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.

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.”

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