Somewhere after Aix en Province we abandoned the Model A Ford truck. I am glad we did because I didn’t much care for the night driving with the bad brakes and German Markings. It was a sitting duck for an FFI sniper.
I can vaguely recall now riding on a Fender of Mac’s weapons carrier up front where I could enjoy the scenery. We were moving so fast that my face was wind burned and also from the August sun. All of us were getting a Southern France tan. We didn’t realize that we were in France’s resort country. Vineyards included. It was a pleasant war compared to Anzio. I remember our unit tearing through town after town with civilians lining our pathway cheering and greeting us. Some offering drinks. I now had a camera which I “liberated’–but there was no film! I also had liberated a box camera with no film. It turned out to be a fun thing though. As we passed through the throngs of French girls, I would point the camera at them and get their immediate attention. I would snap the shutter and pretend that I had a ‘winner’ snap shot. Just a simple box Kodak with no film! What fun I had! We passed throngs of people in a town named Carpentras. Our unit went through streets which were tree lined. Most of the town was intact because the retreating German army chose not to hold the town too vigorously.
Then soon we felt resistance. No longer able to ride, I remember being assigned to one of the rifle companies– most likely Company E. I carried my rations and a pack of TNT weighing 18 pounds and my rifle as we marched (Hiked) through a heavily wooded area on a flanking move to try to out flank a large German convoy in retreat. I was a zombie in all this. Not much information is given trigger pullers it seemed. Just Latrine o grams and scuttle butt. It was only when being fired upon that you knew what you were supposed to do. It was a battle brewing. I remember we came upon a farm house and farm yard. Much the same scene as in America. The house was painted yellow. We milled around having a rest only to have to plod on further in a short time. The radios delivered a message to tell us that the Flanking movement was successful. The results were tremendous losses to the fleeing German Army. Eventually we crossed the railroad track and a road parallel which was the route the retreating German convoy intended to take. We were saved the agony of encountering the retreating German army. An artillery barrage clipped the rails to stop the train. Other artillery laid waste to countless German army personnel and equipment. There were dead horses strewn around and of course the area was cluttered with dead German soldiers. It was a monumental victory, at a reunion, I spoke to the officer in charge of the artillery which was credited with the rail it. He called it a “lucky round”.
Little French Farm
I’d like to tell you about a little French farm somewhere on our pursuit of the enemy about after the Montelimar battle in the Rhone valley. It was almost like coming home. There was a little yellow farm house with cottage type windows. A big barn with animals. There was a well in the center of the farm yard with a most unusual water pump. I had never seen one like it. It was an endless chain which was rotated with a crank. There were flights on the chain which entered a pipe to lift water. A really good deep well pump. We all enjoyed a sort of bath which we did right in view of the farm lady. Her husband was conscripted but she had a farm hand who was an Italian. He came handy to us because we had Nicholas Garritano in our group who was all Italian. He translated for us to French.
One of the first things translated to the French farm lady was to ask to buy a chicken. And also to ask if she would prepare it for us. She agreed and we paid her to go murder a chicken and to clean it. She boiled it and all this without salt. I also asked her to cook a few real live potatoes and she did that too. We watched her as she skittled about the kitchen which was just like ‘back home’. There was a wood burning cook stove like my mother had. The table was in the center of the kitchen where most farm action takes place just like back home. There was no running water but she did have a sink. No bathroom. Just a Path–what else is new? Then we sat down at her table and she doled out the legs and wings etc to each of us on a real plate. No one of us was so religious as to say grace, but muttered to each other how much we appreciated this moment. Smitty was there and Nick Garritano but I can’t remember the others who helped pay for the chicken. We just ‘dug’ in. We ate heartily even though there was no seasoning. It really needed salt. –very much– but we ate it anyway. And the potato was delicious with nothing on it. In a situation like this there were dangers of a surprise. Someone had to be posted as a guard. There could be a squad of German soldiers in the barn or on the edges of the farm. A few of them with Machine pistols catching us by surprise would be havoc .Guards were posted and that was taken care of. We checked out all possibilities.
It came time to milk the cows. The farm lady had a really healthy looking string of Guernsey’s. They were herded into the barn and placed into their stanchions the same as back home. The Farm Lady and the Italian farm hand talked to the cows, kinda like baby talk–cooing, just like my folks would say, “Whoa bossy”. They called the cows by name just like back home. A cow is temperamental and can sense when there is something or some stranger different in the barn. The lady was a bit concerned that they might baulk when the cows saw me standing there. The cows by habit go to their own stanchions and could sense me as a stranger. Maybe I was carrying a Military odor–no 24 hour de-odorant stuff, y’know. I might have had a strange sweaty odor or maybe the odor of gunpowder or TNT.
I asked the farm lady if I could help her milk the cows through the interpreter but my Italian was Nienta bono .She misunderstood the interpreter. She thought I wanted to view her doing the milking operation to learn about how to milk a cow to see how milk was produced. Ha! She thought I was a ‘city boy’. When she showed me a stool held in one hand and a milk bucket in the other I reached out for them. But she went on with a demonstration first placing the stool under the cow and so forth—warning the cow with a pat or two on the rump—just like back home. But then I took over. I said.” No No, me me”. I pointed to myself with my thumb repeatedly. She didn’t understand that until I sat on the stool and began to milk like ‘back home’. Squish-squish. I milked several cows for her while she watched. She was amazed. Later the Italian understood me and told her that I was a “farm boy’. I could have had a farm job, but Uncle Sam wouldn’t have allowed that! Gee! What if I would have stayed!
The French are the same as we are, especially in the rural farm areas. After all most of America was built on European standards and culture. I was glad I was in the European theater for my war. I kinda decided that the farmer’s life wasn’t all that bad. These moments were the most tranquil moments of the war for me. I don’t remember hearing any shelling or gun fire at this stop. It was like being on “cloud nine”.