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.

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.

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