Looking Back

This blog features poems by a native New Englander and octogenarian, as he looks back on the stomping grounds of his youth -- Chaffee's Woods, Kent Heights, Beach Pond, Escoheag, Wood River -- and his army days in Europe towards the end of WWII.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

MY ARMY DAYS: World War II (1-10)

I was a lad of seventeen
I had just lost my dad
My mother would be in dire straits
My pay was not enough
And so I thought to help her out
I’d join the service soon
So she’d get my allotment check
And get back on her feet.

As I was only seventeen
There was nowhere to join
Except United States Marines
Who’d take me at my age
So up to Boston did I go
To take a physical
But when the doctor saw my spine
He said I wasn’t fit.

And so I waited ‘til eighteen
Then joined the army and
Became one of the few who were
Induction volunteers
This meant the army now could send
Me anywhere they chose
And that is how I did become
Another G.I. Joe.

They sent me to Fort Devans first
Along with other men
And there we got our army clothes
Along with shots galore
Then after spending a few days
In getting used to camp
We boarded a westbound troop train
That wound up in Camp Howze.

This camp is in the Lone Star State
Up in the northern part
And here we joined Love Company
Of the Three Forty Three.
And all three regiments did make
The Eighty Sixth Black Hawks.
We were the last of the recruits
To fill our company.

Our first three months consisted of
All basic training stuff
We learned to drill, and hiked a lot
And always had full packs.
We learned to shoot our rifles well
Out on the rifle range
And with our basic training done
We thought we were the best.

I’ve left out much of these three months
Of details that do make
A soldier’s life so miserable
But take a lot of space
The early hours of getting up
Before the sun does rise
Inspections on just everything
Barracks, clothes, beds and men.

Sometimes the smallest speck of dust
Would cause a great furor
And cause the entire group of men
To sacrifice a pass
Or pushups done as punishment
For some imagined sin.
And then of course the sergeants love
The K.P. punishment.

But all in all these punishments
Did have a purpose, for
They did eventually instill
A rigid discipline.
This is a must, especially
Now that a war is fought
And so we took our punishment
And from it discipline.

But now with basic training done
It was our furlough time
Each soldier is supposed to get
Some thirty days a year.
This time we got only ten days
Including travel time.
I had to get from Texas to
Rhode Island and return.

It would be difficult I knew
To make it there and back.
The travel time by those old trains
Would take at least five days
But off I went, spent sleepless nights
Before I got back home.
I kissed my mom, then called Paula
To set up times to meet.

I had five days before I left
I made the most of them.
We first went down to Moonstone Beach
There were a lot of us
My sister Sue, my cousin Dot,
Both with their own boyfriends
All went with Paula and myself
We could not be alone.

Then two days later we did go
Back up to old Beach Pond
We six did manage to fit in
To my Old Town canoe.
We started paddling up the lake
Until we reached the rocks
Where on that day a year ago
Paula and I had met.

The others dropped us at the rocks
We stayed there for a while
Then swam to shore and climbed the rocks
Where Larry and I once dived.
We lay there in a shady spot
Paula across my lap
We talked about the things we’d done
While we were far apart.’

And after that we said not much
Just held each other close
For that short time we were alone
We made the most of it.
We kissed a lot, ‘til passion rose
Affecting both of us
And so to calm our ardor down
We dove into the pond.

Then when we swam back to the rocks
The others did appear.
They picked us up and home we went
To end another day.
I saw Paula the next two days
Before I had to leave
Then back I went to old Camp Howze
To join my company.

When I got back, no one was there
The company had gone
I went to see the first sergeant
To see what I should do.
“Go get your full field pack,” he said,
“And bring your rifle too.
I’ll drive you out to their bivouac
And you can join them there.”

I got there, found my own platoon
And then we went to chow.
I told them all I thought I should
About my trip back home.
They told me that I’d missed the hike
Twenty-five miles or more
And said I’d have to make it up
But then I never did.

While we were in advanced training
With landing boats and such
The Army Air Corp opened up
An opportunity
For any who could pass their tests
To join their ranks and be
A pilot, if he qualified
And that was right for me.

I took the tests, and passed them all
Then packed up all my gear
And so I left the infantry
Was sent to Shephard Field
And there I spent three weeks or more
Just taking further tests.
At last I passed, climbed on a bus
And was sent off to school.

We were a group that made a flight
No longer a platoon
We now must think in Air Corp terms
Of flights, squadrons, and wings.
The bus arrived and we debarked
At the Buffalo Court
Of West Texas Teachers’ College
And Canyon was the town.

We now became the members of
350 CTD (College Training Detachment)
We were assigned to Marsden Hall
And that became our home.
The bunks were good, the food was great
The studies difficult.
There was no let up in our work
All day and into night.

The grind was tough, we studied long
For now we had to cram
Two years into just six short months
These made for long, long days
Two hours each evening did we spend
In doing our homework
We studied all the types of math
Including calculus.

Our other studies did include
English and history
Geography and physics too
In these I did excel.
It was quite a difference now
From my old high school days
For now I had a great desire
To do my very best.

My hard work in my studying
Really paid off for me
For when we got close to the end
I headed up the class.
It was then we finally flew
Ten hours was the norm
So we could get some flying time
Before our pre-flight came.

I still remember that first day
When my instructor wrote
“This student is scared stiff in flight,”
And he was mostly right.
But by my third time in the air
I changed that all around.
I got my air legs and went on
To be the best of class.

We had just one more week to go
And I was feeling good
I’d tied for tops in every class
Was best in flying too.
It was then we got the word, our
Program was breaking up
It seems the Army Air Corp had
Too many aircrews now.

We all were shocked, had never thought
That we would not go on,
To pre-flight, basic, and advanced
And finally to fly,
The Mustangs or the Thunderbirds,
Or the two-tailed Lightning.
This was a broken- hearted bunch,
For now we'd never fly

And so we packed up once again
To go from whence we came.
We said goodbye to girls we’d met
And climbed onto the train.
It was an all night ride until
We reached Camp Gruber which
Was just outside of Muskogee
In Oklahoma State.

No time was lost as we detrained
They called out each man’s name
We were assigned, then boarded trucks
That took us to our bunks.
My outfit was the Two Four Two
Infantry Regiment,
Part of the Forty Second, or
The Rainbow Division.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

MY ARMY DAYS: World War II (11-20)

We were dropped at least for now
At our Company B
It was just a place to eat and sleep
Until we were assigned
For where we went was just a guess
It could be anywhere
But we all knew that it would be
A rifle company.

We stayed there for about three weeks
There was not much to do
And so instead of playing cards
As some were wont to do
Just two of us decided that
We’d see if we could use
Some of the company’s weapons
A mortar was our choice.

We did receive our Captain’s praise
That we did choose to learn
So he suggested that we take
Some practice rounds with us.
And so we went across the road
To the big parade ground
And here we practiced all day long
To set that mortar up.

At first we were not good at all
In setting up the gun
But time and practice did hold sway
‘Til we were hard to beat.
We’d set it up, put in the sight
And get it leveled true
Right on one of the three main stakes
That we’d set to our fore.

Now that we could set up the gun
We started to learn how
To fire the mortar where we would
And so used practice rounds
They would not go so very far
That mattered not at all
We had to learn just how it felt
To fire off those rounds.

So we took turns in setting up
The mortar right from scratch
I’d be the gunner once around
And he’d be my second
Then when we’d fired off all six rounds
We’d swap our positions
And in this way, all by ourselves
We were good mortar men.

So finally we were assigned
And much to our dismay
My buddy who had trained with me
Was sent off somewhere else.
He went to Fox and I to Love
Both rifle companies
But then our private training paid
Off very handsomely.

Because we knew so much about
This company weapon
We were assigned as first gunners
In each mortar section.
And so we settled down again
And started in to train
We learned the nomenclature of
Our weapons and the rounds.

We trained as squads, which had five men
Then later on we tried
To handle all of our three guns
In such a manner as
We might in combat when that came
But had no real live rounds
So we could never tell if we
Could hit a target well.

We trained at first with our platoons
In company attacks
Then worked with our battalion with
Two companies in front
The third was held back in reserve
But followed very close
The regiment was next in line
And so our training went.

We finally did get to fire
Our mortars with live rounds
As our riflemen went forward
We fired over their heads.
We dropped six rounds in rapid fire
About four hundred yards
Then as our men got near our fire
We moved to eight hundred.

This was the last time we did fire
Our mortars with live rounds
All knew our time was getting short
We’d soon be overseas.
It was the time for furloughs now
But each would wait his turn.
Mine did come up in mid July
And I was off again.

This time however I did have
Ten days of furlough time
With five days extra that we got
To use for traveling.
I caught a train to St. Louis
And then up to New York
From thee I headed home again
I took the Boston run.

And when I got to Providence
I took a taxi home.
I met my mother at the door
And gave her a big hug.
She knew that I was coming home
And had my days lined up.
She wanted me to visit friends
And relatives galore.

But when I said I wanted days
With Paula all alone
She told me that my girlfriend
Was in the hospital.
Now Paula in her notes to me
Had never mentioned that
She had a problem that did require
A little surgery.

And so I could not see her then
For only family
Could see her for a week or so
And so I spent my time
Following my mother’s plan to
See relatives and friends.
Then finally on my last days
My Paula could I see.

Her parents left me afternoons
Their visits were at night
And so on my last furlough home
I saw her only twice.
When I saw her lying so still
It made me want to cry
I knelt right down beside her bed
And held her in my arms.

They let me stay for just one hour
And then I had to go.
We hated parting those last days
For I was heading out
We knew not what fate had in store
And so we never knew
If we would ever meet again
To be as man and wife.

That last day at the hospital
And of my furlough too
We hugged each other one last time
I left reluctantly.
I said goodbye to family
And then was on my way
I traveled back to Muskogee
And then on back to camp.

I met my buddies at my bunk
And told them how things went
I then unpacked all of my gear
And read the mail I got
In one large envelope I found
A graduation pic
Of Patty Paulson, and was signed
“Your little Irish Sis.”

I put the picture on my shelf
Where all could see her face
And was asked a hundred times if
This one was my girl.
I told them no, and then was asked
By one Eugene McGrail
That if I minded if he wrote
For he was Irish too.

I told him, “No, go right ahead
I do not mind at all.”
And thus did start a great romance
That some years later did
End up in marriage in my town
At the Sacred Heart Church.
And so I'd lost a girl I loved
But never could we wed.

Now Gene McGrail was the leader
Of our section’s third squad.
And just before we were shipped out
Something made him quite ill
And when it became quite clear
He wouldn’t be coming back
They turned to me to take his place
And so I got his squad.

These were the men that made my squad
Tom Hamilton, gunner
And Bernie Burnhardt carried on
As the second gunner
While Oscar Nitsch and Bob Borders
In specially made vests
Did carry all the mortar rounds
A mortar squad could take.

And so we were nearly prepared
To leave this camp and go
We packed our gear and boarded trains
And still had no idea
Of whether east or west we'd go
Until we started out
But when we stopped in Terra Haute
We knew we headed east.

We drilled in Terra haute an hour
To keep our legs in shape
And then continued on our way
And finally wound up
In Camp Kilmer, on Jersey’s shore
To wait for our troop ship
While there we trained on landing nets
But not much else at all.

And so half of our company
Got overnight passes
We must be back by seven A.M.
And had a limit of
One hundred fifty miles, no more
But then I took a chance
I had a friend call up my mom
When he got to New York.

He told her I was on my way
Would be in at eight o’clock
And would she have my Paula come
To meet me at our house.
The train came in, and right on time
I took a taxi home
And met my mom and Paula there
Just as I thought I would.

I didn’t have long, they understood
We talked about an hour
And then Mom said she’d go to bed
“And leave you two alone.
Just call me when you’re going to leave
So I can say goodbye.”
She left us there and we sat down
To talk for just a while.

I sat upon our sofa with
My Paula ‘cross my lap
We hugged each other while I sought
The sweetness of her lips
And slowly surely passion rose
In both of us of course
But she said, “No, this cannot be
Until the time we’re wed.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

MY ARMY DAYS: World War II (21-30)

The time went by, too fast for me
Yet was near twelve o’clock
And time for me to go again
If I would make my train
I called my Mom, we said goodbye
Then Paula and I left
In a taxi that dropped me off
Then took my Paula home.

I took the train at one A.M.
‘Twas not the train I thought
It took me on a longer course
And got me back so late,
That by the time I reached the camp
My pass was out of date.
And so my captain had no choice
But give me punishment.

“You now will go another month
Before you get your stripes.
That is the best that I can do.
I hope you liked the pass.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, “I surely did.
I saw my mom and girl
Whom I may never see again
Depending on this war.”

And so when all were back from pass
We boarded trains once more,
And took the short ride to the docks
That lined the New York shore.
Then went on board the General Black,
A troop ship for our group.
It held our entire regiment,
And had some room for more.

The crew then showed us to our bunks
And how to get around
It wasn’t long until we left
The ship got under way
And very quickly headed north
To pick up our convoy.
We changed our course so many times
We knew not where we went.

We zig-zagged after leaving port
Then crossed in fourteen days
And never once did I get sick
I loved it up on deck.
I and a pal sat in the bow
Just riding out the waves.
The bow went up, and we did too
Then dropped so suddenly.

We had not much to do at night
And so just four of us,
Would gather at the starboard rail
All from our mortar group.
“Blue Eyed Elaine I Love You So”
Was our favorite song,
We loved to sing into the night
We harmonized so well.

We also sang some other songs
Mostly from World War I
“There’s a Long, Long Trail Awinding”
Was one we all did love
“Smile Awhile,” and “Tipperary”
Are two more that we sang.
We always harmonized these songs
As a quartet would do.

We sang the songs of long ago
Before the Civil War
Like “Aura Lee,” “The Old Ash Grove,”
And “In the Gloaming” too.
We sang the songs of later on
As “My Wild Irish Rose”
And “Shenendoah,” which we hummed
For no one knew the words.

We reached Gibraltor in the night
Then passed right thru the nets
Into the Mediterranean Sea
Then on into Marseilles.
We gathered up our gear again
And disembarked the ship
Trucks then hauled us up the hill
To stay at C.P. Two.

This camp was just a staging point
We stayed there just two weeks
And so we put our pup tents up
All lined up row by row
It was the last we ever saw
Of pup tents in this war.
The weather was so cold and damp
That everyone had colds.

They gave out passes for Marseilles
And I was one who went.
We were told to stay teamed up for
Marseilles was not the best
So many foreigners lived there
So international
And always on the look out for
The rich Americans.

We stayed not long, just long enough
For those who liked the girls
To visit a cat house or two
To satisfy themselves.
We stopped into a bar to see
Just what the French would pay
For cigarettes or chocolate
Of which we had a lot.

We stayed in the bar long enough
To have ourselves a beer
Which seemed to us to be too warm
Though we did not complain.
We left the bar and hiked on out
To where the trucks did wait
We climbed aboard, all those who could
And so went back to camp.

Our time in C.P. 2 was up
All regiments were there.
We now became a true “Task Force”
And “Linden” was our name.
Artillery we did not have
For that was still back home.
We had to fight with what we had
That could be difficult.

But when all regiments had come
We then did board the trains
This time they were forty and eights.
That dad had spoken of.
The French used them to carry troops
And in the days gone by
They would carry eight horses or
A forty man platoon.

We got aboard then had to wait
A common army trait
But when we finally did start
We opened up the doors,
And posted guards so none would fall
And then we got some sleep
If sleep it was when all of us
Were packed in like sardines.

And when we stopped, the French kids came
And offered bread and wine
In exchange for cigarettes or
Any chocolate.
This was the pattern up to Metz
A newly taken town,
That showed destruction everywhere
From artillery and bombs.

We now de-trained and glad we were
To climb on to the trucks.
All night we rode, and it was cold
But finally did halt
Outside of Strasbourg on the Rhine
And then we went on foot
Into the city, which we were told
To hold at any cost.

This was the idea of the French
Who could not bear to part
With Strasbourg, now that it was ours
It must be held they said.
For our lines had been stretched out
And now were very thin
To compensate for troops moved north
To battle in the Bulge.

We took some old French barracks here
As ours for just a night
We looked at all the storehouses
Most empty but some not
One had a lot of machetes
Of these I took a few
For mortar squads to clear out brush
On to our belts they went.

The next day was the day before
That day in World War I
When the old Rainbow did begin
It’s fight against the Huns
And so to keep tradition high
It did become our lot
To enter into combat on
The same day as the past.

And so our regiments were stretched
Out all along the Rhine
The Krauts had started their big drive
With troops moved from the Bulge
In hopes of breaking thru our lines
That now were stretched so thin
They had succeeded in Alsace
In re-crossing the Rhine.

Our second night we were called out
To answer an alert
We manned the railroad MLR
That overlooked the Rhine
We set our mortars just in back
Of those old railroad tracks
Then watched thru moonlight, that was bright,
For anyone to cross.

That no one did is obvious
For Krauts were not that dumb
They would not cross when all could see
By light from that big moon.
Instead they satisfied themselves
By dropping just three rounds
Of mortar fire, close to our lines
They knew right where we were.

We spent the night out on the tracks
I guess it was as well
It gave us all a taste of what
Was surely going to come.
At dawn we were pulled back again
To search throughout the woods
For some imagined snipers that
Were hidden thereabouts.

And after that were just patrols
Those first few days at war
We were holed up within a house
While waiting word to move.
We had a good machine gun squad
In a French pillbox, that
Could be reached by rubber boats, that
Crossed the canal by night.

Those boys had been out there for days
And had begun to jump
At every shadow or each sound
That happened every night
And so our platoon leader came
To ask for volunteers
And so I volunteered my squad
To swap for just that night.

And so when the darkness had come
We who had volunteered
Crossed over the canal in boats
And sent the others back.
We set the gun up once again
Next to the pillbox door
And made Borders our gunner who
Knew most about the gun.

We took turns watching through the night
And heard a lot of sounds
But then at twelve all hell broke loose
But was not aimed at us
Red and green tracers were shot from
Somewhere across the Rhine
The bells in Kiel were ringing out
For now ‘twas the New Year.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


When we had finally settled down
And watched, alert and sharp
For any move the Krauts might make
To cross the Rhine again.
Throughout the night right up to dawn
We watched so carefully
Then after pulling in the gun
We all went in to sleep.

We kept watch thru the cupola
That every pillbox had
And took turns sleeping thru the day
‘Til night came once again.
We sent a man to the canal
To wait upon the boats
While we set up the gun again
And waited – all in vain.

For no one came that night or day
Our 536 didn’t work
And so we settled down to wait
Until we got some word.
And finally late the next night
We heard the sound of boats.
We challenged them, they answered back
And came into the shore.

“Go get your gear,” they said to us,
“And bring along the gun.
Your regiment was called to move
And in a hurry went.
They could not contact you, so left
And then they called us up
To get to you and take you back
To your own regiment.”

We quietly got in the boats
With ammo, gear and gun
They took us ‘cross that old canal
As quiet as they could
Then loaded us in their DUKW
The thing we called a duck
Then we took off and drove for hours
Or so it seemed to us.

We got there at the break of dawn
Wherever “there” might be
And were united once again
With our mortar section.
We had no time to talk about
The things that had occurred
We had to set our mortar up
Behind the MLR.

We dug our mortar pits and then
We waited once again
To see what the Germans would do
And if they’d come our way
But they didn’t, and sure enough
We got the call to go.
And soon were mounted on our trucks
And dropped at Koenigsbrück.

Now Koenigsbrück was just a town
As small as it could be
It had a river and a bridge
That split the town in half
We held the southern half alone
With just our company
The bridge was mined and set to blow
As soon as we saw fit.

We dug our mortars in once more
Then dug our own foxholes
Patrols were sent to the north side
Where Germans would appear.
They came but only one patrol
And these were ambushed good
One man was killed, one was wounded
The others prisoners.

And so we had drawn our first blood
Upon our enemy.
But no other Germans came, so
We pulled up stakes again.
This time we went into the woods
It snowed a lot again.
We now could hear much rifle fire
Along with machine guns.

We knew we were just to the south
Of Hatten, we were told,
Where our first battalion was then
Getting chopped to bits
They had no artillery support
Mortars were all they had
They were simply overrun by
Panther and Tiger tanks.

So with the loss of Hatten and
Another town nearby
Although we stabilized the front
And all was quiet now
We had lost a lot of men
To this German attack
But they had also lost a lot
Of men they couldn’t replace.

And while the war seemed quiet here
It was not going well
In other areas nearby
And so the choice was made
To shorten up the Alsace front
And so we must pull back
We got the word and left the woods
As snow began to fall.

We moved all night thru driving snow
It was a march of hell
And then before the dawn did come
The snow began to lift
The moon came out through flitting clouds
And cast eerie shadows
Down thru the firs that lined the road
Still onward did we go.

The weather had turned very cold
And now ‘twas nearly dawn
We saw a sign that told us we
Were near to Haguenau
And sure enough within an hour
We moved into the streets
And as we passed an old schoolhouse
Our Captain called a halt.

“Seek shelter where you can,” he said
He had to say no more.
The Company just filed right in
That schoolhouse was like home
Weapons platoon was in one room
The others had one each.
We built a fire out of old chairs
Then tried to get some sleep.

We all had marched throughout the night
And were not fit to fight
But we knew the Germans would not
Give us the time to rest
They would be right upon our backs
Once they did realize
That we were gone, and could not now
Stop their sustained attack.

But now we had anti-tank crews
That bottled up the roads.
They destroyed tracked vehicles that
Preceded infantry,
And gave us time to dig into
Our new resistance line.
That was formed thru trees and fields
The Moder River line.

Now the battalion let us rest
When we reached Haguenau
But only for three hours, no more
And then they roused us up.
We had to get some outposts out
So we could be aware
Of what the Kraut intentions were
And counter his attacks.

So they sent out our first platoon
The third platoon as well
To locate out in front of us
About a half a mile
Each took a house, and there dug in
To wait upon the Krauts
Each had a mortar squad attached
And each a machine gun.

By some coincidence not known
My squad remained behind
Our second mortar squad was sent
Out with our third platoon
From what we heard, they had it rough
Were nearly all cut off
But managed to fight their way out
And back to our main line.

We later heard that Forgiel had
Been in that old outhouse
And while his pants were at his knees
He saw the Kraut attack.
Three of the Germans circled round
To get behind the house
In doing so, they went right past
Where he was indisposed.

He spotted them through some big cracks
And jumped up from the seat
Then throwing wide the outhouse door
He did commence to shoot
One Kraut went down, the others fled
As fast as they could run
But while he got his pants back up
The Kraut attack began.

The riflemen around the house
Held off the Krauts at first
Our mortar squad poured in their fire
And added to the din
But when the Krauts brought up a tank
To try to blast the house
Our guys came tumbling out the back
And headed down the hill.

 “Get going,” Lieutenant Yelton called,
“We’ve done our very best.”
So Anderberg knocked down his gun
And left so very fast
He could not bring along his sight,
Ammo or cleaning rod.
But all of them got back into
That Moder River line.

We had no casualties that day
But could have had a lot
If each of those outposts had been
Cut off from their escape
But each did manage to get back
To join the Company
And take their places once again
To stop the Kraut attack.

We dug our mortar into ground
‘Twas frozen at the top
But when we got below the frost
It was much easier
And so we dug a big round hole
With sandbags all around
Our stakes were set within the pit
With ammo right at hand.

We were now ready for the Krauts
Whatever that would bring
And so as it was getting dark
We set one guard to watch.
We had enough for each of us
To take two hours apiece
The guard stayed with the mortar while
The rest of us did sleep.

The time was close to 2 A.M.
It was my turn to watch
When suddenly a thunderous roar
Came down upon us all.
There was artillery, guns from tanks
Mortars of every size
With Nebel-werfers shrieking down
To bolster this attack.

The heaviest of this barrage
Came down just to our right
It landed on our MLR
And one machine gun squad
Zucks and Kryzinski manned that gun
And both were killed at once
Hit by a German mortar round
That landed just behind.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


Bridgeman carried ammo for them
And he was wounded bad
The other two escaped the round
That hit the other three
How many of our riflemen
Went down I do not know
It was later on that we heard
Of all our casualties.

Now when the big barrage came down
The others all awoke
They manned our mortar right away
While I tried to find out
What we should fire our mortar at
For things were all confused.
The Germans were among our men
And none knew who was who.

As I could find no one to ask
I started to go back
When Sergeant Gerber caught my arm
And said to bring my crew
“Get them all and bring them here
And do not hesitate,
For you will set your mortar up
Right in this very spot.”

From the deep ditch along the road
We looked across a field
Now we could see much better here
But they could see us too.
We had no stakes, so when we shot
It had to be a guess
Of distance and location but
No target did appear.

We sat there for about two hours
And listened to the fight
The firing was sporadic now
But we could never tell
Whether the Krauts had broken through
Or if our line had held.
We knew not which and so we sat
And waited out the fight.

Now it was just before the dawn
That Germans saw us there.
They must have seen our silhouettes
Against a snow background
But two of them, out in the woods
And just across the field
Did open up with their burp guns
That threw a hail of steel.

We ducked below the embankment
Then someone fired back
But Sergeant Gerber just sat there
Not in the least disturbed.
The Germans fire went right past him
But never did he flinch
Until we heard some rifle shots
Someone had saved our hides.

‘Twas quiet now, we did not hear
The sound of Kraut burp guns
And somehow knew our line had held
Against this big attack.
We knew some Krauts had broken through
And gone across the road
Into a little airport there
That once held fighter planes.

When day had come and all could see
Our Captain made a check
Of all our killed or wounded men
In this big nighttime fight.
It was also the time to see
About the German dead
With many German prisoners
Taken among our men.

We stood upon the road and gazed
At the snow covered field
And where the German burp gun fire
Had almost gotten us.
Right in the middle did we see
A huge old bomb crater
Probably made by our own planes
That missed the airport then.

Into the crater we did go
To set our mortar up.
It was not anywhere as good
As the one we had left.
It was too open, full of snow,
But when we dug it out,
It served the purpose for the gun
And so we set it up.

Then after getting settled in
We got called out again
To go with our reserve platoon
To make the airport clear.
We knew some Krauts had crossed the road
But now they were cut off
And so we had that doubtful job
That task to dig them out.

We went right thru that old airport
In a tight skirmish line
Then searched each building on the grounds
But never found the Krauts.
They had just simply disappeared
We knew not where they went
And so my crew and I went back
To get our gun reset.

Now in the afternoon we learned
That we were to attack.
Our first and third platoon would go
The second in reserve.
The jump-off time was four o’clock
And we would give support
We’d start to fire at the same time
As our big mortars did.

The time was then three fifty-five
When we first dropped a round
I watched it thru my glasses where
I thought that it might land.
It smacked right off the factory roof
The spot I tried to hit
Fire for effect I told the crew
You’re right on target now.

They started firing faster now
But only got off three
When the base plate broke through the frost
And kicked the mortar up.
“Reset that gun and make it fast,”
Was my shouted command
But ‘ere the gun could be reset
I got the call to stop.

Our men were now in very close
And all supporting guns
Had then been told to cease their fire
Our men were on their own
The fight was short but very fierce
We lost a lot of men
And then they started pulling out
They had done all they could.

They stopped the Germans in their tracks
There were no more attacks
Though they now had my crew spotted
Out in that open field
And so we took their mortar fire
Along with fire from tanks.
The tank fire went right overhead
It did us little harm.

But mortar fire was something else
It could come down on us
And one came down so very close
We heard it all the way
I can remember scrunching down
And saying, “this is it.”
It landed right next to our hole
And left us nearly deaf.

When that occurred I jumped right out
And bypassed everyone
I found the Captain and explained
That we were under fire
“The Krauts have spotted us,” I said,
And would it be all right
If I brought them in right away
Where they could spend the night.

The Captain said it was OK,
“We cannot lose more men
For it will serve no useful end
For now it’s getting dark.
So bring them in and let them sleep
I think we’ll be all right.
Just have them leave their mortar there
In case the Krauts attack.”

So I went back to that bomb hole
And told my men to come
But first make sure that mortar’s aimed
At that big patch of woods
Also be sure the rounds are stacked
Ready for instant use.
We do not want to be caught short
In case of an attack.

When all was set, we plodded in
To the tavern next door
And when we had something to eat
We all just went to sleep.
We hadn’t slept in two full days
And so our sleep was sound
‘Twas better than our foxholes were
To sleep right on the floor.

The days that followed were so calm
Not much disturbed the peace
The Germans had pulled further back
And we just manned the line.
Then on January twenty-eighth
Our outfit was relieved
By the Screaming Eagles known as
The Airborne Infantry.

This was our first taste of combat
The cost to us was high
We lost ten men who had been killed
Eleven more had wounds
We paid a price at Haguenau
Of men we wouldn’t forget
In turn we stopped the Germans cold
No further did they get.

We boarded trucks that took us back
Some twenty miles or more.
When we had disembarked the trucks
We were in a small town
Where we were given billets for
The following two weeks.
We took a room over a bar
And there we settled down.

There are some things about that town
That I will not forget
It was here that each received his
Combat Infantry Badge
And here it was that Anderberg
Was shot by accident
By Bernhardt, who had thought it time
To clean his forty-five.

Instead of letting go the slide
He first put in the clip,
And when he let the hammer down
That gun just up and fired
The bullet went thru my jacket
Where I had sat before
And went thru Anderberg’s right arm
Before it hit the wall.

And so another vacancy
Was left in our platoon
But in the next two days or so
We did receive some men
Replacements who would fill the gaps
Left back in Haguenau
The new men sent to those platoons
That needed them the most.

We did no training for a while
Were left to just relax
And so while I was roaming ‘round
Outside that little town
I happened on a Kraut Schmeisser
Just laying in the mud
I picked it up to feel the heft
And found I liked it well.

Friday, August 26, 2011


But at that time, I did not know
That it was loaded still
So when I pressed the trigger of
That gun, it just went off
And scared me almost half to death
Until I realized
That this Schmeisser had once been used
To fire at our men.

The next thing that I recollect
Was firing my rifle
At two ducks out on a pond some
Eight hundred yards away
I had just filed my rifle’s sight
Down to a sharpened point
And I was anxious now to learn
Just how my rifle shot.

I raised the rear sight up until
I’d gone twenty-four clicks
At three clicks drop per hundred yards
I’d have the distance right
So I lay prone, the sling up tight
And aimed right at those ducks
I squeezed the trigger and then just watched
To see where I would hit.

The distance was exactly on
I’d estimated right
But when I saw the water splash
Right in between the ducks
I knew this weapon would be right
For they were swimming close
And I now had a good excuse
For filing down that sight.

Now when our rest was nearly down
We got a pile of mail
I got letters from my mom, and
From my sisters too
I also got a single one
The one I’d waited for
I read the others first, and then
I opened Paula’s last.

I read it thru, then stood in shock
It was a “Dear John” note
Her letter was straight to the point,
It left me in no doubt
She’d found another, so she said
And would I write no more
I stood there disbelieving what
She’d written me was true.

But finally it did sink in
My Paula was no more
I thought about the time we’d met
Upon my favorite pond
And of the times we’d spent since then
Now all had gone for naught
I’d been away from her for too long
And this was the result.

I heaved a sigh of disbelief
Then put her from my mind
I could not be distracted when
There was so much to do
She’d taken up with someone else
And “that was that” I thought
I acted as I’d never heard
Of Paula Jane Ballou.

Some two weeks later we did leave
This town they called La Garde
We traveled northeast to the town
The French called Wimmenau
Our division was now complete
We had artillery
And other troops who were not here
When we first came overseas.

And so we went back into line
As divisional reserve
Our sleeping quarters were a barn
We slept upon the hay
That was OK with all of us
And we slept very well
A lot better than all the guys
In foxholes at the front.

Our time was now devoted to
The training of new troops
The two replacements that we got
We put right thru the mill
We taught them how our mortar worked
And ran them through some drills
In case that day should ever come
When they would need those skills.

But over in the section that
Was run by Sergeant Webb
He had the task of replacing
A whole machine gun squad.
I know he split his first squad up
To make a second squad
With replacements filling in
And learning what they could.

But now that we were in reserve
Patrols did fall on us
And ‘oft we did supply the men
To make these nightly raids
Sometimes a squad, or full platoon
Were called for from above
No notion did they have at all
Of what these men went through.

The squads went on reconnaissance
Were led by non-coms now
Platoons were led by officers
And were combat patrols
But when the Germans ascertained
A certain route they took
They’d plant that area with mines
That would blow off a foot.

We lost some men on these patrols
Most all stepped on a mine
But these patrols did show to us
That Jerry was spread thin
He put his men quite far apart
With Schu mines in between
And hoped to hold us in this way
For they did get few men.

And finally on March the ninth
We went back into line
We’d had more snow that melted fast
It was too close to spring.
We were attached to third platoon
As often was the case
We set out mortar up again
Behind a wooded bank.

Instead of foxholes we did have
A vaulted dugout type
Dug deeply far into the bank
And partly ‘neath a tree
We stayed only five days and yet
Two incidents occurred
The first beneath the melting snow
A dead German appeared.

We called the Company to see
What they would have to say
We’ll send Graves Registration men
And they’ll take care of him.
The other incident occurred
Before we were pulled out
“Don’t knock that mortar down just yet,
Just send us up a flare.”

This call came on our telephone
They seemed so insistent
I said OK, where should we fire
He said he wasn’t sure
Just put one out there right away
And we can tell from that
And so we shot up our first flare
I called – “It’s on the way.”

We saw it pop and then flare out
And then there came a ring
“Stop, stop,” he shouted o’er the phone
“It’s right over our men.”
The flare we’d shot had stopped our men
They had to stand stock still
It seems they’d left our mortar squad
To cover a pullout.

Our squad was now the last to know
That we had been relieved
They left us there to shoot up flares
So the Krauts wouldn’t know
That we’d been pulled out of our line
And would attack elsewhere
This is a thing they would not say
Over the telephone.

A runner reached us later on
And said that we should come
We packed up all our gear and left
And at the road were met
By trucks that took us not too far
Until we had rejoined
The other squads of our platoon
We were alone no more.

We’d be right there for just one night
Our barracks bags had come
We hadn’t seen them since Strasbourg
They were a welcome sight
We now could have a change of clothes
Could take the snow-pacs off
And put on combat boots again
To lighten up our feet.

We did these things, then settled down
To sleep just off the road
They woke us up at four A.M.
“Take only weapons now.”
We were attached to third platoon
And started up the hill
We reached our jump-off spots too soon
For it was still quite dark.

We would have no artillery prep
And it was planned that way
We’d just move out at six o’clock
As softly as we could.
But soft or loud, it mattered not
For as we started out
We ran right into a minefield
And then all hell broke loose.

Our men were stuck in that minefield
And dared to make no move
A lot of men had lost their feet
While some of them were killed.
And then the Kraut mortars began
To hit the trees in bursts
They always covered minefields with
Sniper and mortar fire.

I found an old machine gun pit
It was dug very deep
And covered well with logs and dirt
The perfect place to watch.
And so I put my entire squad,
We now were down to four,
Into this spot to wait it out
Until we could proceed.

I looked out from my covered hole
And saw a sorry sight
A rifleman had lost both legs
Was propped against a tree.
I crawled out of my hole alone
To see what I could do.
It was Coslow of First Platoon
And he’d been hit so bad.

 “I’m waiting for the Medics now”
Was what he said to me,
“There’s not a thing that you can do
Except to stay with me.”
And so I stayed, ‘til medics came
And carried him away
I then crawled back into my hole
To see what next we’d do.

I later learned that we had sustained
A lot of casualties
Max Larsen, our only Mormon lad,
Had lost his foot, and then
Had fallen forward, hit his head
And then was gone like that.
One other had been killed we learned
By heavy mortar fire.