Back to Colmar
Nick Garritano and a new kid named Greene, Smitty and a Czech immigrant named Voijtek and I seemed to have shared the floor in this cottage. It was warmer than outside. Of all things, we found a great big stash of elbow cut macaroni! We found a kettle and we lit a fire in the kitchen cook stove. Nick boiled a great big pot full of the macaroni—much much too much. We didn’t know how it could swell up. It was fortunate that I had just gotten a package from my mother. I always begged for Campbell’s Tomato soup, she sent me FOUR cans! We used the soup as a sauce. 4 cans in that big pot just colored it up a pink hue. We sat down to devour it and gorged ourselves with lot left over. My Mother sent the package in a wooden box this time and the cookies were intact. We shared them after the macaroni.
Nick looted a button accordion. I was sooo jealous of it. I begged him for it to no avail. I could play it! I played some of the Croatian stuff Daddy played. It was a push and pull accordion like a harmonica. It would adapt to some of the simple push pull polkas Daddy played. I wanted Nick to surrender that accordion so much. He would not sell it! It went all the way to Salzburg Austria with us!
The house also yielded a package of carrot seeds. I sent them home and my mother planted the variety for years to come. The seeds were good. The French grew big gardens too and were very good farmers and self-sufficient. To the owner of that French home I extend my thanks and apologies.
Somewhere later we were given a bit of time off to get a few supplies and new recruits. It might actually have been with in the walls of Neuf-brisach. We were even entertained by a few movies brought in by the USO. I remember laughing gleefully at a few of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy’s hilarious antics. It was good for my soul. I can still recall some of the scenes where the skinny guy could walk through a puddle of water and the fat guy in the same puddle would sink over his head.
At this place there was a latrine with about six holes. No more need to do the squat. I was sitting there relieving myself when a young recruit came in to do his thing. I had a conversation with him. I asked how long he had been overseas and he said, “I spent Christmas at home and then I was shipped over”. Gee! Christmas at home! That was only a month ago I said. Here he sat in newly pressed ODs and shining shoes. I wanted to touch him to make sure he was real! Christmas at home!
Then I felt a deep sorrow and pity for him. I knew the contrast in life which awaited him. In the very next few days, it would be hell for him. I wondered if he made it home. Some didn’t last as long as I did.
E company went all the way to the Rhine. I was there someplace where I could see the great big castle on the other side of the Rhine which it was said, the Gerries used for an observation post. Our artillery laid a lot of shells on it. That side of the river was the Black Forest region. While we were near the Rhine River, we stayed in a small house. A barn was attached. We used the barn to relieve ourselves. Where else? In the house was an old windup Phonograph and a few records. There was a recording which still haunts me. It is sung in German to a tango or bolero beat. The tune is “EINE NACHT IN MONTE CARLO”.I played it over and over again and even learned the words in German but now I can only remember the title and a few bars. I am going to search for that tune someday!
There was time at this location for the RED CROSS donut girls to serve donuts. Some of us resented getting just a donut! We figured that the officers got more than just donuts! Am I going to hell for thinking that? Or what?
I recall ‘finding’ some white leather in the house. There was enough to make a holster for my Luger. I cut and sewed to make the holster fit kinda sideways over my belly for a fast draw. I had enough leather for a holster for a deer handled knife I ‘found’
in that house too. I still have the knife and holster in my souvenirs. I used the knife to open rations from then on. I have several snap shots of us at that time. One snap shot is of a dead German soldier which the wiremen propped up against the wall and stuck a cigarette in his mouth. That’s how grizzled men can get!
Dead German Soldier
Flash back to SIGOLSHIEM
While I was gone to the hospital, the platoon had to finish the laying of the wire, as they told me, completely surrounding Siglosheim. I mentioned in statements earlier that Hyman Cohen got a million dollar wound in the knee the next night. That meant he went home. The platoon was awarded a bronze star. The Battalion was awarded a UNIT CITATION which I am not allowed to wear because I was wounded and out of action and in the hospital. I think that stinks because I was there for whatever it took to get the citation. Oh well, it’s a little blue thing to pin on your unit on the other side of your uniform. It would be the second the Battalion received.
For once, somehow, I was not asked to go on the detail when Ciavaglia got a wound.
Colmar was situated inland a little from the Rhine River. On the other side of the Rhine was the well-known “SCHWARTZWALD” the black Forest of Germany that’s where it will be tougher.
On the 19th of February the 3RD Division had ended its campaign for Colmar. Other units relieved the Third. We were destined for another terrible battle to cross the Seigfried line and the Rhine at a more northerly area.
On the 20th we were trucked to NANCY France. Our second Battalion was bivouacked in a town or village called BOUXIERS-aux-HAMES. I had to refer to the history book for that name. I forgot it.
My battalion settled down for some more rigorous training. It was old training to some of us but new to the replacements. Familiarization was the name of the game.
Our Company cooks set up its kitchen in an old beer hall. We were to be fed normal meals now for the duration of our stay here. The meals were served at the beer hall tables. The floors were sloppy. In the back of the beer hall were toilets. They were outhouses in a row set over a large cistern. The goop fell into the pit and you could hear a splash and an echo. I don’t need to tell you about the stench which was too near actually to the cooking area. We could overcome!
Most old people will know about outhouses and the odors.
We had a first meal in that old Beer Hall. The lineup for chow had to stumble over a large wet four inch suction hose which was on the floor leading to the outhouse cisterns. The city crew was doing its thing cleaning out the cistern. While we were having chow! I had to know where the hoses led to so I got up and took a look. Yuk! The gunk was being suctioned out and through the hose into a large black tank on a sanitation truck outside. It was easy to have gagged if your imagination was allowed to view the stuff as it went by underfoot and through the Mess Hall.
The Beer hall had large bank of windows on both sides and was well lit with natural light. I don’t think the French were allowed to use it for a beer hall during that time.
My platoon took over a three story house which could be a house in the USA in Any town. On one side of our bivouac was a very tall cement and stone masonry walled in complex in which lived a cloister on NUNS. We saw no activity at all there in my recollection. It was a good thing the wall was there because in the rear area where the owner had the garden, we had to dig a ‘slit trench’. The strategic place was right along the wall out of view of the nuns. It was best used in the dark.
Speaking of that trench and before I forget, I am reminded that I had saved two brand new German Paratrooper carbines which I wanted to send home. The order came down to destroy and the get rid of all foreign weapons. I was unable then to make a package to send them home. I vowed that no one else would ever get to use them. I took my trusty demolition kit and I wrapped the guns in prima cord from sight to the butt. I tossed them into the slit trench into the goop already there. I ignited the fuse and awaited the blast which destroyed those weapons. I often wondered who found the pieces.
My bed roll was rolled out on the second floor. It was the bedroll I had made for uses such as these rests. I sewed several GI blankets into a Mummy bag. It was very warm. I never noticed ever the hard floor in those days. The bag was too big to carry ‘in the field’. I tossed it on the cooks’ truck for uses like now. The cooks were good to us in that regard. They even allowed me to throw on my very personal items which I had in a German mine case. It was made of metal with sturdy hinges and latch. I had in it my fountain pens and ‘worth to keep’ letters and addresses and writing paper plus shaving stuff and some souvenirs such as German shoulder patches and medals.
In this house I finally annihilated the last flea which lived in the bag since maybe in Italy. He was hungry by now. It was okay now to strip down to sleep. I did just that. I was awakened by the flea crawling on my chest! I snuck my hand in the right position so I wouldn’t alert the fleas. At the opportune time I pressed him against my chest and held him captive. Fleas don’t die that easily. No flea will ever die with just a swat! I got the bugger out in my tight fist and I smashed him between my thumb nails. They have to be smashed thoroughly or they’ll hop away to live forever more. If I had a laboratory and a microscope, I could have examined that bugger to see if he was wearing crutches from the other times I tried to kill him! They are tough and can jump to a cloud!–Over the house for sure.
Our billet was still occupied by a woman and a daughter who was just about 12 years old. She was a very friendly girl who was very inquisitive about what men might look like in the altogether. She was at the age of experimentation and ‘teasing’. No one in my platoon or squad ‘touched ‘ her. I know that for a fact, but she was aiming for trouble later on if she kept it up. She needed an old fashioned spanking. I don’t recall her name and didn’t care. She was just a friendly girl. She gave me two items which I sent home. One was a world war one bayonet with leather scabbard which was one of her father’s souvenirs. She gave me an ARABS dagger with a wooden bejeweled scabbard which was her father’s which he brought home from an African campaign. I sent it home in the same package. We had “Franking privileges” which is to say that we didn’t have to pay postage. I used that privilege often.
The big picture now was to cross over into Germany. The Siegfried line and the Rhine River was on everyone’s mind who worried about it like I did. The training was to be mostly at night to give it a reality. Lots of our war was done at night. The MOSELLE River flows by NANCY France. It is not a small river especially at this time of the year in the Month of March and the last of February. The river was swollen with runoff water and as cold as the snows and ice from which it came.
On one day our platoon was sent to the river to stretch a large rope across for the training exercise which would be held that night. The rope was very thick. I wondered if I would stretch the point if I said two inches in diameter. It was a very big heavy rope. We took a rubber raft over dragging the rope to the other side and tied the end to a tree. Then with the jeep we pulled it as taught as possible so that it would be a foot above the water in the center. The last few inches above the water was difficult to achieve. The river was quite wide and swift at this point with nice banks. We went to the other side pulling our raft by hand over hand on the rope. On the other side my squad was detailed to simulate enemy fire for reality. We were to toss grenades and fire our weapons into the dirt to simulate enemy resistance making as much racket as possible when the Infantry would come across on a raft. That part was more fun than work or duty. It was raining slightly off and on during that day in March. It was much more comfortable than down in the Colmar pocket. That evening my squad drove to that crossing site. We parked the jeep on the bank and went to the river’s edge. We waited till really dark and a signal that the training would commence. A raft came over and we did our thing. I can’t recall how many rafts made the trip. Not many.
One raft was half way back for another load when the current seized the raft from under the rafts man and it capsized! The rafts man tried to hang on the rope but somehow he let go! His legs must have gotten tangled up in the boat handles somehow. He had to let go. The raft floated upside down in the swift stream quite a distance ahead of him. Someone on the other side kept yelling, “Save the Boat- Save the boat”. Hell who na hell was going to jump into that icy water to save a $90 dollar rubber boat? Someone said, “Write me up for a silver star and I’ll go” Ha!