“MT. MOON BEAM”
I know now that I am out of the order of time, but I have to reflect back to a battle which was quite severe too–they all are of course.
There was a rainbow on the horizon. A rainstorm had just passed and the sun was bright enough through the clouds now and then. Over a hill toward a town called Faucogney, the rainbow touched down where the German troops were holding their ground. Some pot o’ Gold I thought!
I was assigned to G Company with my demolition pack of 18 pounds of TNT in case I was needed to clear some immovable object or special destruction. To me it was a routine duty to set out into the unknown with myself up with the officers leading the column into an attack. It wasn’t that I was that important except it was where an A&P soldier was supposed to be–at the beck and call of those whose job it was to call the shots. Blow this up or blow a hole here or there. I got to know the officers somewhat although I didn’t want them to even see me. I wanted to be as invisible as I could be, because I knew those guys thought that 18 pounds of TNT could solve any problem. I over state that for some levity, but it’s over 50 years ago! Give me a break!
We marched (never in step–hiked is a better word but march is a word used in war) through some brushy hills. The trees and brush were a viney maple sort with large leaves. At this time in the year the leaves were not yet turning. This helps me to know that it was before the Vosges Mountains. It was Jungle like off the narrow road and the trees shaded the road making a canopy over the narrow much unimproved road. A jeep could make this trail okay.
The road was leading to the ‘POT OF GOLD” area where the German army was making a stiff stand. The road led us through a farm yard. There was a barn on one side and the house on the other. Both were made of stone masonry built as usual. The road led us alongside a pasture. The road was above the grassy land about four feet elevated alongside the field about 5 acres in size. It was now just a cattle worn path and we entered a very thick patch of maple trees or whatever they were, those bushes were tall.
Here is where the Pot ‘o gold was waiting. A firefight broke out and dwindled to nothing. The troops dug in and in a short stalemate .The Germans retreated to a different ground. I was relieved of the TNT obligation and went back to the platoon.
When I got back I understood why I was ordered back. LT. WYATT said to me, “Mohar, we have to take supplies up to the Battalion and Company G. You’re the only one of us who knows how to get there. You were there. Take us there” Shit! I was just there!! Why me? Well it was logical I thought to myself. I learned to never mouth back to Lieutenant Wyatt. Jeeps and trailers were loaded down- it was a convoy of several jeeps and trailers. The loaded jeep convoy took off with me in the lead jeep. I told the driver where to turn from the front seat. Lt .Wyatt took a back seat this time. We followed the road I described earlier. It was steep enough for the jeeps to have to go in the slowest gear. Darkness fell on us just before we entered the trail and it was a blackout situation from now on with just the cat eyes on. You needed ‘owl eyes’ now.
When we came to the farm buildings, the sky allowed some vision upward so that you could see a parting of the brush which would help you detect that the trail was directly underneath. The most precarious of this trip was the narrow elevated trail around the pasture. It was just jeep width. I walked with Lt Wyatt, following just ahead of the lead jeep. Then we entered the brushy maple grove where there was absolutely no vision at all. I am telling you the truth that I had to get down on my hands and knees and with Braille feel for tracks to actually find the trail for the jeeps. The brush overhead closed in more here and didn’t allow me to determine where the trail really was. Just then as we were less than a hundred yards into the maples, we heard a crash behind and some yelling going on and sounds of pain.
Without hesitance and without Lt Wyatt’s permission, I ran back to the noise flying over the unknown pasture almost stumbling to find that a jeep driver misjudged the width of the road. It toppled over the bank spilling all the load and pinning the jeep driver underneath. I remember they called this jeep driver “DUTCH”. I don’t know his last name at all. We all managed to lift the jeep off him enough to pull Dutch’s body out from underneath. It was lucky that the jeep has a body designed for easier entry. His legs were in that cut away part of the jeep body. All hands available put the jeep back up on its wheels and the trailer. You know what? That jeep started up with no problem. Dutch got back behind the wheel. I couldn’t see his face if there was an expression of some sort. He did his duty. It took some time to reload his jeep. He was loaded down with heavy hand grenades and machine gun canisters and maybe some rations. He proceeded along in the pasture to keep his place in the convoy. The others clung to the narrow road way.
Now it was back to the chore of finding the path to the Battalion and especially G Company. I crawled most of the way feeling the dirt for foot tracks like an Indian scout, with Lt. Wyatt not saying a single word. My best guide was the bit of light from the sky determining if the tiny space as silhouetted against the sky would be most likely where this narrow path would be beneath. If I went off the trail with my hand I could feel the debris of fallen limbs and I could actually tell the terrain was not walked upon. How about that for a Farm boy? I estimate that the distance was about a half mile from the pasture.
Finally a guard hollered, “HALT” and we responded with the pass word. Then I knew I made a success of this nerve wracking trip. Lt.Wyatt took over from there.
We waited till the last jeep was unloaded then Lt Wyatt selected a driver to get us to hell outa there. Jeeps are noisy and can draw artillery fire. We returned to where the others in platoon were sleeping. Oblivious of the trip we made.
Lieutenant Wyatt said, “Bing, you can roll out and sleep in”. So I did that very thing. This was one of the times when I could use the ‘fart sack” I made for a good undisturbed rest. BUT next morning at the break of dawn I felt the kick of a boot, I opened my eyes gazing into Lt.Wyatt’s face. He said, “Roll out godammit, just because you’re a godamm hero don’t mean you can sleep in!! What a Lieutenant!
POTATO MASHER HILL
At the place I just wrote about near Faucogney, more intense fighting took place. The name of the battle known as “potatoe masher hill” and for good reason.
The Gerries held a brushy very steep hill. At the bottom of the hill was a building and probably a farm stead. I was there on one of the usual details making special trips over the road and trail. It seemed I was the only one in the platoon to know the way. On an occasion the company needed another radio in broad daylight. I easily could find the Command post. It was not required of me to remain to get my ass killed so I hide myself back up a steep farm road to where it led to brush. There was a wire gate there. As I retraced my route up the road a machine gun opened up on me from the steep brushy hill digging up dirt around me. I know snapping bullets by now and I knew my only way out was to dash as fast uphill as I could. I did make the cover of the brush which was just slightly beyond the wire gate which was laid open on the ground. Originally cattle were held in a pasture by that gate–just like back home. During the next few hours the battle for that hill began.
The Company G led by Captain Wardlaw (I believe) made it up that hill in the hail of potato masher grenades hurled down at them by the German soldiers on top. Somehow the troops made it to the top after expending all their ammo and food. Here it called for another trip. This time I led the entire platoon up the steep brushy hill. We carried machine gun ammo, grenades and bandolier after bandolier of M1 Ammo plus rations and cans of water. Not even a jack ass could have made it up there. Our only way was to follow the communications wire which the wireman unraveled on the way up. He draped it over brush and great big rocks to conserve his spool of wire. In the night you could NOT see if there was a way around the rocks, so we had to scale the rock handing the cans from man to man. It was a long arduous climb in the dead of night and as Snoopy would write this story, “it was a dark and stormy Night”.
The ‘word was’ to make as little racket as possible. No bitching no grunting not even a fart! The water cans clattered and so did the machine gun canisters which sounded like a dull ringing bell at times. A dead giveaway.
Finally we reached level ground which was still thickly forested and we followed the wire a bit more easily. Water cans are the most awkward load! And all the while trying to be as quiet as we could. Suddenly we were greeted by a single shot and a loud “HALT”. Captain Wardlaw heard us coming!! We sneaked so quietly that near to him. He pulled out his, 45 pistol which must have been off safety and he squeezed the trigger. He must have shot near his own foot! We were glad about that. The platoon was not ready for a fire fight if the ‘halt’ word had been an “ACHTUNG”.
The other ‘worst scenario’ would have been if the single shot would have started a fire fight. It didn’t happen. The German troops chose to withdraw losing this terrain.
The moniker for this hill,”MOUNT MOON BEAM” was coined in sarcasm by Edward Sudell. Ed Sudell was our ‘big guy’. We needed his John Wayne stature for that job. He often recalled the tale of the steep hill which we scaled in complete darkness–not a star in the sky with heavy over cast. You could not see your own hand in front of you, it was all Braille—except the shot from Captain Wardlaw’s pistol.
Captain Wardlaw told about this very incident himself later at a reunion in St Louis. We sat at the table of Captain Wardlaw and his wife with Wyatt and wife Bette. Captain Stanley and Signa his wife and I remember that Kirk Morris was there and Lt Benko. We were telling tales and Wardlaw told about two tales I had told my wife. One was about the Germans brain specimen on Anzio, and the pistol shot on Potato Masher Hill. I nudged my wife when he was telling both tales. The one about the pistol was when I brought up the Battle for Potato Masher hill. He asked, “were you there in that group?” I said ‘Yep leading it” I am glad he brought up and acknowledged this tale. I wouldn’t have dared to embarrass him. No matter what. He could have put me on KP!
There was one more time I made a trip to Potatoe masher hill by my lonesome. I suppose it was on the same order of duty as others such a replacing a radio. This time I was able to take a different route after more territory was taken. On the way back a jeep came skidding along the road towards me. It stopped. There in the jeep was Colonel Mc Garr. I shuddered! He asked. “Soldier, what duty are you on and what outfit?” I reported what were my duties and to which Company. I gave a plausible answer but I was shaking in my boots. Would he believe? He said, “Carry on”.
CHICKEN SHIT FRENCH FARMER
The following ‘chicken story’ is as old as soldiers go back into history, a Frenchman told me
We stopped at a French farm house. It was unscathed by battle because the war passed this guy up. He had a wife and a few children and a flock of chickens and some cows. He was hardly suffering the war. We liberated him! But he didn’t seem to be all that happy about it. Cpl. Shank and a few of the others spotted a few chickens which they ‘ran down’ and quickly wrung their necks in a different fashion I ever saw. Shanks method was to hold the chickens head and to whirl the chicken around until it was separated from the neck. Then they hid the chickens in the cow barn under some hay. The farmer went to Lt.Wyatt and complained and uttered stuff about crimes etc and that there would have to be compensation for the chickens or else we’d be in trouble. We wondered, “From who?” The way it was, he was lucky he wasn’t talking to some Nazi officer like that or he would have known what “OR ELSE” meant!
Lt.Wyatt told the Frenchman to produce the evidence hoping that Shank and the other chicken killers would have time to hide them. The Frenchman followed a trail of blood and quickly found the chickens in the manger under a shock of hay. He came into the house where we sat in his kitchen and showed the chickens! I don’t know what and if we paid anything to the Frenchman for those chickens. I know we didn’t really have to!
The Frenchman’s wife proceeded to clean the chickens and she finally had a real farmer’s meal on their table; Potatoes, bread, and lettuce and all with some wine. They sat down to the table and began to dine. Right in front of Lt.Wyatt and some of us hungry soldiers without asking us to have a stinken morsel.
Wyatt was always quite sharply dressed. He had a nice woolen jacket on at this time. He said, “Wait till they’re done, I’ve got a surprise for them”. I wondered what kind of a surprise would he have for them. I knew he wouldn’t shoot them!
When the woman cleared the table she motioned and hinted that we could use the table. Here comes the surprise. Wyatt asked his aide to go to the jeep to get something kinda in a sign language. I still didn’t know what would be the surprise. As it turned out to be Louis Abruzzi, the Lieutenants’ dog robber brought in a big TEN in ONE ration. He opened it up. Abruzzi took care of the Lieutenant and was able to snitch rations off the Sherman tanks. That was his job. To take care of the Lieutenant! The box was opened and even I was surprised what was in it. There was canned bacon, dry cereal (just add water) rice and pineapple pudding chocolate bars and candy and CIGARETTES by golly. The biscuits were better and there was canned sausage and cheeses. Toilet paper too! Enough for ten men for one day!
All these goodies caught the eyes of the Frenchman and the wife, but Wyatt said, “Don’t give them a goddam thing” Ordinarily we would have given almost all of our food away as we had done to the other hungry people we met. But this Frenchman didn’t deserve a single stick of gum or one cigarette. That was the surprise and punishment meted out to the French Chicken shit farmer. He’s a very lucky Frenchman at that. An ungrateful person who in my opinion should have given us those chickens willingly for the many golldanged nights we spent without food just getting up to his place so he could live in peace at his farm which was left intact. The battles I wrote about were about to come. I am out of sequence.