WINTER COMETH

WINTER COMETH

As usual, our meals were from the C ration cans. Hardly ever a hot cup of coffee. Winter was on the way which has its own miseries. Put aside the moment and think of the miseries of being awake at night just fending off the cold and rain. Now it is turning to snow. The coming days would be even worse than tonight and the battles at the foot of the Vosges. I remember being trucked up a mountain road where my platoon was to establish a forward command post for the Officers. It was snowing and raining all at the same time. We got off the truck and took up our shovels and picks .We picked out a likely spot and stuck a shovel in the earth. This was in the dark of night as usual for us. The shovel struck solid rock. We were on top of a mountain in a forest. The picks would bounce off the rocks and we could not make any headway. It was decided then the best CP could be made in the banks of the narrow road. There was a bank about four feet and we started digging into the bank. We were able to make a cellar looking dug out for a couple of men. Then we were ordered to dig a foxhole for ourselves. It was a terrible night. I remember that one of our platoon made a fox hole and was so tired that he laid in it and fell asleep with just his raincoat. Shells came in and a tree burst wounded him. His name was Thibadeaux, (I can’t spell It) from Louisiana, I think. He was able to speak French. A fox hole with no top was of not much use. That taught us all a good lesson which we should have remembered from Anzio. My buddy and I built a two man hole and covered it with fir limbs and poles. We laid our shelter halves on top then threw dirt on top to stop shrapnel from the many tree bursts we took sporadically. Many fir trees were already fallen from artillery tree bursts making material handy. I used my shovel to hack off limbs for covering the top. Once when we were getting shelled we crawled into the little entrance and snuggled down. Another of our group didn’t have a hole yet finished and he begged to come on in. We let him in.We were really crowded and snuggled in. It was warmer that way with more body heat. I think that soldier’s name was Thomas Vincent Ochs.

22nd Birthday

You know what? I spent my 22nd Birthday in this hole–November 11th. No Cake!! The icing and frosting on our “cake” was real frost and snow. On a “K” ration cheese.

R&R

I remember that Sudell and his buddy dug a hole about 5 feet deep for the two of them. The ground here wasn’t as rocky. Both their names were drawn to go on R&R so they left their packs and stuff in the bottom of the hole. When they got back their stuff was floating on top of the water which filled their hole. It was funny but not a laughable matter.

We were in an area where the French were at war with German army in WW one. Or in the Blitzkrieg days of WW2.I found old spent rounds of Lebel ammo and rotted canvas packs and other French army paraphernalia scattered about.

The German troops had us surrounded we were told in a report which came down.

Surrounded? We used some of the old French fox holes to set up positions overlooking the forested ravine. We were ready to toss grenades over the hill if they attacked from that direction. It didn’t materialize. Someone said that the Japanese Battalion saved our asses up there. I don’t know how much truth was in that report. The Japanese Americans were in this battle area, I saw them.

It was very bitter fighting. I remember delivering ammo from foxhole to foxhole in plain daylight. The GIs were dug in midst of the stumps and fallen trees with their Machine guns using up a lot of ammo. Usually the nights were when we delivered ammo, but when they expended their ammo supply, it had to be delivered at all costs. Pronto!

Our Battalion Chaplain Father Hanley was awarded the Silver Star because of his bravery going from fox hole to foxhole giving comfort to the troops. We heard he didn’t want the medal and might have refused it.

Here too in this battle the mud was so deep the jeeps exhaust pipes gurgled in the mud. I remember I was called to help the medics retrieve a badly wounded GI on the face of the mountain overlooking the city of ST DIE. The hill was so steep that my side of the stretcher was inches above ground and I was on my knees crawling sideways on the mountain. The other side of the stretcher handles were over the heads of the Medics to keep the stretcher level. We crept and crawled along the mountain side, at an angle easiest to climb. A Medic held his thumb on the jugular vein of the wounded GI. His wounds were severe and the blood loss was great. My handle only inches from the earth–very close to touching the dirt. In the pine needles and the dirt I saw spent bullets from our machine guns scattered so thickly it was as if some farmer was trying to grow a crop of bullets. I picked up one of those bullets and stuck it in my pocket. I have it today in my souvenirs. OH! If only  bulletthat bullet could talk! Here it is!

 

 

We got the Stretcher to a jeep and placed the wounded GI sideways over the jeep. I walked down the hill alongside the jeep. The trail was just a deeply eroded ditch. That’s when I saw the exhaust pipe gurgling in the mud which splattered anyone close by. The other traffic caused the quagmire

             In some places in the woods the road was so impassable that the engineers constructed a road corrugated with fir timber which was in plentiful supply and handy to cut. It took painstaking work to tie these timbers together making the road passable.

The combat engineers get really high marks in my book. They were there with the mostest with the leastest.

          I am sort of lost in Chronological order at this point and can only tell about experiences as they come to mind. I am thinking now of seeing the city of ST.Die burning. The Germans were using a “scorched earth policy” there. They lit the whole town on fire. Why??

New Battle Looming

Sometimes back home here on the farm, when snowflakes come pouring down, my mind will bring up on my memory screen those giant flakes of snow which were falling on us sometimes after my Birthday (nov.11th). Honestly, they were dollar size coming down like goose feathers and adding to the snow we already had. The forest floor was a quagmire if more than one person walked in the same place. It was really mud slogging. The mud clung to your soaked shoes and it added to your burden of movement. A person used up a lot of energy overcoming the suction pulling one boot out of the goopy mud. If a person was just ‘living’ for the fun of it in that condition, you’d get to hell out of it quickly as possible. You couldn’t sit or even stand. Nobody in his right mind would do this unless you were a fur trapper or having to hunt for his meat supply in the woods kinda like we did back home. To add to this was the constant incoming shells from the German artillery.

Once or twice in a lull in the storm a single Messerschmitt would come down the road and strafe us. I remember hollering once, “Don’t worry guys, it’s not one of ours”!

Our artillery was answering round for round adding to the din. Our part in this battle was changing. We wanted the change too! What would happen next would take us most probably into a new battle. It wasn’t getting easier now. We were in stiff resistance step by step.

We were about to have a change of scenery all right. We heard the groaning and growling noises of 6x6s coming up the narrow forest road. We were being replaced by a new Division from the states. I am not certain which this new division was. It could have been the 100th Infantry Division

This road was made for French forestry purposes. It was much unimproved but now heavily used. Off the road our 6×6 ammo transportation truck was mired in mud for the most part.

As the 6x6s of the replacements Division drove by, exuberant GIs replacements, untested yet I thought in Combat would make funny remarks. One comedian GI hollered from his 6×6, “This is tough but not like on maneuvers”!

What a rude awakening he’d have in just a matter of minutes or so when he took over a Front-line foxhole our outfit was leaving! One comfort was that maybe they didn’t have to dig new holes. I wonder if the GI who made the comment ever made it home. I hope so. He is wiser today, I’ll bet—especially about maneuvers and combat differences.

Stuck Truck

I recall one little episode which would make a good scene in movies or TV sit -com.

As the new troops were passing us, they saw me pulling a big loaded 6×6 all by myself through the muddy ground. I must have looked like Atlas with the cable from the winch over my shoulder. I was leaning into the load as if I was actually pulling the trucks whose wheels were churning in the quagmire making head way ever so slowly.

I pulled like a mule! Actually what I was doing is taking the cable to the next tree as it was unwinding from the winch for another hitch. It was the only way we could move the truck and get it back on the roadway. It surely appeared that I was doing the major effort as the truck slipped and churned in the mud making very little progress. One of the passing GIs hollered to his buddies, “Hey looka that GI pullin’ that big truck”!

I don’t remember where the heck we were moved that time. I do remember that our time on the line was a record of some sort. It may have been that we were being given a bit of rest (R&R). I remember being unloaded at a town somewhere. I think this is the time we passed through a town occupied by the famous Japanese Battalion. I recall seeing Japanese soldiers standing alongside the road, some leaning against buildings in all positions and stages of rest. They were really an ugly bunch of bedraggled battle worn GIs—I say this in great respect. I can still see the faces of some in my mind of those who hadn’t shaved for a long time. Only part of their faces were visible under the helmet. They wore theirs as close to the head as I did for the most protection. I could barely see from undermine especially wearing the woolen stocking cap over the ears for warmth. A steel helmet offered no warmth. It shed rain and some shrapnel.

This Japanese Battalion was credited with rescuing a “lost Battalion” of GIs in the Vosges where we just came from. I thought for a long time that the special alert we were on was when they (Japanese) encircled the German soldiers who had cut us off. I am not an Historian and only have rumors rather than facts, which was quite accurate most of the time. I wrote earlier about staying in an old French gun position with lots of grenades at ready to toss down the hill if we were attacked from that direction. I recall hearing yelling in the canyon.

Some of the 30th regiment outfit was pulled off the 12th of Nov., A day after my Birthday. Nov, 11th, but I can tell you that it doesn’t seem true for me or my Battalion. I know for as fact that the episode of carrying the wounded GI up the steep hill and when I picked up the spent machine gun bullet happened after my Birthday.

Showers and hot food

I mentioned R&R. I remember that we were taken to a town where we found refuge in barns and other types of shelter. They rigged up a shower and we took fast baths. Up to then if we felt ‘cruddy’ we just took a ‘whore’s bath’- a helmet full with water and you used your dirty hanky for a wash cloth and towel.  We were given new uniforms (battle fatigues) and we had a nice opportunity to write letters and to snooze in the hay in this particular barn we chose as a billet.

The cooks set up their kitchen and cooked a fantastic meal We loaded our mess kits to the brim but filled up our bellies too soon because our stomachs were down sized to fit one can of Meat and Beans or Vegetable stew (or ugh) the hash. Those were our three different rations. Of course another can had fine ground coffee and really hard crackers but it was rare treat to get hot water. The few really hard biscuits were when the guys needed good sharp teeth. I was refused for naval duty because my teeth weren’t number one aligned.

Speaking of teeth, we were able to get a tooth brush and finally have a refreshing clean mouth. I remember eating the cheese ration which stuck to your teeth like cement day after day without a brush. It was a great personal discomfort to us. Having a fresh clean brushing was like going to confession and communion. A good cleansing. A feeling of being next to GOD.

I heard lots of GIs bitch in my time, about SPAM and dehydrated potatoes. If you hear bitching about that you can readily guess he was from a rear echelon outfit that had regular meals and probably ate lots of spam and dried spuds. It was welcome fare for me!

The R&R was most welcomed. I can’t recall a single incident of guys seeking women or finding some alcohol at this time. That was sorta strange for most of our outfit.

The Mail orderly was busy though and I’ll bet he left for the rear area with a jeep load of letters often.

I think the name of this town was BULT. This was the first reorganization and rest since the Landing which was made in August 15th. It was well deserved. Count the days of steady conflict. I heard it was some sort of record. Every soldier seems to brag about having the most time in Combat. The 3rd Division however has a most remarkable record.

Replacements and more training

As must be done, the new replacements, when they are assigned to their units must get used to the outfit and to know their leaders and to fit into a fighting unit. It was for orientation mostly. For the rest of us who had not gotten killed by this time, it was getting to be quite boring to go do some more training.  Each training exercise was new even to us who thought we knew everything. As I have written before, there were some humorous events. Like once when we were taking training for the crossing of a river. All the regiment went out to a swollen river to make practice crossings.  My platoon had two boats which could be coupled together at the stern when larger loads were to use it. I had just made Sergeant at this time and had to take charge. My squad got in the boat and paddled like hell against a swift current. We made it to the opposite shore which was a shallow flooded edge. The boat ran aground about twenty feet from dry land. All of the guys jumped out. Nick Garritano was the last one in the boat. I tossed him the rope and I said. “Here Nick, hold the boat” and he tugged on the rope to slow the boat down. Soon he realized the boat started drifting down stream. He hollered back, “Yah! You’re always pickin’ on me”! Then he realized he was drifting down stream and almost too late, jumped out in hip deep water. We all laughed at his expense, but we did it in good humor. Nick didn’t really take the apology very well from me. I was sorry I made him look silly. I surely might have ‘picked’ on him more than others. ‘Selected’ is a better word.  If I did, it was because I had to be sure of competence. Nick was quite an inventive able person and a good soldier. He was full blooded Sicilian or Italian. Chubby although agile for his chubby frame. He had common sense knowledge about circuits and had experience back home in Campo Bello California as a service station attendant. He could improvise when there wasn’t the available tools or materials. He also clued me in on some of the service station ‘tricks of the trade’. He could make a fan belt look bad real quick and a radiator hose.

When I was made Sergeant, Nick was in my squad. He asked me bluntly, “Bing, are you going to be a good sergeant or a one of the ‘chickin shit’ ones”? I answered, that “I would pass it on as it was given to me to do”. I have to admit that when it came for a certain thing to do I did call on Nick which might have been disproportionate. I remembered Nick’s skills. A sergeant had to be careful to be fair in calling the shots. I liked it best when I got volunteers.

Nick is gone now. He died at a young age from Diabetes not long after the war ended He was a really able soldier. I found his widow who called to tell me the sad news. I think that was in the 50s or early 60’s. I know he has a son somewhere with whom I’d like to have a head to head conversation. If he’d like to know about his Dad’s service in our platoon, I’m willing to try to talk