Missing In Action

Missing In Action

 

One GI was missing. His name was TILLIE.  I don’t know where he was from. He had curly black hair and was wearing a GI-colored sweater his wife had knitted for him as a Christmas present.  I thought he was acting strange at times. He enjoyed ripping open old pistols and kinda laughing at his own ineptitude in replacing all the parts. Old “Barracks Bag Tanner” did the same thing.  When I was searching for Thome’s musette bag, I noticed lots of .45 caliber pistols strewn here and there. I wanted a .45 for my own use. My MO however forbade the carrying of one. At the same time, who’s gonna ask me that stupid question, “Does your MO require a side arm?”
The next morning I dared to go into the barn to find a .45. I picked up several.  You wouldn’t believe the damage that artillery shell did! I tried several pistols and they were absolutely so mangled that the clip wouldn’t eject nor would the slide work. The shrapnel beat them as if they had been run over by a freight train! Ah ha! I spotted a webbed pistol belt in the rubble underneath where the shell hit with most force. I yanked on the pistol belt.  It was on Tillie’s body! I left the scene and went to the Lieutenant’s dugout and said, “Lieutenant, I think I found Tillie’s body in the rubble”. Tillie was listed as “Missing in Action” up to that point.  The Lieutenant sorta gruffly said,” Then get a stretcher and take those cooks and bring him out”. “Hell. That ain’t my job!”  I muttered to myself. It was the job of the GRO (Grave Registration Officer). I was then introduced to Luther McLean and two cooks. I think this was when I first met McLean. He gave me the nickname of BING. I was always singing the songs of a forlorn lost love.
We took the stretcher and dashed across the road into the barn. We placed the stretcher near the rubble under which Tillie was buried.  I scraped away some of the debris.  I found the sweater material and grabbed a handful and gave a hefty heave to lift the body out of the rubble.  Out he came, but–ugh! He was soooo mangled that his face fell off and a sickening stench arose. Yikes!  McLean and the cooks all left the scene gagging and actually urping outside.  I had a stronger gut for that scene I guess, but I couldn’t stand the stench either.  I left the stretcher there and went out for fresh air. The cooks and McLean refused to do more of the loading. They used the “F’ word with very great emphasis! McLean was a Cpl.–I was a buck-ass private–so I just took deep breaths as if diving for pearls, I reentered the barn and gave another yank and another breath and another yank to get the body closer to the stretcher.  Finally I was able to load the body on and somehow we either got used to the odor or the odor subsided enough to be tolerated, I am telling you that none of the mink shit I ever handled on the mink farm came even close to being as horrible as the stench from a human body!
Tillie was just about a day old under the rubble.  We left the body on the stretcher to be picked up by the GRO as soon as they could.  That day was March 8, 1944. It was springtime and the weather was getting warmer by the day.  Not good for dead bodies.  I have always wanted to find the family of Tillie so I could tell them I was the last guy to see his body, and that I tried to be as reverent as I could under the circumstances in handling a fellow platoon member. I hardly knew him but I understood that he had a family of about four children at home. If I could find that family, I’d like to tell them before I am unable to tell them.

So as bad as dysentery was for me, it finally SAVED MY LIFE or saved me from being maimed.  I would have been in that barn.  Where else? I might have been the Tillie I mentioned, or Italiano or Harrower or one of the other eight who were killed. The devastation from that shell was horrific! I might have mentioned elsewhere that the casualties numbered 8 dead and 11 wounded; most of the platoon. We were sent cooks and drivers from the rear echelon to bring up our strength temporarily. They hated that!  I think this is the time we got a lot of new replacements.  I seem to remember George Horton, James Anderson, Archbold and Brese. Cpl. McLean became my squad leader.
To seek the shelter of a barn was a very stupid thing to do. Especially a barn behind which was parked a half-track with a radio antenna maybe glistening in the sun!
We were all then ordered to dig individual dugouts in the bank of the drainage ditch. Mac (McLean) and I dug ours together. I remembered how my Dad made a cellar for keeping the potatoes and canned fruit from freezing back home on the farm. I insisted on having the opening made on an angle so that a shell would hit us in the legs if it were a close round. We made a top out of whatever was handy. We laid a shelter-half over it and then heaped all the dirt on it the roof could hold.    McLean was part devil!   When the Jerries tried to annihilate us with a barrage of mortars or artillery shells, we’d dash for the opening to our dug out.  Some of the rounds missed our dug out by as little as ten feet!  Mac would deliberately get into the opening and stay there till my face was on his ass pressing and shoving and then some how he’d muster up a fart right in my face! Then he’d let me in and sit in the corner of the dugout with his knees up under his chin and laugh and laugh. I’d call him a dirty son of a bitch and I wanted to punch his grinning face lots of times–there’s no humor like sick humor.  Mac had buck-teeth and they’d shine like a rabbit’s teeth.
“Moon” (John) Mullins nicknamed him “Little Beaver” but it didn’t stick for long–It made Mac too danged mad and he was awful hot-headed for his size! “Mooney” was too small to keep it up!   Mooney was from the New York area–with a Brooklyn accent.  He was the virgin of the bunch. He was the first in the platoon to be awarded the Bronze Star.  That bugger went out over the open field in broad daylight to deliver a message to a line company when the phone lines went out! The whole time he was under the possible scrutiny of a sniper!

Drinking Water

Water was running out of the banks of the ditch.  Once I saw Barrack bag Tanner scoop up some water from the main stream drain to add to his ration of dried cereal. That stuff comes in a “Ten-in-One” ration with sort of a powdered milk on the flakes. A prize. Tanner didn’t get the shits from that water but he should have. You’ll read why.
On a nice, clear day in March, Mac and I decided we’d like to explore the drainage ditch up to the line companies not far from us. I took my .45 just to test fire it. I shot up the creek to see if the pistol was in operating condition. One more sound of a shot wouldn’t be noticed. I could almost see the bullet fly out of the barrel. It has a very slow muzzle velocity and the bullet had very little range up the creek. We found a submerged 60mm mortar that probably was abandoned by the Rangers.  Then a bit further was the bridge where we always crossed in the nighttime.  A view of it in the daytime helped me to keep my bearings. A bit up from the bridge was the reason I thought Tanner might get the GI shits!!  Four dead Jerries lay partly in and out of the water!   Mac said,” Now DON’T tell the Lieutenant or he’ll make you pick them up”. I looked in the pockets of the Jerries. I took a few badges and some pictures and post cards. The following pictures are of those souvenirs I took. I would never have taken Identification. Some stories tell about taking gold teeth, but I wouldn’t do it ever. One would have to be ghoulish to do that. Some GIs became very brazen, I’ve heard but I know of none.

 

 

bucklebeltbuckle2

BELT BUCKLE   taken from dead German soldier in pictures following

With Anzio mud still intact.

germansoldiersThese snapshots were on the bodies of the above. I know it’s ghoulish and a bit

sad, but we became a little hardened to this common scenery. I wrote on the reverse side which was my only stationery. A large part of my writing was censored-bleeped out with a black marking pen or plain ink. It was forbidden to say anything which might comfort the enemy if any mail should fall in the hands of the propagandists. The following pages are from others who were killed. We carried out many but these are about the only bodies, which I was brazen enough to search for souvenirs. One of these might have had the straight edged razor I sent home there is a picture of it with my scratched notations on the sides with the actual dates. My Dad wouldn’t use the razor because he knew how I got it. German steel is of the highest quality.

 

 

 

razoirrazor2

 

RAZOR

The dates show we were on Anzio now for a bit over 2 months of continuous combat. We moseyed up the drain and found a jeep over the bank. The battery and the headlamps were missing. Mac wanted them in order to have light in our dugout. Actually we were hoping to find a stray Luger.  We came back to our dugout. I was writing notes on the backs of the postcards and the lieutenant saw my LOOT. He asked where I got the postcards and pictures and I told him a white lie.
Next day, the lieutenant came to my dugout and said, “Come with me up the creek.” He had a “DOG ROBBER” by the name of BECKER.  I had to go kinda like “riding shot gun”. Now he’d see the dead Germans in the creek! When we got near the bridge the lieutenant stopped short as he spotted the dead Jerries. In a half-whisper, he said, “Look! Dead Jerries!” He tossed a glance at me. “You knew this yesterday when I asked, didn’t you?” I didn’t deny it. Then he said, “You get those cooks and a stretcher and pick ’em up!” It was just as Mac said I’d have to do if the lieutenant found the dead bodies. When I came back to my dugout, I found some pieces of wood and I dug a hole in the bank. I made a square, wooden tube and stuck it in the bank to collect trickles of water so we could be assured of having fresher water right out of the dirt. I figured it shouldn’t be contaminated, except that not far from the bank was a downed German bomber.
Speaking of bombers, a German Messerschmidt was hit on a raid over the harbor.  It came down with engines screaming and revving up as it dove to earth.  The pilot did not eject.  About a couple hundred feet from our dugout it hit the marshy land and plunged deep into the marsh–pilot and all.  The only things left on top were the wingtips and the tail. The fuselage was entirely buried.  Swallowed.  The loose, marshy soil closed in on it.  Most likely it is still in the earth. I’d like to go see what the Italian farmer of today did in that area.
Sure enough, I had to pick up those dead bodies, which were now in the blue-bellied stage. The buttons were ripping from the pressures of the gas inside. I rolled one body out of his position partly submerged in sand. His hand had been in the sand for whatever length of time he had laid there.  When I pulled on his arm to free it, the flesh fell off the bones of his hand.  I surely didn’t (bet on that!) I surely didn’t pick up that flesh! That’s why I made the freshwater supply. That’s the reason I wondered why “Barracks Bag” Tanner didn’t come down with the “GI’s”.  That water was loaded with germs.
This will nearly end the saga of the dysentery because the paregoric treatment worked and I was saved to finally experience what hard-turd defecation felt like! Ahhhh! How such small pleasures would be better than cookies from home.
After some of our rests, in the CAMPO MORTO we’d go back up front into the same foxholes we had left a few days earlier.  After a stay on the lines we were brought back.  Things had changed for the Italian family. The baby had died and the old man was killed as he sat by the fire.  A shell finally hit the window out of which smoke emanated. I had sat on his rock many times before on the other trips.

photo1The dates show we were on Anzio now for a bit over 2 months of continuous combat. We moseyed up the drain and found a jeep over the bank. The battery and the headlamps were missing. Mac wanted them in order to have light in our dugout. Actually we were hoping to find a stray Luger.  We came back to our dugout. I was writing notes on the backs of the postcards and the lieutenant saw my LOOT. He asked where I got the postcards and pictures and I told him a white lie.
Next day, the lieutenant came to my dugout and said, “Come with me up the creek.” He had a “DOG ROBBER” by the name of BECKER.  I had to go kinda like “riding shot gun”. Now he’d see the dead Germans in the creek! When we got near the bridge the lieutenant stopped short as he spotted the dead Jerries. In a half-whisper, he said, “Look! Dead Jerries!” He tossed a glance at me. “You knew this yesterday when I asked, didn’t you?” I didn’t deny it. Then he said, “You get those cooks and a stretcher and pick ’em up!” It was just as Mac said I’d have to do if the lieutenant found the dead bodies. When I came back to my dugout, I found some pieces of wood and I dug a hole in the bank. I made a square, wooden tube and stuck it in the bank to collect trickles of water so we could be assured of having fresher water right out of the dirt. I figured it shouldn’t be contaminated, except that not far from the bank was a downed German bomber.
Speaking of bombers, a German Messerschmidt was hit on a raid over the harbor.  It came down with engines screaming and revving up as it dove to earth.  The pilot did not eject.  About a couple hundred feet from our dugout it hit the marshy land and plunged deep into the marsh–pilot and all.  The only things left on top were the wingtips and the tail. The fuselage was entirely buried.  Swallowed.  The loose, marshy soil closed in on it.  Most likely it is still in the earth. I’d like to go see what the Italian farmer of today did in that area.
Sure enough, I had to pick up those dead bodies, which were now in the blue-bellied stage. The buttons were ripping from the pressures of the gas inside. I rolled one body out of his position partly submerged in sand. His hand had been in the sand for whatever length of time he had laid there.  When I pulled on his arm to free it, the flesh fell off the bones of his hand.  I surely didn’t (bet on that!) I surely didn’t pick up that flesh! That’s why I made the freshwater supply. That’s the reason I wondered why “Barracks Bag” Tanner didn’t come down with the “GI’s”.  That water was loaded with germs.
This will nearly end the saga of the dysentery because the paregoric treatment worked and I was saved to finally experience what hard-turd defecation felt like! Ahhhh! How such small pleasures would be better than cookies from home.
After some of our rests, in the CAMPO MORTO we’d go back up front into the same foxholes we had left a few days earlier.  After a stay on the lines we were brought back.  Things had changed for the Italian family. The baby had died and the old man was killed as he sat by the fire.  A shell finally hit the window out of which smoke emanated. I had sat on his rock many times before on the other trips.