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following material is contained in the autobiography of Dr. Ray McAllister, and
also had Gurkha soldiers, from India, in the lines. They were sworn to draw blood
if they drew their curved knives, which our soldiers said were kept sharp enough
to cut a handkerchief dropped on the blade! One night several of our guys were
drinking with several Gurkhas. After enough vino the Gurkha was persuaded to show
his knife to the GI's. He then took off a tiny slice of the end of one finger
before putting it back in its scabbard; he drew blood. We, by the way, highly
respected the Gurkhas.
It was a relief to be transferred to Battipaglia, on the coast near Salerno and prepared for another front. We got our shots, combat gear and our orders for the front. Since my record showed a year of college and air raid training and I was designated a medic, they told me I had to help inoculate 1000 troops. Almost for the first time in my life I balked and told them to shoot me if they wanted to but I would not touch a needle. Somehow I got away with it.
We got precious little training as medics. I was given an aid kit and sent to my platoon. Remember, we were in the rear at Battipaglia. From here we were loaded onto landing craft and we put to sea. I remember being on an LCU which rendezvoused with a bunch of other ships off some place in central Italy, where a tremendous barrage took place before we went ashore. We landed essentially unopposed! We marched inland along a paved road and saw the natives waving to us as they always seem to do to the conquering armies. The beachhead was Anzio!
As we marched between lines of civilians on the roadside, my baggy shorts were cutting me in half. I remember getting a bayonet and reaching inside my pants and sawing my shorts off. One old Italian man who was walking alongside us was fascinated by my actions. I wonder what he thought I was sawing off. When I pulled out my shorts he cheered.
We soon moved
into blocking positions in Anzio, for that was where we landed. Life in Anzio
was, as has been recorded many times, days of utter boredom interspersed with
minutes or hours of sheer terror. Mostly we just sat. We learned that one could
tap on a half dollar with a hand grenade bottom and slowly mush it out into a
very nice man's ring, cutting out the center with a knife. We had lots of time
to do these things. I remember going to a crashed Messerschmitt and bringing back
a piece of heavy aluminum, perhaps 3/16ths thick and carving a ring from it, with
our Division insignia, the Thunderbird, on one shoulder and the Army insignia
on the other.
We got occasional hot meals but mostly ate C-rations or K-rations. I hope never again to see Spam or chopped pork and egg yolk! We heated the rations by cutting up a C-ration can to make a little stove and burning the waxed box from rations, cut into little strips fed under the C-ration can, or under a canteen cup of water, to make coffee or tea. Somewhere along the way I traded a bunch of powdered coffee to some English Tommies for a 5 gallon size tin of English tea. It was interesting stuff. The tea, powdered milk and powdered sugar were all mixed in a large can and one simply dipped out enough for a cup-o-cha.
We used our helmets for everything. I ate out of mine when we got the occasional hot chow. When we had time to shave I shaved from mine. We heated water in it for a bath and, yes, when we were pinned down in a foxhole, we went to the john in it and dumped it over the side of the foxhole during a lull in the fighting.
Life was boring and not too terrifying while we were in the rear echelon at Anzio and for a time the Tedeschi were not too well organized. But that soon changed. Little by little they got zeroed in on us from the Alban heights; the mountains inland of the Anzio beachhead. I believe that we would have taken Rome if we had had a Patton to charge ahead while the Germans were still disorganized. There was the famous case of a jeep load of war correspondents that went all the way into Rome immediately after the landing but could not persuade the commanding general to try it. "Too risky, I will consolidate our positions first." And that condemned us to a long wait, under point blank shelling and bombing, until, months later, we drove out of Anzio with major casualties.
various positions I was always going out to bring in casualties from the shelling.
One of my first cases was in a ditch/hedgerow where an American platoon was badly
hit. The first man I saw was bleeding and bubbling from multiple punctures in
the chest. I guessed that he had been hit in the lungs. I pulled out a morphine
syrette to relieve his pain. He was begging me to do something. I stuck the syrette
in his muscle and squeezed and nothing happened. He died in my arms in agony and
all I could do was try to comfort him. When I got back to the rear aid station
(RAS) with the less seriously wounded, I found out that one had to puncture a
metal seal on the syrette before the morphine would flow. I had done him no good.
As I said above, we got precious little training.
It became a regular thing for me to bring wounded back to the RAS and after we had done all we could for them, they would point to my corner and say "Go ahead medic." I'd sit in the corner and shake for as long as it took to get myself under control and then go back to my outfit. It was routine! I was steady as a rock while there were wounded to be tended but shook like a leaf when it was all over. My guys paid me the ultimate compliment when they said they KNEW that I'd always come for them when they got hit.
Once the Jerries shot white phosphorus shells into a patrol sneaking through a minefield in front of our position. A bunch of guys got hurt and burned. I had to crawl through the minefield and pick phosphorus from some of the men's bodies where it was burning into flesh.
I vividly remember a time, when we had been pulled back into a rear area in Anzio, for a partial rest from front line action. I was unable to sleep and was out walking around the area when a German single seat fighter got hit during the routine nightly air raids on the twin cities of Anzio-Nettuno. He came over our area so low that I could clearly see the pilot turning his head looking for a place to crash, I suppose. He was barely airborne. There was a 50 caliber antiaircraft machine gun on a tripod but I didn't even think to grab it before he was gone. I could certainly have shot him down but I believe he made his lines a few miles away. Remembering that I was a medic, I was exposed to being shot at but could not shoot back, and didn't until much later, at Epinal, in the far north of France.
The guys in the rear echelon were little help to the GI's. The officers in Anzio and Nettuno, twin cities, had billets and batmen to do their dirty work. Several of the batmen took the used alcoholic foot wash from the officers latrines, filtered it through a loaf of bread and sold it to GI's on leave to the rear. Someone squealed and a bunch of soldiers started for the billets to take care of the batmen involved! I never heard the end of that one.
I went aboard a Liberty ship that was carrying cargo to the beachhead and after a while talking to the seamen and officers I was able to swap some vino, which we had found, for a white sheet which I carried and used in my foxhole until it was too filthy to keep any longer. The seaman told me that the Seaman's Union required them to get clean sheets every so many days. Pissed me off for we were sleeping in mud and being shot at and shelled. I thought they could suspend such luxuries for the duration!
As Published in Time Magazine
time in here another soldier told me I could make a radio if I used a razor blade
as a crystal, wound a coil from field wire and could find a pair of headphones.
Good luck! There was a crashed German plane not too far away and I got the headphones
from it. I followed instructions and wound the coil on a discarded cardboard container
and eventually got the set to work. I do not remember the exact details but was
able to pull in Axis Sally with the set. I experimented with various sizes of
coils and remember getting some more coils from equipment in the crashed plane.
I think the different coils worked to give different frequencies of response but
cannot exactly remember.
Hell, it is probable that the original instructions for making these radios may have come from Axis Sally herself. I do know that I listened to and hoorahed Axis Sally. I can't believe she did any real harm to the Allied effort. One thing bothers me though! Periodically she would tell us the double password for the evening BEFORE we got the word from our own rear. The password worked like this: If it was "Eagle sweat" the person challenging would say "Eagle" and if the person challenged did not reply "Sweat", shots were fired. I sure hope she got hung for her war efforts though. She constantly harped on the great life they were living back in the States and how the 4F defense workers were probably sleeping with our wives and girlfriends right at that moment. Bitch!
We moved constantly in Anzio. One spot we occupied was near what we called the Factory! I think the village was really Aprilia. We were dug in alongside one of the drainage ditches that criss-crossed the beachhead. I had found an old door in an abandoned farmhouse and put it over my foxhole with dirt on top.
Periodically there were dogfights over the beachhead. The I understood that the black pilots (Tuskeegee airmen) were the ones covering us for a time. They never seemed to hesitate to tangle with the FWs and Messerschmits that strafed us or the Dorniers that bombed us. On one occasion a plane, ours or theirs, got its tail shot off and we watched it spiral down so gently that I have no doubt everyone still alive walked away from the crash.
One night a German bomber flew over and dropped a cluster bomb which opened as it fell and sprayed the area with tiny mortar shell-like bomblets. Each was deadly if it hit in your hole or close to you. As it came over I was face down in the foxhole and when the bombing was over I had tightly clenched fists and was singing, over and over, "I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle; I've got spurs that jingle jangle jingle; I've got....." Several bomblets hit within 10 feet of me but none hit my hole. One guy had a dud hit right alongside his body, in his hole. If it had hit him the impact would probably have killed him without it going off.
One night I accompanied Mack Clopton, a grizzled old Okie, over several stone fences into the factory where some GI's were reported to have been hit. We crawled into the wrecked building and found the injured GI's. One was sent back and I found another in the dark and felt over his body for wounds. At his head my fingers slid into brains, for a shell had apparently hit a roof tile and cut the top off his head.
As Mack and I crawled back over the stone fences, a German machine gun opened up on us. We lay behind a heavy stone wall watching the tracers go whistling over our heads about four feet above us. Mack said, and I will never forget it, "Look at that, Medic, ain't that pretty. Shines like a diamond up a goat's ass" Can't say I knew how that diamond would have looked!
In that same position I went to the canal a few feet away to take a leak. I heard the sound of water falling in the canal and there, only 20 feet away, on the other side was a German, in a heavy trench coat, carrying a slung rifle, doing just what I was going to do. My waterworks shut down completely at that moment. That is how close we were many times.
The Germans tried to drive us into the sea with a major counterattack from the Factory area as I remember. I sat next to our machine gunner, on a small rise, and we fired at advancing troops until we had boiled away all the water from our water cooled machine gun, and all our canteen water, and (like in war stories you read) all the urine we could muster. Boiling urine smells like hell. The barrel of the gun was beginning to change color when the attack let up. I doubt that that machine gun was any good ever again.
There was an outfit fighting near us that was pretty special. Remember when we rounded up all the Japanese Americans and put there in detention camps? Well the Nisei raised a couple of units composed only of Japanese Americans. The one I knew was the 100th Regimental Combat Team, called in Hawaiian "Um puka puka" which translated as "One, hole, hole" or 100. They were bound to prove that the Americans of Japanese descent were as good as or better than the Americans of German descent or any others, and prove it they did. In one case our guys were unable to take a hill where the Jerries had several machine guns, well dug in and with crossing fields of fire. The 100th RCT charged straight up the hill with bayonets fixed, amid terrible carnage, and the few that made it to the nests bayoneted the German machine gunners in their bunkers. We never doubted those guys and their devotion to the USA!
We often felt that human nature was a major consideration in combat. If an officer was Regular Army he had to excel to insure a job after the war and sometimes would send soldiers to do the impossible, with horrible casualties, like taking the hill just above. Many times we dogfaces felt that it was better to wait and either bypass the strong point or wait until heavy artillery could neutralize it. We often felt that we were simply expendable.
the attack we were moved to the tomb of the Italian patriot, Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The ditch, Fossa Carano? ran by the tomb, about 50 or 100 feet nearer the Germans.
A major forward command post was set up in the tomb which had massive walls. Surrounding
it were some enormous pine trees, several of which had been cut down not too long
before. The stumps were perhaps 7 feet across. One of these was on the far bank
of Fossa Carano and I chose this spot to dig in. I burrowed into the bank about
6 feet or so, then dug and hacked my way under the stump for another 8 or 10 feet.
As days went by I begged, borrowed and stole about 200 sandbags which I piled
around the hole so it was totally impregnable. I had my favorite pinup, Lena Horne
in a blue and gold outfit, on one wall. The guys in my platoon kidded me about
it, although several would find their way into it whenever the Tedeschi shelled
When it got close to the time for us to break out of Anzio, we were told to stay low in the ditch, exposing no one, so as not to reveal that an Allied buildup was under way. This was a direct, unmistakable order. On an early afternoon we were shelled by the German 88's in the hills. Two guys were hit, one almost losing his arm. I got them in my hole and was ordered NOT to take them back to the RAS until dark cause Jerry was looking down on us from the hills.
All of a sudden I had an uncontrollable urge to get out of that hole, in defiance of orders. I took the two wounded, with the less serious one helping me with the guy with the severed arm, and we crouched in the ditch and had gone about 200 feet, around a curve when we heard it. It was the Anzio Express, a 16" railroad gun at Civitavecchia, which fired a shell weighing a ton, from about 30 miles away. It sounded like a freight train coming over the mountain sideways. I shoved the wounded men into a convenient slit trench (shit trench) and jumped in on top of them. The ground heaved mightily. When the roar ended and the dirt stopped falling we got up to continue down the Fossa and a short time later we heard the same sound again. This time we just hit the deck. After everything cleared we made our way to the RAS.
Shortly thereafter men started trickling in from my platoon. They were in various stages of injury and shellshock. They told me that both shells had hit my hole and obliterated the hole and the stump! They said that Maggie (Casimer Barnett), Tony and Bailey had gone into my hole for safety when I left it. The late comers said they started to dig but quit when they pulled out most of a scalp and one guy, in a hole farther up the ditch, on the other side, found a piece of warm, wet bone, a few inches long in the entrance to his hole. Maggie, Tony and Bailey were dead because I had made such a good foxhole! To this day I believe some greater force made me leave when I did. The interesting thing about the Anzio Express was that the dispersion of the shells was so great at that range that two shells shot on the same heading would normally land no closer than about 100 meters or so. Two shells hit my hole as fast as they could reload, about 10 feet apart as near as we could figure. A one in a million happenstance!
We started the drive out of the beachhead some time later. I can remember being shelled, mortared and machine gunned. Fortunately the Army Air Force had deliberately bombed the no-man's-land between the lines and left huge craters for cover and use them we did! I was always the last man on the line of march and no one behind me to help if I got hit, a very lonely position.
As we pushed forward I remembered hurdling a bursting 88 mm shell which struck right in front of me. I should have been dead but was not scratched. An interesting thing about 88's; they are such high velocity shells that the explosion was followed by the incoming shriek. The shell was faster than sound! Another time we were crossing a very large open area when the 88's opened up in a rolling barrage. A line of shells burst about 100 meters in front of us, then lifted 50 meters and another line of shells blanketed the field. We started running to the rear and stayed just ahead of the shells. I turned my left ankle very badly but had no option but to run like hell if I wanted to live. Near the end of the barrage I dove into one of the bomb craters and hit the hard baked clay edge with my right knee. It damned near tore my kneecap off. Here I was, far from any help, in a drive out of the beachhead, the only medic nearby and with my platoon to worry about. I tightened up my combat boot on the ankle, which swelled until it was rigid and hobbled after the platoon when we regrouped.
As we pushed on it was jet black except for gun and shell flashes and I walked with great difficulty, falling often. Once I fell, hitting my face in soft mud in a ditch and did not know I had lost my GI eyeglasses until the next shellflash showed me blurred outlines. I did not get replacement glasses until long after the breakout.
We had lost our platoon lieutenant and his replacement was a 90 day wonder. Without combat experience he was soon to destroy his whole platoon. We had taken over a German position abandoned as we pushed forward. I was in a covered foxhole with several wounded when he called the platoon into a football huddle to tell them what we would do next. The Germans had the place well zeroed in, something the old hands would have known, but by now most of our platoon was replacements. They dropped a couple of 90mm mortar shells on to the platoon in a small patch of shell torn trees. One mortar shell apparently hit the lieutenant on the shoulder because his upper body was blown away. The whole platoon was hit and several were killed. When I heard the shells and screams I raced out, too late for some but was able to get others into the covered bunker. By the grace of God I was in the bunker with wounded or I'd have been blown away too.
In another spot, dog tired and overworked, ministering to both American and German wounded, I needed a drink and a bit of food. I had a can of C-ration cheese but no water. I walked to a nearby creek and dipped up a canteen cup of water. There was a dead German bleeding into the water about 20 feet away and another who had been dead long enough to be completely covered with maggots, also a few feet away. I ate the cheese with a hand covered with dried blood, sitting on the body of yet a third dead German, totally insensible to the carnage about me. The picture of the one dead German's face crawling with maggots will stay with me to the grave, however as will the vision of my hand, covered with caked blood holding a piece of cheddar cheese.
At another point in the breakout our platoon was shelled so badly that we got separated almost completely. I headed for cover well to the rear, running as fast as I could run on a bad leg. Ahead I could see a British Bren gun carrier, an armored, tracked vehicle. It was sitting on the edge of a very large bomb crater. I headed for it looking for cover. As I approached the crater I saw two Tommies sitting in the hole brewing a pot of tea with a little Primus stove and a canteen cup. "I say, Yank, would you like a spot of tea?" said one. I was so glad to see live humans that I joined them in the relative safety of the bomb crater. However, a couple more shells hit on the edge of the hole, the Tommies casually picked particles of dirt and twigs out of the brewing tea and I had had enough. I fled toward the rear. Anyone who poormouths the British Tommies will have to fight me. In addition to these two I remember another with a bloody stump of an arm walking back to the rear still carrying his rifle.
We had some help from tanks which had trouble with the drainage ditches and hedgerows. One such tank was set afire by Tedeschi artillery and no one got out. We could hear them screaming inside and one of our noncoms took a machine gun and shot through the sides of the tank between the treads until the screaming stopped. I doubt that his bullets penetrated the armor but it was terrible to listen to men being burned to death and not be able to help.
One tanker got badly shot up and before being taken back gave me his tanker jacket. It had one arm badly torn and bloody but we infantrymen cherished the warm tanker jackets and tried very hard to get them for ourselves. This will figure in a later episode in Cherbourg, France.
Anyhow we eventually broke out of Anzio and slogged toward Rome. A couple of American tanks were parked on the shoulder of the road. Combat MP's were marching a column of captured Tedeschi back to the rear. One of the Yanks offered the MP's $50.00 to shoot a prisoner but, of course, they didn't do it.
As we walked along, dead beat, heads down, I saw a lump in the road ahead. When I got near I saw that it was a German soldier that had been killed on the road and apparently run over by a bunch of tanks. No blood but a very flat human that we stepped on to get over. War is not fun.
As I will point out a little later, there were monsters in the German Army but there were also some halfway decent humans.
As Ernie Pyle wrote, they were mostly fighting for home and country, misguided but sincere. It was hard to hate a wounded German, or a prisoner, unless he had been a sniper picking off your fellow GI's until he ran out of ammunition. Sometimes under these conditions I'm sure we didn't notice the white handkerchief or upraised hands until it was too late. We had a bunch of American and German wounded in front of the lines one time and as our medics, at that time clearly marked, went out to help them, some German commander ordered all fire lifted and for more than an hour no shots were fired. When the last litter of wounded soldiers of both armies was back in shelter, the Germans opened up again.
Another interesting incident occurred when a British unit came into our area. Totally oblivious to the pointblank presence of the German lines, they came in, led by a bagpipe band, skirling into No Man's Land. We started yelling at them, but strangely, not a German shot was fired, again until they had finished the pipe band performance and had all gone to ground. Either the Germans enjoyed the performance as much as we did, or they were dumbfounded by the audacity of the Limies!
At one point we were stalled by stiff German resistance. Tanks were brought up and fired at the enemy. They were buttoned up, however, and so one of our Native American heroes, Geronimo Roach, ran out to the tanks under heavy enemy fire, grabbed the telephone on the rear of the tank and directed fire on the enemy positions. Geronimo was a real hero. When a German machine gun bunker cut down one of our medics who was assisting a wounded German, Geronimo ran straight into the machine gun fire, shooting his Thompson submachine gun until he reached the slit in the bunker and he threw a grenade inside then went around to the rear and shot each enemy to be sure they were dead. Geronimo was later killed when a very large piece of a heavy shell came whirring across a field and cut his leg off at the thigh. He had bled to death through the huge femoral artery by the time we got to him. I believe he later got a major posthumous decoration.
Many of our Cherokee soldiers were from Tallequah and Ponca City. They used to talk of a tough Indian lady who ran the local bar. Minnie Bearpaw could outfight almost any man who came into her bar. Someday I may go to Tallequah or Ponca City and see who is still alive, and meet Minnie Bearpaw!
We marched through Rome and wound up in a field somewhere near Civitavecchia, the site, by the way, of the railroad gun that devastated my foxhole near Garibaldi's Tomb. On the way we passed a cave/hovel built into the side of a hill. I heard a commotion and went to the cave where I saw a mother and her beautiful teen age daughter, probably from N Italy, because she was blond. The mother had blackened the girls face with soot and had her in old, dirty clothes. She had been hiding her daughter from the German soldiers and was not overjoyed to have her found by the Americans. I assured her in broken Italian that she had nothing to worry about so long as she kept her daughter away from much social contact with the GI's. What a fearful time the German occupation must have been, especially for an attractive blue eyed blonde girl!
During one R & R period, back near Rome, probably after the breakout, I hitched a ride on a military a C-47, going to North Africa. Nobody asked me for authorization to go and I just took space available. As we were riding in bucket seats, a major across the plane asked me what was the matter with my left ankle. I told him "Nothing that I know of, sir!" He told me not to wise off to him, that he was an orthopedic surgeon and he knew a badly damaged ankle when he saw one. He made me move next to him and take off my combat boot and expressed the idea that it was the worst ankle he'd ever seen. Remember that it had had to heal by itself while we were still in combat.
I visited Oran for a couple of days, AWOL as hell, and caught a ride back to Fiumechino Airport?, no worse for the three day AWOL, but much rested in spirit. That was my second and last visit to Africa.
While in the rear area I watched two of our Cherokee soldiers, who had made still to improve the Italian wine, drinking moonshine. As they got thoroughly blasted they stood on opposite sides of a narrow Italian road and shot at each other with 45 caliber automatics. Each would take a shot, the other would whoop "Ha, missed me!" and then he would take a shot. They must have exchanged 8 or 10 shots each before someone got a lieutenant who, at some considerable risk, broke it up and confiscated their 45's. It is a tribute to the accuracy of the 45 and to the drunkenness of the soldiers that no one was even nicked.
Eventually we returned to the staging area. There we dug in in a field and built foxholes against the night raids by German bombers. I don't exactly remember how, but I was tagged for night watch in the area. One night I was on duty when a jeep pulled into the bivouac with its lights on, a serious "no no". I halted the jeep and told the driver, who had gotten out, that he had to turn off his lights. I found myself laying in the ditch! The driver was drunk, was the heavyweight champion of the 45th Division or of the 7th Army and had cold cocked me. I should have shot the SOB but he had driven off by the time I picked myself up and the sergeant in charge did not seem anxious to pursue matters.
I had another unpleasant experience here as well. I was sharing a covered foxhole with a sergeant. One night I woke to find him groping me. I blew out of the hole and told his superior to put him in another foxhole or I'd blow his brains out. That time they did change his hole. I fully believe that there is no place in the military for "queers".
were then prepared for another invasion, this time in Southern France. After the
usual regrouping, shots, issues of missing or updated equipment, etc., we embarked
for the new landing. I cannot remember the type of vessel we were on but I do
remember walking down to the water, from the landing ramp, to be able to say that
I got my feet wet during the invasion of Southern France. There was no resistance
there in St. Tropez, so we headed inland after assembling on the beachhead and
marched and rode up the east side of France, chasing the Bosche.
I was much better in French than in Italian, in spite of Madame Tea (Te ah), my French teacher at Evander Childs High School, who passed me on condition that I never take French again. Before long I was unofficial battalion interpreter. One day they brought in a man they had found in the field under suspicious circumstances. I interrogated him and he claimed to be a French civilian spy reporting via hidden radio to the British. He unwound the cloth wrapped puttees that he was wearing and showed us the code on sheets under several wraps. That was the end of my part cause they took him back to Regimental HQ for further processing.
Somewhere in here we came across a German position that had been very hastily abandoned. There were several shallow foxholes and a medical facility, perhaps a rear aid station. Next to one foxhole was a German Walther pistol and in the bottom was another. This was clearly a booby trapped setup for who would leave two Walthers clearly visible on the ground? I wanted the pistols but not at the expense of losing a hand or my life so I carefully attached a piece of string to the one outside the hole and got well away and pulled it from the hole. Nothing happened. No pressure actuated mine or explosive. Then I did the same to the one in the bottom of the hole and again, no explosion. I carefully examined both guns and could see no boobytraps. Later I got an expert in the outfit to look at them and disassemble them. They were clean.
I ended up with two 9mm Walthers in my pack and a bunch of 9 mm ammunition, plus an Italian Beretta which I took from an Italian carabinieri who had surrendered to us in Rome, and a Belgian copy of the US Army 45 caliber automatic, but downsized to take 9 mm ammo. I was a walking arsenal, but never used them.
The Beretta I sent home in a package one mail day, along with a small paring knife marked "Nicht rosten", which I had for many years after the war. I gave the Beretta to Jim Moriarty at Scripps. The Walthers and 9mm automatic, well that's another story soon to be told!
Every Sunday, if at all possible, I would go to Mass, usually at a French countryside church. Sometimes this meant hiking through "no-man's-land" to get there. At times we had a chaplain say Mass for the "crossbacks" in the company but often they had too many places to go to and we were a small outfit, close to the Bosche and there were a lot more Catholics in bigger rear outfits.
We shoved up the valley of the local river whose name I have forgotten, within sight of Switzerland. Should we wander across the Swiss border and be interned for the duration? We didn't!
In one small town we entered one end of the town while the Bosche held the other end. I found a house with a French family that was very grateful to us for freeing them. We talked for awhile and the lady suggested that we pool our resources and she would cook a supper for us. She said that the baker on the other side of the long straight main street was baking his first bread in a long time with hoarded flour to celebrate freedom.
The Bosche were camped at the far end of the town with an antitank gun pointed down the street. They were probably 3 or 400 meters away. I decided that home baked French bread was worth the risk so I stood in the alley getting up my courage and dashed across the street to the alley on the other side. CRACK went the antitank gun but a second after I was across. I made my way to the baker, who would not let me buy bread but gave it to me, hot out of the oven. With it under my combat jacket, I raced back across the street and we had a terrific meal of canned roast beef, French fresh vegetables, wine and cold water from their backyard pump, tea and coffee. It was undoubtedly one of the best meals I ever had.
We were riding on a 6 by 6 (2 1/2 ton) truck loaded with supplies, towing a tank trailer full of water. The guys on the truck were mostly blasted. Every Frenchman was throwing them bottles of wine, cognac and champagne. I rode the water trailer, cold sober, cause I don't care for alcohol. I caught a few bottles that were bobbled on the truck and stored them in a canvas pocket in the trailer cover. If the Jerries had counter attacked at that time we would have been duck soup!
At one pit stop I asked an old Frenchman if he had something to drink, He said "Oh, monsieur, nous avons pas de vin, pas de champagne, mais jai 'Chateau le Pump'". With that he proceeded to a water pump in his back yard and worked the handle up and down, drawing me a big glass of wonderful cold limestone water. I still order "Chateau le Pump" when I go to a restaurant!
In cheese country we would buy or trade for wheels of French cheese. Then we would walk along cutting big chunks off to eat with whatever else we could scrounge and with the biscuits in our rations. I learned to like cheese in this part of France for I never ate much cheese before and this real cheese sure beat the anemic pasteurized US cheeses.
As we worked our way north we ran into several examples of man's inhumanity to man. As a medic I would get to see some of the horrors. The FFI (Forces Francais de l"Interieur?) were the French guerrilla units to whom we had dropped weapons and supplies during the drive through France. They were much feared by the Germans because they were fighting for their homes and families and took few prisoners. They also knew the countryside and were supported by the locals. When the Germans caught an FFI, he was usually butchered on the spot and, unfortunately, so were any family members or even suspected family members who were captured. On one occasion the medics were trying to save a little 4 or 5 year old girl whose arm had been almost completely severed by a German "burp" gun. This was a machine gun that fired so rapidly the sound was "burrrrp". They had sawed the mothers leg off at the thigh with a burp gun and she had died.
We had parachuted every gun we could find in to the FFI as the war progressed and they used them very effectively. I was carrying the two Walthers and the Belgian automatic in my pack. I met an FFI who had a long barreled 45 cal revolver, a beautiful weapon. I tried to trade him first a single Walther, and finally all three of my guns but he would not even think about it. I even pointed out that 9mm ammo was everywhere available from overrun Germans, but no dice.
In one town I climbed into a hayloft for some shuteye. I saw a movement in the hay and called out "Kommen sie hier; hande hoch." Out came a Jerry soldier with his hands up, although I was not armed. I took him to the CO who was talking to some FFI types. They searched him and found a picture of the German standing with one foot on a young Frenchman whose motorcycle he had taken. The FFI knew the young Frenchman and what had happened and they took the German behind the barn, stuck a pistol in his mouth and blew his head off. He was stupid to carry the picture but probably would have been killed anyway.
As we pushed through the mountains in eastern France we had a terrifying experience with the Luftwaffe. We were in a truck convoy of some ten or more 2 1/2 ton trucks laden with troops. As we went up the mountain road two single engine German fighters came over a rise and made strafing runs through the middle of our column. The results were horrible. I leaped out of my truck, where I was seated at the rear gate, and got a 13 mm slug through my pants leg, missing me. As I dashed out to some trees, the strafing was over. I ran back to help and found that the other medic had taken two slugs thru both legs but had run 50 feet or so before collapsing.
I sent the walking wounded to him and he bandaged them and gave them sulfa sitting on his badly injured legs. I turned over one soldier, lying on his face, and he had taken a cannon shell into the chest. He had nothing between the rib cage and the groin. We patched up as many as we could but too many had been killed. We were very leery of aircraft and aircraftlike sounds for a long time afterwards.
As we traveled north my nerves were rapidly going. At one spot I cracked up and was put on an ambulance for the rear. I jumped off when they stopped to pick up more casualties a little further down the road and hiked back to the platoon. But everytime I'd hear a shell, bullet or mortar shell, down I would go. The whisper of our pants leg one on the other would sound to me like a mortar shell whispering down out of the sky. In combat, when one man drops, everyone goes down. I caused many a platoon, squad or litter bearer team to hit the deck.
We reached the outskirts of Epinal, France, in the Alsace-Lorraine area of France. I watched from a hill with a 50 caliber air cooled machine gun team. With binoculars I saw an ambulance drive up the road to a farmhouse and disembark a squad of armed soldiers. Mad as hell, I grabbed the gun and started firing at the farmhouse at 1000 yds or more. The tracers enabled me to correct fire till I was knocking roof tiles off the house. Soon someone wrested the gun away from me. They understood why I was pissed off but did not want to give away their position until they were needed. That was the only time I fired at the enemy.
World War Two Ration Technologies
about this time, still a few miles from the German border, we set up in the Vosges
Forest. As the Germans were shelling us we built covered holes for tree bursts
were murder on unprotected men. I had been saving cigarettes for a month or more.
The "nice" manufacturers of this deadly drug made three cigarette packs
of Chelseas and Fleetwoods available with the rations we got. How many thousands
of Americans died of the addiction to "free" cigarettes given to them
by the DOD? Probably more than were killed in the war!!
Anyhow, all the propaganda said cigarettes calmed the nerves. So one particularly bad day in the Vosges Forest, I went out with a litter team to help a badly wounded GI. He was real bad and I did what I could for him, put him on the litter and took one front corner. On the way to the rear aid station I heard the whisper of a mortar shell every few steps and hit the deck, dropping the poor SOB onto the mud. Finally the team told me to go on ahead and carried him in after I was out of sight. It was time to smoke and calm my nerves! I lit and smoked cigarette after cigarette and was, if anything, more jumpy than before. Then I remembered that I had heard that it was the soothing rise of the curl of smoke that was so calming. Great! I lit a cigarette and stuck it in the mud wall of my foxhole. It was so soothing to see the gentle column of smoke! Then a treeburst occurred in the canopy overhead and shattered the smoke column. That's it. I dumped hundreds of 3 pack cigarettes into the mud outside my hole and have not been tempted to smoke again! Indeed, I found later that I was extremely allergic to cigarette smoke.
Shortly thereafter I went out on another soldier patchup job and blacked out. My mind had had all the horror it could take and simply shut down. They called this combat fatigue (NP) or psychoneurosis. I had sent men back because of this problem in the past but always with some doubts whether they were faking it to get out of combat. Now I know that most of them were not!! I remember coming to briefly in a rear aid station where they took off my backpack and combat medical kit and put me on an ambulance to the rear.
When I next became aware I was way back in a forward hospital, in the NP ward with the rest of us psychos! We were almost all from front line outfits. Our position was well behind the lines but within striking distance of the German Luftwaffe. One night we heard the thrum of Dornier diesel powered bombers, easily distinguished by the beat as the two engines were slightly out of sync. We all fled the hospital except one black soldier who was shaking like a leaf but the last thing I saw was him leaping on top of a white soldier, still in a catatonic state on his bunk, unable to get up and run. The black soldier protected him with his body, shaking and scared witless but still with enough humanity left to help a fellow sufferer. That memory has tempered my attitude toward black men and redneck hatred ever since.
My next location was in a very Rear Hospital, in Marseilles as I remember. Since I was walking wounded and had some medical experience and college, I was put to work in their laboratory, doing blood and stools analysis. I can remember the crocks alongside my station filled with blood and excrement and never want to do bloodwork again.
In our ward we had several nurses working and at least one of them propositioned several soldiers during the night shift, often with positive results. I also remember one day I was on a ladder changing light bulbs when I heard a German airplane outside. I dove from the ladder and knocked a nurse into the corner and landed on top of her. No one else heard the plane or they assumed it was Allied, and I was almost court martialed for attacking an Officer until some of the other guys in the ward told the board that I was so sensitive to aircraft noise that I could hear them 50 miles away!
From here, after a long rest period, I was shipped to a replacement depot in an old textile factory somewhere in north central France. We were being held for return to whatever unit needed us. While there I made the acquaintance of a professional gambler who was also a replacement. In the textile factory there were four or five floors and almost every night there was a poker game on each floor. On the ground floor it was for 1 franc maximum. On the second floor perhaps for 10 francs, max. On the third floor perhaps for 100 francs, etc. One day he came to me for the loan of ten francs. He promised to pay it back that night. He apparently worked the 1 franc game till he had enough to go to the second floor and so on. When he returned he threw me a wad of francs. He had won several thousand before quitting.
He told me all the rules he used when gambling and when to fold, when to hold, when to advertise, etc. I guess if I liked to gamble and took a few more lessons from him I could have made a good deal of money from the suckers who did not know how to gamble, but gambling is not one of my things.
When the Battle of the Bulge came we hung on every radio broadcast and on everything in the Stars & Stripes, the GI newspaper. We were all expecting to be sent into Bastogne or some other part of the fight. I guess it was over before they could cut orders or maybe transportation was all tied up taking supplies in, but we didn't get the call. Instead I was sent to a rear Military Police unit in Deauville. Here we were assigned to keep the peace in the rear, guard the supplies on the docks and particularly to police the whorehouses which seemed to be the main occupation of Deauville as far as we were concerned.
It was pretty disgusting to see how cold and callous the prostitutes were and the people who ran the cathouses. There would be lines of men on the stairs and out into the lobby, each allowed perhaps 10 or 15 minutes with the bitch in the room upstairs. Our job was to prevent fights. I heard some pretty awful stories about what it was like upstairs. One of the girls, whom we called "Silver Fox" for the fur she always affected, came up to me in a doorway and told me, in French, that she was going to get my cherry. She never did. I like girls as much as anyone but that way of getting them just does not appeal.
Sometime between the replacement depot in the factory and Deauville I was attended by a shrink who was to take away my guilt for leaving my outfit! We took long walks on the dunes along the coast, and he told me that I was not in control. That my mind had simply shut down, unable to take anymore horror. He reiterated that my length of service at the front was far longer than the average, etc.,. etc. Eventually he assuaged my guilt and I am eternally grateful for this nameless doctor.
One night, coming off duty, several of us heard country songs sounding exactly like Hank Williams coming from a French house on the way to the barracks. We went to the door and knocked. The Frenchman who came to see who it was spoke no English so I translated. I asked who was singing. He said he was. We asked if he would sing some more for us and we sat and sang for several hours, way past curfew. He broke out a bottle of good cognac that he had been saving for a long time and we all had a few shots. As I said, I don't normally drink, but this was special. This guy imitated every American country record he had almost perfectly, with no trace of a French accent. He was Hank Williams or Roy Acuff, as needed. And I got fairly high.
When we got back to the barracks, the lieutenant asked why we were late and I told him to forget it. Somehow I got away with that, too, probably because I had never been any trouble to him before. But when the guys told me I'd told the officer to shove it, the association between liquor and loosening of inhibitions struck a note. I had met a young French gal, Margarite Fleurey?, at the Deauville Casino. I wanted to ask her for a date but was afraid.
asked some of the guys if they had any liquor? They took me to an upstairs room
and gave me a bottle of Calvados (applejack)? I drank a big slug and then water
from a canteen cup, over and over. When I had killed a good deal of the bottle,
in relatively few minutes - remember I wanted to get drunk to have the nerve to
ask Margarite out - I stood up and took about three steps to the door and found
myself on my knees in the doorway. I remember pulling myself to my feet, looking
back to see if anyone had noticed, and took 4 or 5 more steps to the head of the
stairs where I blacked out again! I awoke for a few seconds at the foot of the
stairs, on my back, looking up at a couple of worried faces, then blacked out
again and did not come to for about 36 hours. Worse yet, I was cold stone blind
for three days before I regained my sight. I guess the Calvados was real rotgut
with fusel oil and all in it, but as much as I drank, it should have killed me.
My good buddies had watched me, hoping I would get blasted. They had been trying
to get me drunk (and laid) for the entire time I was there. That basically ended
my drinking for all time. I have about a shot of hard liquor, one beer and sometimes
a very small glass of wine in a year.
Having come from a combat outfit I was a very hard headed MP around the docks. I took to carrying a submachine gun whenever I could get one and snuck through piles of supplies on the docks. The Allies were using German prisoners to unload and stack the supplies. They were doing all the damage they could and I was their nemesis.
I caught one German who had opened a 55 gallon drum of lard and shoved his boot down into it. I made the bastard eat lard until he was violently sick, then took him back to HQ. Another was dumping cans of cocoa powder when I found him. He, too, ate unsweetened cocoa powder until he was violently sick. My worst mistake was catching a fellow MP selling tankers combat jackets just outside the docks, and when I brought him in, they resolved to get rid of me for screwing up a good thing. It seemed that all of the real MP's, not combat soldiers assigned there after the hospital, were trading goods to the Frenchmen, swapping goods for services from the local girls and generally acting like there were no guys dying a few hundred miles away. The combat jacket thing was a big deal for me because I remembered the guy who had given his, with one arm almost completely shot off, to me, as his last act before being taken to the rear. It was sacrilege to steal from the guys in the line so I went ape. I expect I'd have shot him if he had fought back.
We lived in an old factory again. Mess was downstairs in the big open area and we had French gals serving the food. I took a GI grapefruit to one of my favorites one day and she pulled me behind the door and put my hand on her breast. Panic!!! I never took her another thing. Another time a sergeant invited me to a party at his girls place outside town. When I got there, there was damn near an orgy going on. I slipped out and the girl he had for me came out with me. I told her I was going back to the barracks and she said goodbye, sticking her tongue in my mouth. My first French kiss and I thought I'd been raped. I was still a virgin!
In my upstairs bunkroom we slept in bunk beds, one over the other. Across the room was a non-com and he brought his girlfriend to sleep with him. It was horrible. One night he went on duty and she shook me awake. She asked "Ou est la double vay cee (?)", "Where is the watercloset"? I grabbed a flashlight by my bed and shone it on her and she was stark naked. I told her where it was and lay there in utter fear. She returned, told me she was cold and tried too slip in with me. I jumped out of the wall side of the bunk and fled. Boy did they razz me about that.
At one time I stole a 45 caliber automatic from the armory so I would always have a weapon if I wanted to go to the docks on my own time. I had found dozens of 5 gallon cans of fuel empty, in stacks on the dock. Finally, by shaking down prisoners I found one with a sharpened nail embedded in a small piece of wood. He was jamming it into the cans as he stacked them and the flow rate was slow enough that he wasn't caught. Anyway, I wanted a 45 so I did not have to get permission to go to the docks. When they found one missing there was a major shakedown and when my turn came I had the gun in one pants leg, bloused over my combat boots. I was sure it showed and I was trembling like a leaf, but they did not find it. As soon as possible I took it to the wharf and threw it far out into the water. That was the end of my life of crime.
My time was up. I didn't fit. I was too concerned with keeping the supplies for the front and they transferred me to the 819th Signal Service Company (Port), a communications unit stationed in Granville, France. There I mostly manned a switchboard because I could speak fair first person French! The switchboard was shared with the local French community and I was valuable. I could usually direct the French person on the other end if I said "Parler lentement y doucement." I do remember one officer that called and became very abusive. I connected him with the local whorehouse and swore I knew nothing about it.
One of my billets was in a commandeered French farmhouse. We had the barn I guess because it was a huge room with straw at one end. The other two guys found a large double or queen size bed somewhere and installed a couple of French gals in the bed and barn! While I tried to sleep they made noisy and vigorous love in the bed, occasionally inviting me to join them. I put my cot as far from them as I could to lessen the noise and the temptation. I was still a virgin but it was hard to stay that way in the Army in a far away country with willing lassies all around.
with the communications company the armistice in Europe was signed. What a thrill
and what a celebration. I had discovered a full can of 45 cal ammunition and managed
to take it and a 45 to the beach where I set a German Teller mine on edge on one
of the tank obstacles on the beach. It was welded out of railroad rails or H-beams
and looked like a 6 ft kids jack. I shot at is until I was exhausted, probably
200 rounds. I plowed the beach beautifully. I tore up the water behind the obstacle.
I spattered the obstacle in a dozen places. I even hit the Teller mine on the
edge in two places. As I was thinking about quitting, a sergeant I knew came by
and asked me what I was doing so I showed him. He went white! He carefully explained
that a Teller mine had a shaped charge in it which would blow a small, very powerful
blast straight up through a significant thickness of armor. He noted that I was
directly in front of the mine, and it was pointing right at me. I got the point
very quickly, whiter than he was. God apparently takes care of fools.
I admit to being worried that would be sent to the Far East. It didn't happen. Eventually I was shipped back to the States and put in Camp Upton, on the far end of Long Island, NY. I don't remember anything about the boat(?) trip back. Camp Upton was my home for probably several months.