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Leading my first patrol

Leading my first patrol


     In early November 1944, we relieved the 9th Division. As a scout car left the area I asked the driver, "Where is the front line?" He answered, "Hey man, you're standing on it." I guess you learn something every day.

     Several days later while I was in my machine gun nest a phone call at the section CP came in. It was for me. I answered and on the other line was our platoon leader, Lt. Murphy.

     He said, "Helfrich I want you to pick four volunteers and take a patrol out 500 yards in front of our lines." I said OK. He added, "Don't pick out any machine-gunners as they have to protect the line."

     I proceeded to pick out four volunteers. I used the democratic policy and said, "I want you, you, you, and you to go on patrol in the morning." I received no disagreement and all was well.

     In the morning we went to the staging area and then proceeded on patrol. We went to the right on an oblique 500 yards and then made a left turn. After 500 yards more we made another left. I had informed the men to stay within sight of each other, about 40 yards apart as we were in the Huertgen Forest.

     We could barely see each other. I had a scout, a left flanker, a right flanker, and the rear guard man or get-away man. We looked for footprints in the snow and for other Germans.

     As we made another turn to the left a flanker who was immediately to my left whispered, "Helfrich, stop." I went on one knee and stopped. Sure enough — about two feet in front of me was a booby-trap trip wire. If I had hit it we both wouldn't be here today.

     I thanked him and we both stepped over the wire. I don't know if it was one of ours or the Germans. I waited for the rear guard man to catch up. I motioned to him the trip wire. He stepped over it and we went on.

     Just then we heard small arms fire in front of us. There was no return fire such as machine guns or burp guns. We figured the company to our left was out having target practice.

     I saw on the ground some icicles which looked like something you hung on a Christmas tree for decoration. I put some in my pocket and we went home.

     I had a critique with the platoon leader. I mentioned the booby-trap wire and the small arms fire. I brought out the icicles and asked him what they were. He said "chaf." It was used by the first plane to confuse the enemy radar. Then other planes would go over their targets and bomb them. I nodded and left. I guess I learned something again.