THEN!! We heard a muffled call for help! In the middle of the stream we could see a shining helmet floating and a frantic flailing of arms splashing in the dim moonlight. The moonlight was only occasional between the thin clouds sneaking in now and then so we could get a glimmer. He was grabbing for the rope which was no longer close within his reach.
All of a sudden and I don’t know why to this day, except a big adrenaline dump, I was motivated to save him. No time to lose. The river was swift here! I was somehow compelled to start running toward him in the shallow sand bank sloshing up to my ankles. As I ran, I removed my pistol belt and raincoat. No time to take off the shoes. No way! I was sloshing along the silt bank at a full run. I was reaching into my left fatigue pocket with my right hand to grab my wallet which I had encased in a condom to make it water proof (the other use for a condom). The fatigue pockets are deep and I was fumbling for it to throw it out on the bank, when the silt bank ended and, I went down Kersplash in deep ice cold water! I was over my head with my good right hand in my pocket. I momentarily struggled to get it out. I finally regained its use and I lurched like a cork to the top. I was stunned by the icy March run off water and I was trying to yell for help to get ME out. But words would not come. My breath was in short pants. I can’t explain why I did not give up. I was programmed to swim out to the drowning GI and to save him. The guys on shore said he had disappeared a couple times. He was in full battle regalia, Pistol and all even with his helmet!
I remembered the training I got in High school Physiology class. They warned, and I never forgot, to never get in front of a drowning person. He will use you to save himself as if you were a log. I dog paddled up to his back side and I grabbed the fur lined collar of the newly issued combat jackets. The jackets came earlier for our use. They were lined with a fake fur. The collar was large and it would fit snugly around your neck. It was a good hand hold. He didn’t help one stroke. He was stunned by the cold water. I forgot all about the cold water somehow. I suppose because I was struggling hard which kept me warm.
I can’t tell you how far this was going on. It was a swift river here. The banks were rip rapped with rocks in the area where I finally touched the bank. The squad was running along the banks and they were in position there to help me struggle out and to drag the drowning GI to the top which was about ten feet of very steep large rock. The rocks were hand placed there to prevent further erosion from the swift Moselle.
It seemed no one knew resuscitation. The method I was taught was not as they teach it today. I rolled him over on his belly and tilted his head to the left. His arms were kinda bent but stretched. I straddled his back and began to shove up on his rib cage, in a rhythm as if breathing. He gurgled and soon there was a cough and sounds of life. HE MADE IT.
He was taken to the medics in our jeep. I was in good shape at that point. I was almost as drowned as the victim though soaked to the gills. As I walked along, the excitement and the shivers began. I asked to be relieved of duty and it was granted but there was no jeep now to take ME in the many miles to the Battalion medics. I gathered the stuff I tossed away and walked the whole distance back to point one. I stopped first at the medics. Their aid station was in a row house with GI blankets to shield the light of a few candles inside. It was situated close to the Beer Hall.
I brushed aside the GI blanket over the door way and entered the room. There to my right sat the victim wrapped in several GI blankets and with his feet in a tub of warm water. This was to take the chill away. It looked like a scene in the ‘funny papers.
No other words were spoken except, “DID YOU FALL IN TOO”? Me? Fall in? Shit man! I jumped in to save that guy’s ass! I was infuriated that they weren’t told that it was a ‘rescue’ not a mere ‘falling in! I did an about face uttering disgust and went to my room where I stripped off. I draped my wet clothes over every place available to dry. I snuggled down in my fart sack. Now de flead. I wasn’t harmed at all just a little ‘ticked’.
The next morning though, while we were lined up for chow for breakfast, I was squatting down on my haunches leaning against a rock wall with the rest of the platoon with mess kits dangling over my knees when this guy came up to me and said humbly, “THANKS”. I learned then that his name was BUTLER. He was in the wire section of communications platoon. I have never heard from him since nor have any idea if he ever made it home alive. I wish he would contact me some day. To help you know who he resembled, he was a dead ringer for the Comedian who played on an early TV sit-com called THE LIFE OF RILEY. Bill Bendix. The nick name given Butler was BULLET Head. His head suggested the nick name. If he’s alive and reads this someday-soon- I would wish he’d write to me.
By morning my clothes were dry .I dressed to be able to get in line for chow. The group of my buddies were chattering about the ‘hero’ I was. My buddy PI THOME was the intellectual one in the platoon. He wrote up a citation for a medal for me and sent it in through the channels to consider. For the SOLDIER’s MEDAL there has to be many witnesses to qualify. I sure had that many watching me from the bank of the river. Possibly more from the other bank. I don’t know if Thome had Butler sign it or not. I couldn’t ‘bug’ anybody about the medal. It wouldn’t be appropriate, I felt. It was just a neighborly thing to do. Perhaps the reason Butler didn’t acknowledge me in the medic station was that he was still in some stage of shock. The next morning when he thanked me I could see in his eyes that he was truly grateful. BUT, I often wondered why he forgot about me? I would have kept contact with him if it had been the other way around. I would have been his ‘servant’ for life. Then I figured that he might not have survived. Since I didn’t know his full name, I can’t identify which of the Butlers in the History book were KIA. The nearly drowned Butler might not have made it home. Communications guys were right there with the riflemen.