’t remember where we were.  After a while one day runs into another and the whole time becomes sort of a blur.  In this case however it made a punctuation point that will be with me for the rest of my days. 

We were on foot on the attack again and in single file.  This time I hear the shell coming, it was artillery.  Mortars are quiet but artillery has a screaming sound that gets your attention.  The shell hit within 6 feet of me, but directly opposite of me and a tree about 5 to 6 inches in diameter was my shield.  Two or three men were wounded with that blast but because I was closest to it I never got a scratch.  I was deaf for maybe a month after that from the concussion but no other damage. 

The farther we penetrated the country the easier it was to take territory and George Patton was headed toward Berlin.  I’ll never forget the day we crossed the Rhine at Mannheim.  I had burned up a 50 caliber machine gun the night before.  We had it in the second story window shooting across the river.  I didn’t have to carry the shells and I was having a great time spraying the opposite shore with bullets.  I shot until the gun was so hot it jammed and we just left it.

The next day we were crossing the Rhine and George was directing traffic.  He was on the end of the bridge on the eastern side and had a good sized box to stand on.  You could see his Chrome plated helmet and his pearl handled six guns for at least a half mile.  If there was ever a target he was it. 

He had three armored divisions crossing the river that day and he didn’t trust anybody to point the way for each battle group. It was important for the proper infantry team to be working with the tank companies they were used to be with.  It was very complicated to keep the teams lined up properly and there were many many MP’s with lists of the companies and units which were going to cross and their job was to be sure that the proper team got on the bridge in the right order.  Each vehicle had id’s identification clearly painted on the bumper or the front to the tank.  All our half tracks had Co C 44th AIB for Armored infantry battalion.  George could see who was coming and he knew where he wanted each team to head.  He had three roads to send the troops on and he would point at the unit and then direct it to the proper road. 

He was a magnificent showman.  He had a word of encouragement for each and every unit that passed him and he told us we were winning and we should go kill more Germans.  We knew that he could be shot at any time by a sniper.  There was something about the charisma of him standing there thoroughly enjoying himself and wielding the most powerful attack force that man had ever assembled that was inspiration to boys like me.  I would have followed him anywhere.  You either hated him or loved him and I was one who understood he was the right man in the right place at the right time.  

We captured a warehouse in Muhlhausen.  It was full of German food supplies and we loaded our half track with as much as we could tie on.  One of the bounties of war were several cases of Cognac.

We had the drunkest and happiest bunch of soldiers in the army until that supply of Cognac was gone.  Haswell was the half track driver and I don’t know how he kept the thing on the road. 

About that time the powers that be decided we would not be allowed to take Berlin so we were sent in a southeasterly direction toward Czechoslovakia.  It was some more bungling by the democrats.  We won the war and Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave the prizes away at Yalta.  Next time we meet the Russians !!

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