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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


But most of our casualties
Occurred in that minefield
When riflemen, in dimmest light,
Stepped on those wicked mines.
Most lost a foot, and falling down
Would sometimes lose an arm
No one could ever take their place
For they were gone for good.

I then got word from up in front
Lieutenant Benson called
To come up here, we need to talk
And so I started out
I pulled myself along the ground
As flat as I could be
I watched for mines, they were the threat
While mortars burst in trees.

I reached Lieutenant Benson’s side
And found him lying flat
“Can you get us some mortar fire
Into that sniper’s nest?”
I had to tell him that we couldn’t
The trees are far too thick
We cannot find a place to fire
Or help you out at all.

Then as I turned around to go
I noticed that I lay
Upon a tripwire tied right to
One of our own grenades.
I quickly looked right at the pin
To see if it was in
And saw it had been partly pulled
A little more – and “bang.”

I pushed it in and bent it back
So it could not come out
I then untied it, pulled the pin
And hurled it far, far out
Then I turned and looked around
And saw our engineers
Just probing ground ahead of them
And clearing us a path.

They did their job so quietly
Did not remove the mines
But cleared a path so we could see
Each box with cover up
The sniper who had held us up
We now found lying dead
One of our men had spotted him
And got him in the head.

The mortar fire had slackened off
They may have used their rounds
And so we rose up to our feet
And started out again
We went right thru in single file
The path that had been cleared
No opposition did we meet
And soon we all were through.

Then taking up a column march
We headed toward the north
Right through the woods without a stop
We traveled all that day
We met no Kraut resistance there
For they had all pulled out
And when the evening had begun
The captain called a halt.

 “Now settle down,” our sergeants said,
“And get yourselves some rest
We will move out before the dawn
And you can bet on that.”
We formed a line, encircling us
Like wagon days of old
We’d found a slight depression where
My squad had planned to sleep.

I had my four-man squad with me
And we were packed in tight
We had nothing to keep us warm
And it was getting cold.
Our section leader settled in
Next to me on my left
When the burp guns just opened up
And hell broke loose again.

But now we all returned the fire
As fast as we could shoot
We could not see in front of us
For it had gotten dark
And so we just shot straight ahead
And hoped to find a mark.
The din was so terrific now
‘Twas a real firefight.

Then to my left Zip Zeysing groaned
“I think I’ve just been hit.”
“Where ‘bouts?” I asked. “In my left leg
That burp gun stitched me good.”
“Hold on,” was my reply to him,
“Until their fire lets up.
If you can crawl, then start on back
A medic is quite near.”

That was the last I saw of him
For he had crawled way back
The firing stopped as it began
So very suddenly
I turned to check up on my men
And found that none was hit
They’d stayed way down, so very low
The fire passed over them.

But then I looked again and saw
That Seradarian
Had piled his rounds, all six of them,
Right up in front of him.
He was our newest man and thought
They were protecting him.
But had a bullet hit those shells
None of us would have lived.

Now when the firing had ceased
We lay there for a while
Then I arose to look around
And check on Zeysing’s leg.
I couldn’t find him, but found a horse
With wagon still attached
The horse was dead, the wagon searched
One blanket did I find.

A blanket at that very time
Was what we needed most
For it could help to keep us warm
It now was getting cold.
I helped my men dig out a space
Wherein we all could lie
The blanket covered three of us
While one of us kept watch.

And while we all were hunkered down
Our sergeant came to us
And said to me, “With Zeysing hit
You are the next in line
And so you become the leader
Of our three mortar squads.”
Tom Hamilton now took my place
And each moved up a notch.

Then word came down that we must send
A man to go with those,
Who had been wounded in the fight
Just a short while ago.
So I sent Wren, the newest man
Who never did fit in
And wanted nothing more than this
To get out of the fight.

I then went out as the new man
To head the section up
To let the other squads now know
That Zeysing had been hit
And now that I had been moved up
They would report to me
And with that duty done, I thought
I now can get some sleep.

We did not sleep too well that night
It was in fits and starts
With changing watch every two hours
My turn was four o’clock.
So as the dawn did give more light
I thought I saw a blob
Lying right out in front of us
It was a big dead Kraut.

Our casualties were light that night
Two wounded and one dead
The wounded were Zip Zeysing who
Had caught it in the leg
The other was a replacement
Shumpert was his name.
Crossland was the one who died
Killed by those Kraut burp guns.

I do not know the casualties
The Germans took that night
For as the day was getting light
I only saw the one.
But as the others made their counts
The total went up fast.
It seems the Krauts in their attack
Had lost at least eighteen.

When we had gotten organized
We started out again
And traveled on for miles and miles
Until that afternoon
We reached a hill that overlooked
A road and a small town
The captain then did call a halt
And all of us sat down.

We looked across the valley then
At a big wooded hill
And thought that if defended now
It would be tough to take
But while we sat, we saw new troops
Just passing right on through
And then we saw two water-cooled
Machine guns start to shoot.

The new troops were Company G
They had been in reserve
But now they formed a skirmish line
Before they reached the road
And while we waited we could hear
Artillery on the way
It just erupted on that hill
As time on target will.

All guns of ours and of Sixth Corps
Had come to bear at once,
If there were any living Krauts
It was a miracle.
Artillery kept up their fire
About five minutes more
And then ceased fire as suddenly
As when they had begun.

And as we watched, that skirmish line
Just jumped across the road.
They started up the hill and soon
Had disappeared from sight.
We heard no shots, the hill was ours
Those Krauts who still did live
Were stunned by our artillery
And quit without a fight.

It was then our Captain called and
Told us to move out fast
To cross the road and up the hill
Before the coming dark.
We crossed the road, went up the hill
And kept on going then
It was midnight ‘fore we stopped
And each went right to sleep.

We got the sign and countersign
And posted men to watch
Then climbed into our gas mask capes
To gain a little heat.
We shivered with the cold all night
Got very little sleep
Were set to go by five o’clock
Before the sun came up.

We’d always moved just off the road
That led us toward the east
We could not travel on the road
Because of all the trees
The Krauts had dropped them down for miles
So nothing moved at all
Until our engineers had sawed
And pulled them off the road.

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