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.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

MY ARMY DAYS: WWII (101-113)

Then after we had done our tour
As General Collins guards
We went to Krimmel once again
And here we stayed a while.
I had a friend who liked to fish
And so the two of us
Climbed up the single mountain trail
That leads to Italy.

We fished where’er we found a pool
And had a lot of trout
To fry and eat up for our lunch
When we did reach the top.
The mountain then did flatten out
And we could see a sign,
That said we’d entered Italy
No other signs were seen.

As soon as we had crossed the line
We built ourselves a fire
And with some crackers crumbled up
And with a little fat
We fried ourselves four trout apiece
That’s all our mess kits held
They were delicious as could be
And we were satisfied.

After we’d eaten up our trout
We headed down the trail
And going down was faster than
The climb in going up.
We came so fast, we hurt our legs
And had to take a break
At least we now could say to all
We’d been in Italy.

We moved again after our stay
In Krimmel, which we loved.
This time to Salzburg, where it looked
Like we’d be called upon
To leave for the Pacific soon
So training did begin
We had to teach our replacements
How mortars worked and fired.

A lot of men who had the points
Were leaving to go home
But we, mostly unmarried still,
Stayed on to train new men.
We had a mostly intact group
That is how young we were
We lost Ben Gerber who went home
The last of older men.

I now assumed the non-com role
Of our weapons platoon
Though I never did get the rank,
Advancements were on hold.
And when the rank did come
It went to someone else.
They thought that I was far too young
To run a whole platoon.

We trained in Salzburg for a while
But then before we left
The war against Japan did end
And we could just relax.
But once again we moved on out
Rotation was the name
Up the Salzach once again
This time to Neukirchen.

I’d played some ball when I was young
But always played baseball
I did not care to play softball
This was a game for girls.
But when the army took up sports
To keep us occupied
Softball was all we had to play
And so we saw it thru.

I used to pitch when seventeen
And played some shortstop too.
But pitching with this great big ball
And under-handed too
Was something I would never try
Nor could I if I would
So I became a short-fielder
Fly balls were now my game.

At first we played on bumpy fields
Cow pastures they were called.
But gradually we smoothed them out
And played much better ball.
I played a mediocre field
But I could always hit
And so was picked to play short-field
On our battalion team.

We played the other battalions
In Salzberg, Neukirchen
And finally played at Zell am See,
For the regimental crown,
But we were beaten by one run,
There’s no more I can say
We all returned to army life
And waited to go home.

And while in this unpleasant town
We had some chores to do
We took a load of prisoners south
So they could be released.
And then with winter coming on
I, and some of my men
Were sent way back into the hills
To guard a prison camp.

This was a cold and snowy job
But had its moments too
We had a brand new officer
Who hadn’t learned the ropes.
And so I ran that prison camp
The way that I saw fit
And let our men go hunting deer
When no duty was assigned.

I went out hunting by myself
As often as I did go
And jumped a deer right out of camp
But dared not take a shot
And so I slowly moved along
Until I saw three deer
I shot at one and down he went
The others disappeared.

He kicked a lot when I arrived
So shot him in the head.
He wasn’t big, just a spikehorn
But just the size to eat.
I dragged him downhill to the camp
And gave him to the cook
She had her husband skin him out
And then he fed the camp.

We stayed in camp for one more week
And then we were relieved
Our regiment was off again
Vienna was our stop.
And here we stayed until we heard
That some were homeward bound
Most of my mortar men and I
Were in that homebound group.

We left by train and traveled back
The way that we had come
We stopped for four days in a town
While waiting for a ship
Then moved again straight for Le Havre
‘Twas on the coast of France
Then boarded a small freighter that
Ran right into a storm.

It took us thirteen days to cross
That ship bucked all the way
But finally we did arrive
And gave one great big cheer
As we passed her going in, the
Statue of Liberty
We disembarked and boarded trains
That took us to our camp.

Now at Fort Dix, we turned all in
Except our army clothes
We went thru all the paperwork
That gave us a discharge
But then so I could keep my rank
I stayed in the Reserves.
When all the paperwork was done
They gave us all a pass.

 “Go up to New York City and
Have yourselves a time.
Just get a haircut and a shave
And let yourselves relax.
Eat in a noted restaurant
Longchamps comes to mind
Have yourselves a nice thick steak
Then sleep in a hotel.

But don’t forget that each of you
Must be back here by noon.
We have allowed some extra time
So you can travel back.”
And so the six of us who went
Did everything he said
We got a haircut and a shave
Then ate at Longchamps too.

We got back into camp in fact
Before our time was up.
Then picked up our discharges and
A pin called “Ruptured Duck.”
It meant that we were on our own
Could leave at anytime
And so we said our goodbyes there
And promised we would write.

I took the local to New York
Then transferred once again
I boarded the New Haven line
Back up to Providence
From whence I’d left three years before
In all my innocence
And now returned, but all alone
No one to greet me there.

I stood outside the station steps,
Just stood and looked around.
The sun was bright, the day was warm
It was March thirty-first.
A couple looked me up and down,
And saw my duffel bag.
They knew that I was coming home
And gave me a “Thank you.”

I hailed a cab, which took me to
My home on Cora Ave.
I met my mom, gave her a hug
And she held on to me
She said to me, “Thank God you’re back
And back without a scratch,”
And then she made a quiet call
I did not know to whom.

But soon I heard a car pull up
And much to my surprise
It was my buddy Gene McGrail
And with him was my Pat.
We’d left Gene at Camp Gruber
When he had taken ill
And I had taken up his place
When we’d gone overseas.

And that was my big welcome home
I saw just Pat and Gene
My best friend Larry had come home
But he was off somewhere
And so I talked to Gene and Pat
About a wedding soon
All of which I’d started when in
Camp Gruber we were friends.

And so I bring this army tale
To a conclusion now
I’d gone from eighteen years of age
Who hardly had to shave,
To our Weapons Platoon Sergeant
With years far past my age.
And then began my life anew
Civilian once again.

I write this now at eighty-six
The memories return.
I see my old comrades in arms
As clear as I see sky.
I often wonder what became
Of each of them who lived,
To come back home, to take up life
As though they’d never left.

My tears go out to all those men
Who died so long ago
And to those who lost a leg
Or lost an arm, or both.
They all have struggled thru this life
And who’s around to tell
The story of the fight each had
With Krauts, and with themselves.

I will not tell of army days
That started o’er again
When North Korea hit the south
And we were called back in.
I was not called to fight the war
That raged in Korea
I, and a group who trained with me,
Were sent to Germany.

I spent a year in that old land
That once I knew so well.
A bunch of men who’d seen the war
Were now called back again
To train Constabulary troops
That now patrolled Berlin
To ground soldiers, that gave rebirth
To the Sixth Infantry.

I came back home as I had left
Without fanfare or fuss
There was no one to welcome me
I traveled all alone.
My wife knew that I’d soon be in
But did not know the hour
And so I went back home alone
Civilian life again.

No comments:

Post a Comment