NEW COMBAT BOOTS
One day a jeep came up close and delivered a pile of new type boots and heavy woolen socks. They were kinda like “one size fits all” because the woolen socks were so heavy the boot would mold to any size foot. They are called ‘Shoe Pacs’. The uppers are leather sewn to rubber lowers. A blending of boots and shoes. In other days we could wear galoshes—some had zippers if you were lucky and some were heavier with snaps. The new boots would take the place of these. For a few days that is.
They were so very warm and comfortable, but your feet would sweat profusely. In about three days the woolen socks were wringing wet with your sweat making it necessary to take them off so that you could wring out the socks. SO help me God, I am telling you the truth. After wringing the socks they’d feel really comfortable. In a day’s time your feet would be sloshing in the sweat again. It was a well-intended gift to us but there developed another problem. Trench foot. We were ordered to massage each other’s feet regularly. That’s one order that fell on its face. I didn’t massage anyone else’s feet. I could take care of my own!
In combat a GI never removed his clothes .His shoes remained and only rarely were you given time to remove your shoes. Frozen feet now in this winter was a common problem. The shoe pak was a big help until you heard and felt the squish squish of your sweat soaked socks. It was like walking on slime. The large boots and sweaty socks gave a skating rink feeling. Your feet became wrinkled as if you were wading in hot water too long. Your feet were in a “sauna bath” all the time. The warm sweaty sock was perfect for bacterial growth. You can guess the rest. Still, for me, I simply removed my shoes and socks, while sitting on my helmet; I’d take off the socks and wring the sweat out for another day. I’ll bet each sock yielded a tea cup full of fluid. I still appreciated the heavy socks and the warmth provided.
Frost bite casualties were rising. The order to massage was enforced to help prevent greater numbers of black toes and feet. The toll was rising. Trench foot was equal to each side. It would have been wonderful to have an extra ‘back up ‘ pair of those heavy socks.
Our Medics established an aid station in the basement of a home on the other side of where we decided to occupy. We took a house which had four stories. The owner of this house was the Frenchman who owned the grapes on the steep hill. He had a basement where he had his large casks of fermenting wine. He had a lock on the door to the cellar to protect the wine from the possibility of losing a few ounces to weary soldiers. We didn’t really want his wine all that much anyway and honored the locks. We kinda resented his stinginess. Why wouldn’t he try to be courteous and offer a sip of his wine to honor our presence there and his liberation? We often got the notion that the French people were not all that appreciative of our being there. I figured he could cram his wine–you know where!
My squad took a room on about the third floor. On the way up there was a door to the left which appeared to lead to the outside or nowhere. Opening the door you stared at a one holer outhouse. The residue dropped down into a pit below. The pit was about half full. There were skirts on the outside of the outhouse to provide some privacy. If you dared to want to see the bottom side of someone, it was your own most grievous fault if you were splattered. Don’t even imagine it!! Drop your thoughts right now! I called it the “NORDEN BOMB SIGHT”!
The Frenchman was making money on the growing pit of shit because he explained that he hauled the goop up and doused his grape plants with this stuff to grow prime grapes for vintage wines. TRUE! YUK!
One day soon we took a real drubbing in shelling from the German Artillery. They knew the coordinates well having just been here. It was relentless. Someone discovered that two collaborating women had a radio in their attic and was radioing information to the German Artillery. One of the rounds hit a French Officer’s command post billeted within. In the attached shed was parked a 6×6 loaded down with all sorts of explosives. It caught on fire. A brave Frenchman got in the burning truck and drove it away from the Commandant’s house. He got as far as the railroad crossing where the truck stalled. I don’t know if the Frenchman escaped or not but the truck exploded with such a Nuclear like blast that the whole town lost all the windows in most homes. We thought the Gerries had some sort of secret weapon! After the hub bub, I had to see what happened so I dared to take a look at where I estimated the blast to have come from.
There was a hole in the ground about twenty feet in diameter and about six feet deep right on the rail road crossing. I estimate that the trucks engine killed because it was too cold yet and the incline caused it to sputter out. In the bottom of the hole, was all that was left of the truck. It was set of differential gears. Mechanics call it ‘the third member’. Just the gears showing the shiny teeth.
If that Frenchman is alive he should have been awarded the French armies highest award. He is most likely part of the surrounding grape fields in a vapor. He was some kind of Hero!
Our medics were housed in the basement of a house closer to the blast than we were. The windows of the basement were shattered-blown inward which wounded most of the medics. The top doctor was taken in for his cuts. I don’t recall that Doctors name. It is written somewhere. I don’t know if he ever came back or not. I imagine that he was awarded the Purple Heart for those wounds.
Just before the shelling started, I was standing in the doorway of my billet. Across the street, Lt.Wyatt and Abruzzi had a place. Also Gidio Ciavaglia stayed there. Under the house was a cellar which was crammed with civilians. I knew about this cellar and kept it in mind. Gideo knew though that it was crammed so he kept in mind the cellar which had locked doors in our house. When the shells began to rain down on us, I ran for the cellar in Gideo’s house and he ran for the cellar in my house. We both were sprinting with our heads down as if at the starting line of a 100 yard dash in the Olympics. We met in the middle of the narrow street. Gideo smacked me right in the face with his helmet and I went reeling. I got up–no time to apologize–either of us. I made it to the crowded cellar and squeezed myself into the mass of civilians, babies and women and all.
In the house where the wine cellar was under lock and key, was also a frenzy. All the GIS on the third floor fell down the stairs with big ED Sudell at the lead. He had a MOOSE body. He ran right past the Frenchman who had his arms out to prevent entry and through the doors! So help me, Sudell was a 155 MM projectile himself. Figure it out. E=MC2 the door was smashed easily. In a cartoon I’d draw a trace of the silhouette of Sudell through the boards.
Then the Frenchman hurried to run through opening to a giant barrel and drew some of the fermenting wine out in a jar and passed some around. He saved his ass and his wine. The wine was still fermenting with a fizzy taste and still like grape juice. No wonder it was good! Think of the fertilizer he used!
These days were approaching Christmas. This day was perhaps on the day the Battle of the Bulge took place. That day was DEC. 19th, if my memory is yet intact. Several of us received packages from home. I got one or two. The cookies were all crumbled so I ate them with my spoon. You can’t share that kind of cookies. No fault though of the senders. I asked my Mom to make a wooden box from here on. I used to say, “I’ll bet that’ll show some of those postal workers what it feels to sit on something hard”! I remember that I did get some tea bags. Oh Boy!