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.

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My pass was out of date.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.

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