3rd day in the SOFT UNDERBELLY

3rd day in the SOFT UNDERBELLY (some belly)

 

The war and the fighting took on a different dimension than Anzio type war. From being “sitting ducks” to being mobile marauders! Our “new” Model ‘A’ Army truck was accepted by the Lieutenant as useable and proper equipment. It began to serve in our detail as long as we had the gasoline furnished and as long as the engine held out. I really wish I had that truck here today .It was in very good original condition. I loved the clatter and clang of the engine. Model “A” Ford engines have their own distinctive exhaust sound–kinda like hill billy music–you can tell what is approaching when you hear that ‘tune’. I was given privilege to drive it further in a convoy which lasted into the darkness of the night- till morning came. No lights! Black out! That was a terrible driving experience! Jeep after Jeep with trailers attached following each other in bumper to bumper column. There were no lights allowed–nothing! I was continually ramming up against the jeep in front of me. During a break, I devised a method to help me stop in time. I got a GI flashlight and folded my handkerchief over the lens several time to allow a faint light through. I gave the light to a person in the jeep and I told him to flash the light when the truck was too close to his jeep. It worked to a degree till the GI got wearisome and fell half asleep if not completely ‘zonked’ out. I crashed the front bumper into the tail end several times. I had to keep close on the tail because I didn’t have a ‘clue’ as to where we were going and If I had veered off the course, the whole convoy following would have followed me off course. I was really sorry we took the truck in a very short time. It was fun though and fun was so rare in this war for so long a time! Part of the Platoon was having a good time riding because without the Model A “Army truck”, (with German army markings) (now drafted into the A&P platoon), the guys would be plodding along somewhere in a dismal parade of infantrymen. We were moving!

The convoy stopped at dusk and pulled off the road into what appeared to be a war housing complex. Row upon row of houses which looked quite like our army barracks in the states. If it was completely as if it were a French Army training base, I couldn’t guess. There was litter strewn all over the place. The people who lived there evacuated and left most of their possessions. This place where we stopped had to have been just after the large town called AIX en Province. The German army gave us a lot of resistance at AIX-en-province. They weren’t giving us the ground at too much of a bargain price, but we were really grabbing it now. I didn’t seem to worry so much in this kind of war! Heck, I made myself into a Red ball express driver!

After passing Aix en Province we sort of camped alongside the road for a ration and rest. Lieutenant Krochmal, who was the supply officer, ordered me to get the truck ready, load up all the Jerry cans we could find. We were to go back to AIX en Province for a supply of fresh water. The engineers had set up a water purifier there for Army use. The truck bed was probably 7 feet wide by about 10 feet long. The whole bed was filled with banging GI cans. We filled the gas tank with our gasoline. It was about the first time LT. Krochmal and I were ever on a ‘one on one’ acquaintance. I wrote before that it wasn’t very apropos to get on a friendly basis with your ‘superior’–I respected them from as far away as I could. They had the power to nail your ass to the stump if they wanted to for the smallest infraction!

The road back to AIX was uneventful. The highway was narrow but made of concrete. Smooth. The cans didn’t rattle as much now.   In town the Lieutenant directed me to go down a street which his map showed was on the way to the center of the town where in the middle of a large village square, the engineers had erected a giant canvas tank probably 20 feet in Diameter about four feet high–like today’s above ground swimming pools–.There was an attendant there to fill the cans.

FFI FIGHT (Free French)

 

Before arriving, though, at the water tank, we were suddenly caught up in a cross fire. A squad of Free French soldiers, dressed in their FFI uniform, resembling ours, were firing into an apartment building. We couldn’t dare to go through the cross fire. We stopped the truck. I jumped out and drew my Luger! I somehow had to get into the action.  The FFI men dashed across the road and I was with them. We climbed the stairs to the second floor. I was right behind the first FFI guy, He came to an apartment door and kicked in the panel of the door and lobbed in a grenade! I thought there must be a platoon of German soldiers therein!   I was ready!! Then the FFI guy drew his British made Webley .455 revolver and fired all the rounds into the door lock and broke it to smithereens. He kicked in the door and we rushed into the room firing at anything. I fired my Luger several times to make sure it worked, y’know, –even into the bath tub! Gee why did I tell you that? The room stunk from gunpowder and grenade smoke. Glass was splattered all over the room from the bullets through the windows. There standing with his back to the wall behind a chimney was a civilian dressed in a black suit and with a black vest only, squeezing his body back against the wall in fright! At that point, I was very remorseful for firing my Luger as if I were one of those rabid FFI Frenchmen. Those FFI guys go into a frenzy with their enemies! And I got caught up in the frenzy! I felt sorry for the poor Nazi bugger in a split second. I didn’t really like that I was involved in a heated revenge against a Nazi collaborator. How did I know he was a Nazi? I heard the FFI guys screaming the word. There were at least a half dozen of these rabid guys yelling for the collaborator’s blood now! They ordered him out of the room and through the kicked in door way to the stairway. At the top of the stairs I noticed there were bloody holes in the back of his vest. He had been hit through the chest with several rounds at least, I determined, but he was still ambulatory! Before making the first step down, a Free Frenchman thought the Collaborator was moving too slowly. He shoved the muzzle of his 8mm Mauser into the back of the Collaborator’s neck and was threatening to pull the trigger if he the prisoner wouldn’t quicken his step. I was alarmed at the Frenchman’s hate, and I took action of my own! I shoved the Mauser aside and the gun barrel hit the wall of the staircase. I didn’t get any ‘guff’ from the FFY person, who took a step back and

followed me down stairs behind the prisoner. I got myself involved in this nutty revenge and I wanted to get out of it! At the bottom of the stairs, the collaborator ran out of energy and collapsed. I stepped around him and got my ass out of there. In the meantime Lieutenant Krochmal was taking pictures of the event. I wish I could cajole his widow into allowing me to have his pictures for authenticity.    When the first FFI man shot the lock out on the door expending the 5 rounds, he handed the British Webley back to me and I stuck it in my belt. I had a souvenir! But I sold the ugly revolver for $5 dollars to one of the guys in the platoon. Lieutenant Krochmal is in the grave today. I have written to him in the past and he duly remembered the incident.

We were loaded with water which is heavier load than a person could imagine for the Model A one ton truck. It was struggling under the load. Now and then the engine would ‘cutout’-sputter and die. It had a good battery so starting it was a small problem. I was familiar with Model As from my days on the farm. I knew it was a clogged gas line but I had no tools at all to remedy the situation. It was easier to restart and chug further down the road on a carburetor full, then restart it. Chug chuggin’ along.   We had to go up hill. A grade which took a lot more fuel, so we were making lots of stops to get near the top. Suddenly from behind came a column of Sherman Tanks! I was clogging the narrow road way! The commander stuck his head out of the lead tank turret and yelled dirty obscenities– “Git that gawd damm thing off the road or I’ll shove the effen thing off”–Gee, we had German army marks on this truck! I yelled back cupping my hands over my mouth to make my voice heard,” I CAN’T GET IT STARTED”. Just then though enough fuel leaked past an obstruction in the gas line filling the carburetor. I hit the starter again and was able to start the engine. Just then the tank behind roared its engine, puffing out black exhaust for a run at us! He was going to ram me for sure. I think what might have saved me was that the Tank commander saw Lt. Krochmal’s Lieutenant bars when he ‘jumped ship’ before the ramming was about to take place. When that incident was over, I was beginning to realize the Model A truck thing was not in my best interest no matter how much fun it was to drive. Stalling and stopping wasn’t what trucking is all about. It was taking more time than allotted to get back. We had no phone or radio to tell of our plight, but in the great wisdom of the motor pool Sgt he came to our rescue. Smitty came with LaPorte who was head mechanic in the motor pool. What a welcome sight!

Smitty jumped out of the jeep and rushed up to me greeting me in our Hill billy jargon! He said, “Put ‘er there LUM” and he extended his palm for a hearty handshake JUST as I was spitting on the ground!!! (Like the baseball players do) You gotta believe it was not on purpose! I hit his open palm with a huge big gob of sputum!! Right in the middle of his Palm!! Smitty was stunned, and so was I! He stood there in the dangdest poise and facial expression you ever saw–looking at the gob of spit in his hand!! Then we broke out in laughter nearly busting a gut! We could have crapped our pants from laughter and that goes for La Porte too!

I let Smitty wipe his hand on the ass part of my pants. We were in this laughing fit for a longest time. Hell! There was no war at this moment!! After the war when we had occasion to meet, we both had a hearty laugh over the dumb incident. La Porte was dying from laughing too, he was from Louisiana, as French as you could get. Handsome, He looked like George Raft the movie star. He lifted the hood of the Model A and found that instead of a copper gas line the Jerries’ mechanic used a rubber hose from the gas tank. The hose was deteriorating and small bits and chips of rubber clogged the carburetor.

Once fixed, the Model A truck ran like a charm. In the meantime, Lieutenant Krochmal took the jeep back to where we were destined. Leaving the delivery up to me and Smitty entirely. The Model A was abandoned, but I can’t remember just when. It was becoming a hazard to our health. The ‘upside’ was that I was almost assigned to a new duty in the motor pool, which would have been a good deal for me. No such luck.

I had pictures of us in those days but I lost them somewhere. I do have a picture which resembles the collaborator who was the object of the FF. fire fight–. I think he was a prominent politician collaborating with the Nazis during Hitler’s occupation. His picture was in a lot of publications. I saved the photo and truly believe it is the one and same man the Free French wanted to bring to justice. The following is it

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