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.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


So we who had found all those vats
Had not a drop to drink
While those in the rear echelon
Just drank ‘til all were drunk.
That’s still what I remember most
Although I had a scare
Came face to face with a big Kraut
Who wanted just to quit.

Schweinfürt was the next biggest town
That we were told to take
It housed the great ball bearing works
Where we’d lost all these planes
In making daylight air attacks
Against these factories
But that was just before we came
And now it was our turn.

The date was April, the Fifteenth
That I remember still
And so will every G.I. Joe
Who fought that day as well
For it was on this very day
We lost our President
Our politics did differ some
But still I felt the loss.

Our dawn attack was scheduled to
Begin at six o’clock
Preceded by an air assault
That came as a surprise
Medium bombers came in low
To keep us in the clear
And bombed the center of that town
‘Til there was nothing left.

Wave after wave, we watched them come
Left nothing but debris
Over which we had to climb, as
We started our attack.
We saw no one, we heard some shots
Resistance was quite low
We went right through and cleared that town
And never fired a shot.

We searched for billets when we stopped
So we could sleep that night
But only found some raunchy bunks
Where D.P.’s had been kept
But straw bunks were much better than
Sleeping on the cold ground
But right next door, to compensate,
We found a Kraut drugstore.

This store was something else again
For it was so well stocked
The things associated with
Drugstores did not exist
Instead, as search revealed to me
Big crates of pink champagne
Why it was here, we’ll never know
Just made the most of it.

The next day was a day of rest
And it was just as well
Too many men in our platoon
Had heads that hurt like hell
And I suspected this was true
Among the riflemen
For we had shared our loot with them
With only guards exempt.

Perhaps the champagne did some good
For now most were relaxed
And when big heads did disappear
We were all set to go.
Our brass had figured that we’d turn
And head southward toward Fürth
Other outfits were then assigned
To take out Nuremburg.

We traveled back the way we’d come
But this time was by truck
Back past Würzburg’s painted castle
And then we headed south
We moved on trucks for half a day
And then went on by foot
Each regiment had its own road
So off we went again.

Our usual approach to each small town
Was as described before
With mortars working as a team
And riflemen out front
Most every town as we approached
Would show the great white sheets
Then we would check each house in town
And then head for the next.

These towns were not too far apart
Perhaps three miles or so
But I have vivid thoughts of one
Late in the afternoon
We were about ten miles from Fürth
Had reached an open field
When Krauts were spotted digging in
Outside of the next town.

There was no spot where we could place
The mortars out of sight
There was nothing our riflemen
Could do except lay flat.
We set our guns and placed our stakes
Right out where all could see
Then fired those guns to set the plates
And then the fun began.

Our second rounds were at the Krauts
That then were digging in
And once we had adjusted guns
We fired for effect
The rounds came down upon the Krauts
And gave them pause for thought
Our light machine guns took the flanks
And started their own fire.

The riflemen then moved ahead
In rapid jumps and starts
While we kept dropping in those rounds
As fast as we could fire.
Our combined actions did the trick
The Krauts began to run
We stopped our fire, knocked down our guns
And moved ahead again.

The Krauts had mostly disappeared
Except the wounded few
And those whose war had gone kaput
Hit by our mortar rounds.
And when that skirmish ended there
We moved to clear the town
And found it full of big white sheets
That told us they had quit.

It now was getting on toward dark
So we picked out a house.
The men did eat some rations first
Then settled down to sleep.
They slept on beds, and slept on floors
And when I had returned
From setting guards out for our watch
There was no place for me.

The only place that was not filled
Was a new baby crib
There was no way that I could stretch
My legs while in that thing
But if I curled up on my side
I might just make it work
So that is what I had to do
And thus earned a new name.

I will not say just what it was
But each can take a guess
It mattered not, for by the dawn
We all were rousted out
To start the new day off again
As we had spent the last
We ate our rations, then took off
Just chasing after Krauts.

We slogged our way along the road
That led us on toward Fürth
Then as we neared that famous town
We passed right through some woods
And here we found artillery
Counting about twelve guns
That they were big, that much we saw
We did not know the size.

They had been camouflaged quite well
With ammo at each gun
Yet there was not a Kraut around
They had abandoned them.
And after we had passed them by
We moved most of the day
And early in the afternoon
We reached the town of Fürth.

Now we were high upon a hill
That looked out o’er that town
And we could see just everything
That lay across the plain
We saw the road, there was a stretch
About a half mile wide
That carried German vehicles
Both to the north and south.

We were among apartments now
With gardens down below
Where we could set out mortars up
We then could hit the road.
We spotted well from on the decks
And so had each gun fire
To set each base plate deep enough
Before we opened up.

I watched these base plate shells explode
Way out beyond the road
Then brought the guns back in toward us
And gave them each the range
I varied each a little bit
One long, one short, one on
To see which one would be the best
And closest to the road.

They fired, and as I watched I timed
So I would know how long
It took those shells to hit the road
And then go on from there.
When they exploded, by my watch
‘Twas twenty seconds flat
And knew that I must time the rounds
To traffic on the road.

I then adjusted each to hit
As close as we could get
Then timed the traffic from each end
To see how far they went
The motorcycles crossed the space
Faster than we could shoot
But tanks and half-tracks poked along
And thus were ideal game.

The tanks we could not touch at all
While they were buttoned up
But half-tracks full of German troops
Were what we waited for
And soon a convoy came along
Heading south to north
And when they reached a certain point
I knew we had them cold.

I gave directions to each squad
To have six rounds apiece,
With charges pulled, ready to go
With one all set to drop.
Each squad now waited for my sign
To start their small barrage
And when the half-tracks reached a point
I dropped my arm to fire.

It took not more than ten seconds
To get off eighteen rounds.
The last was gone before the first
Had even hit the ground.
But when they hit among those ‘tracks
The damage was so great
It bottled up the fields and road
No traffic now could cross.

And so we cleaned our mortars out
And stayed right where we were.
We waited for the night to come
So we could settle down.
We’d moved on foot a lot that day
And fired our mortars some
Now we were tired, and needed sleep
And so we hit the sack.

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