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But for the grace of God

But for the grace of God

But for the grace of God

By HAROLD HELFRICH C/395


     On or about the end of November 1944, as I was sitting in the machine-gun nest with Harry G. Duncan we decided to clean our machine gun. We took it back about 15 yards to the section CP, a dugout about 10 feet square and covered with a tarpaulin.

     We took the machine gun down, field stripped it, and proceeded to clean the gun. All of a sudden the phone rang. Sgt. Morris answered the phone and hurriedly made an announcement. A German patrol was headed our way and we were to open fire immediately. That machine gun went together in less than a minute!

     Harry G. picked up the machine gun and out we ran to our nest. He slammed the gun on the tripod and I fed a belt to the gun, closed the latch, tapped him on the shoulder, and said "Open up Harry." The patrol was now about 75 yards from us and approaching very fast.

     Harry went to pull the bolt back but it was jammed. It wouldn't come back. I looked at Harry and said, "What the hell?"

     The patrol was approaching rapidly and we had very little time. That gun came down and we field stripped it and reassembled it in less than a minute.

     I fed a machine gun belt into it, closed the top latch, and tapped Harry on the shoulder again and said, "Open fire Harry."

     Harry pulled back the bolt twice to load a cartridge in the chamber and began to aim at the patrol. Just then I saw a white flag waving high when that patrol was about 50 yards away. It was very dark and misty and we could barely make out the outlines of the men approaching us.

     Also, we heard a voice ring out behind us - it was Sgt. Morris yelling - "Don't shoot! Don't shoot! It's our men!"

     Sure enough, as the patrol crossed the road in front of us, Lt. Ralph Shivone was in the lead and the rest of the 25-man patrol was behind him. In it was my good friend Paul Fretz of Akron OH, my hometown and his. Here no one had informed us that the 2nd Platoon was on a patrol that morning and would return our way.

     I can still hear the firing to our left as the other company spotted them and opened fire. Luckily no one was hit or wounded.

     As the men crossed the road I looked at Harry and said, "That was close." All Harry said was, "Yep."

     I don't think Lt. Shivone or that patrol ever realized how close they came to being wounded or killed - we couldn't have missed at 50 yards.

     I remember in 1950 Paul Fretz and his wife were at my apartment in Akron OH, and we laughed over our incidents in combat. This was one of them. I can't remember if Paul had the flag or someone else. It was makeshift with a handkerchief tied to the top of a stick.

     Harry was later severely wounded by an 88 fragment at Elsenborn and I never heard from him again.

     All I can say is "but for the grace of God," that the patrol wasn't wiped out.

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