The second lieutenants will win the war, so what in the hell are we fighting for?
Words from GI song
One thing observably different when we crossed into Belgium was the warmth and friendliness of the people. Where the French exhibited little emotion as we passed, the Belgians were more demonstrative, cheering, waving, and giving the victory sign, and presenting us with bread, fruit, wine – whatever they had to offer. Their obvious appreciation of our presence did much for our mood, which changed from morose to cheerful.
Passing Jayhawk cemetery gave us pause. White crosses lined the fields almost as far as we could see – and more graves were being dug in readiness for the arrival of more dead. We were acutely aware that most of them would be filled with infantrymen. Each of us, no doubt, wondered if we were soon to occupy one of them.
Our convoy made several short stops as we moved through the country. At one place many of us purchased something loosely akin to ice cream or sherbet, an obvious rarity. At night, in light rain, we parked on the side of a cobblestone street for a few minutes. A large beer wagon passed, pulled by a team of huge and powerful Belgians, their massive tufted hooves beating time on the glistening paving stones. Silver harness ornaments twinkled in the small amount of reflected light and tinkled discretely with movement. The driver walked alongside talking to them softly, “Hey, hey – hey, hey, hey!” The tone was comradely but firm I had never seen such magnificent animals.
At many stops, small boys swarmed over the trucks to admire our weapons and discuss ammunition capacities, range, accuracy, etc. The children were lovable, intelligent, cheerful, well-mannered and gregarious. We always gave them whatever we had to give – rations, candy, chewing gum, money. Before embarking at Weymouth many of us distributed our remaining English money to the kids about. Now we were doing the same thing. We wouldn’t need it where we were going.
Our journey halted for a few days in a field near Aubel. We pitched our tents, and it began to snow. The snow ended before nightfall, and we saw an English Mosquito speeding eastward toward the front. Soon after dark we heard a plane approaching from the east. As it came into view we could see flame trailing behind and hear the engine sputtering as though in difficulty. As it passed nearby and low we realized it was no ordinary plane. We were seeing our first V-1 Buzz Bomb speeding mindlessly and blindly toward an unsuspecting target.
To prepare myself to stand guard at night in the snow I foolishly prepared a potent brew in my canteen cup, adding several tins of instant coffee from my rations and, for good measure, a tin of fruit concentrate powder. While standing guard later I was struck by stomach cramps that doubled me over, unable to stand erect. I considered my situation, forgetting the spiked drink. Was my appendix acting up? What if I had to go to the hospital? At best it may look suspicious to the guys. Unable to bear the stomach pains further, I managed to stumble to our pup tent and alert Gernsbacher. We found somebody to help and, together, they lifted me and walked me to the aid station which was in a nearby house. There a major considered my problem, poured a small amount of clear liquid into a glass, and had me drink it. In minutes I was relieved. I had been introduced to Paragoric. The speedy change in my condition was dramatic and appreciated.
Packed into trucks again for more cold, stiff riding, I found myself wishing that the front was moving away from us at the same rate we were moving toward it. We sensed now that we were soon to catch up.
Where is the front?
It could be worse, you know.
We unloaded from the trucks at Krinkelt. Though two villages exited here, Krinkelt and Rocherath, we usually referred to them as Krinkelt. No civilians were to be seen, having been removed previously because of the proximity to the front. A handful of men remained in the area to watch over the livestock, etc. The houses were solid and rugged – veritable forts. The atmosphere of the place was somber and subdued, and we knew we weren’t far from our destination. It was Nov. 10, 1944.
We marched from Krinkelt up snow-concealed roads through fields and into woods. The forest, heavy with fresh snow, was a childhood dream of a land of Christmas. We passed scattered groups of 9th Division troops as we moved through the woods. “Is that what the war department is using for soldiers?”
Their attempt at humor was a bit like gallows humor to us. Laden with all the paraphernalia of the brand new soldier we, no doubt, were proper objects of derision. We would make our mistakes, as new soldiers do. The trick would be to survive the mistakes and profit from them.
First Squad was halted after a while, and in the usual Army fashion we stood awaiting the next development. A 9th sergeant told me, Joe Jupko and Johnson to follow him. Jupko was now our BAR man, and Johnson was his assistant gunner. The sergeant carried us to an opening in the forest which was about 60 feet across and extended indefinitely in either direction. There, by two open holes in the ground, we stopped.
“How far are we from the front line?” I asked.
“The line is back there where we just left from,” he said. This is your OP. That is the border between Belgium and Germany.” He indicated the clearing ahead.
“You just stay here in the holes and keep your eyes peeled and stay quiet. You will be relieved in a few hours by another crew. Not much happening here – you seldom see a Jerry, but he’s over there. If you go into the woods over there, watch out for mines and booby traps. There is a BAR over there. Leave it alone – it’s booby-trapped. The patch we came up has been cleared of mines, but not the sides. That’s about it.”
I asked, “Can we smoke here?”
“Yeah, smoke – just blow the smoked down in the hole.” He left.
The border highway, which was the cleared space, was about 20 feet from the OP holes which were dug a few feet apart. A hundred feet to our left was a small field with a small shell-torn structure in the center. Across the highway from this was a larger field ending in woods a few hundred yards back. From our front to our right, woods grew on both sides of the road as far as we could see.
If this was awfully quiet and inactive, my previous idea of how it would be when we relieved another outfit was just as unreal. I had pictured it many times in my mind – I would have to crawl hundreds of yards under fire to relieve a man in a hole in ground churned up by constant artillery fire, and bodies would be all over the place. If I made it safely to my position I hoped I would have a few minutes to collect my wits before being ordered to attack or to repulse a German attack. My picture was far wrong. This, of course, was not the usual condition of war – we were fortunate.
Jupko and Johnson occupied one hole and I sat in the other. My first cigarette caused an altercation between me and Johnson in which we each threatened to shoot the other – we both survived it and I continued to smoke.
After being relieved on outpost I found that I was foxhole buddy to Swede Swanson in the hole nearest to the CP. The hole was about three feet deep and wide and long enough to accommodate two men and their equipment. Logs had been put across the top and covered with earth, a piece of German camouflage stretched over all. Despite all, the whole mess was wet and porous and leaked constantly. We all learned early that every foxhole had at least one leak directly over your nose. Entry to the hole was from the rear and would accommodate one man. In an encounter with enemy coming from the border only one man would be able to fire from the hole, and only from the reverse end. Many of the holes in the area were as badly constructed. Obviously, nobody was considering a German attack. The arrangement seemed poor – Platoon Headquarters was some distance to the right rear, enough so that, to a rifleman, it was considered rear area. The other rifle platoons flanked us. In the forest I had no idea where our weapons platoon was located or, for that matter, where CO Headquarters was.
Swanson was thorough in his preparations for whatever he could imagine may happen. From his sleeping position in the hole he distributed his weaponry about in instantly usable positions. His rifle hung overhead, the muzzle pointed at the hole entrance. Grenades, trench knife, and bayonet were in place on the earthen wall. We spent hours constructing possible events in our minds and planning probable counters. I learned much from Swede, and employed many of his measures, plus some of my own, such as extra ammo stored in the rifle butt cleaning equipment holes, and one round hidden in the hem of my jacket for the final decision. Who could say if I would be able to use it if the need arose? When Swede was on OP he covered the approaches with booby traps made from grenade canisters attached to trees, the grenade being slid into the open canister with the safety pin out and with a string tied to the grenade with the other end attached to a nearby tree. A little pressure on the string would pull the grenade from the canister and – surprise! The old trick of the pebble-laced ration cans strung on wires also was used.
The nights on OP were cold and miserable. We would sit in the holes and shiver quietly and listen to the winter moan of large caliber counter-battery artillery high overhead. There was the dull boom of the huge gun far to the rear, the moaning passage of the shell above, and the muffled crump when it hit after the end of the journey. Invariably would come the counter from the opposite direction. Boys playing with their powerful and deadly toys. It was prudent to toss a grenade silently from the hole in the direction of suspicious sounds – it was hard to determine where it came from in the dark. The flash from a muzzle could easily be seen. One fellow pulled the pin and prepared to toss a grenade, then was uncertain about what he had heard, and waited. When no further sound came, he found that he had thrown the pin aside and was unable to find it. He spent the rest of the night holding the grenade anxiously.
Some of us were able to sleep soundly and still be able to differentiate between threatening and normal sounds. I was, fortunately, one of these. Others slept so soundly that an army marching past would not awaken them. Anthony Morelli was one of these. Still others were constantly aware of all sounds and reacted to all sounds with alarm, giving ominous connotation to each.
Swede woke me several times each night with a firm hand clamped over my mouth, whispering, “Did you hear that? There’s somebody out there.”
I would listen quietly for a minute and then try to assure him that it was only snow falling from the tree branches. He stayed jumpy and nervous from nightfall till dawn, yet possessed the ability to fall asleep instantly. I saw him sleep many times while standing up, and even snore. He would fall over into the snow, climb back up and repeat the process.
One night Frenchy Labrueyere called me from blissful sleep to take my turn on OP. What followed is illustrative of what lengths the mind can go in deceiving itself, and it was near impossible to convince me of what I did, though logic points the obvious finger. Reality for me was that I pulled my tour of OP duty, returned to my hole and went back to sleep. But there was Frenchy by the foot of the hole pleading for me to climb out and go again. My sense of injustice at being so entrapped knew no bounds, and I let him know it. But still he persisted. We argued at length – I finally gave in to the logic of his argument and went on OP, still not totally convinced that I was not doing a rerun. The lesson was that I could not afford such a mental lapse again – a keen sense of reality was necessary to survival.
Later we pulled in the OP at night and used a listening post in a hole along the squad line to our left where a long gap exited between us and the next friendlies. I usually pulled most of the LP duty alone since Swede, being assistant squad leader, felt obliged to “check on the boys” and did not find his way back in the long black nights. We continued to operate the OP in daylight hours.
Several incidents dramatized the reality of our situation. A few light artillery shells were directed at the structure in the small field to the left of the OP, and an occasional mortar shell dropped in the squad area. Pfc. James Moore of 2nd Platoon was wounded, the first sustained in E Company, on Nov. 13. Some of our patrols engaged in short, but sharp, firefights with the enemy out in the dragon teeth before the Siegfried forts. The opposing sides were reminding each other of their presence.
Capt. Miller and another officer visited our OP one morning and decided to check out the area. We gave them the information given to us by the 9th sergeant. They borrowed a trench knife from us and began probing for mines alongside the road, then crossed to the far side and probed some more. Satisfied, they continued on into the woods, done with the precaution of probing the ground ahead. We at the OP waited, alert for what may happen. A few minutes later, a muffled explosion and a cry came from within the woods. We called back to the squad area to alert them, and then ran across the road and into the woods. From somewhere to the right a German MG began chattering and the front began to come alive. We found Miller down in the snow, his face and side bloody and blackened from the blast of a mine or booby trap. We moved ahead and crouched in the snow with our rifles ready to protect the small group until Miller could be removed from further danger by stretcher bearers. When the stretcher arrived there was a discussion of how best to get Miller on it. “Lay the goddamn thing down and I’ll roll over on it,” he grimaced.
The deep bark of Garand fire joined the chattering MG as Miller was moved back across the road. The rest of us began darting across as Harbeck, who had taken station on the other side, beckoned us across one by one between MG bursts. In the woods I had fixed bayonet, and when I crossed the road I stumbled and launched the rifle and bayonet directly at him. He stepped adroitly aside and gave me a sharp scowl, then said, “Have you done any town fighting recently, Arnold?” It had become a private joke.
After things quieted down, somebody said Miller got his request to have his whiskey ration accompany him on the trip to battalion aid and was pretty well lit up when he arrived there. I ever heard how he made out. We supposed he recovered and was put to work training new troops, emphasizing the importance of watching out for mines and booby traps. During the little exchange, Underwood got a German.
Warm food was seldom our lot. We ate mostly K and C rations. Even these were not in suitable supply. Rarely were the 10-in-1 rations available, and when they were they were broken down at platoon and squad headquarters and apportioned out from there. The men of the squads were aware that some of the choicer bits failed to make it on down the line. Some good old GI bellyaching had a positive result. Since individual rations usually contained a small packet of four cigarettes, and since some of the men were not smokers, smokers, by trade or gift, managed. Many considered quitting the habit for health reasons, but reconsidered when contemplating other hazards of our line of work. Entertaining such thoughts could bring a sigh or wry grin. Giving up the habit was a foolish dream, the benefits being so uncertain.
A few hundred yards to our right the forest ended. On the German side of the road was a house, abandoned, of course. A road left the border highway and extended past the house and on into the Siegfried fort line. Though the house was, in effect, in no-man’s land, there were usually a bunch of Americans in the house. The Germans could see the activity at the house, but chose not to destroy it. Some of us went to the house simply to be able to write letters home with the legend “Somewhere in Germany” at the top. At the time Americans were on German territory only a very few places. Most of the furnishings had been stripped from the place to provide better living in nearby foxholes. Swede found a metal bucket and some coal and made a heater for our hole. It was a smoky affair, but tempered the cold and gave a cheery glow at night. Whiting showed us how to protect our feet by stuffing GI galoshes with irgin wool found in the cellar. I threw my shoes away in favor of the new foot gear. A fot covered in a half dozen pairs of socks and stuffed into wool-lined galoshes could stand for hours in snow with no discomfort. Already trench foot was the bane of the division. When the wool lost much of its insulating properties from frequent wettings and compression, we found that formed strips out from wool blankets worked as well. My footwear consisted of this until we were issued the horrid shoe packs in late January.
The road by the house presented a defensive problem – if Jerry moved armor down the road from the Siegfried there would be hell to pay – I had seen no evidence of anti-tank preparation there.
Our first relief period
I say, what are you birds up to?
Lt. Ross whenever observing loitering enlisted personnel
In late November our position along the highway was taken over by another unit and we marched rearward to a position of relief or reserve – the distinction was of little concern to us. We were in an area in woods just north of Krinkelt. We lived in small huts with log sides and canvas tops with crude wooden double-decker bunks. It was a welcome change to get away from the frigid K and C rations for a while and enjoy some of Sam’s ingenious preparations – you still may be eating K and C, but Sam, with a little help from whatever he could lay hands on, could disguise the accursed beans, pork and eggs, cheese, etc., and come up with something edible.
All troops will be provided with a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving, was the promise of the Army. The promise was kept, but the occasion was somewhat less than festive. The sky dumped buckets of water as we ate in the open chow line. Water ran in rivulets off our helmets and into our turkey-laden mess tins and soaked us to the bone, but we made the most of it.
A particular delight was the showers we went to in Krinkelt. We were herded naked like cattle into a small room where we stood freezing under some steel pipes with small holes drilled a foot or so apart. Each man tried to position himself under one of the holes. At the order the water was turned on. Cold water dribbled from the holes and began to wet our heads. “Soap down,” came the order, and the drip of water stopped. Moments later came the rinse cycle – less than the previous amount. I swear that dampness never got to my waist, and I had to wipe soap from my head with vigor. It would have been an improvement if Thanksgiving dinner had been served under the pipe and the showers had been taken in the rain where we ate the dinners.
Guard duty and KP were still necessary parts of life back here. Gernsbacher and I stood guard together at midnight, and near the end of our tour I sent him to wake our relief. He didn’t return so I knew he was lost. The result was that I stood guard until after dawn. In the course of his rambling about he fell bodily into two holes and woke Sgt. Harbeck three times. My KP duty was as ill-fated. Sam made some pudding, and I ate too much of it. In addition I found the cache of D ration bars and stuffed my jacket with a supply. During the day I slipped the squad a supply of pudding and D bars. Becoming dramatically sick at dark I attributed it to overeating, but when I returned to the squad I found most of them sick as well, particularly Elliot Glass. It was a night of misery.
For Glass and I, insult was added to injury. Several of us built a fire on the ground and sat around it warming. There was a loud report, and something slammed against my rump. I saw Glass grab his thigh at the same time. The fire had heated a stray rifle round and exploded it. The bullet lit me and caused no damage other than a momentary sting, but part of the brass buried in Glass’ thigh and caused some bleeding.
As he walked about the mess area, Lt. Ross stopped by Anderson and did a double take.
“How in the hell do you expect to see the enemy through those glasses, soldier?” The glasses were indeed filthy. “Let’s clean them up!”
He then gave me the once over and said, “You’re out of uniform soldier! Where is your web belt?” I tried to explain once more about my useless web belt and how I had made a leather belt from a German rifle sling. “Go to supply and get a web belt,” he ordered.
So, back to supply. Sgt. Bullard growled, “Where in the hell is your web belt?” I explained the situation once more. “Well,” he said. “You’ll just have to do without – I haven’t got any!”
The web belt thing was to follow me through my entire army service – through the war, through the months of occupation, and back in the States. While being discharged at Ft. Bragg in spring 1946, the supply people cheerfully gave me extras of everything I asked, shirts, pants, shoes – you name it – but not web belts. In a cold rage the supply sergeant there, after an argument, agreed to give me one, but no extras. The day I was discharged I was finally “in uniform.” I must have been chewed out a dozen times about the belt during the intervening period.
One morning Gernsbacher shook me awake. I wanted to sleep. “Time for chow,” he said. “You coming?”
“I’d rather sleep,” I said, picturing the ever-present powdered eggs, oatmeal, or pancakes. He left with his mess kit. Half an hour later he woke me again. I gave up trying to sleep.
“Guess what we had for breakfast?”
“I can’t imagine,” I said dryly.
“We had fresh eggs and bacon,” he hooted.
“Well, why in hell didn’t you come back and wake me?”
“You said you wanted to sleep.”
“OK – why did you wake me up when you came back?”
“Wanted you to know what we had,” he said simply.
I could have hit him. Instead I just groaned, and was enveloped in a pall of dejection. I had been dreaming of fresh eggs and bacon for months.
Back on line
Don’t spit on the floora.
Use the spittora,
That’s what it’s fora.
Elliot Glass singing to the tune of the Toreador song
After a couple or three days in the Krinkelt area Easy moved back on line again. This time we were in hilly terrain in deep forest. Second Platoon position was in a small wooded draw through which flowed a narrow crystal clear stream. Our OP was a few hundred yards forward on the crest of a steep hill overlooking a planting of young trees. A little to the right front of the OP the view extended across into Germany and the rolling folds of land embedded with Siegfried forts. A path had been cleared of mines up the hillside to the OP and marked with white tape. This OP was manned round the clock.
This was 2nd Platoon’s last move in which Lt. Man’s massive bed roll came along. The thing required the effort and time of two or three strong men to move about – it quietly disappeared, and was replaced with one of the recent issue “fart sack” types. These were wool-lined, zippered, poplin covered affairs that offered some protection against the elements, and were light and easy to roll into a compact and easily transported shape and form. One disadvantage was the slightly increased reaction time to danger – you had to unzip and extract yourself from the cocoon-like shape. Rolling yourself in a blanket and poncho was quicker in and out, but a little less comfortable. Each system had many devotees. Neither would do more than moderate foul weather.
This time Whiting and I were foxhole buddies. Our hole was closest by the stream. We immediately set to work fixing noise-making devices and generally improving the hole to our liking. Once I became associated with Whiting for a short period I began to appreciate his qualities as a soldier, man, and friend. His character was infinitely gentle, quiet, and introspective. He was deeply religious, courageous, dependable and, in these conditions, remarkably resourceful. Despite our religious differences we were patient and respectful of each other and got along well. Philosophical discussions had a priority and often carried us long into the night. After learning that my religious bent, or lack, prevented my praying with him he asked if I would permit him including me in his silent prayers. Thereafter I knew that my welfare was part of his concern every day. In my peculiar way of evaluating individual worth along the lines described, rather than from the usual success, accomplishment, fortune standpoint, I have to judge Whiting as one of the best men I ever met.
When I was chosen to go on my first patrol, while most of the men who had already been initiated earlier joked and bantered harmlessly and good-naturedly about what could happen to me, it was Whiting who quietly saw me off with a warm handshake and an earnest wish for “good hunting and safe return.”
Ten or 12 of us led by Lt. Mann moved out through our OP, turned left downslope, crossed a road in view of an iron gate, and penetrated deep into the woods ahead. In several places we came across fresh hobnailed boot prints in the new snow, and tension mounted. After some hours of quietly stalking through miles of forest with our fingers ready on triggers we returned to our lines none the worse. We had seen nothing more of the enemy than the ominous tracks and, as far as we knew, had not been seen by the enemy. About all we accomplished was to ascertain that the Germans were actively patrolling the area, and to gain some much needed experience ourselves.
On Dec. 1 I reached my 19th year. Morelli, a kind-hearted fellow, gave me a D-ration bar in honor of the event. He often gave me a lot of his ration candy – even some that he received in packages from home, explaining that I seemed to enjoy candy so much that he enjoyed watching me eat it as much as eating it himself. On that day I also received a letter from another brother, this one commanding a LCT in the Pacific. A photo showed him with two grass-skirted beauties on his knees. That didn’t bother me as much as knowing it was comfortably warm where the picture was taken.
Early one morning I decided to run up the outpost hill and back to get my circulation warmed up. A rushing sound came from behind me just as I reached the halfway point. I hit the ground and looked up – a small plane, black, with no prop flashed low overhead toward Germany. I had seen my first jet. Later information revealed it to be a Heikel pulse jet. It was probably doing recon work for the coming counter-offensive.
The OP atop the hill was manned by five men. The left rear hole was manned by a BAR man and assistant, the other hole by three riflemen. One morning I saw something stuck in the ground to the left front of the holes. Investigation showed it to be a perfectly carved wooden sword with an inscription in ink on the handle. The wood was freshly carved and bright, and the inscription referred to the Westwall – probably an invitation for us to have a go at the Siegfried forts. After retrieving it with a gingerly tied string, pulled from afar I kept the handle in my pocket until the ink blurred from wet and wear. The man who placed the sword there had humor and guts.
The usual quiet of the OP came to an end one afternoon. From the growth of small trees in front of our holes came a hail of small arms fire, several automatic weapons being operated simultaneously. The violence of sound had a dramatic effect on my psyche (it scared the hell out of me). It was near impossible to generate enough courage (or foolhardiness) to raise your head enough to see out of the hole. Not to look out of the hole was equally foolhardy, and downright cowardly. I forced my noggin up to look around. The fire was thick as hair on a dog’s back, but the Germans were well concealed. In fact, they were concealed so well that their accuracy was terrible. From our hole I watched Farris Block emerge from the other hole, BAR in hand. He crawled forward on elbows and knees, taking advantage of tree trunks for protection and concealment when possible, never taking his eyes off the area where the fire was coming from. Whatever I felt about his brash action, I knew it took extraordinary courage to come alone out of that hole and crawl toward the firing.
From the trail behind us an artillery FO (forward observer) and radioman crawled up behind us. Consulting his map he called coordinates to the gunners. The first 105mm shell tore overhead and slammed into the woods beyond, too far. He adjusted the range, and now the battery guns joined in. The fire mission ceased abruptly, and there was silence. Jerry learned from that: we would not be induced to return fire with small arms unless he showed himself, and retaliation by cannon would be forthcoming and accurate. Our lesson was important too; try to force the enemy to show himself before engaging in small arms action with him, lean on your support weapons, the Germans may execute feeling actions without any support weapons. As for Block, it was not the last time we were to see him take decisive and positive action when most of us were content to await developments.
A big problem on OP was insuring that one man in each hole was alert at all times. Many times when relinquishing my tour to my relief I observed that he was soon asleep, often sitting in the hole. Many times some of us were awake when we should have been resting for our next tour. Hitler’s observation that American guards slept at night was probably based on hard evidence procured by German patrols.
The infantryman must learn early to carefully weigh and consider the ramifications of even the most innocent act. It may not insure survival, but the chances are enhanced. One night as I sat on the edge of the hole trying to stay alert, I decided to take a leak and stretch a bit outside the hole to awaken my dulled senses. Low voices in the other hole assured me that I wasn’t the only one awake. Then Almond’s voice rang out loud and clear, “Don’t shoot, goddamnit – it’s just ol’ Arnold takin’ a piss!” No survivor, unless a fool, attributes his good fortune entirely to his own machinations. Time after time we survived because of what someone else did, wittingly or otherwise. It’s no big deal – happens all the time. But the fact remains, certain and inescapable – he saved my life and, in doing so, joined a procession of people and events that contrived to that same end. Nobody can enumerate the hows and whys, nobody has the answers.
General Lauer, the division commander, made a brief visit to our neck of the woods one morning, stopping by our hole and saying a word or two to Whiting and me, then continuing on to Platoon HQ for a short discussion with Lt. Mann. He threatened a $5 fine to one man who didn’t have his helmet on. He left as quickly as he had come.
Since first coming on line Whiting had grown a magnificent blue-black beard and caused much commotion – the brass said it must come off. Whiting refused. The feud continued for a week or more, backing all the way to Bn. HQ before the problem was resolved. Whiting kept he beard. Thereafter many more men began sporting the scruffy beginnings of beards, but none ever rivaled the fine beard Whiting wore.
Already 2nd Platoon was beginning to undergo many changes that were to change the face of the platoon forever. Blake had been put on permanent KP back at the company field kitchen. Gone from us were the constant stream of his bawdy jokes, songs, and assorted deviltry. Joe Jupko got an infection and left for treatment, but was soon back with us good as new. Digiallio and Underwood were both injured. Digiallio suffered the loss of fingers, and returned to the outfit only at the end of the war. Underwood, whose injury proved less grave, was returned in about a week. Little Frenchy was taken out by a stomach problem and never returned.
1st Platoon leader Lt. James Cavanaugh left the company under circumstances unfamiliar to me.
Some resentment was generated in 1st Squad when Cpl. Bowers was assigned to replace Digiallio as squad leader. Most of the squad felt that Swanson should get the nod, and that Glass be his replacement as assistant squad leader. The problems of resentment retreated as more pressing and immediate concerns took precedent. Bowers proved to be capable, tough, efficient, and courageous and, by his assertiveness, overcame the resentment of his having come from another squad. An unfortunate and foolish incident took place shortly before Frenchy left the squad, as we were marching toward Krinkelt for our second rest. Frenchy and I hatched a scheme to provide a little personal levity – we scrambled up the marching column at furious pace until we were far ahead of our usual place in the column, the object being to sit by the path until our place caught up with us. Of course, the expenditure of energy required to gain yardage essentially offset the minute or two of rest resulting. Whether Bowers understood our antics and just plain disapproved, I never learned. Suffice it to say that the picture of two men of his squad in relaxed splendor alongside the path of march raised his hackles considerably, and he proceeded to chew us out. I reacted angrily. The resulting confrontation was one which, obviously, a common soldier could not expect to win with an NCO. As the confrontation was about to enter a physical stage, Lt. Mann stepped in and made us stop the nonsense, effecting an honorable termination which was far better than the alternative. But seeds of ill had been sown, not to be entirely overcome until 35 years later by the catalyst of exchanged letters.
Until now the company had sustained few casualties due to enemy action, most of these from artillery and mortar. We were experiencing a rather high rate of trench foot, however. To help alleviate the situation a small drying hut was built where soldiers in small groups were allowed to build a fire for drying footwear and other wet equipment. So far our problems stemmed from the wet conditions more than from any other source.
The men feasted on deer meat one day by dent of an errant artillery shell. IT was a welcome change of diet for a very short period.
The little stream, cold and clear, which meandered through our position provided our water needs. Of course, we used the Halizone tablets provided us for disinfecting drinking water – two tables per canteen of water and a wait of half an hour rendered the water potable. Upstream someone found the body of a German, his skin blanched white by the cold flow.