Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Granddad blogging: Under fire

Last week my grandfather sees his first Germans at the front, and then just as he got there pulled back to a relief area. This week they train hard for a river-crossing that takes a Tennessee boy by surprise and come under fire.

They’d carried us on back to a rest area then issued dry clothes and dry shoes and put us through a chow line and fed us and put us in barns in a French village and in these barns we got up in the hayloft and went to sleep. We slept that night and the next morning we fell out to breakfast. And they said “Alright, we’re gonna have a little exercize.”

So after all that mess they started us doing close order drill, just like we’d done in England and like we’d done in Camp Blandon, Florida. And we were sorta unhappy about that. But that didn’t last for long, til they told us we were gonna have to go across a river and attack the Germans. Well a river was a great big body of water to me, I didn’t know what it was. But they carried us out to a little old lake and they had some pontoon boats on it and we would run down and get in those pontoon boats and row across the “river” – the lake and then run up the hill on the other side and then come back and do it over and over. And I don’t know how many times we crossed that little old body of water, and then one morning they said “We’re gonna cross that river tomorrow and attack the Germans.”

Well, here we go. ‘Bout midnight they get us up and load us on the trucks. And about two o’clock we get on to this river. And there are the pontoon boats piled up over there, but we look at the little old river – what they called a river looked like a creek to me. And there was a log out across it, and we never did use the pontoon boats we just walked across these logs.

We got over across in this bottom on the other side and I never knew whether it was German artillery or American artillery or whether it was landmines or what, but the whole world – it seemed to me like – exploded everywhere. And they said run, run, run, run, run, run forward.

We didn’t know what else to do, so that’s what we did and we ran up to pine woods, great big old pine trees and then the shells started falling on the pine woods and they were using proximity shells that didn’t explode until they got so close to the ground or so close to an object. And they were gettin’ so close the top of these pine trees and exploding. So there were splinters and wood and stuff just falling all over us from everywhere. A few people got a few splinters in them.

And I heard them calling on the radio to stop, stop, stop, stop, stop. We had gone further and faster than we were supposed to, because we didn’t have any opposition. And we had run under our own artillery. Well, they finally got that stopped. And I guess it must have been about 10 o’clock in the morning, and I look around and the next thing I saw everybody was breaking their old K rations out and eating. I later found out that when you were under attack or you were in combat that one of the things that you did for some reason it made you want to eat. And that’s what we did.

[What's a K Ration?]

A K ration is a thing that in a box about the size of a cracker jack box. And it has enough food packed in it to feed one person three meals. It has a little canned ham, a little cheese, a few crackers a little hard candy package or two of cigarettes, some lemonade some coffee, and just a bunch of junk like that. And it’s very concentrated food and it doesn’t have any taste, but it has a lot of nutritional value and when you’re going in combat they issue that stuff. When they issue it to you, you can bet your bottom dollar that you’re fixin’ to go in combat.

Well, the next thing we get somewhere – I don’t know where we are – and they say we’ve got to run these Germans fast, we can’t let ‘em stop. Take off down the road, and we took a little Mexican sergeant and another old boy that came in about the same time that I did – the only thing I remember about him was that one of his hands was in bad shape and I wondered why in the world they took him in and on top of that they gave him a B A R to carry and they had this little Mexican sergeant and this boy and myself – we were the point – out in front of everybody and everything.

We sauntered down the road not knowing what was up ahead or what wasn’t up ahead. There was a thicket out in front of us and when we got to that thicket all of a sudden that thicket wasn’t there anymore. It was a camoflaged false front and it fell over and fell down and there was a great big old German 88 gun that they were shootin’ just like a rifle at us.

And they started on the back end of our line and were comin’ up towards the front and they finally got to us and the shell that came in – I don’t know how close it was to us but this boy with the B A R – it killed him and this little Mexican who was experienced – he knew what was gonna happen – he had crawled in a culvert and got his head up in it just as far as he could and it just tore his back all to pieces. I presumed he was killed, but he wasn’t ‘cause I saw him later. It didn’t touch me.

And then shortly after our mortar section began dropping mortars on this 88 up there and they blew it up and took off ‘cause it was just a holding action that they had to slow us down to keep us from getting somewhere – I don’t know where. And then they ran us again, run, run, run, catch, catch, catch.

And we went down through a valley and there were dead Germans laying all down this road and Germans laying there crying for help and crying for water and this that and the other. And we didn’t dare touch ‘em, offer to help ‘em, or give ‘em water or anything else because we’d been told over and over that there were people that were booby trapped and if we tried to help ‘em or do anything for them we’d probably get blowed up ourselves. So we just had to look at ‘em and move on.

And then we got somewhere, way across the valley, we could see a bunch of Germans and we started shooting at them with our rifles and they started running and I don’t know where they went. And I don’t know finally where we stopped, but we stopped somewhere and we keep going. Run, run, run, run, run, stop, stop, stop. And try to catch up with the Germans. And I guess that was the thing to do, I don’t know.

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