BACK TO COLMAR BATTLE FRONT
Hospital life was a heaven in comparison to life on the front lines. There were some GIs there that would not rather be there in the intensive care ward though, and I refer to those I visited in the ‘gut shot ward’. Those poor GIs looked like my photos of Dachau. They were so near death even being fed intravenously and otherwise. They deserved the splendid care of the best nurses who were very pretty. I suppose chosen for morale’s sake. All nurses looked pretty to me. They were Angels.
Somewhere on this return trip to the front, I was issued new combat gear. I don’t know what happened to the Shoe Paks. I didn’t want them at this point anyway. At the hospital the weather at this point was not as severe as in the Colmar Pocket. A GI lives from moment to moment. The next moment will take care of itself so why worry? That’s good advice if only I could take it. I was in total fear.
Our jeep stopped at a French village, I have no idea or recollection of the name. I got out of the jeep. We all entered a building where in there were rifles and ammo and last minute paraphernalia for front line duty. This had to have been a 2nd Battalion supply station because there stood the familiar Lieutenant Arnold Krochmal.
I checked out the M1 which was issued. You weren’t required then to mark down or to memorize the serial numbers of your weapon as it was in the states. We got bayonets and ammo belts and packs and some changes of socks and maybe a new pair of shorts.
On the returning Jeep were a few others who were returning to their units, all in the 2nd Battalion 30th regiment. I didn’t make friends with them. Just small talk about the dread of returning to the front and possible death. We co-miserated. It wasn’t good for us though to be miserable. Keep a stiff upper lip as the British say.
To while away the time here, I was fondling a different German machine gun which was tossed in the mud next to a wall on my passenger side of the jeep. It had an unusual stock. I pulled back the bolt and made sure the gun was empty. Just then I heard a loud bang POW! I thought sure it was the weapon I was farting around with but how could it be so? I just checked it for crying out loud! It was Empty! Not even a clip!
Sitting in the passenger seat of the Jeep just a few feet distance from my back side, was one of the returnees (referred to as RTUs) in agony and groaning “I shot myself–I shot myself” over and over again. “I didn’t know it was loaded” he screamed, “I didn’t know it was loaded!”
Sure enough, he shot himself in the right foot, in the big toe. I hastily took off his boot and sure enough right in the right big toe was a bullet hole. It hardly bled. He aimed it into the left most fleshy spot and I think he missed the bone. The shot was heard in the supply area. Dashing to inspect was Lt.Krochmal our 2nd Battalion Supply Officer. He looked at the toe and heard the GIs quick story, “I didn’t know it was loaded”. Lieutenant Krochmal curtly said with quick judgment, “You’ll get Leavenworth for this”. The Lieutenant didn’t buy the GI’s story about getting a loaded gun from his supply room. If the gun really was loaded who would really have gotten the blame? The Lieutenant took the M1 rifle and inspected it. I don’t recall if there was a clip in it and ready to fire another round or not. I really believe that the young kid was frightened out of his wits dreading the next few hours. I believe he did dare to load a single round (but it is difficult to load a single round in the M1) and actually inflicted this wound. So he must have been taken back to the hospital. I gave the GI my name in case he needed a witness. I never heard the outcome. Needless to say I dropped the inspection of the German machine gun. I wish I could have sent it home for a souvenir!
Further up the hill to another part of the supply set up in a French house, was a familiar face. It was the very same second Looey who sailed across the Atlantic with me on the troop ship USS John S .Pillsbury. He’s the officer who was leaning over the rail with me. He recovered from the sea sickness more quickly and offered a few of his ration of NECCO wafers. Those were candies about the size of a quarter which resembled candy. They had a fruity flavor and were best if sucked on in your mouth. The PXs had those candies. As an officer he was entitled to PX privileges I was able to buy them later in other PXs. You got the most for your dime or nickel. I never remembered that Lieutenants name either. There were rules of general behavior about “getting close to the officers”–and the reverse was true too.
One good thing about being wounded was that I missed a few intense battles. The Battalion was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation which I am not entitled to wear.
There is a river in the Colmar plains area named the Ill (pronounced eel) river. It had to be crossed in a certain battle which I missed. The commander ordered the engineers to reinforce a bridge so that at 4 o’clock PM (1600 fours) the tanks would be crossing ON SCHEDULE!
The scuttlebutt was that the engineers responded with a negative view because there was no material available to support the weight of a Sherman. They had constructed part of a Bailey bridge but lacked fifteen feet to finish. The time for the piece to arrive was too long to wait for The Commander. He said, “The Sherman tanks WILL CROSS”.
The infantry crossed in full numbers and at 1600 hrs the first Sherman tank began to cross. The bridge strength was as the engineers warned. The first tank sunk through the bridge bed and into the river thereby lousing up the entire attack plan. Just then there was a Kraut counter attack. A number of German Tiger tanks and infantry drove the 2nd Battalion back over the river. Many of the GIs were casualties from not only the counterattack but the crossing of the icy river. This is the one and only incident when any unit of the Third Division ever had to make a strategic withdrawal it was said.
Later at a ceremony which was held, the Officer made a bit of an apology to the troops, He said something like this,” A bad plan carried out was better than a good plan failed”. I don’t hold it against that commander for that decision, one way or the other but I’ll bet his superiors gave him the riot.
Return to unit
I finally arrived at the same of battle field to my same A&P platoon. Most of the members were there. We had a few new members. There were a few of the familiar members and I heard a few say ooh and ha! “There’s Bing”. They thought I had been sent back to the states. If only that could have been true. While I was gone there was a new ‘pecking order’ established. I was glad of that. Someone replaced Hyman Cohen who got a “million dollar “wound in the knee the very next night of laying wire in no man’s land. That wound in the knee disabled him. He was sent home!
The same snow and cold intensified. It was in January now. Colmar hadn’t yet been taken. The shelling nightmare was the routine. Names of new towns were being imprinted to memory. Towns like HOLTZWIHR WIDENSOLEN, BATLZENHEIM, VOGELSHEIM, NEUF-BRISACH .I must have returned to my platoon on about January 27th.
I wasn’t issued white camouflage. Others wore some white. The snow was deep and the weather was as low as 10 degrees below. It was said that the highs for the days were about 14 degrees above. Needless to say the nights from now on weren’t as comfortable as the nights in the hospital. I could write pages about each type of misery from frozen rations to frozen toes.
The engines on tanks and jeeps seem to not give many problems. The motor pool guys did their jobs well.
After a short stay in most likely Holtzwihr, we were moved to another place where we took up a building to stay warmer.
The motor pool guys were nearby and shared some of the space.
Overnight a new vehicle was delivered to the motor pool. It was a small machine capable of crossing streams as well as ordinary terrain. It was a miniature DUK. An amphibious thing. I had a six cylinder Studebaker engine in it for power. I don’t recall what the heck happened to that machine in the days to follow. La Porte was still alive, I noticed, and the other Cajun mechanic who was from Louisiana too. He was a cantankerous fart. Once I was looking over his shoulder watching whatever he was doing. I asked, “What are you doing’? And the question really pissed him off! “What the hell does it look like I’m doing? ya god dam ninny? cantcha tell fer Chrise sakes, whatta ya ask such a dumb question for, go on!” From that moment on whenever I saw him nearby, I would tantalize him by asking him. “Whatcha doing”.La Porte laughed as though this was a TV sit com.
Flash back to Grendlebruch
The two mechanics set up a quick motor pool across the street where we bivouacked. The two of them were working on motors tuning them up and doing whatever else required. La Porte and the other Cajun mechanic hated to have ‘gawkers’ hampering them. They thought they were extra clever by booby trapping the vehicles by having a spark plug wire hooked to the body of a running truck they were devils. They’d get the biggest kick when someone would lean over to look at the running engine and get zapped. I watched as a few were zapped. I caught on because as a kid on the farm I used to do this to cats. I’d place the cat on the fender and I’d tie a wire to a cat’s tail and hook it to a Model T spark plug. Model Ts had separate coils and you would select the one that would buzz. The spark was vicious and would jump a quarter of an inch. When I turned on the switch, the juice would zap the cat! It would yowl and scratch the fender as it took off for parts unknown! I was a little devil too at times. So I was wise.
They had a jeep idling booby trapped the same way. I could see the Cajun watching from the corner of his eye waiting for me to get zapped. But I was wiser than he thought. You had to get in without touching the ground and the body at the same time. Once in, it couldn’t harm you. I plotted my move. All of a sudden I made a side leap into the jeep seat without making contact with the ground at the same time. I sat there smirking at the Cajun mechanic. From then on he had it ‘in for me’. He was a snuff chewer or tobacco and he spat a big gob of brown sputum on the ground.