THE PATROL—2nd day
We were ordered to go on a patrol. The Noncoms and our officer, (I cannot remember his name for the life of me), were instructed .Our mission was to make contact with the 45th or some other outfit on the right flank. There was a gap forming between us, I surmised. Most of the platoon made single files along a narrow blacktop road and struck out at a quick step. We were about to ‘Meet the enemy’ in broad day light.
Some small distance we drew small arms fire from our left flank. The firing came from a quite dense brushy knoll. There were trees on the knoll and bushes in scattered pattern in between us and the small arms fire. I don’t remember if we took on any mortar fire. All of us “hit the Ditches” for a lower profile. That’s how we were trained–live for another day of fighting!
The small arms fire was getting more intense. We fired at the bushes and whatever we thought was behind some of the very well camouflaged positions. It was evident that we were up against quite a number of forces. Headquarters heard the fire fight and commotion and had the wisdom to send a Sherman tank to our aid. They heard the fire fight erupt. On the tank was a mortar crew. When the tank approached the first GI in our patrol, the mortar crew jumped off and set up their mortar for our use and awaited orders to fire. Rudolph Smith and I were at the head of our column. “Smitty” was all anxiety and gungho! I can say that I wasn’t an iota nervous. I wasn’t in much fear for some reason.
The tank came forward and screwed itself around aiming the 75 mm cannon forward over our heads. The tank commander stuck his head out of the turret and yelled for instructions. It was above the roar of the firing and the tank’s motor. He couldn’t hear what Smitty asked him to do, so I got out of the barrow pit and dashed alongside the tank to its rear end making as low a target and out of line of fire as much as I could. You could bet that the German riflemen were trying to hit me as I ran crouched along the tank. Usually a person can hear the snap of bullets close by. You never hear the one that hits you. I climbed up the back of the tank near the escaping exhaust. I ducked down to place the turret between myself and the direction of the firing. The Tank commander asked me what I wanted done and I told him to unload his machine guns on the area in front of us. They did that. It was quite a clatter of fire as the tank men spent a couple minutes firing at anything I pointed out.
I must say that training from Camp Roberts and Camp Howze and the other training about camouflage came in direct use. I remember the instructors instructing us that when a limb or branch from a bush or tree is cut and placed over another area the back side of the green foliage will have a slight difference in color and hue. Ah Ha! I noticed pill boxes and other fortifications with drier brush than some other brush heaps. I pointed at whatever looked suspicious and the commander would phone down instruction to fire. All of the firing was at point blank range. It was rifle fire distance. The tank’s shell would crash into the camouflage and send up a cloud of different colors. It was making direct hits. I can’t recall how many rounds we fired but a lull developed. There was seemingly no more firing towards us. There were no white flags either—no direct surrender. It was going to be necessary to “mop up”. It’s an Infantryman’s job now. The Tank Commander said, “I guess that takes care of that” and he picked up the mortar crew and left the scene. I don’t remember if I thanked him. I like tanks–tanks a million!
I don’t know who the hell our officer was. I can’t remember who told us to do what. Smitty was a Sergeant, (maybe a corporal at the time). I was just a buck ass private. Smitty decided we’d have to flank the area. Larry Corbett from Maine and Robert Breese from, Hugo Oklahoma, and I volunteered to go with Smitty. The rest stayed behind in the borrow pit. As I say again, I don’t know where and who was the Lieutenant. The patrol remained in the borrow pit and or returned to the place we began at some time later. No one explained. Our foursome scurried further down the road to a farm house in the middle of a grape vineyard. We kicked open the doors and was greeted by the odors of shaving soap and cooking. They were just there! There were no Germans now though within–at least the first floor. We went up to the second floor and gazed out the window across the vineyard. All of a sudden Breese said, “I see one -I see one -gimme your M1”. Breese knew the M1 bullet range would be best for this job. But the person disappeared behind and midst the grape vines. We decided to split up. Breese and Corbett went back to the outfit and Smitty and I followed the tracks of the German soldiers which Breese saw running into the grape field. We were getting more concerned now about a mine field. We knew that if there were mines the Germans would surely not step on one as they escaped us. We stepped in their exact tracks and followed a trail alongside a brush lined dry creek. We followed a trail which was used by the farmers, I imagine for ages. It led us into a dry creek bed. Dense brush lined both sides. There was an opening however where foot traffic and possibly cattle crossed. On the other side of the dry creek bed was a stairway leading up to a dried lawn. At the far side of the lawn was a typical two story stone farm house. I have a picture of the very same house I believe. We heard a strange noise above the other noises of rustling brush. We knelt down next to each other and whispered last minute plans on how we’d make the rush across the dried grass and to the door of the house. We suspected that the house would hold most of the enemy. They could be up stairs. It was a good view point for them.
We checked our weapons. I pulled back the bolt ever so slowly to see that I had a round in the chamber. We tried to not make a single clicking noise. Smitty did the same, but he made nearly a fatal mistake–he didn’t let the bolt go all the way ‘home’. It almost cost him his life for the one little error. Little error? No, not so little, a rifle is your only life support most of the time.
We checked our grenades and decided not to lob them in first. We said, “Ready set GO!” and we dashed to the cement stairs and crouched for a second to survey the situation from this point. Then we noticed where the strange noises were coming from. The German soldiers thought they would have enough time to load a wagon with their possessions and get the hell out of there. Maybe they got a phone message after we assaulted them. There was a team of nice big draft horses hitched up to a buggy which was loaded down with suitcases and other belongings like refugees would have. You know the snorting noise a horse can make when clearing his nostrils. I am a farm boy and didn’t even think about it! We made a dash across the dry lawn and into the house! There in was a room full of wounded German soldiers cowering and moaning–and bleeding. They had mattresses spread out. A captain was hit in the hips and he responded readily to Smithy’s command in German.
Smitty spoke fluent German which made us sort of friendly. I never thought then but in retrospect we made a few blunders by being ‘friendly’.
Smitty yelled in German something, which sounded like “ACHTUNG Mach Schnell!”DER HENDS EN DER HO” (your hands high in the air) “Schnell!” (Quick!). Our rifle muzzles spoke a language too, which was best understood. We saw that whatever medics they had was already attending to many wounded. Outside were German soldiers who took on direct hits and didn’t make it. Just think! I did it with just pointing my finger at targets! I felt no remorse—then and to this day. Smitty quickly asked where are the others. The Jerry Captain said, “Outside”. We would be trapped now if we didn’t act! Those able to walk were ordered out side of the house to stand in front against the wall. Smitty was ahead of me and as he left, there came a noble looking “Herr Commandant Offizier”–He looked every bit an SS officer. He had a body guard who was armed with a French machine pistol. Smitty pulled down on him and pulled his trigger and it just snapped–but he reacted quickly jerking the bolt back before the body guard could level on him, and Smitty fired over the head of the officer. Herr Commandant yelled then, that the whole bunch would surrender!! The body guard threw down his weapon and the officer told a corporal to issue surrender orders to the whole garrison.
We had a problem which faced other GIs in this situation. What to do with all these prisoners. The count was something like 18, Plus the wounded.
I had them lined up against the house with my M1 trained on the wounded Captain to make him responsible for the behavior of the group. He understood that very well. He was bleeding through his uniform but not quavering.
The Main Commander asked if he could get into his full regalia uniform. I permitted him and this could have been foolish, to get his best uniform and medals. I allowed those one at a time to get some of their treasures. Each one would emerge with some sort of food for me. I collected a couple rings of salami and burdened myself with them on my arm as I held the M1 trained on the Captain.
Smitty made the decision to ask if any kind of truck would run. A corporal went with Smitty to scrounge the area for a serviceable truck. The only thing which would start and run,–are you ready for this? It was a 1929 Ford Model A truck with stock racks!! Of all things! In the meantime while they were gone, I was scared shitless by a loud blast! I tensed and was almost about to start a massacre because I thought the corporal led Smitty over a mine field! The wounded Captain hurriedly made hand gestures pleading for me not to shoot! I hardly got the message and I was about to fire 8 rounds–the first at the Captain. It was explained later that the Corporal wanted to set off the mines so we could drive out of the compound. Meanwhile back at the borrow pit the platoon heard the big blast and thought it was ‘curtains’ for Smitty and me.
Standing there holding these prisoners put me in a very vulnerable position. I stood out on the edge of the parched dried out lawn. One of those prisoners I let go inside could have ‘picked me off’. Another thing made me vulnerable was because a ‘johnny come lately’ came from behind the right wall of the house in a great sweat saying something like cuss words in German as he worked the bolt of his Mauser emptying the rounds on the ground as he walked toward me. He reached in each pocket for more ammo and threw the rounds on the ground. Then he tossed the rifle at my feet and took a position in the lineup. He could have easily sniped at me and I don’t think I could have seen him peeking around the corner of the house if he chose to do so! Soon, we heard the strange but familiar sound of an old Model A Ford! It came around to the front of the house with Smitty driving. He was laughing at the sounds, and having a good time driving this relic and joking with the friendly German prisoner.
It was taking all afternoon now to do this ‘mopping up’ detail. I had the chance to see what else was out in the compound and I was amazed at what the Sherman Tank shell fire did to the camouflaged barracks and other equipment which included artillery tractors and of all other things–you will hardly believe this–two 1937 Ford V8s–both of them with the little 60 hp V8 motors. They were smashed as if in a demolition derby. Hey! And I did it with just pointing my finger!! The tank’s fire was very effectively murderous. No wonder they surrendered! We didn’t take time to count the dead to learn just how many there were. That was for the GRO (graves registration officer).
The wounded were loaded and placed on mattresses in the bed of the truck. I can’t recall how many there were. The truck bed was crammed. The dead had to be left behind for the Grave registration officer and the official ‘body count’.
The Captain gave me his wrist watch–an OMEGA-would you believe that? Oh well, and he had no further use for his Luger either. I adopted that. The other Captain had a nice little Smith and Wesson 32 caliber revolver and he hardly needed that. I sold it to Smitty later.
I got for myself a Kodak camera–a folding type. It took odd 620 film. It was what I used later for some of my pictures when I found film. Another souvenir I have of the other captain’s is his Russian Map case, in which was a pay roll of over a thousand dollars in French francs! He had the payroll in pinned stacks of about ten bills. I figured about ten dollar increments. He used stick pins to keep the payroll in counted order. I still have the map case, his dagger, and the maps showing the area where this stronghold was located near GONFARON France.
I also took from the Captain’s map case and have as souvenirs, several pictures of the officers and of the house which is or very nearly resembles the house which we just mopped up. One other souvenir which I value highly is an autographed 35 mm black and white photo of the head Captain. He wrote in German on the back with a Pen or pencil from the map case: “To whom I have befallen prisoner on August 16 1944” I have another picture of a POLISH conscriptee, (he said he was–because I said a few words in slavish which he could understand). He wrote a similar message on his picture. I’ll scan it so you might be able read his signature better. It seems as though it is “Anderkrup”–something like that. I said we got too friendly with these prisoners but once the hostilities are over it’s time to make friends–I would only have shot anyone of them if I was forced to do so.