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 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.

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