Chapter 8 – Battle fatigue

Sweeping Mines

There was a time when we were held up by severe German defense. It was near the Village of St. Marie. During these times is when I mentioned seeing the jeep being torn apart by a land mine. It was also the last time I saw JOE BACHUSZ who was one of the best soldiers I ever knew. He and his buddy were on a detail of some sort when they were caught in a barrage of mortar fire. Some have said that they were ahead of the lines at this point and suffered from our own mortar fire. The GI (Smitty) who told me this is dead now and I can’t verify.

John Yusko and Joe Bachusz sought the shelter of a basement when a shell hit directly on Joe and killed him instantly. John Yusko was hit in the hips. John survived after a long stay in the hospital and had to return to unit, a very nervous man.

On one night my squad sought the comforts of a hay loft of a French farmer’s barn. There was a nice soft hay bed to sleep on without a bed roll. When the time came to snooze, I was really worried when some of the jokers had to light up cigarettes. The dry hay material was very combustible. Try to warn a smoker and see how far you get. They would light up to spite you and they did.

We were interrupted by Lt.Wyatt who climbed the ladder and stuck up his helmeted head to say,” I need a few volunteers”. Someone asked, “for what?” Wyatt answered, “I’ve been ordered to sweep mines on a road until we draw fire–I need four of five men”. Corbett was the first to volunteer, I volunteered, then Breese. I don’t recall the names of the others. We got the mine sweeper off the trailer and checked it out. Wyatt said, “There’ll be a Sherman tank covering for us; It will be firing over head at the hill where the German machine guns are. That’ll keep their heads down”. We walked past the Sherman tank and the Lieutenant exchanged words with the tank commander. The tank fired a couple rounds right away. Then it moved to another location. Back and forth it moved to foil the German observer- Firing at each different location to give the effect that there was more than one tank firing.

We began sweeping the narrow blacktop road and found a few mines which were about six inches wide and about two feet long as I recall. The mine sweeper would squeal every time it passed over a piece of shrapnel. It was painstaking work to make damn sure the squeal was for real or not. The mine sweeper was sensitive enough to squeal over a nail or piece of shrapnel. It was painstaking procedure. It was regulation procedure that a mine sweeper operator would not sweep for more than five minutes at a time because the person would become over confident and overlook the teeniest squeal. So we took turns often. We sneaked along at a snails pace the tank fire noise hampered the minesweeping operation. Now and then an incoming shell would sound like the squeal on the earphone causing the mine sweeper to dash for the borrow pit. If there was no shell, the others would all do it in ‘monkey do’ fashion. No one condemned the mine sweeper for being frightened enough for hitting the ditch. It happened to me several times because I was getting rum dum .I thought I heard a shell or mortar round coming in and I dashed to the side of the road where there was a small drain ditch. Not a soul would laugh at me when I’d take off the clumsy ear phone and hear for myself that there was no round coming or going.

We finally drew a machine gun burst which was in answer to the tank. The tracers went way over head. We turned around and swept the other side of the road all the way to the point we started. Mission accomplished. Nervous as heck.

Wyatt told the Sherman tank commander we were finished. It fired a few more rounds while we made it back to our base. The Battle plan was to move out at early morning. Somewhere after that battle we came to another stiff road block. We took refuge in a farm house again. There was a root cellar near the two story house with wide doors like a garage. A jeep driver I had not ever met parked his jeep inside. His name was ENGEBRITZEN- something like that. I remember that he was a comic. He adjusted the jeep horn to just squawk. He called it “MY black out horn”. Engebritzen was a tall gangly guy. His knees were up around the jeep steering wheel when he drove. I think he might have replaced the jeep driver whose jeep ran over a mine.

NICE FARM LADY

This house as usual was made of masonry. The Farmer and his wife would not join the other refugees. They had a special problem having a demented son. They chose to stay throughout the German occupation and ours. Their kitchen was kinda dank on the part basement floor. The usual wood stove and all else was almost like ‘back home’ on our farm.

I was starved for something good to eat. In my meager French I asked if she could fix for me a few potatoes. In my meager French, I asked for a “pomme de terre”. They had a meager supply. She willingly obliged and I watched how she did it. She had a fire going as usual .She took off one lid and placed a cast iron pot in the hole with water. She steamed the potatoes in a short time. OH BOY were they ever good! I had a “K” ration can of cheese and I added it between two pieces making a sandwich of the potatoes. MMMM it was s-s-o-o good after all those days of C rations. This French woman made up for the other SOB bugger who was so mean about the two chickens Shank and others ‘liberated’.

I recall too that in their house they had a very thick mail order catalogue. I perused that thing from page to page. In it I saw an Item that would shock our NRA members and other hunters. Offered for sale was a 37 MM shotgun mounted on the prow of a boat. This gun was depicted in a drawing shooting at high flying geese and ducks. Imagine a 37 mm cannon shotgun!

Battle fatigue

One night Breese was on guard at this farm house. It was time for his relief. Blasdel was scheduled to relieve him. We were warned that we were to be extra on guard because there was a German patrol thought to be in our area. Breese was a nervous person. When Blasdel approached his post, Breese fired his carbine before hollering HALT! Blasdel himself was near to being shell shocked as anyone. He went back in and told about Breese firing at him! Refusing to relieve Breese. There were quick apologies made and life went on.

I was put on a day time patrol the next morning. My group was to make contact on the left flank. There was a farm house which was to be occupied by other GIs about a half mile away. When we got there the group was taken prisoners that night by the German patrol we were warned about. I followed a trail of footsteps. We came upon what might have been another massacre. Four GIS were laying side by side, dead. I recall one little detail. The ring finger of one of the GIs. He had a black onyx signet ring on his already white middle finger. I am sure that those men were the ones taken prisoner in the next farm house and shot because of the German’s inability to handle prisoners on a retreat.

This farm house story was in or around the Village of St. Marie. Still in French speaking France prior to Alsace Lorraine.

Time frame

I am kinda in a quandary here regarding the time of the events. I think the BULT Reorganization was prior to the crossing of the MEURTHE River. We trained for the crossing on the Moselle which came prior to the events I wrote about earlier. I am not writing an accurate account of events for record. This is from my memory of more than 55 or so years ago. In my memory is the little French girl who promised to pray for me. Our platoon and the rest of the 2nd battalion pulled into a town called Remiremont. I remember too that it was described as being in the VOSGES. We took refuge near a quite large factory building which was unscathed from the war. The factory manufactured a linen type or sateen cloth. It was white and shiny and silken smooth. There were bolts and bolts of the stuff on the looms. I haven’t got the foggiest idea why they were making such finery in time of war. I couldn’t think an earthly use for it except for fancy table cloths or dresses for weddings .The sateen bolts were there to sample we readily thought. So with our trusty knives we cut off pieces to make a handsome scarf. Each of us after we cleaned up by shaving and a whore’s bath would drape a piece of this cloth around our necks under the collar giving a regal appearance.

We couldn’t have looted or have destroyed much but the owner put up some sort of squawk like the chicken shit farmer did and we were given holy hell for vandalizing. We had already liberated enough to satisfy our new dress code and it wasn’t necessary to be scolded.

While we were there a few urchins came around begging for candy and food. The kids would promise that their mothers would wash our clothes for some sort of donation. Chocolate or soap–always soap–it was in the highest demand.

In my happiness to have this chance to lollygag around I was whistling and singing off and on. Sometimes I would imitate a trombone or trumpet to amuse myself. There was a little twelve year old girl who was at my elbow nearly throughout kinda fascinated by the sounds I made. She begged me to let her mother wash my clothes. I did take her up on that. The clean clothes and the new scarf went over ‘big’ with me and all the others who did the same. When she brought my clothes back all neat and tidy and folded, I gave her some of our left over rations. Money wasn’t as good as a chocolate or bar of soap. For us though no one had bars of soap except that remnant in a soap case we had in our packs for shaving and whore’s baths. The chocolate bar from a K ration was better than all the French francs in town.

As a souvenir for me, the little girl gave me a postcard photo of herself as she was receiving first communion. It was a strikingly beautiful picture of an angelic little girl kneeling. She was dressed in the usual shawl of lace and veil at a kneeler. She also indicated that she would pray for me to not be killed. On the back of her photo she signed her name and address.

“SOUVENIR d’une petite Francaise CHRISTIANE GOLBAIN, St.Etienne less Vosges”

christianechristianesignature

I sent that picture home to be in among my souvenirs. When I decided to write my memoirs I was going through my souvenirs and found her picture in an album. I decided to write to the Mayor of Remiremont to see if the little girl could be located and to see if she would remember. Lo and Behold, the mayor happened to be a relative of Christiane and passed on the message. I sent a copy of a Picture of myself with the scarf and a copy of the little girl’s picture. I was happy to receive a letter from her. She is now a widow with grown children. We exchange letters and Christmas cards. Her name now is Christiane Gaidot. She lives close to NANCY France. She recalls that I had nicknamed her little brother “ROOSEVELT”. Now I ask. Did her prayers for my safety work or not?