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.

Friday, August 26, 2011


But at that time, I did not know
That it was loaded still
So when I pressed the trigger of
That gun, it just went off
And scared me almost half to death
Until I realized
That this Schmeisser had once been used
To fire at our men.

The next thing that I recollect
Was firing my rifle
At two ducks out on a pond some
Eight hundred yards away
I had just filed my rifle’s sight
Down to a sharpened point
And I was anxious now to learn
Just how my rifle shot.

I raised the rear sight up until
I’d gone twenty-four clicks
At three clicks drop per hundred yards
I’d have the distance right
So I lay prone, the sling up tight
And aimed right at those ducks
I squeezed the trigger and then just watched
To see where I would hit.

The distance was exactly on
I’d estimated right
But when I saw the water splash
Right in between the ducks
I knew this weapon would be right
For they were swimming close
And I now had a good excuse
For filing down that sight.

Now when our rest was nearly down
We got a pile of mail
I got letters from my mom, and
From my sisters too
I also got a single one
The one I’d waited for
I read the others first, and then
I opened Paula’s last.

I read it thru, then stood in shock
It was a “Dear John” note
Her letter was straight to the point,
It left me in no doubt
She’d found another, so she said
And would I write no more
I stood there disbelieving what
She’d written me was true.

But finally it did sink in
My Paula was no more
I thought about the time we’d met
Upon my favorite pond
And of the times we’d spent since then
Now all had gone for naught
I’d been away from her for too long
And this was the result.

I heaved a sigh of disbelief
Then put her from my mind
I could not be distracted when
There was so much to do
She’d taken up with someone else
And “that was that” I thought
I acted as I’d never heard
Of Paula Jane Ballou.

Some two weeks later we did leave
This town they called La Garde
We traveled northeast to the town
The French called Wimmenau
Our division was now complete
We had artillery
And other troops who were not here
When we first came overseas.

And so we went back into line
As divisional reserve
Our sleeping quarters were a barn
We slept upon the hay
That was OK with all of us
And we slept very well
A lot better than all the guys
In foxholes at the front.

Our time was now devoted to
The training of new troops
The two replacements that we got
We put right thru the mill
We taught them how our mortar worked
And ran them through some drills
In case that day should ever come
When they would need those skills.

But over in the section that
Was run by Sergeant Webb
He had the task of replacing
A whole machine gun squad.
I know he split his first squad up
To make a second squad
With replacements filling in
And learning what they could.

But now that we were in reserve
Patrols did fall on us
And ‘oft we did supply the men
To make these nightly raids
Sometimes a squad, or full platoon
Were called for from above
No notion did they have at all
Of what these men went through.

The squads went on reconnaissance
Were led by non-coms now
Platoons were led by officers
And were combat patrols
But when the Germans ascertained
A certain route they took
They’d plant that area with mines
That would blow off a foot.

We lost some men on these patrols
Most all stepped on a mine
But these patrols did show to us
That Jerry was spread thin
He put his men quite far apart
With Schu mines in between
And hoped to hold us in this way
For they did get few men.

And finally on March the ninth
We went back into line
We’d had more snow that melted fast
It was too close to spring.
We were attached to third platoon
As often was the case
We set out mortar up again
Behind a wooded bank.

Instead of foxholes we did have
A vaulted dugout type
Dug deeply far into the bank
And partly ‘neath a tree
We stayed only five days and yet
Two incidents occurred
The first beneath the melting snow
A dead German appeared.

We called the Company to see
What they would have to say
We’ll send Graves Registration men
And they’ll take care of him.
The other incident occurred
Before we were pulled out
“Don’t knock that mortar down just yet,
Just send us up a flare.”

This call came on our telephone
They seemed so insistent
I said OK, where should we fire
He said he wasn’t sure
Just put one out there right away
And we can tell from that
And so we shot up our first flare
I called – “It’s on the way.”

We saw it pop and then flare out
And then there came a ring
“Stop, stop,” he shouted o’er the phone
“It’s right over our men.”
The flare we’d shot had stopped our men
They had to stand stock still
It seems they’d left our mortar squad
To cover a pullout.

Our squad was now the last to know
That we had been relieved
They left us there to shoot up flares
So the Krauts wouldn’t know
That we’d been pulled out of our line
And would attack elsewhere
This is a thing they would not say
Over the telephone.

A runner reached us later on
And said that we should come
We packed up all our gear and left
And at the road were met
By trucks that took us not too far
Until we had rejoined
The other squads of our platoon
We were alone no more.

We’d be right there for just one night
Our barracks bags had come
We hadn’t seen them since Strasbourg
They were a welcome sight
We now could have a change of clothes
Could take the snow-pacs off
And put on combat boots again
To lighten up our feet.

We did these things, then settled down
To sleep just off the road
They woke us up at four A.M.
“Take only weapons now.”
We were attached to third platoon
And started up the hill
We reached our jump-off spots too soon
For it was still quite dark.

We would have no artillery prep
And it was planned that way
We’d just move out at six o’clock
As softly as we could.
But soft or loud, it mattered not
For as we started out
We ran right into a minefield
And then all hell broke loose.

Our men were stuck in that minefield
And dared to make no move
A lot of men had lost their feet
While some of them were killed.
And then the Kraut mortars began
To hit the trees in bursts
They always covered minefields with
Sniper and mortar fire.

I found an old machine gun pit
It was dug very deep
And covered well with logs and dirt
The perfect place to watch.
And so I put my entire squad,
We now were down to four,
Into this spot to wait it out
Until we could proceed.

I looked out from my covered hole
And saw a sorry sight
A rifleman had lost both legs
Was propped against a tree.
I crawled out of my hole alone
To see what I could do.
It was Coslow of First Platoon
And he’d been hit so bad.

 “I’m waiting for the Medics now”
Was what he said to me,
“There’s not a thing that you can do
Except to stay with me.”
And so I stayed, ‘til medics came
And carried him away
I then crawled back into my hole
To see what next we’d do.

I later learned that we had sustained
A lot of casualties
Max Larsen, our only Mormon lad,
Had lost his foot, and then
Had fallen forward, hit his head
And then was gone like that.
One other had been killed we learned
By heavy mortar fire.

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