3rd Battalion, 502 PIR, 101st
I was drafted and inducted into the army in February of 1943 and
went to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas for physical and aptitude tests.
From there, I boarded a train with all the shades pulled down for
security reasons. Everything was kept very secret; no information
was disclosed. This was to prevent troop movements and plans from
falling into enemy hands. Along the way, we all tried to guess whether
we were headed for the Pacific or Europe.
The train pulled into Camp Campbell, Kentucky
at night in a driving rainstorm. The base at that time was an armored
force base. I stayed there for several months then transferred to
the airborne despite the attempt to discourage the move by armored
force officers (too many transfers reflected poorly on them). I
traveled to Fort Benning Georgia for parachute training and jump
school. The first day at jump school all of the new candidates were
marched to a field and seated around the perimeter to witness a
mass parachute drop. Most of us had never seen a actual parachute
jump. As the planes came over, a jumper out of the first plane had
a chute that didn't open and was killed right before us. We were
quickly run down to the Chattahoochee river and ordered not to speak
about the accident. We were also told that we could pick up "quit
slips" if we wanted out. Quite a few guys did bail out over
the next couple of days, but I really wanted to be a paratrooper,
so I stayed. Those of us who stayed, continued in jump school and
qualified after five jumps. There were no specialists who packed
the parachutes; we had to pack our own chutes after training all
day. Uncertainty about our skill in packing the chutes only added
to our lack of confidence about exiting an airplane mid-air.
From Ft. Benning, I went to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, and then
to Ft. Meade, Maryland, where we were held for week. We were then
sent to Hampton Roads and shipped across the Atlantic to Europe.
We sailed on a small ship with an all British crew. We headed to
Newfoundland and then across the wild north Atlantic to Bangor,
Ireland. Most of us were seasick for the entire 13 days of crossing
and had no desire for food. Those who could eat claimed the meat
was horse meat. The only thing I ate was fruit cocktail, but it
got me through till we landed.
From Ireland, we were shipped to Chilton-Foliat, England which became
our home while we trained for the D-Day invasion. Our training consisted
of night jumps and maneuvers, especially off the southern coast
which was similar to the Normandy coast. During one training exercise
in the area of Slapton Sands, catastrophe struck. Close to 700 soldiers
drowned while practicing landings their landing crafts were sunk
by German torpedo boats.
We were now being given the plans to the D-Day invasion and what
our role was to be. We were restricted to our camp and not allowed
out to have any interaction with the townspeople for fear of leaking
plans for the invasion. In the period before D-Day, my father died
in Indiana, but I was not allowed to come back because it could
have been a security problem for the impending invasion. In fact,
I received no official notification about his death or funeral.
I learned about it in a letter from a neighbor girl who wrote that
she was very sorry about my father and I asked the Red Cross to
find out what had happened. Soon we were sent to a marshaling yard
with barbed wire and fences around the giant pen. All we could do
was eat and get our gear ready. We were fed very well as some said
"Fattening us up for the slaughter."
The evening of June 5th we knew it was the real thing when we put
on our equipment and General Eisenhower walked through the ranks
and talked to the troops. As light began to fade we walked to our
places and put on the more than 100 pounds of equipment. This was
in addition to the main parachute and reserve chute. This was by
far the heaviest load we ever jumped with. We were so loaded down
we had to have two assistants help us up the steps into the plane.
It was around 11:00 when we took off and in the dark there was very
little talking. Approaching the coast of France our plane began
bucking and lurching as anti-aircraft fire started mixed with machine
gun tracer fire. The pilots were supposed to stay in formation and
drop us in planned drop zones but many broke formation and dropped
troopers all over the peninsula. Some landed in the flooded marshes
and others in the English Channel. Our pilot dropped us relatively
close to our drop zone, but much too low to the ground and at a
speed that tore much of the equipment off our bodies when the parachute's
opening shock hit. I was only in the air for a few seconds, but
was surprised by the sounds and motion of the tracer fire. The tracer
bullets seemed to be curving as they came up and then made a cracking
noise as they went by. The landing was very hard, but I was unhurt.
The first person I encountered was a man in my squad who said he'd
been hit and couldn't get out of his chute. I cut him out and after
checking him over we decided he'd landed so hard with all the equipment
on top of him that he thought he'd been hit. There was machine gun
fire over our heads, so we headed the opposite direction and by
sheer luck walked on to a lane where we soon bumped into 4 or 5
other members of our company. We then headed for the beach where
we were to secure the causeway. This causeway was to be secured
for use by our seaborne troops coming in from the beach. As we started
down the lane with four of us on each side, we came to a sharp bend
in the road and a figure suddenly appeared riding a bicycle. He
rode down the road between us and after he had passed it dawned
on us that he was a German and we should have stopped him.
Shortly after, just as it began to get light,
we had our first casualty. A sniper in a farmhouse killed one of
our men as he approached the house. We moved on and were sobered
by the sight of many collapsed parachutes with boots protruding
out. After walking several miles we came to the causeway which lead
to the beach. I was still with the man I landed with, so he took
a position on one side of the road and I took the other. As we looked
toward the beach, we could see hundreds of figures coming down the
causeway. A small group of 7 or 8 approached us ahead of the others
and we realized they were Germans. They didn't see us until we stood
up and demanded they surrender. They did. We noticed one was injured
and bleeding from a head wound. Some of them motioned for us to
shoot them. Apparently they had been told they would be tortured
and mistreated by the Americans. We escorted them back to a farmhouse
where some of our troops would interrogate them. We then went back
to our positions on the causeway waiting for the main body of troops
which were GI's of the 4th Division. The rest of the first day was
spent rounding up German stragglers coming inland from the beach.
Later we set up outposts for security the first night.
The next couple of days we were exposed to the terrible consequences
of the artillery and bombing of both the Germans and the Allies.
All the carnage, plus the stench of bloated carcasses of cattle
and humans was demoralizing and depressing. After the successful
seaborne landings and securing the beach area, our next objective
was to capture the city of Carentan, France which was a junction
of critical roads. These were vital to a breakout of the Allied
troops from the Cotentin Peninsula to the rest of France. The battle
of Carentan was the hottest action our Division had been in up to
that time and for our battalion perhaps the hardest of the war.
Our orders were to move down the causeway over several small bridges
into the city. The causeway was a raised roadway with marshland
on either side. In the marshes were small raised areas that concealed
German machine gun nests zeroed in on the causeway. At the Carentan
end of the road were German 88 guns which controlled movement on
the causeway and prohibited any vehicle movement. The 88 German
gun was considered the best artillery piece of any army in WWII,
used effectively as anti-aircraft, anti-tank, and plain field artillery.
Our orders were to move down this road and into the town. We were
deployed on the side of the causeway with half of the battalion
waiting on the banks of a small stream for darkness to move up onto
the road. While in this position, two German dive bombers came down
and bombed us, one strafing the riverbank where I was and the other
attacking the troops lying on the road. Our position along the river
bank was not hit as hard as those who were on the causeway.
As soon as darkness came, I was sent out on a litter bearing detail.
There were two of us per litter and we picked up the wounded along
the sides of the causeway. Most had been hit in the back and buttocks
and were semi-conscious as we packed them back to the aid station.
Some we carried as far as a quarter mile. It didn't take long to
realize how heavy a 150 pound body can be. Most of the paratroopers
at that time were stocky built and in the 145 to 150 pound range.
We continued to carry wounded until light began in the morning and
I found myself being fired on from somewhere out in the marshland.
With no cover, the only place that provided any concealment was
the area at the bottom of the road embankment next to the marsh
weeds growing there. I was fired on continually all morning and
there is no explanation for why I wasn't hit. I never saw where
the gunfire came from. Finally after several hours of continuous
firing, I decided to get up and make a dash up onto the causeway
and across a plank bridge. I had been alone all day, having lost
my litter bearing partner and could not locate any of the company.
Given how bad the situation was I was in, I figured the other side
had to be better.
When I crawled out of the marsh and onto the causeway,
I saw literally thousands of bullets all around where I had lain,
but they were red, yellow and blue wooden bullets not metal. (I
never saw them again in any of the other battles.) I made a crouching
dash across the bridge and found the Germans didn't hesitate in
firing an 88 artillery shell at one single individual running across
a bridge. I could feel the air turbulence of the shell as it passed
under my arm. My only option was to try and find cover on the other
side of the roadway. I slid down to the marsh on the other side
and found no more cover than where I'd been, but much less enemy
fire. Moving and crouching as I went toward Carentan, the firing
was steady but less than on the other side. About noon all firing
stopped and soon I could see a vehicle coming down the road loaded
with German and American wounded and a truce flag on the hood. Several
of our wounded were limping back to our lines and one I recognized
as an instructor I had in jump school. He had been hit in the leg
and was painfully trying to reach our aid station. After a few minutes
the vehicle went back up the causeway and the firing resumed with
as much intensity as it had all morning. It continued until darkness
began to close in and our men started to straggle back in pairs
or as individuals toward the place we had started that morning.
No one knew what the outcome of the battle was or if we were in
control of the town or not. I encountered another trooper moving
back and exhausted the two of us struggled back to the end of the
causeway where we found a rabbit house. We crawled into it, covered
ourselves with straw and instantly went to sleep until morning.
Waking up at daylight, we very cautiously pulled
off the straw and looked through the cracks and saw nothing. No
Germans, no Americans. With a little more confidence, we stepped
out and saw our troops in an orchard about 100 yards away. We quickly
ran toward them and received the great news that the Germans had
withdrawn during the night. This battle was notable not only for
the capture of Carentan, but also because our battalion commander
Colonel Cole was awarded the Congressional medal of honor for leading
a bayonet charge that dislodged the Germans from a farmhouse and
adjacent positions. The charge was primarily for morale and intimidation
purposes; and seemed to accomplish it's objective. Later that day,
we passed through Carentan and saw our casualties in the streets
and ditches and even more of the German dead. It was then we found
that the German unit opposing us was the 6th parachute regiment,
known as an elite outfit.
Following this battle, we mopped up pockets of
retreating Germans. Then with orders to prepare for another mission,
we returned by ship to England and our home away from home at Chilton-Foliat.
It was a very welcome homecoming and sanctuary until our next mission,
a Holland jump ordered for mid-September. One Sunday afternoon while
at Chilton-Foliat, a Sargent yelled into our barracks and asked
"Who wants to enter a spot jump and win a barrel of beer for
the company?" I volunteered without any idea of how to maneuver
my chute onto the haystack target. They took ten of us up and made
circles over the target and each time a jumper would exit. I went
to the end of the line and watched where the plane was in relation
to the target and where the jumpers landed. I made my exit over
the point where the man closest to the target had jumped and guided
my chute onto the haystack. No one was more surprised than I was
to have won the contest. While it wasn't such a great feat, it sure
made me more popular in the Company for awhile.
The Holland jump was to be a daylight jump and adjusting for the
mistakes made during the D-Day drop it was well planned. The plane
trip to Holland went smoothly with no opposition from anti-aircraft
fire until we neared our drop zone at Zon, Holland. All the planes
held their formation this time, unlike the fiasco of D-Day. Everything
went well until I went out the door and was hit on the chin and
knocked unconscious I came around just before landing and then went
black again. I was hit either by a piece of spent flack or piece
of loose equipment. When I came around, one of the men from my plane
was patching up my chin.
We had to get off the drop zone quickly and move toward our objective
to secure the highway for British armor. The British were to move
rapidly up the highway to the Rhine River and on into Germany. The
plan sounded good, but often the Germans were able to establish
road blocks and stop the British tanks. Our battalion had the job
of driving the Germans from a bridge at Best. It turned out to be
a bigger job than anticipated and snipers began to take a toll on
our men. A heavy artillery barrage kept us in our foxholes and word
of German tanks coming made the situation even more dicey. Our regimental
commander, Colonel Cole, called for air support and went out in
a field to lay out colored panels to tell the pilots where our lines
were and where the Germans were. While doing this he was shot by
a sniper and killed. An officer called for a bazooka to shoot into
a house across the road from our two man foxhole. As we had a bazooka,
we climbed out of our hole and set up to fire at the house. I took
the tube and my foxhole partner hooked up the battery at the rear
of the tube. An officer was standing behind excitedly yelling for
us to hurry up and fire. My partner had the presence of mind to
tell the officer to move away from the back of the bazooka because
that's where the blast exits. I hadn't fired a bazooka since basic
training and my first shot went completely over the roof but the
second shot was dead on and went through the roof. In a few minutes,
four Germans came out of the house with their hands up. We were
surprised when a couple of them motioned for us to shoot them. (We
had this happen several times when we captured Germans.) We were
told that one of them was the sniper who killed our Colonel.
Our situation continued to be precarious as German
tanks and infantry were moving in on our positions. Air support
finally arrived and strafed the house and lines of the Germans but
they still came on. As evening began and just in time, British tanks
finally rolled up and paratroopers followed to drive the Germans
out. They began to surrender by the hundreds. As they came out,
they were lined up on the road and sent to the back of our lines
guarded only by one guard for hundreds of prisoners.
After this action, we held the highway for awhile
and finally moved up to the Rhine river close to the German border.
British paratroopers had landed on the other side of the Rhine at
Arnhem Germany but poor planning had left them without heavy weapons
and surrounded. The entire force was wiped out except for those
that surrendered. This failure was the end of the attempt to drive
into Germany through Holland. It was generally thought that the
lack of aggression by British takers and their officers doomed the
British paratroopers surrounded at Arnhem. American paratroopers
had rowed across the river in makeshift boats and captured the far
end of the bridge. The British failed to hurry and take advantage
of the capture with their tanks. This meant the American paratroopers
had to withdraw because they had no heavy weapons with which to
battle the German tanks.After spending weeks on the border we were
ordered to move out to a new base at Mourmelon, France. It was a
great relief to be living in barracks again after being on the line
for 3 months. We also had furloughs to Paris to enjoy. We still
had duties and training but with furloughs and passes to look forward
to our morale was up.
One night as I was sitting on my bunk shining boots and getting
a dress uniform ready for a pass to Paris, my activity was interrupted
by a man coming through the barracks yelling "Get your gear
packed, we're moving out in the morning." Everyone thought
it was just another rumor, but soon the order was verified and we
spent the night throwing our gear together. By noon the next day
we were piling into trucks heading for destination unknown. The
day was gloomy and we headed north. After a while we began to meet
American troops straggling to the rear and many yelled to us as
we passed "You'll be sorry." We still didn't know where
we were going or what the retreating troops were talking about.
The withdrawing troops continued to pass us going the opposite way
until darkness came. We finally stopped close to a city which we
later learned was Bastogne, Belgium.
The next day the weather changed to heavy snow and we realized we
were terribly ill equipped for the conditions. However, it was beautiful
to walk through the snow covered evergreen trees with all sounds
muffled and everything visible blanketed with the deep soft snow.
We hadn't encountered any enemy yet, but we were sure that wouldn't
last long. We were right the next day our orders were to move forward
until we encountered the enemy. We moved down a snow covered road
and after going several miles suddenly everything exploded with
88 shells, mortars and machine gun fire shredding the trees around
us. We hit the ground and started digging but entrenching tools
didn't cut well into the frozen ground. Once again we had a number
of casualties, this time many were from tree bursts which shot shrapnel
down from the tree tops. The tree branches themselves became dangerous
as they struck men on their descent. Our communications Sargent
was hit in the back by a large tree limb and was evacuated back
to an aid station. He didn't return to our outfit until almost the
end of the war. Another man was shell shocked and got out of his
foxhole and wandered around fully exposed to the fire. Miraculously,
he wasn't hit and was finally dragged back into his hole. Days later
when questioned about his wandering, he said he was sure he was
going to be hit. Unfortunately, his premonition came true. Several
days later he was again in a foxhole and a large shell hit on the
lip of the foxhole; and although it didn't explode, it caused a
frozen slab of earth to crush him. The vagaries of combat.
A fellow trooper and I were in the middle of a
snow covered field one morning when suddenly a mortar shell exploded
close by us. We both hit the ground and burrowed into the snow.
The first shell was followed by almost a dozen more each coming
closer. I just knew we were going to be hit, but then it stopped
and we got up and ran for the woods. Later that day looking back
at the spot, we could see how close the hits had been to where we
were. How or why we escaped unhurt was a mystery. A few days later
we settled into a defense position. We dug our foxholes in back
of a small block shed which had housed some animals. It was just
tall enough to stand upright in and measured about six by nine feet.
We called it our "hog house". Eight of us used it as sleeping
quarters, but usually there would only be about four in it at a
time. We slept with all our clothes on including boots. Our clothes
were so greasy and dirty from sleeping, eating, and fighting in
them that they were almost waterproof. We heated our "hog house"
with a gallon of sand soaked in gasoline which provided a long lasting
flame. The order came down to move out of this area and we advanced
up the hill about a mile into an area where the Germans were dug
in. As we moved up, the enemy moved back and we found ourselves
occupying their sector. Our bedrolls had not been moved with us,
so we were at the mercy of the weather at night. The cold took its
toll of frostbite and frozen extremities. Everyone was ordered to
take off their boots and socks daily and massage their feet to prevent
As night came one day, I passed a G.I. sitting
on a large stone gate post. When I passed I yelled "Are you
OK Mac?" He nodded yes. Coming by the same spot the next morning
I found him still sitting there frozen. One bitterly cold night
another trooper and I were not able to find shelter for the night
as all the bunkers were filled with shivering G.I.'s. Our muscles
began to cramp and we know we had to do something to keep from freezing
to death. Our solution was to walk all night. The next morning about
fifty yards from where we'd spent walking the whole night, I stumbled
across a beautiful log covered bunker and in it were six G.I.s and
a couple of Germans. It was warmed by gasoline soaked sand. The
Germans had surrendered and had spent a comfortable night while
my buddy and I nearly froze to death.
This was typical of the confused events that winter
in Bastogne. The front lines were tangled and you never knew where
we held the ground and where they did. Our battalion commander and
his radio operator were killed by a bomb dropped by an American
plane. On Christmas Day a large force of German tanks broke through
our lines and was heading for our headquarters. We headed for our
hole but we knew we didn't have any weapons large enough to stop
them. We could hear the tanks "clinking" as they came
closer. Then out of a patch of woods came a group of tank destroyers
we didn't know were there. They cut loose on the tanks and stopped
them in their tracks. The Germans sent a group under a white truce
flag to our headquarters and asked for our surrender. This was the
occasion for General McAuliffe's famous reply of "Nuts"
to their demand. McAuliffe later said it was the only thing he could
think of to say to show his contempt for the demand.
The stubborn resistance of airborne troops seemed
to break the drive of the Germans every place they probed. By denying
them access to road junctions their tanks couldn't advance and their
plans stalled. We seemed to be able to do just enough to throw the
German timetable off or otherwise "gum up the works" which
thwarted their drive to the coast. Our regiment was surrounded in
every campaign we had experienced before the Bulge. We were surrounded
in Normandy and Holland and now we found ourselves surrounded again
in Bastogne. We were actually acquainted and comfortable with the
circumstance and consequently adjusted ourselves well as a fighting
unit in the Battle of the Bulge. Most of the time we were surrounded
in the bulge we saw no planes because of the clouds and snow. Occasionally,
the Germans would bomb Bastogne at night but there was very little
air activity by either side until the weather broke. When the sun
finally appeared our Thunderbolt fighters bore in and bombed the
enemy unmercifully. Often times we were almost as close to the bomb
craters as were the enemy. Our planes killed our battalion commander
and his radio operator with an errant drop of bombs. Many casualties
were due to accidental or friendly fire, but this was expected with
the battle lines so close to one another.
The break in the weather coincided with the arrival of General Patton's
armored forces. When the heavy tanks and artillery arrived, the
bulge was broken open and it was then our turn to go on the offensive.
We immediately moved forward with little resistance through the
forests. The danger was still there even though the enemy was pulling
back toward Germany.
It was while moving forward that I was slightly
wounded crossing an intersection that the Germans had zeroed in
on with a machine gun. The gun began firing as we got to the middle
of the road. Another paratrooper and I dove for a shallow slit trench
by the side of the road. He got there first and I landed on top
of him but my top arm was exposed and was creased by a bullet. My
foxhole buddy went back to an aid station with me where the injury
was treated with sulfa and bandaged then back to the road again.
Our division was re-directed from driving toward Germany to moving
to Bavaria and Austria. This moved us from the cold of the Ardennes
forests to the scenic areas of Germany and the mountain terrain.
It was beautiful country and we were able to relax. It was in this
area that my brother once again located me and we had another visit
for several hours. (This was my one year older brother who had previously
connected with me in Alsace where both our divisions were in action.
He was in an armored division and had access to a jeep.)
While billeting in Kempton, Austria the Germans surrendered and
the war in Europe was over. We were still kept on duty as occupation
forces in the long valley leading to Italy. After spending some
time at Berchtesgarden where Hitlers Eagle's Nest was located we
were then dispersed in small groups to the villages in the valley.
The duty became easy and it was very much like a vacation. For the
first time in two years we were able to have lights on at night
and heard radio music from the states. The first song we heard was
"Don't Fence Me In". What a welcome sound. Things were
fine except we were starving. Our supply line had been extended
so far that rations weren't getting to us at the far end of the
valley. Potatoes with nothing to fry them in and no butter to spread
on them lose their appeal very quickly. We were told that most of
our rations were being diverted to German civilians who were in
dire straits. The children would gather around our field kitchens
and scrape the pots and kettles for food before they were washed.
As soon as the war was over, the order came down that there would
be no fraternizing with the enemy. That lasted about one day and
then was completely ignored. The non-fraternization order applied
to all Germans because the government felt the Germans were treated
too leniently after WWI. However, the fact that the army was composed
of young men and the civilians were many times attractive young
girls made it impossible to prevent interaction. Otherwise, our
stay in Austria was very pleasant. We were billeted in civilian
houses which had been commandeered. In many cases, the residents
stayed in one part while we were in the other. We tried to not think
about being shipped to the Pacific and fighting again over there.
We were finally relieved and moved to another area of France. As
the war with Japan was not yet over, we were to stay in training
for a possible move to the Pacific. Part of the training was to
make another parachute jump. My jump went without incident. However,
another trooper who didn't want to risk another jump asked if I
would jump for him. I agreed and when his turn came I used his name
and made the jump. That jump almost ended in disaster. As I descended
in my chute, I found myself dropping on top of the canopy below
me. This of course is a dangerous situation because the lower chute
was robbing my chute of air causing me to fall faster. In turn,
my body was causing his canopy to cave in. When this happens, the
top chutist yells to the lower "slip right" while he slips
in the opposite direction to separate the two. It worked but I thought
as we came down how awful it would have been if one or both of us
had been injured. I was jumping with a false name and would have
likely faced punishment for the incident. Even worse, the affair
could have meant a long delay in being able to return to the states.
I had agreed to make the jump for him because I figured it might
be the last parachute jump I'd ever make and it was.
On the heels of this incident, I almost created
another delay in my homecoming. I was connecting some electrical
wiring in a building we were to occupy as billets. I was connecting
a switch on the ground floor while another G.I. was getting ready
to connect the live wire above in the attic. He hooked it up not
knowing I was skinning the wire below. When the jolt hit me I went
bouncing across the room unable to let loose of the pliers and unable
to yell. Luckily, he noticed my activity from above and unhooked
the wire. When he did, the pliers flew across the room and I looked
down at my hand. I had a clean white hole burned through my finger.
I was hospitalized for a while because they thought it might have
to have a skin graft. Later it was determined that wouldn't be necessary.
With the surrender of Japan, the war was over. We returned to the
states on a small ship and again it took almost 13 days. We came
into port around Hampton Roads, Virginia. As we saw the US for the
first time in three years, the most lasting image was the profusion
of bright colors on the women on the dock. The bright red, yellow,
and blues of the coats of the ladies on shore is something we hadn't
seen in Europe for the many months we'd been there.
I came back to Missouri by train and was discharged at Jefferson
barracks in St. Louis. From there, I returned home to my family
who was completely unaware I was back in the states. There was nothing
auspicious about the homecoming. As there were millions of men being
discharged and returning home, reappearance was so common that civilians
had become blase about the event.
All of the veterans had different experiences
because they served in different branches of the service in different
war theaters. Few talked about their experiences because they felt
most civilians couldn't understand it and most G.I.'s wanted to
forget that period and get on with the rest of their lives. Now
most of us who are still around are in our 70's and 80's and we
find our children and grandchildren asking question about that era.
Like most people, veterans are still able to recall the memorable
events in their lives and remember vividly those that occurred during
the war years. I've been fortunate to have one member of our company
who located a group of us 20 years after the war. We have had several
mini-reunions at the Lake of the Ozarks with as many as 22 getting
together. Also many of us have attended national reunions. Of course
we are losing many due to age now and before long there will be
few left for reminiscing.
Several interesting or mysterious events occurred
during the years in combat that I have never been able to understand
or explain. In Holland one morning while eating our rations seated
on a hillside, an airplane whooshed by at treetop level. Everyone
said "What in the hell was that?" Later we deduced it
was a German jet. We'd never seen one before. The same type of thing
happened in the Battle of the Bulge when we saw the V-2 rocket contrails
and later were told they were targeted on London across the Channel.
One of the things that puzzled me about combat
was the effect of gruesome sights on my physical reactions. Some
horrible scenes might not induce any reaction, while a seemingly
mild wound could elicit nausea and light headedness. A couple of
days after D-Day, another trooper and I were on outpost duty and
scouting around for eggs. We started back to our post and saw a
truck or more accurately a graves registration vehicle moving across
the field. We flagged it down and asked if we could hitch a ride
back to our post. They said yes, but we'd have to ride in the back.
We climbed up on the tailgate and looked over into the truck bed
and saw it was full of charred bodies. The top body had no head
and the dog tags were hung around the stump of the neck. We dropped
down and politely declined the ride.
As macabre as this was, it did not effect me as
much as an incident shortly after. It was a warm day and we were
marching through a small village. We rounded a street corner and
with no warning walked by a trooper who had been shot in the head
and was lying in our path. He was one of our company's corporals.
That sight effected me more than most others that I witnessed during
Before making the drop into Holland, we were issued
Gammond grenades which were intended to knock out tanks. As we had
no really heavy guns for this purpose, the grenades were supposed
to do the job. When we saw the grenades we had our doubts about
their efficacy in stopping a tank. The device was just a cloth bag
about the size of a grapefruit filled with C2 compound. The C2 looked
like moist brown sugar that could be molded into the bag. It had
a small explosive cap on the top which was supposed to detonate
on impact with the tank. Needless to say, we were not keen on challenging
a tank with these things. As it had to be thrown at the tank, you
had to be close to the tank. Fortunately, I never had to test it.
However, we did find a good use for the C2 compound. We noticed
that if you took a stick and poked a hole in the ground about five
inches deep, you could roll the C2 into a form to fit the hole and
it made a great flame when ignited. By putting our metal cups over
the flame, we could heat coffee in mere seconds. (That was called
a field expedient.) As we had only British rations while in Holland,
we heated an awful lot of "limey" tea over this makeshift
Shoulderpatch of the 101st Airborne.