FIRST MASS

FIRST MASS

We finally liberated STRASBOURG. One of the first privileges came in the way of an announcement that all those wishing to attend MASS in the Cathedral, would load up on trucks at a certain time. It would be the first MASS allowed in the church since the German occupation. Needless to say I went. The church overflowed. There’s a picture in our old third division history book of a few GIs receiving COMMUNION. I was not pictured there but I was in one of the front rows of pews when the picture was taken. I can recall one of the altar boys was SEBASTIAN SPOTO from the company headquarters. I can remember there was some shell or bomb holes in the roof. The shells or bombs fell into the catacombs near the altar. Underneath were buried Saints. I was proud to be there at which was sort of a personal victory. I was not yet able to receive communion because I had not yet gotten enough instructions and catechism. I didn’t take this lightly. I wanted to follow the rules. One of these days I was determined I had to finally go to confession and ‘cleanse’ myself. I had a few things on my soul which I felt were bad enough to prevent me from ever having the ‘everlasting life’ which was my only hope if I got killed in the conflict. Time was running out.

We stayed in the suburb of Strasbourg. The place was called “OBERHAUSBERGEN”. My squad bedded down on the floor of some one’s home. We were now taking on new recruits and reviewing our military training. I was busy sending home souvenirs which I collected. I boxed up a bunch of stuff and I tried to repeat my trick of placing metal souvenirs around a little 22 pistol. It had a broken spring and wouldn’t fire but I had to try to send it home. I had Lt.Wyatt censor it. He trusted me when I told him there were no useable fire arms in it. I could have given President Clinton some advice on how to stretch the truth. Actually, it depends on what the definition of “USABLE” is.

The package came back. I was called on the carpet by Lt Wyatt. After all, his name was on as the censor. I showed him the pistol with the broken spring.  It was small enough to fit in your watch pocket. I begged the Lieutenant to not ‘gig’ the whole platoon because of me, but to “do it to me”. Well, the Lieutenant had to show his strict side first and came down on me hard. It reflected on him hard because his name was on the box giving it his OK. Passing it without looking. Trusting me. I relied on the Lieutenant to know what a usable pistol really is. I don’t remember what punishment he doled out to me. In cases like this it was usually being ‘confined’ to the area. Ha! Where could I go?

I lost that .22 pistol later but I don’t remember if I told you how I got it. 

HUNTING SNIPERS

Somewhere our companies went through a town in a hurry leaving some straggling German soldiers who were sniping at anyone going through. Major Armstrong assembled my platoon to form a patrol to hunt snipers house to house. We armed ourselves with grenades and plenty of ammo. We loaded up on a Sherman tank and the Major waved us on. I swear I saw a tear in his eye as he sent us. Was he really that soft? He stood there as we rumbled off. He waved.

At the edge of this town, we jumped off the tank and went in pairs to kick in doors of every house in town and shoot to kill any sniper found. Snipers are vermin! My sniper hunting buddy was a handsome fellow named Larry Corbett from Maine. I was glad to have him as a partner. He was dependable and he volunteered most often for duty.

We entered a house or two and found nothing resembling a sniper. Then we entered another doing the usual quick entry method of ramming open the door and rushing in with the safety off and trigger ready. In another house we kicked around clearing down stairs rooms then we entered the staircase to the upper bedrooms where a sniper would really be situated for best advantage. I kicked open a door and rushed in. Corbett close behind. I saw a movement ahead of me and I instinctively reacted and leveled my carbine down and almost fired–at-no one else but my own bedraggled image in a full length mirror. It scared the poop out of me. But I didn’t shoot. I almost did. Corbett behind me saw my quick tense body motions and thought that I was ‘foolin’ around. He said, “You son of a bitch” implying that I knew it was me in the mirror all the time and just wanting to scare him. Nope it was for real.

The rest of the platoon worked in the same manner combing through every home. It was in one of these homes that my sticky fingers found the teeny .22 pistol. I had to have it.       Then I saw something else of no value to anyone except to me. It was a St. Christopher Medal on a lapel pin. Just taking that pin stained my soul yet I took it to help me make the trip the rest of the way.

In this course of action we found no particular sniper but some of us found dead people in bed. I can’t pinpoint in my mind what time element this sniper hunt was made. It was warm enough I know to sleep outdoors. I remember that well enough because I was laying down trying to nap beside a rock wall when the Major came to get us. When the mission was over, we didn’t get any particular mention from the Major. I’m sure we expected nothing for this routine duty.

Up and at ’em back at Oberhausbergen

I recall kinda fondly, our platoon commander, Wyatt, would come in the early morning and kick at our fart sacks and holler, “All right men, drop your c—s and grab your socks”! HE was getting friendlier as time rolled by. Wyatt had a French girlfriend in his bivouac. I mean by that he had her in his sack! She asked for him! He didn’t do anything much but to look as handsome as he could. He always dressed sharp and neat. When we took on the linen scarf look that really made him irresistible to the French girl. He kept her hidden. Maybe she was a ‘dog’ for all I know. Wyatt told me, “Well Bing”, “she needed servicing”. He snickered impishly when he said that. How nice of him to come to the aid of a nice lonely French girl!

Nick Garritano got acquainted with a family who could speak Italian. The same thing happened to him as it did to Wyatt. I don’t know how come. I must have looked like a dog, but as I said earlier, I was trying to stay clean to achieve everlasting life. Gee if Wyatt or Garritano had gotten killed they would have gone to Limbo at least or straight to HELL.

Our outfit was comfortable while were in Oberhausbergen. We were getting regular meals now. Breakfast, noon and evenings. Chow was as good as it gets for days like these.

We had more extensive training sessions going on. Now and then our platoon was returned to the MUTZIG FORT for training and other reasons now forgotten. We were facing the German home land now. It didn’t look easy at any time.

The German army wouldn’t mind having Strasbourg back and there was shelling going from across the Rhine River.

There was a factory in this berg which made cutlery, razor blades, scissors and knives. I still have a few of the mustache scissors I bought there (bought? maybe I did buy them) I have some very dull razor blades which would fit a Gillette. The trade name was “YO YO“.

Nick Garritano’s father was a tailor and Nick took a very large pair of scissors. That’s all I remember. The razor blades and the mustache scissors was a needed item.

Out of Strasbourg the roads south along the Rhine River were very modern. I remember when on one detail, the jeep driver was really trying to clock a record speed. However the reality was that on other side the German army didn’t mind trying to knock out a fast jeep. We heard a few shells as they crashed into the rock wall or a tree.

Strasbourg was a large town. There could have been some good times there if the platoon had been located within the town’s limits. I saw just the Church. Our place was in the outskirts. Still some of the guys found out how to have a good time. For myself, my good time was to stay clean and to eat. I could stand a few pounds of fat on my skinny frame. I was quite ‘boney’. No extra rolls of fat on me.

Although it was in December there was no snow at this location. Our time ran out for good food and we boarded trucks and were off to some unknown battle field.

When we left OBER HAUSBERGEN Nick’s girlfriend came to see him load up on the truck saying in Italian that Nick was “uno bello ragazzo”. That translated, Nick was one beautiful boy. We teased Nick.

Usually we’d relieve some other outfit in a battle line and because of our experiences in kicking off into an assault the brass would seem to send us there and it was new fight all over again and whatever hardships went with a Battle.

It seemed the trucks were making a ‘backtrack’ I can remember that we got off the trucks in the evening and was told to dig in or sack out in an open alfalfa field. Smitty and I rolled our rolls out close to each other. I had sold the .32 caliber Smith and Wesson Revolver which I “liberated” off one of the captains in southern France landing. I let Smitty have it for 5 dollars because he was my buddy and he was there when we got that particular weapon. Anyway he laid it under his head under a sort of pillow.

In the morning we were awakened in such great a frenzy that he scooped up his blankets and there lay the revolver for a Frenchman to find it. I hated that!

The trucks rambled on. I thought sure we were heading south. I wondered to where. No one knew that we’d be attached to the French First Army and would be under their command. I think it was best not to tell us that.

Here comes the mountains again! We were back in the forested mountains and it was snowing off and on. Going south my butt!! I thought that it would be a bit warmer. We had received better warmer clothing. Long Johns were ‘in’ now for certain. The shoes though were the same old combat boots. Water would run up hill to get into them. I had wet feet nearly all the time. I don’t remember ever having been issued grease for my boots. That would have helped. I know the army had some stashed somewhere. I needed it now.