Taking the prisoners to HDQ
The Model A truck ran quite well. Just before we moved out, the top officer insisted that we have a large white flag showing surrender. I was a very good idea. I’ll tell you a bit later.
The Captain ordered someone to get a bed sheet and it was fastened to a long pole. The Captain and I sat on the top rail of the cattle racks. He practiced waving the flag before we began our journey trying to find our headquarters. The Captain sat on the left side behind the driver with his legs inside the racks for balance and I sat above the cab. The only I.D I had was my GI uniform and my arm band and recognizable US helmet.
Smitty goosed the motor and we chugged along. We left the gates of the compound where I saw the giant hole from the mine which blast scarred the shit out of me! The corporal was riding in the front with Smitty. I think those Jerries knew something we didn’t know to cause them to surrender more willingly. In a few minutes of driving which was still in daylight we came face to face with a group of SHERMAN Tanks manned by the FFI (Free French). The 75 mm barrels of the same kind of Tank I directed fire from t to take this Fort were now leveled at the old Model A.
The captive German Captain feverishly waved the white flag of surrender and I made sure they saw the silhouette of my USA helmet and the arm band which was still nice and shiney new.
The Free French were notoriously trigger happy. USA was paying for their ammo. I felt very uneasy as we passed the first tank. I tried to make sure that he could recognize me as an American. He must have radioed a message back to the other lineup of tanks. We were safe. It’s an ominous sight looking down the barrel of those 75s.
Darkness fell upon us. I don’t know how in hell Smitty was going to find headquarters. The German corporal knew the likely way of our destination. It was pitch dark when finally the truck came into an area where our Battalion commander stood. I jumped off the truck and went to the rear of the truck at the tailgate. I was met by several soldiers and I began to bark out a few commands to them. I said that there were wounded prisoners on the truck in need of medical attention. Quick! Boy! Wow! That didn’t go over too well with one of the soldiers! He said, “Soldier!! Do you know who you’re talking to?” and I moved my head closer to him and saw CAPTAIN’s bars kinda glistening in the faint moonlight. I stuck my foot in my mouth again!! Giving an officer an order!! Like the time I was bitching about the rest camp back on Anzio. I hastily had to go into a kowtowing mode and said a pile of ‘No sirs’ and ‘yes sirs’ ‘sorry sirs’ and told him I didn’t see his rank. “It’s dark y’know”, I added. My concern was for the badly wounded German soldiers. I didn’t hear about the Holocaust till we were in Germany or I might have felt a bit more hostility! Maybe I wouldn’t have considered them friendly prisoners at all!
The prisoners were now in the hands of a different bunch of ‘looters’. There were treasures in those suit cases which I allowed them to take. They were stripped clean. I guess that was protocol. I’ll bet there was there in the suit cases etc. a Leica camera!!
Smitty and I found our way back to the platoon. They were elated to see us. They heard the big blast and thought sure we were killed. GI’s don’t hug each other. Not in OUR army any way in that day. They just overflowed with kind words and gestures. Smitty and I showed them our loot and best of all was the bacon, sausages and schmaltz cans the Jerries tossed on the truck. Not to mention the salami which we all devoured. Then too, Smitty and I tossed around some of our French francs thinking it not legal tender. Some of the guys used bills to light cigarettes. I began to wonder! Hell those bills looked good to me, so I took them to the orderly and asked him if I could send some home. He said, “Those new bills look too suspicious, take ’em back and crumple ’em up and I’ll see if they’ll go through”, BY GOLLY he did it! He got a money order for I think about $225.dollars’ worth. It was one of those ways to pay a soldier. I don’t feel one iota of guilt!
When we were grouped up near an open fire next morning (17th) we saw a Weapon’s carrier or two zoom by us going to the rear. It was loaded down with the prisoners Smitty and I captured. They recognize me and Smitty and waved and waved till they got over a hill. So did we wave back? I wonder where they are today and what kind of tale they’d tell about the Americans to whom they were “befallen”. The German word for prisoner is “GEFANGANER”.
The only guy who was intellectual enough in our platoon, it seemed was Paul I. Thome, a college student who could write. He wrote up the citations for Smitty and me. The only thing which galls me to this day was that Smitty got the SILVER STAR and I got just the BRONZE STAR. It was I who directed the tank’s fire and was in the sights of the weapons from the stronghold. It was I who ran across the road exposing myself to their fire and climbed the tank. At least my head was a target for a sniper! I have to say that it was great excitement at the time.
The bronze star has been demeaned too much in late days. Hell! It seems they give ’em away in the chow lines today! In that day it was a new medal for real bravery. I think that my medal for that action should be upgraded–at least to a Silver Star. Audie Murphy did something like I did and was awarded a DSC or more. Oh well! He must have done more.
Also following this is an excerpt from the 30th Infantry history.
Official citation :