Logo of the 38th Infantry Regiment

The Diary Of A Soldier
By
Alfred Whitehead II

  This is a war story with details of violence. It is not suitable for young children.

Note: Alfred Whitehead was in Headquarters Company of the 2nd Battalion of the 38th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division during World War Two. He wrote a book that is extremely difficult to obtain titled Diary Of A Soldier. Because it is so difficult to obtain I quote from it extensively. I start with Chapter two. This book has several chapters. I have divided it into some of the major battles that the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division fought in during World War 2.

A lot of veterans never liked to talk much about their war experiences. After you read about what Alfred Whitehead experienced- then I think you will know why.

This story shared with you by
Kraig J. Rice
www.breadonthewaters.com

TABLE OF CONTENTS
(Clicking on these internal links will move you down this page)

Basic Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas Winter Training at Camp McCoy.
Training in Ireland, England, and Wales (Chapter 3) The Battle of Omaha Beach (Chapter 4)
The Battle of Treviers (Chapter 5a). The Battle of Saint George d'Elle (Chapter 5b).
HILL 192 (Chapter 6a) The Battle of Saint Jean des Baisants (Chapter 6b).
The Battle of Vire (Chapter 6c). The Battle At Tinchebray (Chapter 6d).
The Battle of Brest (Part 1) (Chapter 7a). The Battle of Brest (Part 2) Chapter 7b)
Paris Train Guard Duty (Chapter 8) The 2nd Division On The Siegfried Line (Chapter 9).
The Battle of the Bulge (Part 1) (Chapter 10a) The Battle of the Bulge (Part 2) (Chapter 10b)

THE A,B,C's AND X,Y,Z's OF SOLDIERING
(Basic Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas)

(Chapter 2)

"We rolled through the gates onto the grounds of Fort Ogelthrope in the dead of night. There, I got my first dim look at an army post: an enormous row of canvas tents stretching out into the darkness. A sober faced sergeant met us, sized up the situation, and had a corporal march us to a building where we were given a cold shower and bedded down for the night in a tent sleeping six.

After the guys were all comfortably in bed, I couldn't sleep and decided to liven things up a bit. So I slipped out of the tent and stood facing the encampment, and in what I considered a loud an authoritative voice, yelled, "Company, Ten-shun! Company, Fall Out!" I joined in their bedraggled ranks as the First Sergeant appeared and cried, "What the hell's the matter with you guys? You gone crazy? I'll tell you when to fall out! Get back to bed, pronto!" No sooner had they settled down and gone back to bed than I pulled my little joke again. "Company, Ten-shun! Fall out here! Line up and cover down!"

They all fell out again, and this time the First Sergeant screamed, "What the hell's wrong with you crazy people? I didn't say anything about falling out! I'll blow the whistle when I want you to get up in the morning. Now get back in those tents and go to sleep!" I decided I'd had enough of my private joke and went to bed too.

The next morning I was feeling the after-affects of that green liquor when one of the soldiers, a PFC, double-timed us across a field about a mile to breakfast. Pancakes were my first meal in the military. Around 4:30 that afternoon I was sworn into the United States Army.

After that, we were inoculated and sent to pick up our GI clothing- and so I started my new life in a pair of old blanket pants that wouldn't even hold a crease. This time the joke was on me, as I got a pair that might have been worn a war or two earlier. Not to be outdone, I held them up and said to one of the other fellows, "Hey, look here! Here is a pair of bullet-proof pants!" He said, "Oh boy! those are the ones I want!" I didn't want to appear too hasty, but after a while, I told him I'd trade for his and a dollar and a half to boot. He eagerly accepted the deal, but in a day or two he became completely dissatisfied with those scratchy trousers, so I traded him back for several packs of cigarettes. He'd found out they weren't even moth proof. By this time I had a good idea of how to get along in the Army, so I took my blanket pants down to the supply sergeant and gave him a song and dance along with a pack of cigarettes to get another pair. He did -- a size 31-31, which was way too big for me. Still, sad sack or not, I was happy to get rid of that "bullet proof" pair.

We stayed at Ft. Ogelthrope for about three weeks, during which time I helped keep the barracks clean and police the surrounding area, which had to be kept as clean and neat as a pin. The only notable thing to occur was that one day while on K. P. duty, I was detailed to slice the bread, when I cut my finger badly in the process.

On quiet Georgia evenings, we would sit around and talk, sharing our experiences about our past. I told of how I hauled whiskey once a week from Old Hickory to Lebanon in my faithful old Model-A Ford truck, which I dubbed the "Green Hornet." The only hitch in the whole operation had been the policeman who was always stationed at the only signal light in Old Hickory. He was the only thing that worried me. I kept that truck in top mechanical condition, and I timed that light so that I would be there when it turned green. I just "knew" that cop could smell that green whiskey, and I held my breath until I coasted safely through that intersection. I had rigged those jacket cans between the bed of the truck and the back seat so that it just looked like an empty truck going through. For almost three years I drove that route, which took me past the Hermitage; the beautiful home of Andrew Jackson and his wife, Rachel.

From Ft. Ogelthrope, I was transferred to Camp Wolters, Texas. There I really came into my own -- I was assigned to a rifle platoon, and the one thing I could do, besides bootlegging, was shoot a rifle. I could easily put a squirrel's eye out at a hundred yards. Our platoon took every trophy presented on the rifle range. My pride knew no bounds when I received the Sharpshooters medal, and then made Expert. Added to that was a string of weapons I became expert with: the M-1 rifle, Springfield 0-3, Browning automatic rifle (B.A.R.), .30 caliber carbine, Thompson sub- machine gun, .45 automatic pistol, .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, the flame-thrower, .60 and .81mm mortars, .37 and .57mm antitank guns, 3.5 bazooka, trench knife (a bayonet with brass knuckles), and hand grenades (fragmentation, incendiary, and smoke) -- every arm of an infantryman.

I took sixteen weeks of basic training at Camp Wolters, and it was there I ran into a boy I knew from Elmwood, Tennessee. We talked about the night we spent under a big elm tree in a bluegrass pasture back home; how we matched pennies until we fell asleep, and woke up there the next morning, stiff and sore from sleeping on the hard ground all night. The last time I ever saw him was at Camp Wolters, where he finished his basic training before I did, and was shipped out.

One inspection I fell out for at Wolters I'll never forget. I ran out, fell into formation, and rared back like a banty rooster with my shoes shined so bright I could nearly see my reflection in them. While I was standing there, I happened to look down and noticed that in my haste, I had my leggings on backwards, I felt like a damn fool, but it was too late to change them, now that the company commander was coming down the ranks. Finally, he stopped in front of me, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw him in position for a port arms inspection. Like a good soldier, I dropped my shoulders down with the rifle for him to catch and inspect, like we were trained to do. Instead, the rifle went all the way to the ground. I thought, "Well, the captain's sure to catch the leggings now." But he just reached down, picked up and dusted off the rifle, handed it back, and went on down the line. I guess he figured if he could fail to do a proper port arms inspection, I was entitled to wear my leggings ass-backwards too.

The weather in Texas was different from anything I was used to. The wind never seemed to let up at all. I mean real wind, the kind that throws sand in your eyes and blows dirt in your mouth. There was always sand all over the barracks floor. At night, I had to sleep with my blanket over my head just to breathe and keep the sand from stinging my face. I could put my hat against the barracks wall, and the wind blew so hard and steady, it held my hat exactly where I put it. During the day, the weather was so hot outdoors that ten men fell out in one day and had to be hospitalized. Nights, the temperature dropped to the freezing mark. I thought, "What an awful place Texas is."

After basic training, we were shipped out by troop train to Camp Polk, Louisiana, where I was assigned to an antitank platoon with Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. I was now a member of the division which wears the famed Indianhead patch -- a division I was destined to stay with through most of the glory and grime, triumphs and heartaches of some 1,665 miles of enemy held territory in 11 months of almost continual combat in World War II -- an outfit which was constantly employed as a spearhead shock division. And in that role, it maintained its proud record of never failing to take its objective nor relinquish territory taken.

The 2nd Infantry Division was a Regular Army division, and had remained in garrison duty at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, during the 23 years of peace between World Wars. During this time, too, it had been used as an experimental division, conducting many tests which pioneered innovative changes in military technique and equipment; becoming the first triangular, three regiment division to take shape from the old army. In 1940-42, final tests were completed during the Louisiana maneuvers, in which I took part.

I learned that the story of this fighting division of spit and shine soldiers began long before I was born. The oldest unit is the 9th Infantry Regiment, activated in 1798. It participated in 5 major actions in the War of 1812 against England: the capture of York, Ft. George, Sackett's Harbor, Ft. Erie, and the Chippewa River Battle. In 1847, it fought in the war with Mexico at Cero Cordo, and 4 other campaigns. Between 1855-1892, the 9th had no less than 400 fights along the American frontier, including the Civil War: Mississippi Campaign; Kentucky; Tennessee at Murfreesboro, the battle for Lookout Mountain; and was present at the burning of Atlanta. The 9th's next tasks were in the Spanish-American War, 1899 Philippine revolt, and Boxer Rebellion in China, 1900-01. Sixteen years later, it met the Germans first in the 1st World War, with 4 campaigns and 2 French citations to its credit.

The Second's next oldest regiment, the 23rd, was formed during the War of 1812. It saw action at Sackett's Harbor, Lundy's Lane, Ft. Erie, plus 13 other skirmishes. Civil War soldiers in this unit became veterans via the Peninsula Campaign, 2nd battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, and Pertersburg. In 1901, it helped put down the Philippine Islands Insur- rection. And by 1917, the 23rd had hit the Hun on 6 big battlefields; being twice decorated with the French Croix de Guerre.

The 38th Infantry Regiment, of which I became a member, was part of the 3rd Division in World War I. It earned its sobriquet, "The Rock Of The Marne," eight miles south of Chateau Thierry when it shattered the German 10th and 36th Divisions on the morning of July 15, 1918. Commander of the AEF, General "Black Jack" Pershing, gave this report for U. S. military history:

"A single regiment of the 3rd Division wrote one of the most brilliant pages in our annals. It prevented the crossing at certain points on its wide front while on either flank the Germans who had gained a foothold pressed forward. "The 38th, firing in three directions, met German attacks with counterattacks at critical points and succeeded in throwing two elite German divisions into complete confusion, capturing more than 600."

Twenty-six years later, December 1944, in the frozen forests of the Ardennes, the 38th would face much greater odds during the Battle of the Bulge, at the twin towns of Rocherath-Krinkelt, Belgium, and would repeat its record for unyielding toughness. The commander of the 5th Panzer Army, General Hasso Von Manteuffel, grudgingly admitted that "We failed because our right flank near Monschau ran its head against a stone wall." That wall was the Rock Of The Marne.

Other proud and tough units formed the rest of the Division: the 12th, 15th, 37th, and 38th Field Artillery Battalions. Their mottos: "Not Foolhardy, Not Shy"; "Let's Go"; "On The Minute"; and "The Steel Behind The Rock," would be echoed on 24 battlefields across Europe with the thunder of their shells. Two saw action in the last war, and two more would join in this one.

Of equal importance was the 2nd Engineer Battalion, which had seen service in ten Civil War battles; from the Peninsula Campaign to the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. It was active in the Spanish— American War, too, and fought in six major battles in World War One, Europe.

The remaining organizations of the 2nd Medical Battalion (which many a wounded soldier would owe his life to), plus the special support units: 2nd Reconnaissance Troop, 2nd Signal Company, 2nd Quartermaster Company, the Military Police Platoon, the 702nd Ordnance Light Maintenance Company, and the Divisional Headquarters Company, filled out the ranks.

Together, our division would fight another world war, winning 12,048 individual decorations for bravery. Many posthumously. But for 44 years thereafter (and hopefully longer), Europe would remain free from war.

The Louisiana war maneuvers seemed, at the time, like a great game; much like my childhood games of hide-and-seek, where one would surprise the "enemy." Our outfit didn't have enough equipment to go around, so we improvised by using old broom sticks as rifles and empty mortar shells set up on sticks were our antitank guns!

There were the "Blues" and the "Reds." I was one of the Reds. After years of hard work on the farm, this, to me, was child's play. The Drill Sergeant would look at me, and using me as an example to the ones with less stamina, he would yell, "Look at that guy --how straight he stands and walks. He isn't even sweating!"

We pulled night "problems" and sham battles where we wired tin can "demolition charges" to the bridges we "blew up." One of the opposing armies had cavalry that came charging through our area, and anytime one of them did anything we didn't think was right, we dragged him off his horse and beat him up. The expressions of some of the people who lived on small, isolated farms around there, plainly said they thought we were a "Section 8" outfit.

We got awful hungry during these hot, sticky days in the Louisiana bayous. The Army made it pretty rough on us, making us scrounge around for some of our food, like we were going to have to do in actual combat. So whenever we could, we asked the farm people in the area to fix us up some fried chicken and mouth-watering biscuits. We always paid for the food in advance, in case we had to move out unexpectedly.

This part of Louisiana was rather desolate, full of old tree stumps and Spanish moss, continuously croaking frogs, and snakes that crawled into our tents at every opportunity during the night. Full night had come by the time we had settled down one evening, and in the swampy darkness I felt a big snake slide in beside me. I jumped up and nearly took the two-man tent with me, while the other guy in the tent thought I'd lost my mind! We killed the snake, and after we got a light on it, found it to be a nonpoisonous black snake, luckily. We had no way of knowing what the hell the damn thing was before then -- the place was literally crawling with cottonmouths, copperheads, and rattlers as big around as a small tree. We put our tent back up and went back to an uneasy sleep.

Other times we had to sleep out under the open sky with just a sleeping bag. When it rained, we'd crawl under a truck, and some s.o.b. would come along and drive the truck off. And there we would be - out in the open again. It's a wonder they didn't run over us.

The humid Louisiana weather had two extremes: hot and then hotter. Even after the rain came down in torrents, in a few hours the roads were nothing but a thick cloud of dust again. We took our baths in the brown streams and muddy creeks, and did our laundry in them too; hanging our clothes on stumps and tree limbs to dry, while swatting constant swarms of mosquitoes that were everywhere. Some sharp wit observed that the mosquitoes were in cahoots with the fireflies, when at night they came hunting us with lanterns.

One evening I went to a little village, a wide spot in the road, and while walking down the dusty street, I saw one of the girls the other guys called "Cajun Queens." I took off after her, trying to get acquainted like any friendly Aquarian GI would, but she had different ideas about the whole affair. I hailed her, and as she turned around, she gave me a look like I had escaped from a leper colony. She stopped long enough to pick up a handful of rocks and threw "Southern hospitality" all out of shape. She was like a baseball pitcher throwing a fast ball. Every time one of those rocks hit my helmet, it sounded like a gun blast. I decided then and there that those girls were too wild, even for me, and left her alone.

Late that summer we left Camp Polk, and went back to Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Here I lived in new barracks where I pulled my share of K.P., barracks police and guard duty. We went to classes and saw training films, learned to tear down and reassemble M-ls and more weapons, plus other infantry skills. Carrying 50 pound, full field packs on our backs with everything down to our tent ropes in them, we went on 25 mile hikes in the broiling Texas sun. Many of the guys fell out exhausted beside the road, but it didn't slow me down --summers-- in Tennessee were every bit as bad.

We also pitched full field inspections, close order drills, and took training on the rifle range. One day while sitting on the firing line, I was shooting at a mule deer in the distance instead of the target, and to my embarrassment, I looked up to see "Maggie's drawers" waving at me and heard the Buck Sergeant yell, "Hell, boy, you can't even hit the target!" I always used Kentucky windage, and when I settled down to shooting at the target, the sergeant said, "Man! You've really got it zeroed in now!" A fat little old corporal was sitting there chewing tobacco, putting it all down on his little score pad.

I took part in the experimental airborne operations, too. The 2nd Division undertook tests to develop a new technique for the air transport of an entire infantry division. During one of our training flights I decided to join the paratroops, and asked to be trans- ferred to an airborne unit. But this time my mother refused to sign the papers necessary for my transfer. I sure was disappointed about it, but a long time later, while crawling around the bloody battlefields of Europe, I saw that she had more foresight about some things than I gave her credit for.... We finished our airborne training at Del Rio, Texas, and at Ft. Sam Houston, during the fall of 1942.

During this period, we had our favorite off-duty haunts and girlfriends. Near camp, we had a spot called "Rattlesnake Hill," where we'd congregate to drink beer, shoot dice, and makeout with our dates. I was up all hours of the night a great deal of the time, and the company commander once threatened to court-martial me for not getting enough rest. I had numerous girls, but figured anyone could have a girlfriend. What I really wanted was to get married.

I finally met a beautiful Texas redhead who became my one big romance in the Lone Star State, and we soon became engaged. At her mother's insistence, however, she wanted her to finish school first. My schooling had ended in the 2nd grade at the Valley School, so I just couldn't see her side of it at all, period. That put a dampener on the affair, which would simmer until we shipped out."

Winter Training at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin

"It wasn't long until that day arrived. In November of 1942, the 2nd Division was moved by rail in its entirety to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, a thousand miles northward. I left Texas with mixed feelings; a sense of sadness about a lost love, and with a curiosity of what Wisconsin would hold.

We played cards as the train moved along, sang songs, and looked at the changing scenery of five states. During some of the stops our train made, we had to fall out of the coaches and take calisthenics, and were counted as each one went back aboard. For food we had Army C- rations to chew on. At night, there were sleeping bunks above our heads that we pulled down to sack out on. I would let the shade up at night and lay there looking out the window at the lights in sleepy towns, as the land changed from sagebrush, then flat barren wheat land, to empty rolling farm country, while listening to the hum of the rails and lonesome wail of the engine's whistle at the crossings. Nearing our last stop, out the train windows I could see a scarecrow in his lonely vigil over a farm field; his tattered clothes waving in the wind; almost like a welcome.

When we arrived at Camp McCoy, a tall, thin soldier with piercing blue eyes and wavy, red hair, swung off the train and rolled in the new fallen snow that covered the ground. Many of the men had never seen snow before, and this Florida native was one of them. He picked up handfuls of it and let it run though his fingers like sand. But after a few minutes of this, his teeth began chattering and he was shaking from the cold. He shook his head and said, "This is awful stuff -- it's not half as nice as it looks."

We were marched from the train station at Camp McCoy to the barracks we were assigned to, and as soon as we settled in, we started looking around for the nearest town. Some of the guys took off to a town named Tomah, and I found a place called Sparta--a small farming community that had brick and cobble-stone streets graced by antique street lamps. When we got some time off, the fellows explored other places in Wisconsin. I didn't have much money so I didn't stray too far. Sparta was only a few miles from camp, so I and many of the men settled for Sparta.

The people there were friendly, nonchalant, and had broad, Midwestern accents which sounded strange to my ears. Taverns were plentiful, but money and women were on a strict war-time ration basis, so we had plenty of fights over both. As quick as we arrived in town we hit all the booze joints, which was about all there was to do outside of taking the girls away from the local boys. Whenever we spotted a local boy in a cab with his girl-friend, we ran him off and commandeered the cab and the girl! If the girl objected to our advances, instead of taking her to her intended destination, we took her home and deposited her there.

At that time, I thought I had the world in a jug and the stopper in my hand. I didn't think there was anything I couldn't cope with. Some of the time I went along with the other guys and all the horseplay, but as a rule, I was a loner. I had grown up that way. Every chance I got as a child, I'd go off by myself to get away from my home environment and stepfather. I'd grab an old cane fishing pole and head for the creek or nearby Cumberland River. Along the way I'd pick a few ears of sweet corn out of a field and dig a couple of potatoes out of the garden. I usually carried a small skillet and some salt and pepper with me, and in my hideaway under a rocky river bluff, I'd build a fire, fry the fish I caught, and with the roasted corn and taters have a meal fit for a king. If I went home with the fish, I was sure to get a beating for going fishing, but they always ate the fish. So I grew up alone, secretive, and took my habits into the Army.

My first weekend in Sparta, I pounded the sidewalks looking for a room to rent; a place I could call my own on my time off. That first day I didn't have any luck, so that night I settled for the first convenient spot I could find--a parked car. Its owner found me there the next morning and asked what I was doing there. I answered, "Sleeping." He didn't appear to pleased about it, but he didn't say anything, except to thank me for the money I offered him, which he refused to accept. Later that day I got lucky and found a room to rent with a very hospitable family. Now on my weekends off I would make all the bars in town first, then go "home" to my room and sleep. Early the next morning, I would get up and do the same thing over again, but in another bar.

Even if my free-time routine was the same, I found Army life changed, now that we were in a different climate. In place of the brilliant, scorching Texas sunshine, which tanned our skin the color of light brown leather, we were now facing a four month program of intensive winter warfare training, in the deep snows of Wisconsin's rugged northern weather. Our division tested new equipment for fighting under conditions of extreme cold, on one of the largest artillery ranges in the world. When winter really set in, I was beginning to think we were next door to the Arctic. I had never seen so much snow. The pine and shrub oak forests were completely white. We soon became proficient with skis and snowshoes out of necessity as well as training.

At the end of February, our division went to Watersmeet, northern Michigan, for a period of intensive winter maneuvers. We learned there what cold weather really was--the thermometer stayed at a steady forty degrees below zero. Even so, tempers sometimes ran hot. Our long motor convoy jammed the small roads and set some of the local people to cussing. I was near enough to hear one incident. An MP sergeant was directing traffic at a little crossroad, when some civilians in a car shouted, "Hey soldier, you're holding us up!" The MP looked over at them, rolled his quid of tobacco from one cheek to another, and asked them very politely, "What place is this?" One civilian answered, "Watersmeet, Michigan." The MP looked out of grave, deep-socketted brown eyes, spat a well aimed stream of juice on the ground and said, "Never heard of it," then motioned our Army vehicles on through.

Here, we learned to build make-shift lean-tos of pine twigs, with their pine needles encassed in ice, glittering like shiny jade. Changing our clothes in these cold primitive places when we had to was an experience.

One frozen day, I told the fellows I was going to town to get us something to drink to keep us warm. So, I set off on snowshoes and shuffled back to our campsite with it. That kept us in warm spirits for awhile, even though some of the boys suffered frostbite before we left for Camp McCoy again. My big toe still hasn't completely thawed.

Back at McCoy, we were started on another extensive program of training and battle indoctrination which kept us busy until early spring. Both as individuals and units, we were put through specific types of combat instruction designed to prepare us for the kinds of fighting we might be expected to run into over-seas, until we believed we were the toughest outfit in the whole U.S. Army. Training and divisional integrity that was put to the test the next winter in the European Ardennes against Hilter's last great attack against the Allies.

One spring Monday morning on the 300 yard rapid fire target range, I put ten bulls-eyes in a target with a .30 caliber carbine. My coach was a Tennessee boy like myself, a big plow boy looking type, named Sgt. Ruth. I had been out drunk all night and wasn't feeling any pain when I got there, so he was going to show me how to get into position and... "Never mind all that," I said. "Just count the rounds I put in that target." I commenced firing as he watched and then ran to a range phone, cranked it up and roared, "Are you sure that was ten out of ten?" The answer came back, "I don't know who is shooting on that target. I just disk them as I see them." I can still see the look of amazement on Sgt. Ruth's face as it turned beet red. I just lay there, laughing.

On weekends, I would head back to my haunts in Sparta. My biggest gripe during this time was the Army's choice of hatwear. My outfit wasn't allowed to wear its garrison hat, but instead our overseas cap; something we called an unprintable name. So I carried my overseas cap in a paper sack, putting it on whenever I spotted the MPs to avoid being caught out of uniform, and wore my garrison hat on the sly.

I wasn't the only one bending the rules. There was a curfew in Sparta for the younger people, and one night I was amused to see several teenagers running down the sidewalk of Main Street, with a local policeman in hot pursuit. They rounded the corner of a build- ing and jumped into a car to hide, with the cop coming around the corner almost at their heels. He stopped short just as he turned it, looked down the empty street, scratched his head, turned around, shaking his head as if he had imagined it all, and went back on his beat, swinging his night stick.

Summer had long since melted the mountains of winter snow, and I was walking down a Sparta street lined with huge elm trees forming a canopy overhead, feeling kind of aimless. By now, a lot of GIs had been invited into the homes and hearts of the local people, but I don't think any of them got an invitation the way I did! I'd spent a Saturday night in Sparta, as usual, and this early Sunday morning in June, I was up and out looking for the first place open where I could meet other people.

I turned down onto Main Street and saw a place which had the front door open. As I sauntered in, my eyes swept the room. An elderly man and two young men, one of whom was in uniform, were beside a pool table, and to the rear of the place, I saw three girls standing near a back door. I didn't waste any time getting back there to ask them if they would like a cold drink, but got a frosty, "No thank you."

I went back to the bar and stood there looking at them and thinking that over. I hadn't met anyone like them around there, and I was curious about who they were. On impulse, I walked over to the GI at the pool table and asked him, "Pardon me, but could you tell me who those three stuck up girls back there are?" He smiled and came back at me with, "Sure, they are three of my stuck up sisters. Momentarily taken by surprise, all I could think to say was, "Oh, I beg your pardon," and with that I walked back to my place at the bar.

Not to be put off or take no for an answer, I decided I'd find out who those girls were, so I bought three bottles of Coke anyway, and took it to the girls. I introduced myself and asked them what their names were, and like polite parrots they shook their heads in unison, saying they didn't want the drinks, and that was the end of the "conversation." I thought, "Well, the hell with them," and head- ing back to the bar, noticed that several other people had come in. When I got back to my own drink, I discovered that my billfold was missing from where I'd left it. I demanded of the bartender, "Who took my billfold?" He shrugged his shoulders and said he didn't know, and that really made me mad. I went over and locked the front door and informed them that no one was leaving the place until I got my billfold back.

The girls, again in unison, quickly and quietly left by the back door, as the bartender hurried over and opened the front door, saying no one was going to close his place of business. Sizing up the situation, I called the MPs, and when I did, several of the late comers said they'd like to try me on for size. I said, "All right, just come one at a time-- there's enough pieces for each of you." As the seventh civilian fell or quit in bloody submission, the bartender, thinking I was all-in, got brave and grabbed a cue stick and came at me. Before he got his first blow in, I took it away from him and was about to wrap it around his scrawny neck when the MPs arrived and asked me what the matter was. I told them some bum stole my billfold, and while they were questioning some of the other people in the place, an old man started in through the door. I quickly approached him and asked him if he had a family. He answered in the affirmative, and grabbing him by his shirt collar, I spun him around, kicked him in the pants, and told him to get home where he belonged. He took off down the sidewalk, saying, "Yes, sir! Yes, sir!"

I never did get my billfold back, and as I left the building, the elderly man and two younger men who were there to begin with, who had nothing to do with the fight, also started to leave. The tall one in uniform looked at me and said, "You play kind of rough, don't you?" I didn't answer. I pulled out the change in my pocket and stood there looking at all the money I had left to my name, when they asked me if I cared to spend the day in the country at their home. If so, I was welcome to come along and have dinner, and they would bring me back to town in time to catch the evening bus back to camp. I thought, "Why not?"

I got in the back seat with the now wide eyed girls who looked like they couldn't believe what had happened in the last few minutes. Clearly, they were embarrassed by it all. So, here I was, sitting next to the "three stuck up girls" I'd been trying my best to strike up a conversation with, and thought what a strange turn of events it had turned out to be.

Their first stop was at the hospital to see their mother, who had been ill for some time. While the family went to visit her, I waited for them in the car and asked myself what I was doing there. When they got back, we headed for the country where we spent the day at one sister's home on the outskirts of a small village known as Leon. I met her husband who seemed kind of surprised to find them bring a stranger in with them-- and a soldier at that!

The rest of the afternoon was pleasant and I thoroughly enjoyed the good dinner they fixed; it had been a long while since I'd had a home cooked meal. Later, I missed the eldest sister and went looking for her. I found her sitting alone, reading. The afternoon shadows were already long, and not one to beat-around the bush, I asked her if she had time to jot down her name and address on a piece of paper I handed to her. She was as eager to do that as she was to take the pop back at the pool hall, but finally agreed. While she was writing on that little piece of paper, I decided then and there to marry her. She looked up at me as she handed me the note, and I asked her, "Will you marry me?"

Thunderstuck, she looked like I'd said a four letter word instead of asking her a four word question. "I WILL NOT!" she stammered, "YOU'RE CRAZY!" And as quickly I said, "Right, crazy about you!" She got up and left faster than at the pool hall when the fight started, with me following, hat in hand, telling her to stop and let me explain.... "But I know you. You're the girl I saw in the well back home, and you're going to be my wife." "You are a lunatic," she said, "and crazier than a hoot-owl." I explained to her about an old Southern highland superstition that, on a certain day of a certain year, you take a mirror and look over your shoulder into a well, which will hold the reflection of the boy or girl you'll marry. "You're the girl I saw in the well, wearing glasses, sitting there reading something."

I was never one for giving a girl a line I thought she'd heard before, but I guess that one was almost too much, even though it was the truth. Or at least, the truth as I saw it. Before I went back to camp, I told her I'd be back and that she might as well make up her mind to marry me because that was the way it was meant to be.

Back at the post, I was given two weeks extra duty and confined to camp for "losing" my wallet. This was in the early part of `43, and it was about this time that elements of our regiments were sent to Detroit, Michigan, to restore order after race riots in that troubled city threatened to become explosive.

I remained at camp and in the course of small town life, ran into Mr. Sherpe and his son Johnny again, and went with them to their home in Pleasant Valley. It was a large, white, two-story house looking out from a carefully tended lawn with flower and rock gardens. To the back was an orchard on the hillside, and down the walkway, two dogs came wagging their tails in welcome.

By this time, Mrs. Sherpe had returned home from the hospital and I learned from her that Selma suspected that I might already be married. So, I wrote my mother asking her to write to the Sherpes and explain to them that I was indeed single, or as I put it; "free, white, and twenty—one."

It wasn't long until I went out to their farm armed with that letter from my mother. Word soon spread through the neighborhood about the presence of the "man from the Second Division," and suddenly, everyone was agog with the news. Some of them came to get a look at this stranger in their midst. One of their neighbors wanted to know if I was from the Philippine Islands, since my skin was so dark from the Texas sun. I don't think that a visitor from another planet could have stirred up more interest than I did.

Many happy evenings and weekends followed, and I found I was growing very fond of the Sherpe family, who gave me a sense of belonging I never had at home. We'd all get together, along with their friends, the Thompsons, and visit nearby places of interest, go to movies, and summer carnivals where we joined the milling crowds of local people and throngs of bustling GIs looking for all the action they could crowd into their short free time.

Other things were in short supply too, such as gasoline and car tires, so everyone had to conserve. People started taking second looks at the flowerbeds that were encircled by an old tire, thinking maybe there was still some use in them for the family car, after all.

One evening, the family piled into the car and headed for Sparta, rickety tires or not. About six miles down the road, for, safety's sake, I decided to stop and check the tires. I got out just long enough to get my hands on my hips, when one of the tires let out a long, tired sigh and fell as flat as a pancake, to the complete amusement of everyone in the car. Standing there, I was the only one without a smile, as I was the one who had to roll up his sleeves and put on the spare, for the now anxious faces of the passengers. I'd been changing so many tires lately, I felt like a one-man pit crew, and had it off and another on in no more than a few minutes. Then we were off again in a cloud of swirling dust.

Later that evening when we left the theatre I checked the tires again, and found them holding up pretty good. The only problem now was that we were completely hemmed in by other theatre goers jamming the streets. The Army had a saying for such occasions: "The right way, the wrong way, and the Army way." In this situation, I chose the "Army way". I got behind the wheel of the car with everybody aboard, and headed straight down the sidewalk--right past the ticket booth under the theatre marquee, past a group of startled movie goers whose boxes of popcorn spilled in all directions, including an apple which went rolling down the sidewalk past a short, fat policeman who stood there with a look of disbelief on his face: until he saw the Indianhead patch on my shoulder. Mr. Sherpe's laugh was louder than during the Laurel and Hardy movie we'd just seen. "Pa" thought this extremely funny, and for a long time afterward he couldn't keep a straight face. He just went off into gales of laughter whenever he looked at me.

Despite an underlying current of sadness felt by everyone at the time, we had a summer filled with fun and laughter. The spirit of fellowship prevailing of the men of the 2nd Division caught up with this population, too. The Sherpes found my rendition of old country songs like "Chickens A-Crowin' on Sourwood Mountain," and "Has Anybody Seen My Moo-Cow," equally hilarious, while I thought their liking for western and popular music not very compatible with mine. We had one song in common-- "San Antonio Rose." Our 2nd Division theme song was popular wherever the men of the Division turned up.

Around this time, I learned that the Sherpes had noticed me long before I met them. They had wondered about the paper sack I always carried under my arm; it was something that set me apart from other GIs. Everytime they saw me they'd say to each other, "Well, there goes `GI Joe' again. I wonder what he's got in that sack."

My Southern accent also provided some amusing moments. One Sunday, while assisting Mrs. Sherpe with Sunday dinner, I asked where she kept the "flare" (flour), and had the house in a small uproar trying to figure out and find whatever "flare" was. I kept saying, "You know, flare, cookin' flare.., the white stuff." When she finally figured out what it was I was looking for, she was unable to stop laughing long enough to tell me where the staples were kept in the pantry. Selma came to my rescue, only to end up joining her mother in laughter. Wearing one of her mother's aprons, I ended up looking like a dusty miller, with flour in my eyebrows, on my face, and all over my overseas cap.

Dinners were a merry meal, and visits were as pleasant as the valley's name. I felt at home with this sprawling family of sisters, brothers, close cousins and friends. I . thoroughly enjoyed being with them. During one dinner the topic of Southern food was brought up. I told them we ate wild onions, poke salad, wild mustard greens, and drank sassafras tea; things they had never heard of.

When I mentioned corn bread, Selma said their grandfather, Torger Bekkum, a Union soldier in the Civil War, had told of how he had felt great pity for Southeners "who ate bread made out of corn we feed our chickens." She also went on to tell the story of how, during one incident on the Union march into Tennessee, the other soldiers in his group confiscated a farmer's pig and chickens to butcher, but Torger, being religious, refused to be a party to what he considered stealing, and stood off to the side, alone. He had been standing there for awhile, when the Southern farmer came out of his house with a plate of food and a piece of corn bread for him -- the first he had ever seen.

They were intensely interested in knowing all about our way of life in the South and the difference between northern and southern farms, which I explained while being shown around the place. The country music people of my area were also a topic of conversation. They enjoyed hearing about my folks at home at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains where you had to "swing in on a grapevine and funnel in the sunshine!" Incredulous stares followed the statement that before I had joined the Army, I had worked as a bootlegger sell- ing "white lightning" under the very eyes of the law on the streets back home. I told them how I would bury bottles of moonshine whiskey along the sidewalks of the town at night, and those who knew me would approach me for a bottle. I'd collect the money for it, tell them it was at their feet, and they'd reach down and get it while I went on my way. It was as simple as that. The look on their faces told me plainer than words that they didn't believe a word of it. Selma looked at me and said, "And I guess you'll be telling us next that you're one of the first Americans?"

I said, "Yes, ma'am! Cherokee. My grand-mother on my mother's side of the `tribe' was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian.... Anyway, there's an Indian princess buried up in the family cemetery at Silver Point."

The humor of this was not lost on Mrs. Sherpe, who sat there listening to us, smiling. Selma kept looking at me in a strange way, and I wondered why. Years later I learned she'd been thinking, "Maybe there's more to that shoulder patch and handsome, tanned face than meets the eye."

Soft summer days went by, and sometimes we'd walk the ridge road. I'd hold her arm or hand and we would talk or just quietly walk, while the hills cast off the sun and laid shadows over the valley.

She was studying me, sizing me up very deliberately. She puzzled me, but one thing I knew-- I liked her. I liked her looks, her voice and accent, and most of all I liked her quiet dignity. The difference in our moods made her seem completely unattainable. As the days passed I began to feel that we were all alone in the world.

But, it was a bit like a cat and mouse game, too. I'd grab her and give her a hug and kiss whenever I got the chance. If I got too passionate, she would struggle to free herself, and all the while I'd be asking, "When will you marry me?" She would shake her head and walk away. Come to think of it, I don't remember that she ever did say she'd marry me!

Soon after this I was sitting out on the rifle range one morning, wondering what made me keep going back out to Pleasant Valley instead of a local beer hall. I'd tell myself, "I'm not going out there, anymore." But everytime I got off duty, that was the first place I went. It suddenly dawned on me that if this was love, I'd better be getting married, because I would be shipping out soon. This time overseas. Many of the boys were getting married and had someone to come home to and live for. I had just about decided that I was really in love when the sergeant caught me daydreaming and asked me what was the matter. I told him I had to have a pass, and when he asked what for, I told him I was getting married. He said, "In that case you had better see the old man." I did, and he asked me if I was sure that was what I was going to do with the three day pass, and after I replied in the affirmative, he said: "Bring me back a copy of the marriage certificate." I knew he meant it.

That we were to be married was hardly discussed at all. It seemed to be a foregone conclusion. I stopped at the jewelers, bought a bright ring, and started hitch-hiking the twelve miles to Pleasant Valley, knowing that Mr. Sherpe and his youngest son, Johnny, would be coming along soon on their way home from work at Camp McCoy. When we got to their home, I showed Selma the ring. She didn't say a word-- simply looked at me and back to the wedding band in my hand and then on her finger. It fit perfectly. The rest of the family was in the kitchen, and as we walked in I showed the ring to my future brother-in-law, and he smiled, saying, "So that's the way the wind is blowing." With excited talk and laughter, everyone showed their approval.

I spent the night in a spare bedroom downstairs. The next morning I met her at the bottom of the stairs and told her, "You look really beautiful. Ready to go?" "Yes, I am," she said. "So am I." And with that, on August 9th, together with her mother and father who acted as witnesses, we drove to Caledonia, Minnesota, where there was no waiting period, and we were married by a Justice of the Peace. On this solemn occasion, nothing went the way it should. The clerk was late and arrived on crutches and he was too proud to be helped. There was trouble with the door, he dropped his crutch, and as he stooped to pick it up, his round, straw sailor hat fell off his head and rolled down the hail. On this comic note, we entered his office.

After the ceremony we left and ate our wedding dinner in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and spent our brief honeymoon on the farm. On returning to the post, the guys in my outfit carried me high that day -- congratulations and cheers came from all my brothers in uniform.

As the summer of 1943 drew to a close, we began preparations at camp for overseas movement: drawing new clothing and essential equipment, packing, marking materials, and in general making plans for leaving Camp McCoy, destination unknown. Those last mid-September days created a lot of excitement. Some of the boys tried to hurry things along by setting fire to their barracks, and a rumor went around that they had tried to cut the ears off their own MPs for trying to interfere!

I had mixed feelings about it all. Sad to leave my wife and new- found family, yet anxious and excited to be leaving with my outfit on what I thought would be a great adventure. I'd heard my grandfather tell stories about the "big pond" they had crossed in World War I, and I was looking forward to seeing some of the things he had told me about. There was no doubt in my mind that I'd be back "after we whipped the pants off the Germans and hung that paper hanger named Hitler." My wife didn't think it would be all that easy, and said as much. Her very words were, "It will be very hard for you, and many years will pass before you return.

The evening I slipped out of camp and went home to their farm with "black-out" buttons on my tunic in place of the shiny brass buttons, she knew that I'd received my orders to ship out. Selma asked, "When?" And I said, "Soon." The next morning I left. I asked her not to cry, but tears slipped silently down her cheeks, anyway, and I looked at "Ma" and saw tears on her face, too. It would be a long time before I'd see either of them again. But life seemed full of exciting possibilities. In spite of the moments of sad goodbyes, every road was another door to open. Little did I know the next road would be rougher than any I had ever gone down.

I took one last, long look at the place in the still darkness before dawn, then drove away. Mr. Sherpe, or "Pa" as I called him, took me back to camp and let me out in front of the barracks. With tear filled eyes he took my hand and said, "So long, Alfred. Fare-well." A few minutes later I boarded the troop train that was to carry us through the quiet, winding valleys of Wisconsin to the east coast; many of us for the last time."
(Whitehead- end of pages 8 - 36)

ACROSS THE BIG POND
(Training in Ireland, England, and Wales)

(Chapter 3)

"Our next stop was Camp Shanks, New York. I just had time to write a hasty letter to my wife and one to my mother, and to finish drawing overseas equipment before we left. On October 7th, 1943, we boarded our ship for overseas duty. Alongside the gangplank of the ship were MPs with machine guns and rifles; some with bayonets on them, to see that we boarded the ship-- and up the gangplank I went!

I left New York Harbor on the "Florence Nightingale" around one o'clock in the afternoon, with a cold wind spitting the smell of salt spray and a spirit of adventure in the air. A few miles out to sea, however, I now knew what Grandpa meant about the "Big Pond"--its size was more than I'd bargained for. Most of the time I was too sick to eat, and stayed on deck as much as possible. My only consolation was that I was with the largest convoy that ever crossed the North Atlantic up to that time.

The trip over was rough, like an omen of what we were going to run into in the war. About midway across, we ran into a terrible, raging storm, which broke a lot of dishes on the ship, and rattled our nerves as well. Our ship listed so badly that the sailors said that if she had listed at an angle of one more degree, we would have rolled over and capsized!

At times, fog horns blew all night as the ships zigzagged across the sea. Every morning around four, we were awakened when the destroyers set off depth charges to discourage any enemy subs that might be following the convoy. Because of the danger of U-boat attack, we were told that if we fell overboard, we would not be picked up. One of the Army chaplains did either fall or jump overboard, and was never found. They didn't even slow down for him.

Ten days and nights later, we landed at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 17th, at about midnight. Up till then, we had no idea where we were going. Rumors had us landing anywhere from North Africa to the North Pole! From the docks we were shipped by rail to a little town called Newry, in County Down. Some of the Division ended up in points in County Armagh, the reputed burial place of Good Saint Patrick.

When we got off the little old train, there wasn't a soul in sight, but I could "feel" eyes watching us behind the darkened windows as we marched on foot to huts, manor houses, deserted factories, and even storybook-like castles, which we were to live in while we took six more months of training. This time in ranger tactics and fighting. I know that many of us, myself included, could have traced our ancestry back to this fair island, and we had no trouble making friends with the people of Ireland. We quickly fell in with the customs of their country, and found that the Irish tongue was a more pure, clear English than we had been led to believe by the stiff brogue of the Irish comedians in vaudeville back home. Most of the men of the 2nd Division, at this time, were from the South, so our native tongue presented more of a surprise to the Irish than theirs to ours, especially those like myself, who still spoke, in part, the Elizabethan English of our mountain forebears. Also like back in the hills, we discovered that the primary way of getting around was by walking, supplemented here by a bicycle; so many of the boys bought one.

Getting to know the Irish was an easy and agreeable task, but to my surprise and annoyance, the Irish referred to all Americans as "Yanks." As a Southerner, I kept trying to set the record straight, saying, "I'm no Yankee, I'm a rebel!" which only met with curious stares or shrugs. To them, all descendants of the colonists since the days of the Revolutionary War were Yankee rebels. The American Civil War didn't figure into their idea of history at all, and it became a sore spot with all Southern "Yankees."

There were many Irish families who eagerly invited the American boys to their homes, and I think many a lasting romance was begun, in spite of what many other worried Irish parents told their daughters-- that we were all gangsters out of the penitentiaries! Irish country dances likewise furnished an opportunity to meet many pretty Irish gals. Some of the boys taught them how to "jitterbug," and took part with great gusto in the Irish folk dances. To the amazement of all of us, a lot of the Irish men who turned up at these affairs wore a white tie and tails, for a touch of the traditional Old World.

Then, there were the cheerful Irish pubs which offered generous pints of dark beer, ale, plus fish and chips; food that was completely new to me, as was brown bread. Some of the men didn't care for cabbage, sprouts, or turnips. Although not a "chow-hound," I wasn't hard to please, and gladly ate whatever I was served--I'd seen too many lean days as a kid to complain. When the diet got too monotonous, we took powdered milk and eggs and made our own ice cream. Billeting arrangements were crude by American standards, but would be looked on later during the war as luxurious. Our beds were made of planks with straw stuffed ticks as mattresses, and had scratchy, war- time British blankets for covers. Our sanitary arrangements were buckets, which were taken care of by civilians on contract. Even to me, these "honey buckets" as they were dubbed, never seemed anything but a primitive way of life.

About this time, I wanted to earn some extra money, so on the side, I cut some of the men's hair, tailored uniforms, and found civilians to do our laundry. I simply went around knocking on doors until I located enough people to take care of us. A family by the name of Colvin did my laundry. I furnished the soap-- a hard to get war-time commodity.

The Colvins were a lovely family. Their son, Issac, was always talking about the Army and the war, and could handy wait to join the Home Guard. Mr. Colvin was the station master at Newry, and Mrs. Colvin was a kind, pleasant faced woman who, at my request, wrote to my wife, and assured her that I had met good friends in this far off land across the sea. (I wasn't much good at writing, but I looked forward to mail from my wife.) It was at their house that I got a chance to listen to a record player, and they had one country music record, which I played over and over till I wore it out, trying to ease my case of homesick GI blues.

In Northern Ireland, I also worked in the officers' dining room, which was near the Nissen hutment where I lived. Every morning and night on my way to and from work, I had to jump over a rock fence--my private obstacle course, so to speak. Coming in from work one night, I jumped over as usual, but instead of soft sod, I hit a big pile of stones some GI had stacked up, apparently to get his girlfriend over the fence. I didn't get a Purple Heart, but to this day, my ankle still has a big knot on it.

After a time, passes were given to visit the cities, nearby villages, and the Irish country-side. I got one overnight pass while in Ireland, and took a train to Belfast; the great, grey, Irish seaport where I'd first set foot in old Erin. I noticed the trains were different from American trains, in that some of the compartments were entered from the outside, and there were first class cars with private compartments and closed corridors. Another novelty in Belfast were the shops which had bells hung on the inside of the front door to announce one's arrival, which had me "hearing bells" on seeing some of the charming lady shopkeepers. I was quite a swinger back then, and chased every pretty skirt I saw in Belfast. But I found those Irish city girls were hard to catch, even for a Tennessee mountain man- I spent the night where the American Red Cross arranged rooms for servicemen.

Ireland wasn't all fun and games, as we began training more and more for the fighting in France. I attended a drivers' school where we were instructed in the left-hand drive, and learned to us such terms as petrol and lorry, windscreen and bonnet. There was a limit of training space for our troops, so we took a lot of training indoors in castles and deserted factories. We were taught to identify all types of aircraft as their silhouettes were flashed quickly on a screen before us, how to disarm an enemy soldier in hand-to-hand combat, how to lay booby traps, how to put on makeup for night fighting and night patrols, and to read a compass and complicated military maps.

The only hostile action encountered so far, however, was our run- in with the boys of the 5th Infantry Division. Everytime they caught one of our 2nd Division soldiers alone in town, eight to ten of them would gang up on him and beat him black and blue. It wasn't long until we marched a forty-eight man platoon to town and "cleared it." We went into each pub or public place where anyone with a 5th Division patch happened to be, and read the riot act to them, saying, "You want to leave peaceably, or in a mattress cover? We've had enough of your bull..., and if we catch any more of you in this town, we'll kill you." We meant it. Thereafter, we had no more trouble from them: they stayed clear of us and that town. The 5th Division would have to wait to release its anger on the Germans, who, appropriately, referred to the red diamond-patched soldiers as "Red Devils."

One of the greatest surprises was the Irish weather, with its wet, overcast skies of long, slow rains and heavy, swirling fogs. Blankets of mists hovered constantly over the country- side, keeping it a dazzling emerald .green. With spring came days of rare and shimmering sunshine, and the glitter of the USO shows that arrived to break the dull routine of garrison life. While one USO show was in town, I walked up to a man at a piano one day and introduced myself. He was the only one there, and I was glad to see someone from the States--and that was how I met the incomparable Jimmy Durante!

On April 1st, 1944, Lieutenant General George S. Patton came to address an assembly of our division in the Mall of Armagh. The General's colorful command of four letter words soon caused a flurry of windows to began slamming shut by the Irish civilians who were also listening to the address. But the smile he brought to our faces was just as quickly wiped off, as he told us something about the things we would have to face. Old "Blood and Guts" spelled it out clearly, and a quickening tempo was felt by everyone.

In mid-April, we left Ireland. I bade a last goodbye to the Colvins and County Down, as we moved by rail once more to Belfast, where we embarked on a short sea voyage to an area in South Wales. There we were scattered to various billets in small seaside and inland towns. Our division HQ was set up in Tenby, a popular Welsh coastal resort with rows of well kept Victorian era hotels along its windy beaches. The divisional artillery was in grim looking St. Donat's Castle. Our outfit went to one of the small, rustic villages inland, and I was once more living in a hut. This time near a cheese factory.

Early in the morning for exercise, we had to double-time down an old cobblestone road to that offensive smelling cheese plant and back to our hut; which quickened our pace some- what. There was also a wide river nearby, and one day I approached my sergeant and asked him for a couple of hand grenades. I said I'd go get us a mess of fish, and he was all for it, Well, I went down to the river, took off my fatigues and boots in preparation to swim out and gather the floating fish, then tossed the grenades in and practically blew the bottom out of it, and never got so much as a minnow. That was a hell of a note, after days of talking about the fish fry we were going to have.

Life in Wales was much the same as in Northern Ireland, except that the weather was warm and pleasant, with slow, drifting clouds and balmy air. Some passes were issued for London and all points in Great Britain, but most passes were local affairs. We wandered into nearby towns in groups or alone and met some pretty girls whom we bought fish and chips, coffee and beer for. The girls drank the coffee - we drank the beer.

It was there that I met a red-headed Welsh beauty. She was married to an English soldier serving in New Guinea, against the Japanese. We'd go on quiet country outings and picnics, and we would make love, too. I never knew what tomorrow would hold, so I took every day as it came. War does strange things to people; especially their morality. Most women promised their husbands they wouldn't lay with any other man while they were away. Technically, they didn't. A lot would only have sex with you standing up!

In Wales, I took commando training. Our instructors had been trained by the British, and wore a black and white skull and cross bones patch on their left sleeve, which we were awarded also on graduation. We learned all the fine technical points of close-in, dirty, hand-to-hand killing. Combat tactics I was to use in night patrols in enemy territory, including how to cut a man's head off with a steel string. It was a simple weapon made of two pieces of wood, one tied to each end of the wire. The fighting was simulated as close to the real thing as possible--one of our men was accidentally stabbed to death when he got a bayonet stuck through his heart. As rough as we were, and as dangerous as the training was, I could see that we would need it all in the days ahead.

Wales was also our final garrison and marshaling area for crossing the English Channel into mainland Europe. All our vehicles and equipment were waterproofed for the invasion that was soon to come: the 2nd Infantry Division was scheduled to land on June 7th, D-Day plus 1, following the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions which were to spearhead the invasion.

Although our division was not destined to take part in the initial landings as a whole, we were represented in the first waves of American troops ashore by men chosen from the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, and from the infantry. This special engineer and infantry assault force was to clear paths through the massive concrete and reinforced steel obstacles and mine fields, which in places stretched for hundreds of yards into the English Channel. The breakthrough of those deadly outer defenses would allow the main body of invading infantry to follow up the advance. Men of the 2nd Division were teamed-up with the 1st Infantry Division.

I don't know how the other volunteers outside my outfit were picked, but one day, late in the afternoon, an officer came by and asked for volunteers to settle a "coal mine strike back in the States." Twelve of us raised our hands, and we wound up joining the 116th Regimental Combat Team of the Big Red One. Our objective would not be the shores of home, but a four-mile stretch of the most heavily fortified position on the European coast- Omaha Beach. Of those twelve men, nine were killed on June 6th, and now lie buried atop Omaha's steep slopes in one of the military cemeteries that dot the beach area."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 37 - 46)

BLOODY OMAHA
(The Battle of Omaha Beach)

(Chapter 4)

"I left out of Liverpool early one morning about dawn on a ship that had men drawn from many different divisions. I sure was glad to be heading back to the States. We went out for several days, joining up with more ships as we did, and I thought we must be forming into a huge convoy. I still didn't know the true nature of where we were going. On June 5th, however, we were steaming down the Bristol Channel, around Land's End, and out into the English Channel. By now the sea looked like a city of ships. There were all classes and sizes, from battleships down to converted civilian boats. You could almost walk across the water on them. I knew something must be up, and suspected the worst, but still couldn't get a straight answer from anyone who knew.

At 2:30 a.m., on June 6th, I found out. They piped a message through the ship to wake us, and we were assembled in a large room for a briefing. An infantry captain addressed us. "Men, this is it, the invasion of Europe. Our objective is to establish a beachhead, after that other units will take over. Nobody even coughed as we listened. The captain continued with a few brief details, saying that we could rejoin our own outfits when they moved inland, and he ended with, "Everyone you meet will be the enemy. Kill everything in sight: don't leave anything left living. Good luck to each and every one of you." All I could think of was, "Yeah, I'll see you in hell if that's the size of it." It wasn't until years later that I realized the hoax about going stateside had been to mislead enemy informers about the invasion.

There wasn't much time to sit around thinking or complaining, as we drew our invasion equipment. Our small combat packs contained a raincoat, gas mask, K-rations, and a few other odds and ends. You could take as many hand grenades as you could carry; the standing joke was "take all you want, but use all you take." I took five or six. I was armed with a trench knife, a .45 automatic pistol, and a Thompson sub-machine gun. Ammunition was at last issued to fill them, plus two more boxes, and I was told to make every round count. We were also instructed to rip off all patches and military insignia of rank. Non-coms could be recognized only be a horizontal strip of white across the back of their helmet, while the officers' mark was vertical. Other then that, we all looked the same-- just one long wave of drab olive green fatigues. There were veteran soldiers aboard ship who were dreading the ordeal. They had seen action in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. Normandy would prove to be their toughest invasion. These troops were already; fully battle tested and experts in the art of killing. Today we were going to need every bit of their experience to survive, including the courage of every man put ashore, green or seasoned. Our 1,850 yard landing sector, "Easy Red," turned out to be the hottest part of that four mile strip of beach and the whole of the Normandy invasion. A spit of French soil to become forever known as "Bloody Omaha."

D-Day dawned as we lay 11 miles off the French coast. We could see the beach from the deck of the transport-- a thin line of land like any other. Overhead the air roared with the sound of hundreds of B-17 Flying Forts going in to soften up the beaches. They were a welcome sight, even though none of us knew then that they would miss their target by several hundred yards inland due to thick cloud cover over the coast. The first assault wave had already sailed toward shore as our second wave started to disembark. The tide was swelling, bringing a rough sea with it as we climbed down the thick ropes into the bobbing LCA below. On our way in, the wind steadily picked up in force from the northwest, bringing a clinging dampness and gusts of wet salt mist on us.

All this time, the huge naval guns were plastering the shoreline for as long as possible before the first wave hit the beach. Everyone was trying to look out over the landing craft's sides, and the sergeant was yelling at us to keep our heads down. I was next to the ramp of the LCA, and got a front row picture. Long blasts of sand shot up from the navy gunfire, while the first wave closed in to touch down. The enemy shore batteries refused to return fire until the first wave was within point blank range. Then the manure really hit the fan- it looked like a solid wall of fire erupted when the German gunners finally opened up. The first wave was wiped out at the water's edge.

Onward our wave rushed past rows of wrecked and burning landing craft, with underwater obstacles and mines jutting out above the water all over. So much so, that we had to veer off from our landing point and head-in at another spot about 100 yards to the right. On the beach I could see bodies and strings of high barbed wire, while a gun in a massive concrete bunker was belching out fire from the steep slopes in an almost continuous stream of shells.

As we went in toward the beach, German 88's were throwing shells at us right and left. The shells were hitting all around, and amid the thundering cannon and falling bombs, a sailor on the LCA was calmly measuring the depth of the water as we raced along. Finally, at about a hundred yards offshore, the sailor shouted: "This is it, this is as far as I can take you in!" Almost in echo, the sergeant yelled, "Alright, this is it!" The ramp let down a little better than half way, and when I jumped in the water, I went in over my head and never touched bottom! I struggled for the surface while the weight of my gear kept trying to drag me under, until coming up groggy in that rolling sea to find dead and dying all around me. Bodies and pieces of bodies were floating in the water and flying through the air. Mines were exploding, men screamed and yelled, and those who couldn't swim sank in that bloody sea. As I moved with all my strength toward shore, I looked up at that hill and swore if I ever lived to reach the beach and get to the top of that hill, I'd run those sob's clear into Berlin!

By the time I reached firm ground-- I was exhausted. I fell on the sand, panting for breath, with the enemy's rain of fire falling so close all around me, it was throwing sand in my face. More men were coming in behind me, firing their weapons as they did. Others who had lost their weapons on the way in were coming in too, trying to find cover on that long open beach. Guys were falling dead all over the place or got killed where they lay. Those trying to fight their way in fell mortally wounded and bled to death right before my eyes. I was still near the waterline, and the foam in the tide was red with blood. Up near the embankment I saw one of our soldiers who must have been one of the first ones to reach the beach-- his body had been riddled; shot in the back by our own troops who were so scared they were shooting wildly at the enemy and hitting each other.

I felt like I was going to get it no matter which way I went: either from the enemy or our own fire. I started crawling and crying, while feeling for mines with my trench knife as I crept along. Suddenly, my training took over and I found myself saying: "Either I'll live like a soldier or I'll die like one!" As I inched along, I crawled through barbed wire entanglements, finding cover behind the fearful wreckage of war. I looked back at the sea and saw our navy throwing up flak so thick a fly couldn't get through it- the few German planes attacking the ships just banked and flew off in the other direction. Offshore, I also saw the LCA we'd come in on, disabled and burning. I was in the worst position I had ever been in during my life, and I started praying in earnest. Then, all of a sudden, a strange feeling of calm came over me. It was a feeling hard to put into words. I could feel an unseen presence, and words I could not hear found their way deep into my being... "Wait... wait... I'll tell you when to move." It was an eerie experience, yet comforting. And as I lay there on the sand, I gave my life into this strange unseen force. I said, "Alright, let's go-- show me when and how to move." And we went to war together, this powerful, voiceless Presence and myself!

I looked around and the picture on the beach was staggering to the imagination. It looked like the end of the world. There were knocked-out German bunkers and pillboxes, cast-off life preservers and lost gas masks, plus piles of all kinds of equipment; wet, waterlogged and ruined. Sherman tanks, halftracks, and other vehicles littered the shoreline, partly submerged and sinking deeper with the rushing tide. More men were still struggling through tremendous forms of twisted steel and shattered concrete, right over broken, life-less bodies littering the beach-- bodies which only a short time before had been living, breathing beings. It was so rough that I thought we had lost the beach three or four times. (Some soldiers later confessed that they had shit their pants. I think I would have too, if I could have.) For a long time it looked hopeless. The enemy was slaughtering our men with an 88 housed in that huge bunker. But just when things looked darkest, one of our Sherman DD amphibious tanks managed to crawl in to the beach and not get knocked-out; probably because there were so many wrecked vehicles the enemy missed spotting it. It moved in close to the bottom of the slope, and I ran over and directed it to that 88. The terrain was such that our tank could creep up close enough to where its gun barrel was just barely sticking its nose over the top of a little rise to fire. I told the tanker that he'd have only a few seconds to move over the rise and shoot, then hit the reverse gears before that 88 could return fire. The first two rounds missed their mark, chipping chunks of concrete outside its massive structure. On the third try the round hit home- right through the bunker's narrow gun slit.

What a Relief! With that gun out of the way, we finally established a beachhead, as all along the shore similar acts were accomplished. But the cost was tremendous: 1,465 killed, 1,928 "missing," and 3,184 wounded -- 6,577 casualties to take that 7,000 yard stretch of sand. One soldier fell for every yard.

The landing was unforgettable. Thousands of ships and landing craft waited offshore to unload even more men and equipment. By this time, night had fallen, and the German Luftwaffe launched daring raids against our navy. Big naval barrage ballons burst into flaming pillars as flak fell like hail on the ship decks. German bombs and American ack-ack fire turned night to day on every explosion, while creating a constant deafening thunder.

Our invasion force had encountered heavier resistance than was expected. Omaha Beach was defended not only by the German 716th Infantry Division and 30th Schnelle Brigade (the static, Normandy coast defense units in that sector), but included the battle hardened 352nd Infantry Division, fresh from fierce fighting on the Eastern Front in Russia. They had unexpectedly moved into the area a few days before the scheduled invasion, to engage in practice maneuvers, when the real McCoy came. Our landing would have taken place with considerably less trouble if it hadn't been for those veteran reinforcements- a fact which only our high echelon officers knew.

I spent part of my first night in France inside the bunker our tank had knocked out. The German gun crew was in there too, dead. The gunner's head had been shaved off, and the rest were killed by the explosion... I just couldn't get comfortable in there, so I left and crawled into the middle of a big bramble patch nearby. It was the first of many nights I would go to sleep wet, cold, hungry, and dog-tired."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 49 - 54)

THE TALL HEDGEROWS OF NORMANDY
(The Battle of Treviers)

(Chapter 5a)

" Bright and early the next norning, we jumped off with the small arms we started out with on the beach. Our heavy automatic weapons had yet to be unloaded from the barges and dragged across the sandy beaches and inland to be set up in position. I was still fighting with the men of the 1st Infantry Division.

We went slowly and precariously at first, probing in beyond the beaches about five miles. We walked up trails and down sunken farm roads, Indian file, making sure we stepped in the vehicle tracks, as this area was full of mines. As we went along, we cleared snipers out of the dense cover, one by one. It was tense, tiring business, and you never knew which moment would be your last.

One sniper had us zeroed in for a long time, killing one man before we got the location. When we figured out which tree the firing was coming from, we riddled it with sub-machine gun, rifle, and carbine fire. A gun and helmet came tumbling out of its top branches, and as we cautiously went over to take a look, to our first of many surprises during the war, we found a girl dressed in a German uniform. She was dead, hanging by her heel in the tree, with blood dripping down her long blond hair.

The 2nd Infantry Division's first divisional objective was the town of Treviers. It was outside this small, half shattered coastal village that our division organized after its landing on the 7th. I was waiting beside an old, shot-up farmhouse when I caught sight of Indianhead-patched soldiers moving along the road. I was worn out and sat there until my own company came by, and I joined them. They asked how the landing had been. All I could say was that was just like what it looked like, and they didn't ask anymore.

Moving ahead through the green, flowered countryside, I was in a big field when someone opened fire on me-- a low rifle crack sounded in the distance. At first I didn't realize I was the target being shot at until the bullets kept coming closer and closer. Every time a bullet hit the ground, the dirt would go "bloop, bloop." Suddenly, it dawned on me that whoever was doing the shooting could see me and almost had me zeroed in! I dashed into a ravine for cover, knowing that the only reason he didn't kill me was that he must have been all of two miles away!

Snipers would continue to remain a problem throughout the war, but especially in the cold, green fields of Normandy. A few hours later we were catching our breath, when a guy turned to me and showed me his helmet, saying, "Talk about a close call, brother." I saw where a round had gone in at the front, stopped at the plastic liner, passed around it and the metal, and came out the back. A lot of guys would owe their life to that piece of equipment before we left Europe, while some other soldiers would not be so lucky- the bullets went straight through.

We now moved ahead under an umbrella of artillery support, but still without our mortars and machine guns. When we crossed the l'Aure River waterway, we were under fire from artillery, mortars, and automatic weapons, and I was running so fast it looked smaller than it actually was-- more like a stream, or what Southerners call a creek. I thought I could jump across in one leap, but went splashing right in the middle and came out soaked to the skin. The water stunk like an open sewer, and afterward, so did I.

Around the town we encountered stiff resistance from carefully prepared defenses. The Germans had had years to get ready for us, and they were. They doggedly defended the town, house by house, yard by yard, and we literally had to dig them out with a savage bayonet assault before they would surrender. I saw one soldier ahead of me empty a carbine clip into the chest of a charging German, until finally knocking him down with the butt of his gun.

We fought all day for that s.o.b., until finally, they just couldn't stand up under our furious attacks. By four o'clock that afternoon the battered town belonged to our 2nd Battalion. The Germans took off in all directions. We'd been fighting mostly with hand greandes and small arms, supported by artillery. Now that we gained this foothold on French soil, our division could proceed to move inland with its supplies, vehicles, and heavy weapons.

There were hundreds of bikes in Treviers. Most were stashed around a water pump I saw in the main square. It was a warm day, and I wanted to get a drink of water, when that unseen Presence which I had first felt on the beach suddenly said, "Wait." While I was sitting there, one of the men walked up to the pump for a drink, and was instantly shot dead by a sniper. Needless to say- I stayed away from that pump!

Nightfall came and the platoon Sgt. woke me to go on guard duty, posting me near a building. A few feet away I noticed another GI sitting on the steps, but it was too dark for me to get a good look at him. He had his rifle set between his legs and was holding it with one hand. I spoke to him a couple of times during the long night. I whispered, "It sure is a cold night...." Getting no response, I assumed he didn't want to talk, but I felt pretty safe with him sitting there, even if he didn't care to shoot the breeze. As dawn broke, however, I could see why he hadn't answered: He had been shot in the chest, and as he died, he'd raked the fingers of his other hand down his chest, leaving marks through the blood and gore. I'd been trying to hold a conversation with a corpse. He had rugged looking features, red hair, and blue eyes; which I reached over and closed.

Leaving a small occupying force to hold Treviers, we moved out one moonless night, holding on to each other's bullet belts to keep in contact and to keep from stepping on mines. The next day, we sent out patrol after patrol, till we were told that we had lost contact with the enemy. As we mounted our trucks to move on, my unseeen friend "spoke" again, telling me, "They are out there...." Uneasy, I told the others, "I don't like this worth a damn! They're out there and I can feel it!" I knew we'd soon contact the enemy "Oklahoma style"; a rough southwestern term for hard as hell.

As our convoy trucked rapidly to the south in conjunction with the 9th Regiment, its sight scattered loose elements of the enemy as we went. We rolled along until coming to the outskirts of a little village in the vicinity of the Cerisy Forest. Then all hell broke loose. We'd driven head-long into a waiting ambush! The enemy opened up with about 30 mortars. Everybody on the trucks headed for cover as the convoy ground to an abrupt halt. Vehicles were hit, exploded and burned, before I ducked into a small building and crawled under a bed until the barrage let up a little. Mortar fire was raining on the place and killed 25 of our troops before they could take cover.

A little later that same day, one of our men took a direct hit on his pack by a mortar round which blew it all to hell, with pipes and other paraphenalia flying everywhere. He was unconscious but still alive when he was picked up by the medics and carried to an aid station. I picked up one of his pipes, a crooked stem one, and some tobacco.

We dug in and held on that day. That night, our planes flew in low and blew up important German installations and ammunition dumps hidden near there in the Cerisy Forest. Bone shaking explosions rocked the ground and it looked like a huge fireworks display for miles around. "No wonder they've been throwing the kitchen sink at us," I thought.

At almost the same time, the German air-force made a bomb run on us, too. Running for cover, I jumped over a rock fence and landed right in a graveyard! In the faint twilight, the tombstones of ornamental iron crosses and sadly weeping figures were barely distinguishable. I swore under my breath, `Damned if I'm not going to end up in one of these places before my time, in spite of all I can do!" I fully intended to come out of the war alive, and I stayed away from cemeteries as much as possible. Yet it seemed like every time I moved, I ran right into another grave-yard!

The following day, I was sitting on a hedgerow, puffing on the pipe I'd picked up the day before, when I noticed a GI who wouldn't take his eyes off that pipe. Finally I asked him why he kept staring at me, and he remarked, "You know, I had a pipe just like that." I said, "The hell you did." "Yeah," he said, "I'm the one who got that direct hit that blew my pack all to pieces. I took the pipe, along with tobacco out of my pocket, and handing both to him, I said, "In that case, here's both pipe and tobacco. If anyone ever deserved them, buddy it's you.

He was more than happy to get his pipe back. Seems he had a collection of them. He had only been knocked unconscious by the blow to his pack. Miraculously, he didn't even get a scratch.

Just about this time, a lieutenant came by and curtly asked who was on the .57mm anti-tank gun we had set up near there. I said, "By God, I am." He asked me where our head-quarters was, and I answered sharply, "How the hell would I know? We're on the move." He didn't say anything more, just kept going. Apparently, he was new on the front, and thought we were supposed to be sitting there with our finger on the trigger of every gun in sight, but he soon realized that we knew what we were doing. The Germans had cut down big trees across the roads to slow down our advance, and these had to be cleared away before we could move out. My gun was covering two intersections while our tanks doubled as bulldozers to clear the debris out of the way. We were all pretty tired and hungry, and were no one to be fooled with.

One of the lighter sides of front line life at this time was one of our truck drivers who had a pet chicken. It was just a little chicken, but we wanted to eat it. The more I looked at that chicken, the more I could taste him. But I knew we'd have to fight him to kill that bird. They certainly made a funny pair. Everywhere he went, the chicken went, sitting on his shoulder.

Both the American and German airforces had bombed and battered the countryside around us, and the dead lay everywhere in the blooming gardens, fields, and village dooryards of Normandy. In the balmy June weather, nights were cool, and one especially chilly night, I made three attempts to remove a blanket from a dead GI, while wondering if it would smell like a dead man. On the third try, I said to that dead soldier, "Hell, I hate to do this to you, but I need this worse than you do, and if I don't take care of myself, I'll soon be where you are." I jerked it free and spent the night in his blood stained blanket.

By June 12th, we had pushed twenty-five miles inland from the sea. We were now running into heavier artillery fire, and as we moved into a little town in the vicinity of the Cerisy Forest and were digging our .57 anti-tank gun into position, one of our own artillery units threw smoke shells into the town to cover us, and someone screamed: "GAS!" I ran and grabbed a mask in the truck and put it on. The smoke was seeping in all around us as I noticed one of the guys frantically hunting for his mask. He had one hand cupped over his mouth and nose, while he was trying to say, "I can't find mine! I can't find mine! Giving up in despair, he sat down on the ground and wailed, "Ah, hell! I guess by God this is the end!" After it turned out to be a false alarm, I discovered that I'd grabbed the wrong mask. I had his.

One evening in this same town, two of our men took off with a couple of women. The next morning, the two GIs were found with their heads cut off, but the two women were never found. The Army brass really got mad about that, and the order came down: "No fraternizing!"

During this time, two other notable events happened. First, we saw some of the first large groups of prisoners taken by our division. One was a group of strange, dejected men, speaking weird dialects and groveling before our soldiers. They were Turks, Poles, Russians and Georgians. Questioning of these prisoners revealed that many had joined the German Army to escape the Nazi prison camps and slow starvation. Most swore they never fired a shot at us, but it was believed they'd fought until they had a chance to surrender. In sharp contrast to this motley, disallusioned lot, we also came into contact with the finest spit-and-polish soldiers of the Wehrmacht: German paratroopers. The 23rd Infantry Regiment had taken a few of them prisoner a day or so before, and found out that they were from Rennes, Brittany. These Germans were elite, arrogant, highly trained tough fighters, and, their morale was high.

Prisoners were always a problem. Whenever you captured a German on the front, you had to sit up with him all night long and look after him, plus give him half your rations, until he could be turned in. But some of our men captured weren't so well treated. In one small town we found dead American paratroops that the Germans had made dance on concrete in their bare feet until they bled, then they shot them down like dogs. Thereafter our division really made it rough on the enemy, and word soon spread through the German Army to watch out for the 2nd Infantry Division. They came to fear and dread the soldiers with the Indianhead patch as other people feared their SS troops. So much so, that prior to their Ardennes offensive, the German generals wanted to by-pass and avoid any contact with our division.

Around this time, three of us, along with other groups, were told by our battalion commander to go in ahead of the line troops and bust up all the French wine and hard cider barrels we could find in front of our advance. Too many of our soldiers were getting blind drunk. We moved into places where even "Killroy" had yet to go. It was a dangerous job, as well as unpleasant duty. Being an old moonshiner, it was a hard thing to bring myself to do, standing there like a revenuer, watching it all run off down the gutter. Naturally, I had to keep and sample a little of the "evidence." I thought it was a real shame to destroy such fine tasting stuff, and about the disappointment to both our advancing troops and returning French.

While on scout duty, one of my buddies, Paul S.Turner, from Roach Creek, Tennessee, and I were walking down a small path which led to two buildings-- a barn on one side and a house on the other-- when we came across a big fat man dressed in Frenchmen's clothes. He was lying on the side of the path and had apparently been killed by our shell fire. We went on to check the two buildings, and in the house I came across a post card view of Paris. I turned to Timmiehaw, as we called him, and said, "Say, Timmiehaw, look here, look at this big town. Look at all the civilians. I'll bet there are lots of pretty girls in this place!"

He returned my look and said, "Yeah, Whitehead, you'll make it to Paris, but I'll never live to see it." I'll never forget the cold feeling his words gave me, but to keep him from knowing how I felt, I said, "There you go with more of that nonsense." But that feeling stayed with me as we walked back down that narrow dirt path with the tall weeds growing along the sides of it.

We went on down the road with the rest of our outfit, until information came down that the German 2nd Panzer Division had been spotted moving into the area. This bit of news halted our advance, and all units were told to dig in for an all-around defense against a mechanized attack. (One wild rumor, spread by a story from a POW, said the Germans had a tank armed with a .220mm howitzer, two .75mm guns, and eight machine guns, making it like a moving bunker! After all the crap the Germans had been throwing at us lately, I was halfway wondering if the damn thing was really going to show up.)

When the attack we expected didn't materialize, we were once more on the move. I was walking down a long dirt lane that curved along an old rock fence, and when I jumped over it to rejoin our troops on the road, I heard a tinkling sound like bottles rattling around. I stopped short, thinking, "Bottles? In a fence?" I took a closer look and found that the fence was practically built on bottles of wine. I sat right down and proceeded to get drunk. In fact-- higher than a Georgia pine! Then, grabbing all I could carry, I took off after my company. When I caught up with them, I heard annoyed cries of, "Boy, where the hell have you been?" That is, until they saw all the bottles of wine I was carrying! As I passed the wine around, I smiled and said, "Now just where do you think I've been? On a three day pass?""
(Whitehead- end of Pages 55 - 65)

The Battle of Saint George d'Elle
(Chapter 5b)

"Our outfit was continuing its advance towards the River Elle, while the 23rd had come up against an enemy stronghold in the St. Georges d'Elle section. They were like a yo-yo. First the enemy had it, then the Americans were in possession of the place, and pretty soon, the Germans had it again; you never were sure just who the hell was in the place.

Our division was beginning to run into some well prepared defenses that had been dug in far ahead of time- carefully constructed underground earthen shelters and communications trenches. Our company ran into heavy sniper and rifle fire in the heavily wooded stretches near the River Elle, where two of our assaulting platoons had to cross an open field. As they did, the enemy opened up with machine guns from a distance of about 250 yards. We were threatened with heavy casualties, and one of the runners from Headquarters Company was killed that day. By late afternoon we reached the high ground on the far side of the River Elle.

The next day we got reorganized, made a few minor attacks to straighten up the Division lines, and attacked towards Hill 192. Men from the 3rd Battalion attacked all the way to the crest of that keypoint, but were forced to withdraw to avoid being cut off. This was hedgerow country, and the going was slow and rough. No matter where you were, it was an isolated, miniature battlefield measuring no more than a few hundred yards in all directions. The enemy positions were well camouflaged, and they made few mistakes. Even aerial photographs scarcely showed any signs of where their guns were dug in. They had their 88's and heavy machine guns placed in boxed-in apertures in the hedgerows at ground level. They could also flood rivers in their favor, and they had ceaseless, tireless patrols and numerous snipers.

We ground to a halt near the base of Hill 192, where we began a period of static warfare to give our armies the time needed for a build-up of men and equipment necessary for the coming all-out effort to drive the Germans out of Normandy and northern France. No doubt, in peace time these hedgerows had been picturesque, with natural fences around the small fields and deeply rutted, sunken farm roads in this twisting Norman countryside. But the enemy had expertly realized the military advantage of building his fortifications in those steep earthen walls. And they were solidly dug in.

These hedgerows were built centuries ago to protect the farmers from other uncivilized, roaming tribes. After hundreds of years use, they became hard-packed earthen mounds held together by stones and deep roots of thick shrubs and towering trees up to twenty feet tall. The hedges were three to seven feet high, sometimes with double rows. Behind, or in dugouts under them, the Germans placed men with machine guns so well, that a few could hold off a whole infantry regiment, simply by crossing each field with deadly close range fire. Thick summer foliage concealed these dangerous positions, plus the enemy had smokeless powder. Any tanks they had backed into the corners of the fields gave devastating direct fire support while remaining practically invisible. The positions of our own guns could be seen billowing out ten miles away!

Here, the German outposts looked directly down our throats. While we were trying to dig in near these hedgerows and advance our outposts, their deadly accurate mortar fire walked up and down the hedgerows like the measured steps of a giant. One day while digging a foxhole, I turned to one of the fellows and said, "Those s.o.b.'s could drop a round in your back pocket if they had a mind to!"

We dug in while vicious fighting took place among the thick hedgerows. It seemed like I was forever digging. Foxholes and slit trenches, foxholes and slit trenches. Sometimes we dug in so close to the enemy that the German front was only a single hedgerow away, and we could hear them talking to each other. One day, one of the men from G Company talked for hours over a hedgerow to a German. Our boy was a B.A.R. man, and could speak German as well as the enemy could. He stopped talking with the German to use the "latrine" when, all of a sudden, a shot rang out, followed by, "Why you son of a bitch-- you shot me. "I saw him pull up his pants, pick up his gun and riddle the German. Both fell dead,--While our man had been busy taking a shit, the German had slipped unobserved over the hedgerow and shot him.

That same evening, I was listening to a chronic complainer who was a replacement in our outfit; a guy who transferred in from our "friends," the 5th Infantry Division. Over and over, I'd hear him crying, "I've got to get out of this outfit. This is a Line outfit, and I don't know anything about a line outfit. Good God, look at all the blood!" he said as he pointed to a dead body laying there. Then he said, "They're killing people out here. I've got to get out of this outfit!" I got so tired of it and his nervous pacing that I put him on guard duty near a hedgerow to shut him up, and told him, "Yeah, you're going to get out the same way the rest of us are going to get out-- feet first."

For about forty-five minutes after that, everything remained real quiet. Just about the same time I thought I had the problem solved, I heard an M-1 click and bang! The next thing I knew he was yelling, "I'm hit! I'm hit! Medic! Med--ic! I'm hit!" My first thought was that another German had crawled over the hedgerow and shot him. I ran out there with my sub-Thompson, and there he lay... he had shot himself in one of his feet. We got the medics who carried him out. I never saw him again after that.

Later that night, around ten or eleven o'clock, I was lying up against a hedgerow there, when I looked up to see the darkened outline of someone prowling around. I could see him pacing up and down, and now and then he paused to look about him- he was in full silhouette against the night sky in the dim moonlight. The more I looked at him, the more he looked like he had a German helmet on. I had the hammer back on my .45 and had it practically stuck up under his nose before I recognized him as one of our own men! Shocked, I said to him, "By God, do you realize I almost shot you? You'd better sit down and stay there." He was a new replacement. He didn't say a word, just meekly sat down beside his pack and stayed there.

The Germans were inventive and used to prop up dummies in their foxholes, and then attack with knives. Our men were not without their own sly sense of humor. We were so close to the enemy that some of us rigged up sling shot devices made of abandoned inner-tubes stretched between trees, drawn back by three men; which hurled grenades far into enemy territory. This piece of "Yankee ingenuity" kept the Germans puzzled for some time as to how "patrols" could penetrate so deeply inside their defenses without being seen or caught. Some German prisoners thought the American troops had "giant's arms" to be able to throw grenades such long distances.

We stayed in this deadlock with the Germans for about a month. Day after day we fought our way out of traps and made savage assaults on the defenders of the hedgerows when we could get through no other way. I was a runner some of the time. Most of the time, I was on patrol-- a job I really hated. Our divisional artillery would pound the German positions to keep the "supermen" inside their well constructed holes, while we patrolled the weaving sunken roads to reconnoiter changes in the lines and positions.

While going along one of these sunken roads one day, I smelled a terrible odor. I stopped for a second, leaning up against a high, dusty embankment along the road, wondering what the stench was. As I moved from my position, some of the dirt which had felt soft fell away, revealing a whole row of dead Germans in a standing position, where they'd been placed by the enemy to hide the number of casualties they had recently suffered. It sure was a sight.

Most patrolling was done at night, and there were several type patrols. Some maintained contact between different units or divisions; others were elaborately coordinated movements with mortar/artillery barrages or heavy machine gun fire, to seal off the area runners had to go through. The worst thing I had to do on a patrol was to bring a prisoner back for information. I'd get an enemy soldier by the collar, stick my trench knife in his back, and if he let out a yell, I had to kill him. It was a cold, horrible feeling. Sometimes I knew they must have felt the knife shaking in my hand. Once I got one going, I could lead him around like a dog on a leash. But you sure had to know what you were doing, because they were just as good at the game as you were. The smart ones knew when a real soldier took hold of them, and made no outcry.

Flares and illuminating shells added to the problems we faced on patrol. The numbing, blood-chilling sensation of pulling a trip wire and seeing a flare burst overhead in a brilliant white light, suddenly exposing you to the watchful eyes of the enemy, was something I'm sure none of us will ever forget.

Snipers were still found everywhere, even in trees twenty feet above the hedgerows. Getting them out of those lushly foliaged fence rows was a hell'uva job. They used every pile of debris, hedge corner, and bush to hide in, under, or in back of. There they would sit for a chance to fire at one of us, then quietly, patiently wait to strike again. You could clean them out, and they or others would infiltrate to start all over again. Sgt. "Hardtack" got twenty-one snipers before they killed him in those Normandy hederows. He was a tough old bird, and I guess that's how he got his nick-name. He was the same sergeant who used me as an example of what a good soldier was, back during training in the States. "Look at how straight he stands," he'd say, "why he isn't even sweating." I still miss that old man.

During some of our attacks we ran headlong into mine fields. Under fire, all you could do was lay there until you probed your way through, or inched your way back. Guys who had set off mines would be crying out for help, but you knew you couldn't get near them. Over and over they'd call out, and you'd find yourself thinking, "I wish the hell he'd hurry up and die and get it over with." You never said it out loud, but you thought it, and you thought it could be you, instead. I can remember the first time it happened. We had made an attack toward sundown, and one man set off a mine in a field. All night long we could hear him crying and praying, calling for help, and calling for his mother. It had been raining a couple of days before, and he must have packed mud in his blown off limbs otherwise he'd have bled to death right away. Our light machine guns tried to put an end to his misery, but couldn't hit him. Finally, towards dawn he stopped calling out.

We had scores of desperate small scale skirmishes in that area. It was so bad, that sometimes I would have given five thousand dollars to move back just one hedgerow. That German artillery was fierce and unpredictable. During enemy barrages I'd curl up in a ball like a cat, to avoid getting an outstretched arm or leg blown off. All you could do was lie still and take your chances, while explosions rocked the earth all around you. Anyone who panicked and tried to make a run for it once the shelling had commenced, was as good as dead. On one occasion, they were cutting down apple trees within six feet in front of us, and green apples were just a'fallen everywhere. "Trempey," a replacement, wanted to try to get out of there, and I yelled that we should freeze where we were. He was about to take off when I grabbed him and held him down by the hair of his head, to keep him from getting killed.

Toward the end of June, our artillery began making its presence felt, too, as it started serenading the enemy with T .0. T.s or Time- On-Target fire. At times we used T .0. T. firepower to drive the enemy underground so that our patrols could operate. In these massive gun firings, the four battalions of the Division, sometimes with supporting Corps artillery, would concentrate their fire on a single, selected target. At a given signal the guns would go off- carefully timed so that their shells all burst upon the target at the same moment, resulting in a terrific, thundering explosion. When they did, I felt the ground raise up and set back down! Prisoners said the effect was beyond terrifying. Some nights as many as twenty T.O.T.'s were fired. During comparatively quiet periods, the T.O.T. fire was used to harass and disrupt the Germans- to weaken their lines and loosen his hold on the hedgerows. The target chosen might be rest area, mess line, or similar concentration of unsuspecting enemy troops.

"Paper wars" were also waged. Propaganda leaflets were distributed by both sides. That always pissed me off. I preferred live rounds by our side, since every German killed, wounded, or missing was one less s.o.b. we had to fight. We found the German propaganda highly entertaining, but I don't know how humorous our leaflets were. One thing for certain-- they caused no great rush of offers to surrender.

During this month of preparation for the attack on Hill 192, I "lived" in a hole dug into the side of a hedgerow. I ate cold, packaged rations, and had no change of clothes. I was one of those on the outposts, and was so dirty, I used powder to keep from smelling so bad I could hardly stand it. To the rear there were Red Cross dugouts with coffee and doughnuts, but I never saw them. Nor did I take part in the teams of infantry, engineers, and tanks that trained in secrecy for the big push. In the beginning of the war, our tanks stood almost on end trying to climb over the hedgerows, which exposed their lightly armored undersides to enemy antitank fire. A 2nd Division sergeant in the engineers devised "bulldozer" blades salvaged out of the German beach defenses. With those blades our tanks plowed through instead of over the hedgerows. They moved as a unit; the engineers blasted the earthen walls with demolitions, then the tanks rammed through, with infantry surging in these gaps supported by tank fire.

As bad as we needed "old hands" at this time, I was glad to see one of our men go home alive and in one piece before the end. He'd been a replacement since Omaha, and was discharged shortly before Hill 192, because his two other brothers had been killed in different Theaters of War. He was the last son left in his family, and was, by our standards, an old man of thirty-two. I sure was happy to see the poor old guy get off. We had a lot of non-coms past retirement age, also, but the Army was the only home most had, and they stayed with "their boys" to the bitter end, or were buried with the ones lost along the way.

Our attack on Hill 192 had been postponed several times due to bad weather, so all we could do was wait. One afternoon the rain had stopped, around 2:00, we were sitting beside our .57 antitank gun which we had dug in on our outpost, when we heard a group coming around the bend in the road that our gun was covering. We could hear them singing the melancholy song "Lillie Marlene," and as they came into view, we saw a whole company of German soldiers marching along as if on parade. They were completely unaware of our presence, never dreaming they were so close to our lines! We watched them as they approached, and when they heard our mortar cough, they stopped dead still with a stunned look on their faces. They never had a chance. We opened up on them with everything we had: antitank guns, mortars, B.A.R.s, rifles, carbines, sub-Thompsons, and machine guns.... Those who could were running everywhere, screaming as shells hit right in their midst; killing almost everyone of the approximately two-hundred men who only moments before came marching calmly down the road.

About an hour later the Germans sent their corpsmen in carrying a white flag with a red cross on it, to pick up their wounded, dying, and dead. They had them cleared out of there by around 6:00 that afternoon.

Then they opened up on us with mortars and artillery, and as one of our men started through a gap in a hedgerow, he was cut in half by what must have been an armor piercing 88 shell. I stared astonished as his decapitated torso fell to the ground not more than a few feet from me, his eyes open and dancing around in his head, while his legs kept on walking, advancing four or five steps.

Two or three days later, when everything was comparatively quiet around there again, we were sitting up against a hedgerow eating some of our packaged rations, when one of the men, a Jewish boy, felt his chest and said, "I believe a bee stung me...." His face had a strange, vacant look, and he toppled over. He was dead -- killed by a stray bullet. Another soldier's life passed - one of the nearly 800 casualties lost by our regiment so far."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 65 - 75)

HILL 192 AND THE END OF THE NORMANDY CAMPAIGN
(The Battle For Hill 192)

(Chapter 6a)

"Hill 192 was an ugly enemy strongpoint rising 192 meters above sea level. It was honeycombed with massive defenses above and below ground. The German gun emplacements were built so that each one was like a separate fortress covering each other, and looked directly down at our advance. At the bottom of this hill, the enemy's dugouts sometimes ran as much as twelve feet underground, behind hedgerows up to six feet high!

On July 11th, our division struck out to take this hill. Using eight battalions of artillery-- four organic battalions of the Division, and four attached, supporting units, preparatory firing started sharply at 5 a.m. that morning, rising to a terrific, pounding barrage during the last fifteen minutes of that hour.

Hard on the heels of this hour long artillery assault, the 38th and 23rd Infantry Regiments jumped off, accompanied by tanks and engineers. We left the tanks, however, far behind at the base of the hill; bogged down in the rain soaked soil. The 9th Infantry staged a diversionary attack designed to detract from the all-out advance on the bill by the other two regiments. After the 9th accomplished their mission, they withdrew to their original position and went into reserve.

The whole front was on fire, and the artillery fire was kept rolling ahead of the advance in fifty yard bounds. (This attack so shattered the hill, that foxholes dug in it later just caved in. No less than 25,000 rounds were expended, and after the war, it was described as the best combined-arms attack in the entire ETO.)

As we mounted our weapons carrier that morning, for some reason our advance section stopped, and our truck pulled up by the side of the road. I felt some picks sticking me in the back, so when the truck stopped, I jumped off to rearrange them. My friend, Timmiehaw, jumped off too, and went off to the side of the road to take a leak-- soldiers have a lot of kidney movements during battles. Just as I pulled on the handle of those picks, I heard a hell of an explosion. It sounded like mortar fire. Timmiehaw had set off a "bouncing Besty" mine and came around the truck clutching his chest and crying, "Oh-my-Lordie!" He fell dead at my feet.

The mine scored a direct hit on our truck: killing three and wounding three in our squad. Sgt. Hawks, English, and our new replacement were wounded- Timmiehaw, Schwerdfeger, and Sanchez, a Mexican boy, were killed. Sanchez died on his birthday- he was eighteen years old that day.

I don't believe I ever felt as bad in my life as I did just then. I took over as acting sergeant and platoon leader. There was an old abandoned barn near the road, and I carried Timmiehaw into it where I broke down and wept bitterly. Death closed the door on our friendship, and it was hard to accept the sudden shock that my closest friend was gone forever. Tears were running down my face as I said a short prayer, then took all his ammunition and his map, covered him with a blanket, and as I ran out of there, I swore, "Those sob's are going to pay for this today!"

I fought with the lead assault troops all the rest of the day. Running up the hill through the smoke of battle, I saw a German soldier standing by a pile of brush with his gun cradled in his arms. I riddled him with my sub-Thompson. As I ran towards him, everyone was shooting at him, but he didn't fall! Getting closer, I could see that he'd been killed earlier by an artillery burst, and had been caught by the brush and held in an upright position. He must have had a ton of lead in his body. It was a gruesome sight.

Just beyond this point, I ran up on an older German soldier with both legs blown off. I started toward him, but he motioned me away. He pointed to his stumps which were packed in mud, and waved for me to stay away. The thought came to me that he was booby trapped. A second later, I saw a medic rush up to him as the German tried in vain to motion the medic to keep back. Before I could speak to warn him, to say halt or wait, they blew up. The booby trap tore them apart, killing them instantly.

I moved on halfway up the hill and jumped into a shell hole, and as I did, an 88 shell smacked into the bank right next to me and rolled down to my feet, but failed to detonate. I got the hell out of that hole in a hurry, in case it had a delayed action fuse or the enemy fired another round without readjusting their gun. (Some slave laborer had risked their life to sabotage that shell and save an Allied soldier. I've often wondered if he or she survived to be liberated, and I thank all such people.)

When I reached the top of Hill 192, the 88 shells were so heavy, I believe you could have reached up and touched them. A moment later, a tree burst hit near me, and what felt like half a shell hit my leg a glancing lick, and sent me flying into what seemed to be about ten feet into the air. When I came back down, I was so dazed and confused that I found myself running around in circles, like a frightened fox, looking for my leg, crying, "Where's my leg? Where's my leg?" It knocked me crazy for a minute and took a good piece of flesh out of my leg.

The small arms fire was raining all around like hail. Looking for cover, I saw a big wash kettle, a huge black iron pot, and I quickly got under it, hoping to get a chance to collect my scattered wits. No sooner had I gotten under the thing, than someone stuck a bayonet under the edge of it and raised it up. Seeing me under there, he said, "Oh, it's you, Whitehead."

I got out from under the kettle and said, "Now just who the hell did you think it was, my great-grandmother?" Not waiting for an answer, I took off down the other side of the hill with him right beside me. We sprinted for two old farm buildings, and as we dashed into one of them, the other was flattened by artillery fire. It looked like a million boards were scooped up and thrown back down. I thought: "This one will be next."

I ran out of there and headed for another house, nearby. As I rushed through the door, I met a tall German coming down the stairway. Looking up in a flash, I saw his shinning black boots and uniform. He had a coal black moustache. I riddled him at the same instant I noticed his hands were up, unarmed. And as he fell toward me on the stairway, I thought, "Well, its too late to worry about that now..."

I moved out of there and ran towards another cluster of buildings, and as I did, I met another German coming through the hall- way. Before I could fire, he came at me fast to bayonet me, thrusting it with his rifle. I struck out at the blade with the back of my right hand to slap it aside, but instead caught it between my knuckle as I knocked it away- almost slicing through my hand. I paid no attention to it. In the narrow hall he couldn't swing his rifle butt, and before he could make another stab at me, I swung my Thompson up and put one forty-five slug through him, blowing him backward.

I glanced around, looking for more Germans, when I caught sight of a mortar round sticking halfway through the wall of the place. They had been firing their mortar so fast, the pin was still in its safety position. I wasted no time in moving out again.

When the light machine gun squad caught up with me, they didn't want to cross the open field facing us before the next hedgerow. I didn't say a word-- just grabbed all the ammo belts I could carry, wrapped them around my neck, grabbed their thirty-caliber gun and wound a cloth around its barrel by my hand, and took off across that field with enemy fire opening up and clipping the grass off around my feet. I fired as I ran towards the hedgerow, the bullet belt running through the gun just as fast, and the Germans started coming out with their hands up-- I mowed them down and didn't stop until I reached the third hedgerow, where I sat down.

When my breathless squad caught up with me again, I was sitting on that hedgerow, with the gun laid across it, brushing my teeth with a dry toothbrush. They cried out, "What are you trying to do, get yourself killed?" I replied, "Hell, Hitler's army doesn't have a bullet with my name on it."

I went a little crazy with the rest of the world that day. Some of the Germans, left alive and taken prisoner, thought so too. They had never seen a "one man charge." I know that I left a part of me back there on Hill 192. Part of me died along with my friend Timmiehaw, and my comrades Sanchez, Schwerdfeger, and others. Just as surely as they had died, a part of my being died with them, and a cold, merciless killer emerged.

I was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for that day on Hill 192, and was promoted from a PFC to corporal. We suffered heavy losses that day, as we fought our way up one side of the hill and down the other, advancing 1,500 yards. The Germans were like a jack- in-the-box-- they sat out the artillery barrages in their holes, and as soon as it lifted, they popped up again; maybe a little deaf and disturbed, but still full of fight. They staunchly refused to come out of their foxholes, even when we overran their positions. It took grim determination to get rid of their guns. The men had to jump in and kill them before their guns could be silenced: sometimes with just butcher knives and bayonets.

Others gave their lives smothering German hand grenades with their own body; shielding their buddies from the shrapnel. One of those, I knew, who also lost their life on that hill, was Robert Tweedy; an orphan from Kentucky. He was a guy who wanted to get to know Selma at Sparta, but I told him; "Hands off- she's my girl." He looked sort of reflective and said, "That's okay, you'll make it through the war, but I won't."

The 23rd really got it. I'll never forget the two weeping GIs we met coming around the other side of the hill after the battle. "This is all that's left of the 23rd," is what we heard them say. I couldn't believe it! And I heard later that, at one point, the 23rd ran out of ammunition and held off the Germans with rocks! Single soldiers were found dead, surrounded by as many as twelve enemy bodies they'd killed in hand-to-hand combat, before being shot.

Our men took one-hundred and twenty-seven prisoners, all told, that day, and virtually wiped out the German 9th Parachute. Of that regiment, only thirty men were left living. On the body of one of their dead was a letter to his friend, which read:
"When one hears for hours the whining, whistling, and bursting of shells and the moaning and groaning of the wounded, one does not feel too well. Altogether, it is hell."

That night found me taking our 1st Lt. to headquarters. Apparently, he was having a nervous breakdown. He was shaking like a leaf, crying and begging me to give him my foxhole. I took it for as long as I could stand it, then threw my .45 in his face and took him to headquarters. I told the company commander, "I've been doing this man's job all day, and here he is crying and carrying- on like a baby. I'm scared too, but I'm still fighting, and I'm turning him over to you," then left. That was the last I saw or heard of him. All I knew about him was that he was a school teacher in civilian life.

Back up at the line, the Germans threw mortar fire at us while we dug in our .57 anti-tank gun near a plank barn at a forward outpost. That was the only time I ever saw an antitank gun positioned on an outpost ahead of the infantry. I sat there that night thinking of how Timmiehaw had spent part of his last night on earth gambling with some of the boys, and how he later came to me, wanting to pay me some of the money he owed me. I said, "Forget it, what can I do with money out here?" But he insisted on paying me, saying again, "You'll make it through the war, but I haven't got long left." Early the next morning, that very morning, we'd had a last cup of coffee together, drinking it out of our sooty, smoked-up canteen cups that we used the soot off to black our faces when we went out on patrols. Patrols were going to be lonely without old Timmiehaw. Those thoughts were interrupted when old "bed-check Charlie" came over as usual to drop us a calling card of bombs. How I hated that three motored bomber.

Next day the 38th went into reserve, and the 29th Infantry Division was fighting to our right. All that first day after Hill 192, we could hear them yelling, "Stay the hell out of that road junction. Get away from that road junction." Later that day I was sent back to an aid station with my wounded hand and leg. When I got there the doctor asked me, "What's wrong with you, soldier?" I looked around at all the legless, armless, and seriously wounded men lying gaunt and pale, and replied, "Not a damn thing, sir," and headed back up front...

I put sulpha powder in the wounds and wrapped them up. Every day I put a clean bandage on them. What really bothered me was my trigger finger. But I kept on squeezing that trigger whenever I had to. We laced up our boots prepared to die every day, and every day I saw the sun go down, I felt that I was pretty lucky to still be living. My fingers in that hand were stiff every morning, and during the day it bled through the bandage, but I stuck with my outfit. They were fighting s.o.b.'s. Even when they had to pull back because of heavy artillery barrages dropping curtains of fire, they did so reluctantly. Wars are won or lost by men such as I lived and fought alongside. Of cool, courageous men who fought tirelessly through the hours, days, and weeks of a gruelling, never ending smothering hell of combat with an equally determined enemy.

Hill 192 had given the enemy a good view of the Normandy countryside and orchards away towards St. Lo. Even the invasion ships riding at anchor twenty-five miles away on Omaha Beach could be seen. Only twenty-five miles from where I had first come ashore on French soil, yet it seemed so much further in a weary, soul searching way. Long hours of heavy mental and physical strain, the earsplitting noise and smoke of battle, the death of close friends, the pain of one's own wounds, the hunger and privation a soldier endures, brings about a different state of mind. I had never gone to church much, but I believed in God, and prayed most of the time. "God, just let me live one more day. Let me keep my head-- let me out-think the enemy." And every night I begged His forgiveness for that day's transgressions. I always waited for whatever it was that guided me in close-in fighting. Many, many times I'd sit crouched, gritting my teeth, waiting for the message to move."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 76 - 85)

The Battle of Saint Jean des Baisants
(Chapter 6b)

"After our offensive on Hill 192, our division held to its lines through the last week of July; during which time the defenses of St. Lo fell. The 38th was still in reserve for a few days, and about a day after St. Lo was taken, we attacked again, south toward our next objective-- the town of St. Jean des Baisants, atop a hill some sixteen meters higher than Hill 192.

Every field, every hedgerow in our line of advance was heavily defended, and the Germans made the most of their prepared defenses. Normal gaps in the hedgerows were thickly sewn with minefields, but our tanks blew a way through them for us. The artillery fire would suddenly be lifted in high bursts to allow the tanks to break through under it, and our infantry went forward while the big guns of our artillery still sounded above the grinding noise of the advancing tanks. This paralyzing effect of artillery bursts kept the enemy inside their foxholes while our tanks broke through, but it didn't keep them from coming out to viciously engage our infantrymen. It was one desperate encounter after another. My clothes were now stiff with grime and blood and pieces of human flesh most of the time.

On one night patrol, we were sent out for information on enemy strength and positions, by scouting the area past no-man's land between opposing lines. These jobs had to be done as quietly as possible; including the killing. I even kept my dogtags wrapped by rubber bands to stifle any sounds, and had since Omaha. Crawling through the thick underbrush, we moved, waited and listened, then moved again. I was point patrol man this dark night, and almost bumped into a German sentry sitting on a log. He was asleep, and I eased up behind him, put my steel stringed garrot around his throat, and in less than a second or two, cut his head off. He had tried to struggle, and his hands flew up to clutch the string, but it was all over in the time it takes to blink. His body fell quivering and bleeding to the ground, while my heart raced and hands shook. No words can tell what it feels like to kill another human being that way.

I thought about only a few days before, when I'd fallen asleep on guard duty. That was late in the night after we took Hill 192. A patrol had been sent out, and I was all-in from that day of hell, when I closed my eyes for what I thought would only be a moment. The next thing I knew, the patrol leader was tapping me on my steel pot when they returned. It was the first and last time I ever slept on watch: if he had been a kraut, I'd still be sleeping.

Every chance we got, we shot beef cattle which had been hit by shells, then prepared the meat, cooked and ate it; sometimes in a stew with vegetables we picked out of the ripening gardens or dug out of the cellars of buildings along the way. Then there were the times when the cattle were first milked of their very rich milk, then used as "mine detectors" by being driven around an open area with a long rope attached, to locate any overlooked or wooden box-type mines. I often checked out buildings for hen nests, gathered all the eggs I could find, and if there were more than we could use, I'd sometimes carry a few eggs in my pockets. Trouble was, when I had to hit the dirt during battle, I would by then have forgotten about them and had to dig the mess out of each pocket.

One day Lt. Nagel said to me, "Whitehead, you beat anything I ever saw in my life! You're worse than some old woman hustling up food. Why, I believe you could make a living in the Mojave Desert!" All I could say was, "Well, sir, we've got to eat." I wasn't particular as to where or how I got the things we ate, so long as we had something, to make up for the times when things got so rough you couldn't eat. Times when the smell and stench of battle and the unbearable stink of dead bodies lying along the sunken roads- bloated, blackened, rotting bodies of Americans and Germans, with maggots working through them- made it impossible to tolerate food on your stomach.

One thing I had plenty of in this famed apple growing country, was apples. I think apples were what kept me alive. It seemed I ate them all through France. I saw the lace-white blossoms on the trees in late spring, watched the apples growing, ate them- green, and got colitis. I ate them when they ripened on the trees in fall, and even after the snow fell on the ground. When I got a chance, 1 fired a few too. Sometimes, I would enjoy a little cider the French people made out of the fruit. Apples amd K-rations were my usual fare. Haven't cared much for apples since.

How well I remember those orchards and picturesque hedgerows, and the fields with straw stacks that at first seemed to play tricks on one's imagination, until we discovered that the enemy used them to camouflage their vehicles. One evening a straw stack would have moved by morning front one corner of a field to another. We were fighting a clever, cagey enemy.

Attacking toward St. Jean des Baisants, we had a two day uphill struggle all the way. Now our line was staring at a hill crowned by the town, with its church spire towering against the skyline. Our progress had slowed down and was made difficult by the minefields which the enemy had planted on all approaches. We fought our way through the minefields and booby traps, and broke through the enemy's defenses to a point southwest of the town. The 23rd entered the town itself, and in doing so, occupied one more town on the long advance down through the ancient, twisted apple orchards and worn, sunken farm roads of French Normandy.

We exchanged mortar fire with the enemy for about three or four days, and it rained day and night. One day as we moved along after the fleeing Germans, we saw great billows of smoke and fire rising from an area to the right of us. When we arrived there the next day, we saw why. Out in a large apple orchard lay about a thousand vehicles-- a huge German convoy which our airforce had knocked out of action. It was still smoldering in places. Amid all this a cow which had been wounded was lying there breathing out of her side, suffering. So, I shot her and put her out of her misery.

About two days later, we made an advance of about five miles in one day, and made short work of the various delaying positions posted by the enemy. Several hundred prisoners were taken, and some of them reported the German Army was suffering staggering casualties with no reserves to fill in the gaps. But none of them knew or would tell the exact position of the enemy in the area south of our lines, so patrols were sent out.

One evening while on patrol, between sundown and dark, I came upon two German soldiers sleeping in a foxhole. "Ah, nicht schlafen... uh?" I said in German. They woke with a start, reached for their rifles, and I killed them. If they just hadn't made a move for thier guns I would have taken them prisoner.

Our patrols saw no evidence of organized positions in this area, so even though we were footsore and weary, our regiments pushed off in hot pursuit of the retreating Germans, but not before five enemy planes bombed our divisional zone. This bombardment gave them a chance to fall back to hastily prepared positions where we encountered stiffer, organized resistance by their rearguards. Nevertheless, these positions were smashed the next day, and we continued our way south to push them out of Normandy. That was when we made one of our night combat marches. It was around the last of July on a dim moonlit night, with great clouds of dust. It looked like all the armies in France were on the move.

The war settled down to a pursuit, with the enemy withdrawing overnight to set up positions which they would fight to hold the next day. When those positions were overrun and wiped out, the enemy, or what was left of him, would again withdraw to the next favorable ground. They picked all the high points, streams, and draws, always moving under the cover of darkness, and when possible, with machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire support. This called for continuous assaults and patrol action into enemy territory. We had little water and no hot chow, and were all dog-tired on these night patrols. Still we roamed the woody terrain all night long.

During the day, guys were so exhausted and worn-out, that they fell asleep while crawling halfway across a field to knock out an enemy machine gun nest. We thought he had been killed, and would send out another, only to discover the first man sound asleep while German machine gun fire would be cutting off the grass only inches overhead, like a scythe. Even during enemy artillery barrages, some slept through it as if in a rest area.

Manning their soon to be abandoned big, 88mm artillery/antitank guns, the Germans would shoot up as much ammunition as possible: high explosive and armor piercing shells, regardless of the target. As we neared their positions, they'd fire like mad and then run like hell from us. It was hard catching up with the bastards; we had to go forward very cautiously. I'd say to the others in my squad, "There's no way those sob's can win and they know it, but they just keep a fightin."

Some of those we finally did catch up to and corner would throw down their weapons and come walking out, wide-eyed, yelling, "Kom-a- rod! Kom-a-rod!" I'd holler back, "Kom-a-rod, hell! After all you put me through, and then you come out with your hands up. Shame-on-you." Then we'd motion them to the rear, none too friendly.

They took their lives literally in their hands when they came out with their hands up after just shooting some of the boys. A combat soldier is a lot different from anyone else: he's not eager to live-and-let-live or forgive-and-forget. He'll shoot the hell out of you, damn quick, and he won't bat an eye when he does it. Sometimes, now, I feel like it was all a dream. A nightmare.

We were in contact with the 2nd British Army in this sector, and you couldn't hear the enemy artillery coming in for their noisy bagpipes. I spent part of the day looking for that gentleman with the bagpipes, and meant to shut him up Oklahoma style if I ever found him. I never did see him, but I could hear him tootling along all day long. The English were something else. They'd fight awhile and drink tea awhile. But you never knew if they were up or down because of those damn magpie bagpipes.

During this time, I was 1st scout in front of our company, and it wasn't long until I learned that the Germans signalled to each other by whistling. So when I heard one whistle, I whistled back, and when he gave his position away, I shot him.

The Germans and our own airforce had long since blown all the bridges, and one day while on guard duty, I was sitting beside a small, bombed out bridge near a railroad track, when I heard someone whistle. Peeking over the hedgerow there, what did I see but two Germans sitting there with their guns. I yelled, "Alright, this is it! Drop your weapons and come on over." They looked real shocked, but did exactly as they were told and came over the hedgerow. I motioned for them to sit down. They immediately complied, and I gave them each some candy and cigarettes. I then asked them if there were any more of their men in the area, and one spoke in halting English, saying the rest of their company was near there. I asked them what they wanted to keep fighting for when there was no use in it, and to go get the others of their company. I didn't give a damn if they came back or not, and frankly, never expected to see either of them again. To my utter astonishment though, they came back with forty more men, all with their hands in the air. Their company commander came with them. He had received a captain's rating just the day before. They stood there with their hands up, until I said, "Aw, put your hands down and come on."

As I started back with them, the 88's opened up and I jumped into a hole with the Germans piling in on top of me! When the shelling ceased and we got back out of the hole, I said, "What are you running from? Hell, that's your artillery!" They all grinned like nervous possums, and answered, "Ja, ja!"

We walked back to the American rear lines, but no one wanted to take charge of them. So, I turned them over to the first MP who came along. But even he said he could only take three of them, so I slipped the clip out of my .45 and tried to give it to one of the prisoners, who refused to take it. I turned to the MP and said, "See there? They're tired of war. They don't want to fight anymore." He hem-hawed around awhile, but finally agreed to take all of them with him.

I went back to my post along the railroad tracks and had been sitting there for just a few minutes, when I saw what I thought was a ghost coming down the trail. He kept on coming down the trail, and I realized it was no ghost, but our ammunition carrier, Wong, in the flesh! There wasn't a drop of color in his face; he looked like death warmed over. I was so shocked I was practically speechless. I finally found my voice and said, "Wong?" He had a deep, resonant voice, and I heard him growl, "Yeah, Whitehead?" I still couldn't believe what I was seeing, and asked, "Wong, is that really you?" He kept moving with his load of ammo, and answered, "It ain't my brother...." I called after him, "Hey, wait a minute! Do you mean to tell me you're back up here and working?" He sat down beside me and said, "I guess by God I am." We talked for a couple of minutes, then he got up and went on with his two heavy boxes of ammunition. He looked like a walking dead man. I found it hard to believe.... Our man, Wong, who kept us supplied with ammunition, was wounded badly on Hill 192, catching twenty-six shots across his torso, from one shoulder to the opposite hip. He was of Chinese descent. I thought at the time, "Well, that's the end of Wong."

I was sitting there thinking about this when I heard a vehicle coming up the road. I could hear it coming long before it got there, and wondered what it could be. A moment later, a gas truck came barreling up the road with a small Negro behind the wheel. I couldn't believe this, either! I thought I was seeing things. He stopped like a lost tourist and asked me how far it was to the front lines. I asked him what in the hell he was doing up here in that truck, and he said he was looking for Patton's tanks. I looked at him and said, "If you get any closer, by God, they'll pay you."

Without another word he stepped out on the fender of that truck and backed out of there in a cloud of dust. He could drive faster backing up than I could going forward. I laughed about that all the rest of that day. I must have been a sight to him, too, standing there laughing with dead Germans all around me- they had been killed by our airforce a few days before we got there. One lay about twenty feet from the bridge near where he drove in; a blackened corpse with maggots working through it like a swarm of bees. I remained there until our company moved forward, and I was relieved."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 85 - 94)

The Battle of Vire
(Chapter 6c)

"Five days later our division crossed the Souleuvre River, where infantry units plunged across with their rifles held high above their heads. By the time I got there, I was running so fast I fell in and was soaked from head to foot. I was always leery of crossing water- ways, because you were like a sitting duck to enemy fire.

The engineers quickly threw up plywood, ramp bridges for our tanks and vehicles. They also had to pull and stack the hateful Teller-mines which the Germans had sewn in the route of our rapid advance. Progress was again slow due to heavy enemy artillery, mortar, and automatic weapons fire from small but well situated, hidden positions.

It was about this time that Gen. Bradley got his flying weather, and with it came five enemy planes which bombed our divisional zone one night. But by this time the Germans were taking a beating. They were suffering great losses of material; some lay scattered about in abandoned, half finished foxholes and trenches. They had lost important roads, ports, cities, the high ground and the tactical advantage, as well as losing many casualties and men taken prisoner. Our division and the 29th closed in on the town of Vire as Gen. Bradley's forces were getting ready for the kill on the main German line of defense in northern France.

We had now been pushing forward in the face of strong enemy resistance for twelve days straight, with little rest and no hot food. Dead dog tired, too many men got careless, and casualties ran high. All of us thought we'd marched our last step, but somehow kept going.

Leaving the bombed out shell of Vire around the 1st of August, we took a stand to the south of the town on August 9th-- my first wedding anniversary. I thought of my wife as our division began a swing to the southeast to the town of Tinchebray. My battalion captured the hamlet of Maisoncelles la Jourdan. The 3rd Battalion had been counter-attacked from the southwest by armor and infantry, so our battalion dug in, expecting to be counterattacked, too.

On a warm afternoon of August 11th, around 3 p.m., we were on post beside "Shanghai Lil," our .57 antitank gun, when we heard tanks approaching. Three German tanks came lumbering through the apple orchard there; in order to avoid being spotted by Allied aircraft, and a company of German infantry marched alongside, down the road-- all apparently trying to escape east. We ambushed them.

German armor was by now being used mostly as a covering force so that the rest of their units could retreat farther into France. But after a short while, they kept their tanks far to the rear and used infantry rearguards instead, because every tank we ran into we took care of. It got to where their tankers wanted no part of the 2nd Division. Even though our .57mm antitank guns could only penetrate lighly armored vehicles, we'd compensate by knocking the treads off the heavy stuff, or hitting them from behind or in their undersides. Sgt. Swack often stood beside our antitank gun reading off range co- ordinates against enemy armor, and I'd look up at him and say, "never mind all that, just tell me where you want it- the front, side, or in their ass."

As we fought through France, in every house I went into I looked for a clean handkerchief to keep in my pocket, just in case I got cornered and wounded so bad I had to surrender. In all the dresser drawers I looked through, I invariably found pieces of silverware carefully hidden in among the linens, and thought, at the time, what an unusual place to hide silverware. I always left my soiled handkerchief in place of the one I took.

Mail was brought up so infrequently that when it finally did catch up with us, it was an occasion to remember. One rare day I got a package. Standing there gripping it like gold, I was sure hoping it contained some candy and gum along with a few clean handkerchiefs and socks, but when I opened it, four cartons of Camels came rolling out! I think if Hitler had been listening, he could have heard me cuss. I threw them on the ground, and one of the men asked me what was the matter. I stammered, "Hell -- here I am with pockets full of cigarettes, but no candy or gum! "Well," he said, "you've got plenty of good Camels." To which I answered, "Damn!""
(Whitehead- end of Pages 94 - 96)

The Battle At Tinchebray
(Chapter 6d)

"Our last divisional objective in Normandy was Tinchebray, in which direction we were now heading. At nine o'clock in the morning on August 15th, we jumped off, and by 6:30 that afternoon my battalion entered the town. We fought against half-hearted and ragged resistance with light artillery support. Three Free French soldiers provided us with local information, also. Tinchebray was badly damaged by firing, but not flattened like Vire. As I walked down one of the streets, looking at some of the houses still in pretty good shape, I thought, "What a shame to destroy such beautiful homes."

Here and afterward were thousands of refugees. Many of these people had refused to leave their homes and were killed by the firing. We sometimes accidently killed whole families while clearing out buildings: you didn't have time to ask who was in the cellars when you tossed hand grenades in them. It was a terrible experience. Sometimes, too, a little girl or boy would come running out with one or both arms blown off, crying hysterically and wild with fear. We gave them to the medics whenever we could catch them.

Hunger was another thing. I'll not soon forget one incident which took place during one of our stops. A pitiful boy and girl in the doorway of a house, near the place we were having chow, stood there watching us eat. I couldn't stand it any longer, knowing what it was like to be a kid and hungry, so I gave them half my rations. The other guys said, "You're crazy." I got hot and told them, "It's my chow and I'll do as I please with it." We had already given away almost all we had, and I was glad that my time in combat had shrunk my stomach to where I could get along with less food.

Prisoners taken during our last day of action at Tinchebray presented a picture of disintegration and defeat. Their morale was lower than the refugees.

On August 16th, our division went out of contact with the enemy and fell back for a much needed two day rest before moving out to a new front. Typical of Army irony, our rest area was directly in front of the big Corps artillery batteries -- .155 and .220mm Long Tom guns - that continually blasted the Germans and our eardrums during our "rest."

So far, after 71 days of continuous combat, we had come through 44 miles of enemy territory which had been hotly contested virtually every step of the way. We had run into weak units and some of the finest the Wehrmacht had to offer. All in all, we had taken a total of 1,952 prisoners of war from Omaha Beach to near where the Normandy province ended. The 2nd Division's southward push through the hedgerows of Normandy had greatly aided the other armies around us, including the Canadian 1st and British 2nd Armies, while General Patton's 3rd Army's armor raced through France towards a waiting Paris."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 96 - 98)

BRITTANY/FORTRESS BREST - THEIR SEIGE AND SURRENDER
(The Battle of Brest)

(Chapter 7a)
(Part 1)

Friday Aug. 18, 1944

"A few days after we pulled out of the line, we were on the move, again heading for a new operational front, but under a new corps command. The 2nd Division was transferred from Gen. Gerow's V Corps to Gen. Collins' VII Corps. We were at last leaving Normandy with its endless hedgerows and rolling hills behind, beginning our journey to the Breton Peninsula and the fortress city of Brest.

Leaving war-torn Normandy and approaching Brittany was another experience I'm sure left a lasting memory in the hearts and minds of all the men of our division. Every area our long motor convoy moved through, the scenery of shell-blasted and shot-up countryside was the same. Fields, farms, and towns lay shattered, as though tornadoes had touched down and demolished everything in their path.

The places and people we passed all showed the strain of the terrible life and death struggle that had crossed their land. It reminded me of the country which we'd fought over ever since landing on Omaha Beach. The strange devastation and despair of bitterly fought for ground was everywhere, and you could feel death in the air. Words alone cannot fully describe the horrors of a war ravaged land with its thousands of homeless people caught in an ever present shadow of death, It was a sight one can never forget, or make anyone who wasn't there truly understand."

Saturday August 19, 1944
Nearing Brittany, the countryside changed into green, grassy fields under cloudless blue, late summer skies. Even the air was different: free of the harsh smell of smoke and gun-powder, and the clinging, nauseating stench of rotting bodies mingled - with dead, decaying animal carcasses. This part of the old Breton province had been liberated by the mad dash of Patton's tanks, and bomb damage had been limited to small patches around key road junctions and railroad stations, hardly disturbing anything else. That "old boy" really knew how to fight a war. And it was there, somewhere in Brittany, that I saw General Patton for the last time. He was standing in a jeep when a tank, having on its deck two decapitated heads wearing German helmets, lumbered back from the front.

Along these sunken farm roads and farmland were small, inviting villages with their anxious inhabitants waiting to welcome us with wild demonstrations of uncontrollable joy.. They were hysterical with happiness and thronged every road junction, waving and throwing flowers, apples, and onions at our rolling, white-starred vehicles. I found out how formidable an apple or onion could be when tossed into a moving vehicle. I was trying to catch an onion and finally did -- right in the eye! I had a beautiful black shiner for quite a while. It was the only onion I ever cussed and ate at the same time.

Everyone who could walk would run out to meet us or watch us as our convoy came by. Yet there was a strange absence of men, except for young boys and very old men; the latter wearing medals of past wars. These people were in great contrast to those seen in Normandy, as was their unscarred landscape. They could still laugh. Although they had, I'm sure, suffered from the same shortages and hardships, they were able to rejoice in their freedom from enemy occupation. At every stop our convoy made, the French people swarmed over our jeeps, trucks, and tanks, embracing us with much shouting, tears, and kisses, while showering us with gifts of wine, fruit, and eggs. We in turn greeted them with excited emotions and gave them candy, cigarettes, gum, and malted milk tablets out of our K-rations; something the French favored. It was like a scene from another world, and was the first real feeling of enjoyment we had known in a long time. We cheerfully joined in with the laughter and celebrations and, for a moment, put the war out of our minds.

August 22 - 25, 1944
Shortly after we arrived in Brittany, about two a.m. in the morning of one day, there was a quarter moon, and we were supposed to go down and find out how many of the enemy were in a little town near there. We were to go down there and harass them until they came out in force so we could get an idea as to how many there really were. Crossing over a rock fence near a gate on the outskirts of the place, I was suddenly surprised by a German sentry. But instead of shooting me, he tried to beat me to death! He hit me a staggering blow to the jaw with the butt of his rifle, knocking one of my teeth loose and almost knocking me senseless. I had my sub-Thompson slung over my chest and a hand grenade in one hand and my .45 in the other, in order to stir up the Germans in the town, when the sentry attacked. I quickly shot him between the eyes and got rid of the grenade. That really set things off. We found them coming at us from all directions, like a swarm of mad hornets. We swiftly pulled back to our company area, after "harassing" them.

My teeth kept hurting, and the medics wanted to send me to a hospital, but I went instead to a field dentist who was so drunk he pulled the wrong tooth! I insisted he pull the other one, too, so I lost two teeth in the deal. While the dentist was working on me, the enemy was shelling the hell out of us, so I told him, "Just pull the damn tooth and let me the hell out of here." Up till then I had a perfect set of teeth and not even one filling.

Not long after this little ordeal, I was sitting, looking out across a misty field full of tall weeds, wondering about the people who lived in a farmhouse I could see from there. It was a long house with a tile roof, part of which had been knocked off. Smoke was com- ing from the chimney, and curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to go see for myself. There was a man in the yard, and a woman and young girl in the house. The younger of the the two women was very pretty, and was probably their daughter. I noticed that they wore wooden shoes with straw in them, and I felt even more sorry for them. I thought of how I had to go barefoot most of the time as a kid, and once, while walking down the railroad tracks above home, I found an old, castoff pair of shoes which I cut down to my size and wired together with bailing wire. I gave those unfortunate people some of my K-rations, and in turn they invited me to eat dinner with them.

They were fixing the meal when I came back and knocked on the door. They fixed a pretty good meal out of that combat chow, and we had apple cider to drink with it. Even though we couldn't communicate with each other very much, we had a pleasant, quiet meal. After dinner, I thanked them and went back to my squad across the field, thinking, how ironic, that here among strangers in a foreign land, I was more welcome than in my own home back in the South.

And I found too, what it meant to be occupied by foreign soldiers. The French were a saving people. They saved every little twig off the trees and straw off the ground. When the Germans came through their land, they took all their gathered wood, twigs, and anything else not nailed down, and piled them on their dugouts. They had made life very hard for the French peasants, and I think the French farm people loved us and hated the enemy more than did the French living in the cities.

When we left this area, we had an uneventful march, as far as contact with the enemy went. We were on our way to the port of Brest, and made our march partly under blackout, and partly under skies banked with huge cumulus clouds. Brest was the same seaport the 2nd Division had disembarked into France from America during the First World War, amid cheering crowds. Our division's return this time would not be so welcome by the Germans now controlling the city.

The Daoulas Peninsula, jutting out into the dark sea southeast of Brest, had to be cleared first, and I was part of the task force sent out to take this parcel of real estate from the Germans. Three American infantry divisions, the 2nd, 8th, and 29th, were assigned to capture this city from its fifty-thousand defenders. Brest was one of a number of important seaports that the Allied forces might use to develop harbor facilities for their lengthening supply lines. And knowing this, the Germans freely expended thousands of men and tons of supplies so that the taking of this port might be made as difficult as possible. Because of its great importance, Brest was the most heavily fortified of all French ports. The enemy considered Brest one of the probable invasion points, and had surrounded it with numerous anti-aircraft and large coastal defense guns. Those guns on the peninsula were slanted toward the sea, but were mounted in such a way that they could be turned around to operate against a land attack also.

The entire peninsula bristled with prepared defenses. Our immediate task was to feel out their local strength and dispositions for the coming battle. That first night we dug in near a large orchard, while our truck was pulled up into the orchard itself. We got a tall, thin looking 2nd Lt. in nearby G Company that night too, who couldn't wait to get into action. He was killed by mortar fire about two hours later.

Early the next morning the Germans sent naval based fire in there from Brest: their first shell hit next to our truck in the orchard, setting it on fire. Time and time again I tried to get close enough to that truck to get my pack - my wife's picture was in it. A photo I'd just recently received. But I simply couldn't move any further from my position. The shells sounded like wash tubs coming over - big, sixteen-inch stuff, and their concussion was like blockbuster aerial bombs. They kept hammering at us until one of our P-51 fighters came flying over, spotted that gun, and came straight down out of the sky like an eagle with two five-hundred pound explosive eggs under his wings. He laid them right in there and must have scored a direct hit, because those infernal guns fell silent long before the dust and smoke cleared.

Word came round that the 3rd Battalion was to reconnoiter and attack Hill 154, which provided the first obstacle in taking the peninsula. It was to be taken solely by infantry, without the benefit of air or artillery support. Two companies assaulted the hill, each with two heavy machine gun units attached. Another company began to move up by infiltration, single file, Indian fashion, as the other two companies advanced under a hail of fire from the enemy weapons dug in on the hill.

After the defenders at the base of the hill were routed by the 3rd Battalion, we knocked the retreating enemy off as they darted across the roads. While sitting near a sunken road close to our antitank gun, I had an M-1 in my hands when a little old lieutenant ran up to me and cried eagerly, "Let me get one! Let me get one!" "Be my guest," I said. "It's open season on them." He upped a carbine with the safety still on, and as I was reloading my M-1, I saw a German getting away and I came out with my forty-five and brought him down. The lieutenant looked at me in amazement and exclaimed, "Man! Where are you from? Texas?" I answered, "Hell, no! I'm from Tennessee, and if you take my advice, you'll leave the safety off that gun where it will be ready to fire in a split second." He was a new replacement officer, and I don't think he had ever killed a man, but he sure was anxious to "fill his limit."

The attack still had far to go. There was a circular system of trenches around the base of the hill, and another just below the crest. These enemy defenses were protected by at least twenty-five machine guns, as well as mortars, high velocity weapons, and various small arms. The defenders were tough, hardened soldiers; many of them members of the crack German 2nd Parachute and 266th Infantry Divisions.

Things got so hot in that hornets nest, I have seen the time when I had to take a pack of cigarettes out of my pocket just to get closer to the ground. Some of our men were pinned down in the open for hours before being able to move. At just about dusk that day, an enemy .75mm gun had brought one of the attacking companies to a temporary stand-still -- till two men with a bazooka crawled forward through the double rows of barbed wire and knocked it out.

As L Company moved in toward the base of the hill, I decided I'd give the Germans a taste of their own medicine. I requisitioned a large caliber, captured German gun; an 88, plus a number of its high velocity rounds, and fired it at a line of eight enemy pillboxes holding the hill. The 88 had been taken off a static, coastal defense AA mounting, and my gun crew and I strapped it to a tree to hold it, then I cut loose on the Germans. It caused as much confusion in our own ranks as it did the Germans, but they received the worst of those powerful shells. Afterward, I was severely called down by our company commander and almost got court-martialed for it, but I gave the Germans a hell of a time before I was discovered.

When we finally moved forward to the steep slopes of this strongpoint hellhole, the 3rd Battalion of the 38th Infantry took them by complete surprise with their Indian fighting tactics. Using low clumps of brush to hide behind, and sprinting from one small pile of rocks to another cluster of low-lying cover that the enemy had not thought worth clearing away, the 3rd Battalion got them by their balls. POWs said that they could hear us coming, but couldn't see anything to shoot at till it was too late. When they did resist, it was all over but for a few shots and shouting.

We worked until well after midnight to consolidate our hard won positions. The enemy still held the other side of the hill, and during the night they got a grip on themselves and brought up reinforcements. At around 0630 hours, the Germans began infiltrating between our two forward companies and the CP itself, with the aim of cutting off and capturing the command post. Those in the forward command group, about forty men, seized guns and moved forward to engage the enemy in a sharp firefight. One company's weapons platoon quickly sized up the situation and lobbed mortar shells into the enemy's assault line. We went into action and hit the enemy a shocking blow on one of their flanks, while another company hit the enemy on his other flank. In this tightening vice, a pincer movement was put into effect, and with all our combined efforts, the enemy was outflanked, outmaneuvered, and kicked out of his pillboxes and tunneled trenchworks. We shot the hell out of them.

A hundred and twelve enemy dead lay scattered about, while the rest of their men, about a hundred and thirty, all told, who had been defending the reverse side of the hill, tried to retreat to the town of Plougestal, where they were wiped out because of their flat refusal to surrender.

The abandoned enemy defensive positions were quickly seized by our troops, and while the 3rd Battalion remained there on the hill, our 1st and 2nd Battalions resumed the attack towards the town of Plougestal. Our .57 anti-tank guns fired over the heads of our two attacking battalions into the enemy's lines, with the bulk of our shells falling on Plougestal. In retaliation for their loss of their hill, the enemy blew the bridge at the tip of the peninsula which had connected it with the mainland. Its eight remaining sixty foot concrete support pillars stood in the riverbed like fingers pointing at the sky."

Aug. 26 & 27, 1944 Brest- 2nd Batt/38th Reg (A.T. Whitehead)
August 26, 1944 Brest

Now we began a two day battle for the small towns of La Fresque and Lesquivit. Here we found some of the largest and most elaborate explosive devices encountered against the enemy. In addition to the standard anti-personnel mines, AP antitank mines were found in great abundance, plus solidified picric acid stick bombs. So were buried TNT charges of almost a quarter ton in weight, pressure ignited French .75mm surplus shells, and other artillery rounds the size of a man, weighing 400- 500 pounds! Besides these monstrous mines they used electrically wired and mechanically tripped torpedo heads and anti-ship naval mines taken from the 9th U-Boat Flotilla arsenal which was based at Brest.

On our right, the 1st Battalion ran into fierce direct fire from numerous .20mm guns, mortars, and artillery. Still, they systematically reduced the town of La Fresque, while the 2nd Battalion, which I was with, encountered a similar fight for the town of Lesquivit. Along the way I again caught glimpses of civilian women wearing wooden shoes filled with straw, and realized it was their way of dress in this part of France. The enemy had places dug into the sides of the roads and hills they could occupy indefinitely, and some of the civilians now lived in these primitive holes.

During a lull in the fighting that first evening, I went back to a winery we passed earlier, and got all I wanted to drink. Then, I got a sackful to take back with me. On the way back, the Germans started laying artillery shells in there again, and I took cover in a ditch. For a few seconds I thought I was being hit by enemy small arms fire, but it wasn't long before I realized I was - getting stung by yellow jackets! I had dived right in on their nest.

When I made it back to the house where the other guys were, they all proceeded to get drunk. I went upstairs to get away from them and get some rest, when one of the soldiers, a fellow from Georgia who would later die during the (Ardennes) Breakthrough, started shooting a carbine up through the ceiling and the splinters were flying everywhere up there. I ran back down-stairs, took his gun away from him, slapped hell out of him and told him I had a good mind to kill him!

I went upstairs a second time to go to sleep, when someone came tearing up there to tell me that Sergeant Rulh, a guy we called Sgt. "Bazooko" because he was always explaining about the bazooka, was over in one of the dugouts, scaring the ... out of a group of civilians. I got over there and found him drunker than a lord, waving his gun in their terrified faces. I said, "Let's get out of here, Sarge." He mumbled he wasn't doing anything wrong, just having a little fun. "Never mind all that," I said, trying to talk him out of there, "just put that pistol away and let's get out of here." He whipped out his auto again, and roared, "See here? It isn't even loaded!" He pulled the trigger and blew a hole in the dirt wall large enough to bury a bucket in. This scared him so bad he quickly left and went back to the others and behaved himself the rest of the night."

Brest August 27, 1944
The next day the sky was black with American planes, and I thought the sight of this alone should be enough to make the enemy want to throw down their guns and surrender. Enemy flak began bursting in between them, and one of our B-17s went tumbling out of the sky; brought down by one of the ugly anti-aircraft weapons.

The town of Plougestal fell to our forces about four o'clock one afternoon, and almost 500 enemy soldiers surrendered to our battalion. They came down the road with a white flag flying - their general, and his aide carrying the general's satchel, at the head of the column. As they approached, I wondered what in the world we were going to do with them all. Coming abreast of me I yelled, "Hey, where the hell do you think you're going? On a thirty day furlough?" The German general coldly addressed me, saying, "Where are the American officers?" To his utter astonishment and shock of his men, I kicked his ass and said, "By God, you're looking at a non-commissioned American officer, and if you keep moving, you'll run into the rest of them." I passed them down the line.

We took an estimated 3,000 prisoners out of the 3,900 enemy troops alive at the beginning of our operation. We also captured fifty great, big-bore anti-aircraft and coastal guns ranging up to 120mm in size, reducing the array of weapons which could have been turned on our division as it moved out to take Brest.

The evening we took Plougestal, we were assigned to a house where I found German uniforms neatly laid out on one of the beds upstairs. I looked them over and they seemed to be just about my size. They were laid out as though someone planned to go out for the evening. So, I decided to get cleaned up for a change. I washed my dirty face, combed my hair, took off my dirty blood stained clothes and got into one of the German uniforms which fit as perfectly as if I'd had it tailor made. A corporal's uniform no less. I looked at myself in a dresser mirror in the room, and decided I looked real nice. Then I went out to show off my "new uniform" to the other guys, and damned near got shot! I yelled, "Hey, it's only me!" With a look of shock on their faces, one of them yelled back, "Damned if you hadn't better get those clothes off!" I didn't wait around to hear anymore, but ran back into the house and quickly put my old filthy fatigues back on. Our men were used to seeing Germans waving a white flag and hollering "Komarod," not calmly walking around like they owned the place. Otherwise, they'd have probably shot first and asked questions later.

As I started back out of the house, I heard an awful commotion in the street. When I got to the door I saw two absolutely wild looking women fighting over a tin can full of crackers. I attempted to separate them, and one of them screamed at me, "Mine! mine!" I looked at her and said, "Your's, hell. You share and share alike."

I divided the crackers equally between them and sent them in opposite directions. They went away reluctantly, both giving me dirty looks. Over in another old house across the street, I walked in and found something that looked like chicory. I decided to make some coffee, and had a good fire going in the fireplace when I heard all hell break loose again. Dashing back out, I found the Germans were trying to reinforce their numbers on the peninsula. They were unaware that we had already captured the place when they sent those reinforcements in by sea. In they sailed and started down the gangplank before our men opened up on them. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. They weren't killed, they were slaughtered. Now, when they realized that we were in possession of the place, they hastily withdrew with the few men left on the boat, and as they did, I said, "Well, I guess that takes care of that," and went back to making my coffee."

Aug. 27, 1944 Brest 9IR (Whitehead)
On the 27th, the 9th Infantry overran the airfield outside the city against hard opposition. The defenders were now completely sealed off.

Battle for Brest
(Part 2)
(Chapter 7b)

August 28 - 31, 1944
"We moved in from Plougestal to help take the port city of Brest, which our division's artillery had already been pounding away at for days. The 12th, 15th, 37th, and 38th Field Artillery Battalions of our division, together with seven different, attached batteries, blasted the area around Brest with virtually every type weapon then in use in Europe. High explosive and concrete-piercing shells were used, and we also lobbed smoke shells in to mark the tunnels and earthworks encircling the city for the fighter-bombers which were doing a magnificent job of close support bombing and strafing, dropping a total of 360 tons of bombs during the battle.

Fighter planes were flying escort in and around the big bombers, and the Germans were throwing heavy flak fire back at them. One bomber was hit bad and had its wing knocked off. I watched the pilot try to bring it in, and he was doing a damn good job of it until it went into a slow spin and disappeared on the horizon.

Later, during the fighting, I remembered that plane, and found it in a field. The co-pilot was still in the cockpit, and the tail gunner was still holding on to his machine guns. They were wearing civilian shoes, but I didn't see any parachutes around. I found one of the airmen out in the field, sticking straight up in the hard ground. His ankles and knees had broken and shifted down, and so had his internal organs. Another one of the crew had hit about fifty or seventy-five feet away - his body had hit the ground flat; so hard it made a dent in the ground. It looked like every bone in his body was crushed.

The Germans had double trenches in the shape of a half moon in that field, and the American planes had been strafing them. One dead German soldier had been crawling to a slit trench and had been hit at the base of his skull with a .50 caliber machine gun bullet. He had fallen with his skull bone neatly taken off his head, like the cover of a bowl. I took a good look at his remains. His brain looked like small, stuffed tobacco sacks inside his head.

Getting through the German main line of defense at Brest was an experience which no man who fought there, and lived beyond it, will ever be likely to forget. The city's outer row of strong points on Hills #90, 92, 100, 105, the nameless ridges and hedgerowed fields, were linked by elaborate entrenchments of pillboxes coupled with stoutly reinforced gun emplacements. There were mine fields fifty to a hundred yards in depth with double aprons of barbed wire on both sides. The sunken roads were bloody death traps, full of more mines and trip wires, and were swept by heavy machine gun fire from countless hidden bunkers. We now moved at a snail's pace towards the outskirts of the city.

Some of the villages outside the city were ordered leveled by artillery prior to the attack on the enemy's intricate and elaborately fortified defenses around the city proper. Every attempt we made to advance was met with stiff resistance. Although we had many replacements, few of them knew how to use bangalore torpedoes, flame throwers, or satchel charges -- vital weapons in this type of street fighting. Many of the officers had to take over and do the fighting as well as placing the new men in their positions and telling them what to do and how.

Two-hundred yards from its line of departure, the 9th Infantry Regiment ground to a halt; hit hard by mortars, mobile 88s, and a barrage of bullets from enemy infantry. Three of the 9th's tanks were knocked out, and a fourth turned bottomsides up while trying to make a sharp turn on the slick black-topped highway. For two days its crew remained buttoned up in the upside down tank, till friendly forces took the position they'd been trying to take. German night patrols had passed beside it and rapped on the hull, unaware that its crew was still alive inside.

From here on in, the going really got rough. The enemy grimly covered every gap in the hedgerows from his defenses, while well protected themselves by their pillboxes, casements, and dugouts which had firing slits cut at ground level. As intensive and powerful as it was, friendly mortar and even artillery fire failed to dislodge the Germans, or silence their deadly accurate fire across our areas of advance. Desperate hand grenade and bayonet battles took place in the hedgerows, just like in Normandy. Squads of infantry, led by an officer or even an enlisted man shouting: "Charge!" charged the enemy entrenchments again and again -- some being entirely wiped out at the enemy lines. In tight spots, neither side could use their machine guns extensively, because the fighting was too close-in - both sides fought hand-to-hand.

Sometimes we were dispirited and, much of the time, exhausted, but there was no crawling back to the rear. Battalions of all three infantry regiments were sometimes hurled back as many as three times, trying to take their objective, with heavy loss of life on both sides. I saw one soldier, sick of laying out under the gunfire, just get up and walk towards the enemy guns - knowing that he'd be killed. He committed suicide just as surely as if he had pulled the trigger on himself. He had, as the saying went, "had enough." But for every man we lost, a few more yards were gained. We were slowly closing in on Brest.

On August 29th, I heard a terrific explosion that rocked the ground in the sector where the 23rd was fighting. The retreating Germans had blown a string of bunkers where they had great stores of ammunitiion and high-explosives. Huge chunks of concrete the size of a man were hurled high into the sky. Craters a hundred feet wide and fifty feet deep appeared in the earth, and truck sized boulders smashed into the adjacent hedgerows. The first American assault platoons who set foot in that area virtually disappeared without a trace. Those further back, not too stunned to walk, pushed forward another several hundred yards before coming to a dazed halt.

September 1 - 18, 1944
During the first days of September, we crossed into areas where deep antitank ditches and tunneled trench works had been dug. The soil around Brest resembled the red clay of Georgia, made redder by the blood spilled on it. Land terribly chewed up by tanks and shell fire, strewn with debris, and as extensively mined as the Plougestal Peninsula. We moved in under large volumes of enemy small arms fire, while overhead, the Germans lobbed heavy railway gun shells at our rear- ward positions to disrupt and destroy our supply system and delay our advance. That was one day I didn't envy anyone in the rear; it was bad enough where we were when their "lighter" stuff came in.

Against our forward lines the enormous blasts of big guns were also felt, when the enemy hit us with artillery weapons that fired rounds nine to thirteen times as large as their jack-of-all-trades 8.8cm (.88mm) gun. High-explosive rocket shells from German 28.cm Wurfgerate weapons shelled us, along with a 32.cm oil spreading shell which created a napalm-like affect. Although deadly, the latter weapon was highly inaccurate, and was rumored to have annihilated two of their own paratrooper companies when a round fell short of our lines.

We now had rat-like mazes of thickly defended suburban streets to take- streets so narrow they looked like paths. The buildings were fortified to the point that each one was like a separate center of resistance, housing on an average of thirty to fifty Germans apiece. Once these buildings were cleared, one at a time, they had to be cleared of booby-traps and demolitions too. These outlying towns and suburbs were so filled with rubble and destruction by artillery and air bombardment, that the debris often had to be moved by D-7 bulldozers before our Corps could get through!

In the vicinity of St. Martin's Church, we and the 1st Battalion fought within grenade throwing distance of massive German fortifica- tions. Someone had a grave dug, ready for their burial when the time came, and I was looking for cover for a few minutes of rest from the murderous enemy machine gun cross-fire, so I pushed away the stone covering the grave and jumped in. I hadn't been there long when I had second thoughts about that hole. I didn't want that grave, and sure wasn't ready to be put in it permanently. I got out. In our first day of house to house fighting we advanced about eight- hundred yards. We had to give up completely on the conventional method of entering a house by the front door -- or any door. To keep the Germans from retreating to the top floor where they could shower us with potato masher grenades and rifle fire from the upper stories, we instead swarmed over fences, up ladders, across improvised cat-walks on the roof tops and among the chimney pots. Like snakes we slipped over garden walls, scaled the buildings, and attacked from roof to cellar! We fought them on the stairways, forcing them out into the open streets.

Avoiding the streets as much as possible, we used every weapon we could lay our hands on to blow holes in the walls of the buildings. Weapons ranging from .155 mm self-propelled assault guns to 3-inch tank destroyers; the .57 antitank gun; 20 pound satchel charges, and bazookas - ours and theirs. And it's no small wonder I didn't get blown up in the process, since German bazookas could be very unstable, sometimes killing its gunner.

Supporting tank destroyers were directed against enemy machine gun nests in the upper story windows, and round after round shattered these positions, as block by block fell.

In one of the buildings we took, there were a lot of typewriters. With the battle raging all around me, I sat down and typed a note to my wife. I put it in my pocket as I waded through piles of women's clothes scattered all over the joint. Later, on the top story of another house, I came across a photograph of an American doughboy from World War I. It was setting on a dresser in what had been someone's bed-room. I picked it up, and looking at it, I thought, "That poor...! He went through the same thing I'm going through." I couldn't help wondering if he was alive or dead.

German naval shore battery guns and their army's heavy artillery remained a powerful adversary, assisting the defenders until the 11th day of the month. Our artillery put a stop to them by the 13th, hitting back with 8,000 rounds plus the tons of bombs dropped by our TAC support aircraft. Prisoners taken at Brest said they had never experienced such deadly artillery. Our 38th Field Artillery Battalion would take care of any target we had for them, and I'll flat take my hat off to them anytime. They could lay back five miles and knock a target down the size of a bed sheet with the first round. They put it right on the money.

By now many fires were burning in Brest, lighting up the night- sky, making the whole scene more eerie. Eighty-thousand people had once lived in this French seaport, which was now turned into miles of rubble and death.

By the middle of September the three regiments of our division were moving forward abreast, closing in on the inner wall of the old part of the city. The fighting was gaining more momentum, and other houses were burning along the way from our division's 24 hour harassing fire on every position within the wall. Two white phosphorous, two HEs repeatedly. Our six supporting 4.2s coughed all during those hours. I can still hear Sergeant Creech with his howitzer cannons: "Four guns at a wack, fire!"

Through two days of firing, at least one artillery round was in the air every minute. Even so, our advance became a grim race with death; every street was swept by automatic fire. Pinned against a wall while moving up, I saw a little girl about four years old, standing in the street in front of a burning house, crying. She was terrified, confused, trying to back off from the burning house which must have been her home. Things were moving so fast I didn't have time to fool with her, hoping the medics could pick her up later.

Our artillery blasted the enemy's water supply points and other installations such as the air ducts of their elaborate underground shelters and hospitals. The first underground bomb proof hospital we captured was so large that trucks could be driven in and out. As we fired into the place we killed the Germans who were guarding dump truck loads of silverware. My thoughts went back to the silverware I had seen hidden in drawers full of linens. Now I knew the reason for it.

When I went back out of this hospital, I found a little red motorcycle outside, and it intrigued me more than the silverware. So, while the others were discussing the huge piles of cutlery, I decided they wouldn't miss me for a few minutes while I learned to ride a motorcycle. I checked it for booby-traps and gas, cranked it up and roared away down the road! I went up and down that road like a runner. But after a short time, I decided I had better go check some more houses out before dark. I rode back and left the motor-- cycle where I found it. By this time, six Frenchmen were standing around the place, each one asking me did the motorcycle belong to me. I told them, "Hell, it ain't mine. I don't give a damn what you do with it."

The next house had some food in one of the rooms, so I made a sandwich after looking it over- the water in Brest had been contaminated by the retreating Germans. While eating, several Frenchmen outside the house began busily nailing up all the doors behind me. I sat there eating my sandwich, listening to it all. When they finished the job, I knocked the door down with the butt of my rifle. I'll never forget their expression when I stepped out and said, "By God, this town has not been cleared yet, and you get out and stay out!" They backed away, and then turned and ran.

It was getting dark out by this time, when I saw what looked like a big warehouse. Walking in past the wide doors and down the middle of the building, I came to a stairway and crawled under it. That's where I spent the night, sleeping with my helmet on and my .45 in my hand with the hammer drawn back. It turned out to be a miserable night. I couldn't figure out the strange odor in the place.

The next morning I was awakened by a noise, and found American GIs in there going through the pockets of about 300 dead Germans. The enemy soldiers laid out in that building looked like they might have been waiting to be taken to surgery in a nearby hospital, which we captured later that same morning. It was a gruesome sight to see guys going through their pockets, knocking their gold teeth out, and cutting their swollen fingers off to get at their rings. I thought what a hell of a thing to do- rob the dead. Not knowing if they themselves would be alive in the next hour. I quickly moved out to get away from it.

That morning we took our next hospital, the one near the warehouse where I'd slept. It had walls four feet thick, reinforced with steel. Nurses and doctors looked as bloody as meat butchers, but worked on in surgery as though nothing had happened, only glancing up momentarily to acknowledge our presence, and exchange looks as we entered. I was amazed at their calm.

Our squad spent the following night there in that hospital, while our division was preparing to take the last of Brest. Two of our men were killed near there, when they attempted to look through a small hole in the inner city wall. The Germans had a sniper zeroed in on the hole, and every time the hole turned dark, they shot at it, killing whoever happened to be standing there. Our captain, who we nicknamed "Yogi," wanted to take a look through the hole, and we all warned him not to go near the place, but he didn't listen. As soon as he stuck his stubborn head in the hole, a sniper killed him instantly, blowing his brains out. He was the only officer we ever had that the men laughed when he was killed. The reason the guys didn't like him was: while in Northern Ireland, some of our boys were kidding around with the women folk there, and one of them put a girl's bonnet on his head, and "Yogi" damned near court-martialed him for it. He was that kind of officer.

He wasn't the only know-it-all officer. Back in Normandy I had been coming back for more ammunition, when three high ranking officers by a jeep asked me what I was doing. I told them we had run into some resistance up ahead, and needed some more shells for our gun. One of the officers piped-up and said, "There's no resistance up there, soldier." No sooner than he spoke, a German 88 round cut down a swath of trees just ahead of us, and the three officers were falling all over themselves trying to take cover. I calmly walked over and picked up the helmet of the officer who reprimanded me, and handing it back I said, "No, there's no resistance up there... here's your helmet back, sir."

On September 17th, we were finally in position to break through the inner wall of the old city; all that remained was to find a soft spot. This eight to twelve foot stone and earthen wall had been built by French fortress specialists during the 17th century, and was greatly strengthened by the Germans during their four years occupation. It presented the last but toughest nut to crack- a barrier that, in places, lay forty feet thick and was impervious to even our .155mm assault guns fired at point-blank range. Our divisional artillery, 4.2 and .81mm mortars were also powerless to intervene, and would instead concentrate disruptive fire on the the old city itself. It would be up to the infantry alone to gain the initial entrance beyond the wall.

Probing to find a breakthrough point, our 2nd Battalion's patrols were pinned down near the eastern main gate of the wall, and not until 5:00 that afternoon did a platoon from B Company succeed in penetrating past the wall into sector 483 of the old city. This small leak in the enemy's defenses drew savage counter-attacks to dislodge it, but failed to alter the Division's order to "hold what you've got."

Past this point, it looked like it was going to be harder to get into than that Louisiana "Cajun Queen" I met back in the bayous on maneuvers. But just when things looked darkest, the 9th Infantry at the mouth of the Penfeld River was able to make a major breech in the wall, when the German defenders there gave up their nearly impregnable positions of six heavy machine gun bunkers without a fight. The 9th, in close cooperation with the 29th Infantry Division on the west bank of the river, was then able to widen the hole and press inward. After that, the city's defenses deflated like a flat tire, with only scattered sections of die-hard resistance to be mopped-up.

The Germans began giving up in great numbers when they learned we'd found a break in the wall. Some of the first platoons to get through the wall were swamped with POWs and passed them on to other units. At this point, they had been strongly entrenched, well supplied, and in superior numbers to ours, and why they suddenly gave up was never understood. Part of it must have been psychological, as they said they couldn't take the continual pounding of our artillery anymore. They said it was worse than the Russian Front. Even their fanatical paratroopers watching them with pistols, alert for the slightest signs of surrender, failed to stop the great numbers who gave up.

At last we were in a spot on the waterfront docks, where the sea waves could be seen kicking up white foam on the shoreline. All that remained was one little corner to be taken. We were preparing to do just that, when we saw a white flag of surrender waving. No one wanted to go down and get them, so I said, "Hell, I'll go." I had to go down a wall about twenty feet high, and had a hard time getting down. When I got within a hundred and fifty yards of them, they opened up on me with a machine gun! I sprinted for the wall, and this time didn't have one bit of trouble getting back over it! The machine gun bullets were kicking up the dust behind my heels, and clipped off the leaves all around me as I ran and fell in behind a building while the other guys in our outfit were dying of laughter.

When I got my breath, I called head-quarters for a self- propelled weapon, and they promptly sent the gun up. After one or two rounds of .155mm from this gun, they were waving the white flag again, and our men ceased firing. I pulled the bolt back on my Thompson and asked who gave them the order to cease fire. I shouted, "I want those buildings down there leveled! Resume firing!" We buried them alive. Someone went down to check for survivors, but there were none. I got on the radio and reported, Brest is secure."

Shortly after this, a halt was called in the artillery bombardment to allow the Germans caught in pockets to come forth from their shelters and surrender. After the merciless pounding, the constant shelling all day and all night, for weeks on end, they gladly came out. Around midday on September 18th, a group of Germans under a flag of truce approached American soldiers in the Rue Emile. They requested the commanding officer of the American troops in Brest to meet with their commander, and a major in the 9th Infantry, along with a group of other officers, went with them to the command post of the German 7th Parachute Regiment, just off the main square; President Woodrow Wilson Place. Here they met with a German colonel and his staff, and set a time and place for the formal surrender. At the appointed hour, this German officer handed over his pistol to the commander of the 9th, in the public square. The spit and polish of the German garrison, despite the long bombardment they'd been through, was in sharp contrast to the dusty, dirty, ragged and exhausted appearance of our own men. Men who had fought their way first through the hedgerows, hills and ridges, then through the long days and nights of savage street fighting, and finally through the much fortified city wall.

During the Brest operation, 37,382 POWs were taken, and of these, some 11,000 were captured solely by the 2nd Division. The para- troopers had sworn to defend Brest to the death. Many did. Over 13,000 enemy dead lay throughout the city and surrounding area from six destroyed divisions: 2nd and 3rd Parachute, 266th, 343rd, 363rd, and 366th Infantry, plus Kampfgruppen (battle groups), foreign soldiers of the Soviet 633rd Ost. Bn., and an assortment of six German naval battalions composed of anti-aircraft men and sailors off individual ships stranded at Brest.

Throughout this lengthy battle, our division's entire advance was over a distance of only eight miles, or an average of one mile every three days. But when you measured it in feet and yards, and the blood every single one cost, it was a long hard road all the way. We were in the Brest area a little better than a month, spending twenty-one days in hard fighting for the city, which the high echelon commanders in England had allotted ninety days to capture!"

After Brest fell, we moved to a rest area where we remained for about a week. Now for the first time since we left New York Harbor a year before, we could use lights freely at night, and remove our heavy steel helmets, which gave one a light-headed feeling. Passes were issued to nearby towns and villages where it was not necessary to wear arms - but I still carried my forty-five.

It was in one of these small burgs where I went out looking for a barber shop to borrow some tools to cut hair with. But, the French barber I found didn't want to give up his equipment. He must have thought I was trying to steal them. With my limited knowledge of the French language and lack of time to explain what I really wanted to do with his tools, I whacked him upside the head a couple of times with my .45, and he gave them up. I went to our outfit and cut all the guys hair in the 2nd Battalion. Three days later, I took the tools back to the barber, along with a box of money. The poor man was both shocked and puzzled to think that I had brought both tools and money back, but he was very happy about the whole incident. I still had a few hours off, so he quickly arranged for me to find a girl friend. He introduced me to a woman who had been a Red Cross nurse in World War I. She had remained in France and married a Frenchman- she took me out and found a pretty girl for me.

There were also tours in trucks for the men through the shell of what had once been a great European city, now reduced to rubble by the fearful pounding it had taken, due to orders from Germany to "hold out"; that every shot fired in Brest would be one less shot fired on the Fatherland. One million, seven-hundred and fifty-eight thousand small arms rounds were.

Athletic equipment instead of ammo was now brought out, and in the crisp days of early autumn you could hear cries of "batter up, rather than the cries of the wounded and dying. Suddenly gone, too, was the sound of the big guns. Their empty silence resounded through the clear, still air, after expending over 200,000 shells. Movies, special shows, and indoor activities were also provided, and we settled down to a somewhat civilized routine again.

Brest had been one bad-ass place.

At the end of September, we began to move out on what was to be our division's longest march for a change of front, through some 700 miles of recently liberated France, toward the Belgian-German border. Some elements of our division went by French railway box cars, similar to the immortal Forty—and—Eight of the First World War, which, I learned later, had not changed much since that time, except for the absence of horses. Most of those who went with the motor convoy had a fleeting glimpse of Paris, enroute to their destination in the dense and isolated Ardennes Forest where they were to bivouac near the Seigfried Line.

Traveling by motor convoy over the Red Ball Highway, the famed supply route of the Allied Front, we split up into two groups. At the flip of a coin by three officers, the group I was with was selected to be attached to the Seine Base Section in Paris. We were considerably envied by the other battalions at the time. My thoughts went back to Timmiehaw in Normandy. He said I'd make it to Paris, and now I was on my way."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 99 - 128)

TRAIN GUARD, THE CITY OF LIGHTS
(Chapter 8)

"We had been specially selected to go to the Seine Base Section to act as security guards on the supply trains moving to the front. Guard teams from the 8th Infantry Division delivered supply trains from the port of Cherbourg to our 2nd Battalion at the Paris railway yards, and from there we took them to the front. This was during the time when French renegades were looting supply cars of all descriptions, along with the aid of numerous American GIs who gave a black name to the whole business, while causing serious shortages of food and fuel on the front lines.

We moved into Paris at night, a beautiful starry, moonlit night. All the street lights were out, and as we moved along I kept think- ing, "Well, here I am in the fabled city of Paris; the city where all the pretty girls are supposed to be, and I haventt seen a one." You could feel the lingering fear in that city. The streets were deserted, and after we stopped, the only sound was that of a baby crying.

We parked our vehicles at the end of a park, and the first thing I did was to go look for a barroom, which I found in short order. Across the street from the park I saw a light, where I went over and found a cafe. I walked in and you could hear a pin drop-- the sight of a dirty, smudge faced combat soldier with a sub-Thompson slung over his shoulder, trench knife and .45 on his hip, and four hand grenades hanging from my shoulder straps, caught them by surprise. The people there were all friendly and gave me all I wanted to drink, and wouldn't let me pay for a thing, but I watched them all closely, not trusting any of them-- I remembered the two GIs with their heads cut off. I walked back to our vehicles where I spent the night under a truck.

The next day, we discovered a school for German paratroopers located not far from the Eiffel Tower, who refused to surrender to our troops and kept sniping at us until we moved in on them with tanks. They surrendered quickly enough then.

So far, all I'd seen of Parisians on the Paris streets were busy men with brief cases; others with meat purchases sticking out of their pockets, or carrying black bread from the pastry shops which had nothing else to sell. What girls I saw weren't all what I'd been led to believe. They were not so ugly you'd have to throw the flag over their face to make love to them, but they weren't what I would call beautiful, either. Maybe the war took something out of them. Mostly, it was a scene of old people, and a few chalk-white but well fed looking children playing in the streets.

I got the impression from the people of Paris that they were still afraid the Germans were going to bomb their city, but the Boche, as the French called them, must have had a special place in their hearts for Paris, even as I love Paris today. There is no other city in the world that I've seen that is quite like it.

The civilians told us that when the American armies advanced toward their city, the Germans hurriedly left. For the most part, the mode of travel that hundreds of them used in their haste to get away, was by tying ropes to the back of trucks and sitting astride bicycles, holding onto the ropes!

Three days after arriving in Paris, I went on my first tour as a train guard. We rode day and night on that train, sleeping in shifts in the French box cars. German ME-109s occasionally strafed our train as it neared the German border.

The train's engineer was a Frenchman, as was the fireman, and they never seemed to get in a hurry. On later runs, as I became adept at my job, I grew impatient with them. I'd get the train ready to roll, and if they weren't on board, they would have to make a run for it to catch up with the moving train and climb aboard. Whenever they complained about the way I handled things, I'd whip out my .45 and shoot the telegraph brackets off the poles as we roared along. The engineer gave me a long look out of the corner of his eyes and exclaimed, "Ah, you no cowboy, you Chicago `gangstaire'!"

I returned his look as I blew the smoke from my pistol, holstered it, and said, "Alright, any way you want it, only let's get the job done." We were rough and ready and they all knew it. They knew that we were not just ordinary soldiers. We had orders to shoot to kill and that's what we did if anyone tried to stop the train or interfere with it in any way from getting to its destination.

On one of the runs, the 1st Sgt. of the Intelligence section ran into an officer in a full colonel's uniform, who informed our sergeant that he was going to switch some cars off at a point somewhere between France and Belgium. The sergeant told him if he put his hands on the train he would kill him, and that colonel said, "Hell, I outrank you sergeant, and I am going to switch these cars off."

When the colonel put his hands on the train, the sergeant shot him right between the eyes with a .45, and he fell dead between the cars of the train. His body was dragged out of there and dumped beside the track like a dead dog.

They went off and left him there, but not before our sergeant addressed the M/Sgt. who had accompanied the colonel. He looked at him and asked, "Do you want some of it too?" His question met with silence on the M/Sgt.'s part, and he continued. "By, God, my orders are for these cars to arrive at the railhead, and come hell or high water, that's where they are going."

I don't know what happened to the M/Sgt., but our sergeant was court-martialed, given a carton of cigarettes, and offered a transfer to another outfit, which he turned down, and his decision was accepted by the CO.

Whenever we came off a run we would get a shower, clean clothes, and something to eat. A guy named Dooley and I came off train guard one night after a particularly hard run, with German planes strafing our train, and our clothes were so filthy with sweat and soot they could stand alone. Somehow, he and I were left out when the clean clothes were passed around that time, so we took off for a Paris tavern looking like hobos.

When we got ready to leave the joint, we sold our clothes in that tavern and we went back to the barracks in our underwear and stocking feet! With my holster strapped on, carrying our belongings tied up in handkerchiefs, we showed up at the building we were billeted in, and the barracks Sgt. brought a mop and bucket and set it before our bunk, telling this was extra duty for our caper.

The mood turned vicious, and I told him to kiss my ass, and asked him did he want me to make a necktie out of that mop for him. I told him to get the hell out of there and get us some clothes right now. He was a replacement NCO. While he'd been taking basic training back in the States, we'd been fighting a war, and we didn't need any crap out of guys like him. A hell of a lot he knew about what went on out there.-- He said he was going to send us to see the colonel. I said, "The hell with you and the colonel!" I knew that when I went back on the front lines I would be 1st scout and the colonel's body- guard. The Sgt. changed his tune and asked me what did I think we should get for our behavior. I quickly answered, "A thirty day furlough in the States." He didn't carry the issue any further, but brought us the clothes, and I wasn't a bit concerned about where he got them.

On one of our runs our train stopped in a small town in Belgium, and I swung off the train, deciding I'd have a look around. Walking down one of the streets, I found a place with a sign on it which read: OFF LIMITS TO ALL MILITARY PERSONNEL. I rushed back to the other men and informed them, "Come on, there's a place back there that's off limits to all military personnel, that's us!" We all took off with an MP jeep following us to the whorehouse, but they didn't try to stop us when we went in.

Another time while we were stopped during one of our runs, I was walking guard up and down the track beside the train with my sub- Thompson in my hands, thinking of my wife whose name I had carved on the gun's stock, when I saw two Negros come running across a field, apparently to board and loot the train. I heard one of them say, "Hey, look, they got a guard on this train!" I raked up and down the side of the train with my Thompson and snarled, "Yes, and all I want you to do is lay your hands on this train. That's all I want you to do. By God, I'm just itching to fill you full of lead." There was no grass growing under their feet as they took off.

On another day, I ran into a small French cafe with our canteens and asked them to fill them up with water. When they handed them back to me, I quickly ran to catch up with the train, and as soon as I got aboard, I took a drink out of my canteen, and to my surprise, it was filled with beer. The fellows asked where I got the beer, and I said, "Back at that small cafe. I asked for water and got beer."

While stationed at the Seine Base Section in Paris, I sometimes pulled guard duty there too. Once, while off duty, I had photos made to send home to Selma, along with a cablegram just before I went back on the front lines. A short communication that created quite a sudden stir, as they thought it might be a telegram telling her I'd been killed in action. It read: "You are more than ever in my thoughts at this time. All my love, Al."

The day the pictures were made, as I came out of the studio, two Frenchmen and some other people were in the street, arguing and fighting about cutting a woman's hair off; which is what they did with all French girls they found had "collaborated" with the Germans. It made me mad, anyway, and in a flash I waded in and pistol whipped the two Frenchmen, ran them both off, and left the crowd standing there with mouths agape. I didn't like to see a woman's hair cut off, no matter what she had done.

Shortly after this, we left the Seine Base Section. Traveling again by truck, we left Paris on the 10th of November, leaving to rejoin our outfit that was now dug in on the Siegfried Line along the Belgian-German border.

As November 11th dawned, cold and grey, while we were still enroute to the front, our Division artillery sent a tremendous T.0. T. fire across the German lines, reminding them of their defeat in 1918, twenty-six years before."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 129 - 135)

THE LONELY ARDENNES
The 2nd Division On The Siegfried Line

(Chapter 9)

"As we rolled along, I saw no more tall hedgerows, gnarled old fruit orchards, or sunken farm roads. Instead, there was dense, rough terrain of sharp gullies, steep hills covered with thick conifer forests, and occasional large clearings of land. When we finally reached our outfit, located in the Schnee Eiffel section of the Ardennes Forest, fifteen miles southeast of Malmédy, I found it to be a quiet sector. But I soon learned that a quiet sector can be as nerve racking as a busy one. I learned, too, that we had patrols out in three countries: Belgium, the Dutchy of Luxembourg, and Germany -- despite Hitler's declaration: "No foreign soldier shall ever set foot on German soil."

Life in the Belgian forest was no push-over. The enemy on this 3,400 yard front was always out there, but unlike the hedgerow country, he was often in sight. Work parties were constantly busy; feverishly deepening and strengthening his Siegfried Wall -- he could plant mines faster than we could dig them up. They often used forced laborers too. Once, a group of Russian prisoners, taken off the Eastern Front, escaped from the Germans to our lines while digging tank trap ditches. Frequent German patrols as well as infiltrators probed our thin lines, too.

Our side was also active. It was here along the Siegfried Line, with its sprawling concrete dragon teeth, earthen ditches and road blocks, that our division settled down to improve its defenses and at the same time keep the Germans in a state of suspense and constant harassment. Our tank destroyers sat back in the woods and fired all day long at them. And we used heavy, .50-caliber machine guns, .81mm mortars, and .105mm howitzer fire extensively, to keep the krauts uncertain as to our offensive intentions, and against infiltration of our lines.

Day after day, and night after night, we stood guard shifts in the falling snow, and patrolled the snowy forests. Night patrols were tough, demanding details through unsure darkness, rain and snow, sometimes over roads that became a mud bath during sudden thaws. To blend into the snow covered countryside during patrol duty, we often camouflaged ourselves with white bed sheets or even long white underwear pulled over our clothes. The Germans did too, and it was sometimes hard to tell friend from foe.

It was on one late afternoon patrol I killed a German I'll always remember. We almost ran into each other in the woods, and I beat him to the draw with the M-1 I was carrying. As he fell forward into a small ravine, photos fell from his pocket -- a pretty woman and two lovely children. I knew what it was to lose a father at their age, and it bothered me. He had more to lose than I did.

Our men had constructed shelters against the autumn rains, winter snows, and coming colder weather. Foxholes and log dugouts were built to provide maximum cover, camouflage, and comfort in harsh winter combat conditions. We also occupied captured enemy bunkers; in which I lived part of the time. I'd been lucky for a change -- the bunker was nice and dry, while some of the other soldiers had to chop logs to improve their shelters. Around our positions we rigged wire and booby traps: including trip flares, tin cans for alarm, plus hand grenades strung on wire to cripple or kill. Men from the ammunition and pioneer section had laid field mines in the area, also. One dark night, I remember, one of our sergeants, Sgt. Good, messed around out there, and in the darkness he tripped a wire and set off a mine. He lost both legs. While we were in Paris on train guard, this place had been a sea of mud, but now the November ground was covered with fresh blankets of snow.

Late one cold afternoon I was sitting in a forward outpost with Trempey, looking out across the empty, snowy fields through field glasses, with half mountains in the distance. As we sat there watching, memories came trooping back, one by one. Mostly of summer days back home in the "Granny Hollar"; at the end of a winding, rocky country road. Awakening mornings to the sweet scent of honeysuckle vines near the window, and the smell of baking biscuits and corn bread from the kitchen where my mother did all the baking -- cooking in the early morning hours to keep the house cool during the remainder of the hell-hot Southern day. My dog "Boy" rose to meet me every morning, and I'd pet his head and stroke his coarse hair along his neck. In winter when I went to bed at night, he would sit by my bed in the warmth of the fireplace light and look at me with brown canine eyes, while I watched the fire burn and wondered what my life would hold.

I was sharply brought back to the present when I saw a movement. Looking again, bringing the glasses into long distance focus, I spotted a German soldier moving along a path toward his lines, wrapped in what looked like a white sheet. I handed the glasses to Trempey, who was watching next to me, and picking up the M-1 rifle, I said, "Let me know when he walks between those two gate posts." The gateway was a good 1,000 yards away. I had no telescopic sniper sight, so I took Kentucky windage on it, and when Trempey said, "Fire!" I brought him down. Trempey saw him fall, and we watched out there for a good long while, but nothing moved out there the rest of the afternoon. It took that bullet three or four seconds to get there, but it seemed like forever.

It was there in the Ardennes woods where I watched Hitler's mysterious "wonder weapons" that we had heard about. As the first robot bomb I saw come into view overhead, it looked like a small, cigar shaped plane with a funnel mounted on its back, and made an earsplitting racket like a badly timed truck engine with-out its muffler. Some of the missiles turned off their course and careened back to Germany, which gave us a laugh or two. A few of them went into wild aerial antics which caused us some anxiety as to their point of impact. About 45 V-1 bombs fell in our front line sector, but caused no real damage due to our scattered outposts. Sometime after the first buzz bombs were seen, the first rocket trail appeared. Hitler's second secret weapon in the daylight skies left a thick cloud of light grey vapor which vanished in a few seconds; at night they looked like a ball of fire on a fast, curved course.

While we were in this sector, one of our squad was assigned to the motor pool, a guy hailing from Enid, Oklahoma. We were scheduled to go back on the rotation system to a rest area for Thanksgiving dinner, and he was to be our truck driver. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I hadn't seen him in some time, so when he brought the truck by that day, I greeted him with, "Hello, SOS, how does it feel to be back in the rear?" He just gave me that "go to hell" look and didn't seem to want to talk about it, so I shut-up and mounted the truck. I had really been looking forward to this trip back to the R&R; area near St. Vith, where we could get a hot shower, a change of clean clothes (even though some had bullet holes in them), enjoy some USO entertainment and music, and get a good, hot, real dinner. This thought kept our spirits high, even when the cold weather had set in and found us huddled over our fires.

The NCO, in charge of the truck, and I sat down by the truck's tail gate. About five or ten miles down the road we neared an American ambulance which had been destroyed by enemy artillery, and everyone but me laughed like hell about it. Suddenly, that strange, calm feeling that had saved my life on many other occasions came over me again. I looked at those in the truck and said soberly, "It ain't a damn thing to laugh about."

Then that silent voice said to me: "Listen, just about the time you get abreast of that vehicle, the next shell is going to hit." I listened hard and I just barely heard an artillery gun go off - a dull, hollow "whoom," way back. Again, that same, strange still voice seemed to say, "It's on its way...." I listened for that damn shell to come flying in, and in it came —— "WHOOSH!" As it did, I fell into the bed of the truck, trying to duck from it. A roaring explosion rocked the truck, and metal fragments flew up only inches from my head, going right through the hand of the non-com sitting next to me. It was a direct hit - hitting the highway and showering hot, hard steel through the truck and men.

The truck was still moving as I heard Sgt. Ruth say to Baker, "Drive on around that corner, Baker, before you stop." Just as quietly, Baker answered, "Okay, Sarge." I felt the truck make a few jerky movements, then stop as Baker slumped over the wheel dead. -- Later, I learned, according to the medics, a piece of shrapnel no larger than the head of a common sewing pin had entered his left side and came out his chest. The truck and road looked like buckets of blood had been poured on them, and pieces of men fell everywhere: nine men were killed outright.

Thinking another shell would be on its way in a matter of seconds, Trempey, who was on the truck too, and I ran for a slit trench in a field. As we ran, stumbling through the slippery snowy field, Trempey faltered and said, "I believe I'm hit!" Shocked, I stopped short and asked him where he was hit, and he answered, "My foot is burning." We hobbled back to the vehicles on the road, when Major Barsoni pulled over in his jeep, and they picked us up. Trempey was left with the medics; shrapnel had gone through his boot and tore part of his heel off. I never saw him again. We went on toward the rest area, but we made a stop before we arrived there, in a spot where Army truck drivers were given coffee and sandwiches. I got off the truck, too, and went into that station; an old, farmhouse by the roadside. As I walked toward the kitchen, one of the cooks who was standing there asked me what he could do for me. I didn't say a word. I just reached over and picked up a full pitcher of water setting on a table, removed my helmet, and poured every drop over my head. More than surprised, the cook stared at me like looking at a crazy man. I put my helmet back on, turned around and walked out, and got back on another truck. I don't think I ever came as close to dying of shock.

After arriving at the rest area, I found we were assigned to an old country farmhouse with a front porch and tin roof, like those back home in Tennessee. Across the road was a mess tent where our Thanksgiving dinner was waiting for us, but I was too sick to eat. All I could see in my mind were those killed on the truck I'd been on earlier that morning. Although we lived in the shadow of death every day, there was a mystery about death that we feared and dreaded. When it happens, it is all too real, hard, and cruel.

To get away from it all, I borrowed a carbine and went hunting. Crossing the railroad tracks in back of the farmhouse, I went out into the surrounding woods, and hunted the rest of the day through patches of fog and rain. Near twilight, I was retracing my steps back to camp, when one of the largest jack rabbits I'd ever seen jumped out in front of me. Forgetting the carbine slung on my shoulder, I drew my .45 pistol and shot him -- then gave him to a Belgian peasant I met walking down the road.

Back at the front, enemy artillery continued to be active throughout the month of November, and his mortar fire remained an accurate and troublesome nuisance. Our artillery continued sending him a daily dose of steel as well.

The most memorable thing that happened during this time, was when I first heard "Axis Sally" over the radio. "You men of the famous Texas division, we have plenty of women, plenty of schnapps, good beds with clean sheets, and plenty of bacon and eggs," she said in her dark, seductive voice. Then she put what sounded like bacon frying crisp and golden in the pan next to the microphone, and went on, "You hear these eggs and bacon frying? Can't you just smell them nice and hot? I know you're cold, wet, and hungry out there," she said in mock sympathy. "Think of your loved ones at home. End this war for yourself. We've got everything waiting for you - just come on over and be our guest. Now I'm going to dedicate your theme song to you." The guys looked at each other in disgust as she played our song "San Antonio Rose." We weren't about to surrender... we thought about the paratroopers back in Normandy with the blood running out their feet - then murdered. Finally, as a threat, she came over the air, saying, "We have plenty more of the `screaming meemie' rockets too, the kind that sound like they're going to hit right where you are, no matter where you happen to be. Think about that boys." That kind of propaganda didn't move us in the slightest.

In early December, much moving about was noticed behind enemy lines, but there was little aggressive action to go with it. Around the 11th of December, our division was relieved by the 106th Infantry Division."
(Whitehead- end of Pages 136 - 143)

The Battle of the Bulge
(Part 1)
(Chapter 10a)

"Leaving our sector in the Schnee Eifel, we moved northward to the vicinity of Elsenborn, Belgium, where we were preparing to push through the Siegfried Line in a surprise attack along the Krinkelt-Dreiborn Highway and the Monschau Forest. That action would eliminate the threat of the Germans blowing the Roer River dams and flooding the area near Aachen, to prevent our armored thrust to the Rhine.

We passed through the 99th Infantry Division lines northwest to secure the Roer dams, particularly Dam Number Five in the Urft chain of lakes. The best German shock troops along with “retread reservists” held this area, which was heavily forested with narrow, deep-cut valleys and sharp, slick ridges. A handful of villages dotted the forest, with little open ground.

The 9th Infantry attacked first, with the mission of seizing the Siegfried Line fortifications at Wehlerscheid; better known as “Heart­break Crossroads” from all the posthumously awarded Purple Hearts. Meanwhile, the 38th would make the main effort through the Monschau Forest toward Drieborn.

Positions were taken facing the Siegfried Line in deep, wet and clinging snow. In the still silence of the thick Belgian forest, the lead troops infiltrated up dim, tree lined trails toward our objectives. Then a December thaw set in, and the ice encrusted trees began dripping. Each drop on some of our equipment sounded like gun blasts in the deep stillness of the dense woods. The branches of the trees were sagging under the weight of snow, and brushed against our faces and clothes, soaking us to the skin.

At this time, our battalion started out on our first offensive since the fall of Brest. Our line of departure lay some fifty yards beyond the farthest outpost of the 99th Division through which we had to pass. We struck out through the woods, moving south of the Siegfried Line at Wehlershield, which the 9th was to take. The 9th infantrymen ran into a potential hornet’s nest complete with steel and concrete fortifications and the firepower to back it up.

Probing for a way in, their lead patrols kept getting lost in the winter darkness, dense forest and deep snows -- till one man found them by following their telephone wire and led them through to the objective. They sent word back they’d surrounded a pillbox, and that the occupants seemed unaware of the situation. Quickly and quietly, the 9th followed up the penetration in battalion strength, and like a Texas twister, smashed 24 pillboxes, and took 161 prisoners, while wounding and killing many more.

When we reached our attack point, we no longer had the protection of the dense forest. Here the enemy had cleared a large killing zone to the front of their forts, filling it with massive, formidable objects, wire and mines. In places, our supporting tanks blew a way open for us with direct cannon fire at the mined front. By then the element of surprise was long gone, and the Germans opened up on us strong and fierce for a sector that was supposed to be the weakest point; thinly held by static, reserve fortress troops, according to Army “Intelligence.”

Yet despite the obstacles presented by terrain, weather, fortifications, and a fanatical enemy, we took our objectives. In one day, I took sixteen enemy emplacements, including several pillboxes with a flame-thrower,- That was one wicked weapon, and it was “Katie bar your door” when turned loose on the enemy. With two light machine guns shooting beside me, I ran in a straight line to get to each one. The Germans in some of them didn’t seem to know what was happening until it was too late. A few not burned to death immediately came running out engulfed in flames: terrible sights and sounds that remained with one for a long time. My platoon leader put me in for another Silver Star.

Early on the morning of December 16, the 9th Regiment was getting ready to attack in a northwesterly direction, the 23rd was in reserve, and the 38th was to continue pushing eastward toward the far edge of the Monschau Forest. Colder weather had set in, and our wet clothes were freezing in the sleet and snow which was falling. Enemy artillery fire was coming in, and I was digging a slit trench for cover, when a mail orderly came running up, crying: “You are surrounded! The Germans have broken through, taken the water dump, the mail dump, and all the Christmas presents are gone!” My first thought was that the man was nuts. I looked up at him and said, “You’re crazy as hell.” He stood there still crying, swearing it was the truth, which I soon discovered to be a fact. At this point, our two regiments of the Division were far out ahead of the enemy’s line of attack, in German territory, when the full storm broke. We had taken three dams and were preparing to take the fourth, thinking we’d all but won the war, when this staggering bit of bad news hit us. Instead of going on with the attack, which had turned into a death trap, we were forced to withdraw from our exposed flanks, fighting our way back to Belgium.

In the murky winter fog, sleet and snow, using straw on the wheels of their vehicles to deaden the sound of their movements, in the protection of this heavily wooded front, the Germans had been able to assemble 24 determined divisions in greatest secrecy. Now we were fighting a disengaging action back to the Rocherath-Krinkelt-Wirtzfeld triangle. An air of disgust and urgency hung over all of us; knowing that the Germans were enjoying our Christmas packages and cutting us off. I was beginning to think our army had shrunk into insignificance the way things looked. Not knowing the larger strategy of the situation, we were all bitching, and I was wondering out loud why-in-the-hell those people in the rear couldn’t hold what we’d already taken.

That first night on the long wintry road back, we looked for a place to rest for awhile. I found an old, tin-roofed barn near a small village where I dug a hole in a pile of straw mixed with dry manure, got in, and covered myself with it. I had just about gotten my taunt nerves relaxed a little, when I heard a jeep driving up the lane to the barn. I could tell by the quiet, smooth way the jeep was being driven that a German was behind the wheel. The Americans didn’t drive like the Germans-- Americans “cowboyed” their vehicles. I said to myself, “Well, I reckon I’m going to have to get out of here and take care of that damned kraut.” And just then, I heard one of our men holler, “Halt!” and an M-1 click four or five rounds. That took care of that.

Artillery fire raged all night, along with snow, sleet, and cold rain. On the morning of December 17th, our commanding officers were still reorganizing our division rearward, moving all possible units of the three regiments to the Rocherath-Krinkelt­ Wirtzfeld area towns. By now, our commanders were aware of the vast scale of the enemy offensive. It was learned that the Germans had attacked in force along the entire front of neighboring divisions and way “to the south towards Luxembourg. Their forces numbered over two armies against one American corps made up two green divisions; the 99th and 106th, and two exhausted veteran divisions; the 1st and 2nd Infantry.

In our sector, we got word that enemy paratroopers had dropped behind us, at Kalterberg, in battalion strength, while a German armored column, identified as SS troops, had broken through near our rear, right echelon, and constituted an immediate threat to our hard pressed division. Elements of four different enemy divisions had already been engaged as we withdrew, the 38th being last out.

The Germans were fighting to get the great supply dumps of the U.S. 1st and 9th Armies at Liege. On the way, they had planned to travel on the supplies they hoped to capture from the Second Division’s supply depots, but our division had placed its dumps considerably further to the rear than the Germans had counted on. Our main supply route was on the road from Elsenborn to two of the towns in the Rocherath-Krinkelt-Wirtzfeld triangle, and our divisional artillery HQ was also in Wirtzfeld. We guarded our supplies all along the line, destroying our dumps with artillery fire, even after they were abandoned. And later, the Air Corps bombers took care of those the enemy seized intact. So the German plan was to fall through, hopelessly.

At this time, however, our defenses east of Rocherath were deteriorating, and this was the withdrawal route we had yet to go through. Companies from other infantry regiments were pulled out of their own line and sent there to hold the positions. The 99th Division had been ground up into small, disorganized islands of defense, and remnants were making their way back through Second Division lines.

Battalions of the 9th and 23rd Infantry Regiments went into positions around the Wirtzfeld-Krinkelt area, and the 3rd Battalion of the 38th had arrived at a point south and east of Krinkelt. The 1st Battalion of the 38th was approaching Rocherath from the north, and came under intense enemy fire, and had to reorganize under fire. They then went on into position east of Rocherath and Krinkelt, and were immediately struck by a heavy armored assault with infantry support. The enemy infantry was brutally beaten off, but enemy tanks penetrated the twin-towns and vastly confused and vicious street fighting ensued.

In Rocherath, Service and Antitank Companies of our regiment were fighting as riflemen. Our Battalion, the 2nd, arrived there at around nine o’clock that night to reinforce the defenses- which had already repulsed two hard attacks earlier that day. The Germans then made another assault into Rocherath, and by morning we had cleared them out, except for an isolated section near the far edge of town.

Early on the morning of December 18th, at the crack of dawn, we set our antitank guns into position, in preparation for the returning German attacks. Corporal Hazel L. Connell; a tall, quiet soldier from West by-God Virginia, and his assistant gunner, a red-headed, freckle faced little Georgia Irishman; PFC Vincent C. Dooley, and I, reached an intersection at about the same time. Our sergeant was hollering at us to hurry it up- and we didn’t waste any time doing so, knowing that our lives depended on it. My squad and I got our gun set up covering the intersection, first, so our sergeant yelled at them to get another position. Connell yelled back, “Don’t worry, by God, I’ll get a position.” When he said that, I had a strange, foreboding feeling, and called after him, “Hey, Connell?” But I stopped short when he gave me a dark look and snapped, “What the hell do you want?” I had a sick feeling as I said to him, “Take it easy... you’ll live longer.” “Quit worrying.” he replied. But, I felt I’d never see him again.

It was a cold and foggy morning that fell deathly quiet just before the Germans started a terrific, shattering artillery barrage, then hit us on three sides. Like grey ghosts, twelve enemy tanks led by a Sherman tank with American markings, along with armored scout cars, half-tracks, and several hundred panzer-grenadier troops on foot, appeared out of the fog and smoke of the burning buildings. When the Sherman tank was within a hundred yards of our position it opened fire, killing both Connell and Dooley. They fell dead across the gun trails; their blood staining the trampled mud and snow.

We opened fire on the advancing Germans with antitank guns, bazookas, machine guns and small arms, and called for a close-in box barrage of artillery which altogether destroyed four tanks, other vehicles, and many men within less than 100 yards of our guns. The remaining enemy tanks, half-tracks, and infantry retreated, leaving their dead, dying, and wounded in the deep snow. But they were prepared to overcome all resistance. Shortly thereafter they re-grouped and attacked again, and again we cut them down and forced the others to withdraw. We fought like hell and repulsed a day long series of vicious, fanatical attacks by the enemy about every two hours. All day long their attacks varied in size from one platoon to battalion strength- probing at our extended lines, trying to find a weak spot in which to pour through.

There was so much small arms fire it was like hail, and sounded like popcorn popping. Long range, heavy caliber artillery rounds and rockets of the SS tore into our sector, blasting communications; ripping up wires in the rearward lines by the score. We remained in contact with protective artillery support by radio. The enemy assault that morning had been so strong, that all artillery fire support of the Division, plus the big .155mm self-propelled guns of attached batteries, were temporarily shifted to the Rocherath defenses, and were at times called down on our own positions because the enemy had overrun us. That day, the “Steel Behind The Rock” really laid it in there--our 38th Field Artillery Battalion alone fired more than 5,000 rounds.

That night the Germans continued to attack our positions in force. Artillery star shells and flares cast an eerie, pale glow in the still snowing, winter night sky. Sudden flashes of muzzle blasts and tracer bullets shot through the air hundreds of times. Every now and then five to ten enemy tanks and their supporting infantry, on foot or riding the tanks, would break through our lines, but were soon taken of by us - including killing the tank crews as they came out of their disabled vehicles.

I took care of about four or five tanks as I waited until one rolled by and then got up on top of the tank, banged on the hatch and yelled, “Achtung, achtung!” They thought it was their own infantry trying to tell them about a target, as they opened up their hatches. That was all I needed to get a thermite bomb inside, while I slammed the hatch shut and heard them scream- those hand grenades were made to destroy equipment and would burn through steel: it really did a job on people.

No pity was given by us or the enemy. Our wounded and dying who fell into the roads, or those fighting in foxholes, were run over and ground to pieces by the German tanks. So it was kill or be killed, where no prisoners were taken. Whenever we ran low on ammo, savage hand-to-hand combat broke out, fighting with fists, bayonets, and rifle butts. Many of our soldiers sacrificed themselves to hold the town. Losses were particularly high in the 1st Battalion at our right: by the end of the next day, A and K Companies would have only 10 and 6 men left. During that three day battle, over 1,000 of our wounded were brought into the twin-towns.

December 19th dawned as cold and foggy as the day before. The town, by now, was in a shambles, except for a few sturdy buildings which remained, like us, still standing in defiance of destruction. German Panther and Tiger tanks, American tank destroyers, half-tracks and trucks from both armies, lay smoldering and gutted in the streets and fields, along with German and GI corpses which littered the shattered buildings and artillery scarred ground.

At daybreak I was on patrol, checking out some of the remaining buildings, and went in one. Suddenly, a tall SS soldier came out of one of the dim rooms, with an “I’ve got your ass” look on his face as he rushed at me, trying to bayonet me through the head, missing, and then following through his thrust with his rifle butt. He had intended on killing me quietly, and the bastard really thought he had me, but it was a hard glancing blow on the top of my head. I’d moved back like a boxer when he swung, but wasn’t fast enough. Stunned but still standing, I quickly pulled out my trench knife and stuck him in the guts. That was one tough sob; he was still alive, struggling with me when I finally got hold of my .45 and shot him in the chest, then passed out. When I came to a few minutes later, I was lying on the floor with my .45 still in my right hand, and a hand grenade in the other. He was dead. My reflexes had killed him. The room was spinning as I staggered to my feet and stumbled over to a table for support. Blood was running down my face from where a small piece of bone was knocked from my skull... I hadn’t worn my steel pot, on patrol we wore a wool stocking cap, to hear better. Unsteady, I stood there bobbing and weaving until able to leave. My head hurt like hell, but I was still alive and determined to keep fighting. (Strangely, after the war, my wife told me on that December day she had a clairvoyant image of me bending over a table, with a pained, shocked look, and blood running down my face, just as it happened. It left her uneasy for days.)

The morning brought more enemy attacks of artillery, SS armor and infantry, signaled by their NCOs’ assault whistles. There seemed to be no end to them. All along our divisions’s lines they came, through the foggy, blood stained fields over their frozen comrades, screaming and charging until they too lay dead in the snow.

During one attack, an SS trooper’s burb gun shot so close to our gun, that mud flew up in my eyes. “I’m blind!” I believed, until wiping it from my eyes with cold, shaking fingers.

Sometime during that day, I was blasting away at tanks with the bazooka we kept in our truck. Those German tanks were so big, it scared a person just to look at one. Less than fifty yards in front of me, a super-heavy 72 or 80 ton Royal Tiger Tank was running straight toward where me and this guy were laying; its .120mm gun fired a round at the town, and the ground shook from the impact. I gritted my teeth, waiting for my loader to reload the bazooka, but his hands were shaking so bad he couldn’t get the wires connected. “Give me that shell!” I screamed, then put it in intact.

The tank had almost overrun us when I fired at its tread, blowing it off. Snow and mud splashed up as the tank slid sideways to a halt- Its frontal armor was 200mm thick, and even .90mm tank destroyer fire would bounce off it. If I had missed or hit any other part of that bastard, the sob's would have steamrolled right over us. The tank’s crew panicked, bailed out, and we shot them down as they ran.

While we were holding on by the skin of our teeth, a group of non-combatant kitchen personnel from outside the Division, decided to leave the town. They all piled into a big, open six-by-six kitchen truck and went barreling down the road. (We were surrounded on three sides, and the road to the rear was under enemy interdictory fire.) In their haste to get out of there, they went the wrong way. Just past the outskirts of Rocherath, they hit the German lines head-on. The Germans cut loose with a volley of fire, and three or four of those on the truck fell off dead. Backing up, they roared out in another direction, only to hit the enemy lines again. And again they lost another part of their party. Some fell dead in the truck bed, and we could hear the others screaming in terror at their bloody sight. Apparently, the Germans wanted to capture the truck, either for it or its gasoline in its tanks. Otherwise, they would have riddled the cab.

The Battle of the Bulge
(Part 2)
(Chapter 10b)

"They were running up and down those slick roads, back and forth, and each time they went bouncing by, the truck had less and less occupants. If I hadn’t been so exhausted and worried, it might have almost been funny in a tragic way. We’d yell at them to stop and take cover, but they just ignored us and tried to plow out of there. Finally, they hit the enemy lines again, and that was the last we saw of them. By this time, there were only two, poor, panic stricken souls left.

On the late afternoon of that same day, the Germans got serious again and sent another squad through, which we wiped out. Right on the heels of that outfit, they ordered in a platoon, and we killed them all. By now I was firing a captured German light machine gun from a window in the top of a building, and they were returning fire, trying to knock my gun out. The rattle and clatter of tanks, pounding artillery barrages, machine guns and small arms fire that day had been like nothing I had seen in all my months of combat. Omaha Beach was terrible, but this was worse.

During these three days there had been no time to rest, except for short 10-20 minute periods could any of us close our eyes. Many a time I’d reach down and grab some snow and rub in my face to keep awake, while saying to myself “I’m okay, I’m okay.” The bitter cold drained us from our body heat in our station­ary positions, and all we could do to keep warm when things settled down, was to shuffle our feet back and forth in an effort to keep awake and from freezing to death. Those who couldn’t, the severely wounded, died. And anybody who got to close to a burning building for warmth, became an easy target. For food, I had a little of some stuff my youngest sister, Freda, had sent me before the mail dump was lost. After that, I ate rations taken off dead Germans: cheese, butter and jelly, along with their cognac and calvadose that they carried in their packs. The other men did the same.

All the while I was in this building, there were two women and a middle-aged man up there in one of the bedrooms, crying and carrying-on. I started in there to tell them to shut-up, when a white phosphorous mortar shell came crashing through the roof and landed in their room. That really started them screaming. So to calm them down, I moved them into another room. Just about the time I got back to my position, another mortar shell came through the roof and landed in the bed where one of the women was lying! I had put up with their screaming and yelling for about as long as I could: I was so mad, I was on the verge of killing those civilians. I tore in there, jerked the covers off the woman in bed, and found her in labor. She was giving birth to a baby in the middle of a battle! Quickly sizing up the situation, I ran downstairs and called headquarters with our radio, telling them to send an ambulance or the medics to come get those people, before I was forced to shoot them. In what seemed like about five minutes, they had a jeep ambulance and two medics up there to pick the old man, woman, and girl up, and that was the last I saw or heard of them.

Then, the Germans hit us again, sending in a whole company. After we got rid of them, we were ordered to hold out while the rest of the Division pulled back to Elsenborn Ridge. There, positions were better for defending against armor, as their heavy tanks would be confined to the narrow valley roads. So as not to upset the troops, the word “withdrawal” was never used. Instead, we were to “make a move to different positions.” Our men were very touchy about giving up ground, and fought to the death where they stood. We’d fight anybody at the drop of a hat who even looked like he had retreat on his mind. In one instance, during the battle for Brest, a replacement mentioned retreating, and I jumped up and socked him in the jaw, and shouted: “The American Army never retreats- by God we fight to win!” I heard no more talk like that out of him.

Only a few of us were left behind to fight the rearguard action to delay the enemy from entering the town. We were also ordered to destroy any equipment which might fall into enemy hands. That meant our gun we had hidden behind the gate outside the house. We had no more ammunition for it. I had been the gunner on our .57mm gun, and it was now my duty to see that the weapon be rendered useless to the enemy. “Shanghai Lil” was our gun’s name, christened by one of our men, a Regular Army sergeant, who had known a prostitute in China called “Lil.” He was one of those killed on the Thanksgiving truck. Our gun had been a good and faithful friend, and I hated to leave her. She knocked out about seven or eight German tanks in that last area, before we ran out of ammunition. She had met the elite, murderous, armored panzers head-on for two days and held her own. With a heavy heart, I took the firing pin out of it and threw the pin down the well in the front yard.

Just about dark, the Germans renewed their attack and sent what looked like a reinforced battalion through! I fired every weapon I could get my hands on; including those the Germans had left set up at every window when we first took the building. Finally, I was firing with a stack of Mauser rifles I had piled up so I didn’t have to reload. We stood them off into the night, when they began looking for our firing positions through the fog and spitting snow with searchlights.

Quickly, we retired to the basement of the building, and hadn’t been there long, when one of their Tiger tanks came slithering up to the house and stuck the muzzel of the tank’s eighty-eight through the front door. Then one of them spoke in perfect English: “Come on out, Yanks, if you speak any Dutch." No one said a word. I stood still, thinking, “This is the end...” my heart pounding, my limbs numb of feeling. I was wearing a big SS ring on my finger-- I slipped it off and dropped it in a pile of straw there in the cellar; knowing that if I were captured with that ring on me, I’d be shot. We were fighting SS panzer units, whom the British, who fought them at Caan, characterized as “filthy beasts.” Their one aim was to kill, as brutally as possible. These Nazi SS soldiers, Hitler’s hand-picked men, were beyond the name fanatics.

There were eight of us still in the building, holding the house. I had seven rounds of ammunition left and one hand grenade. The others had no more, maybe less. Huge drops of sweat fell off my face while we waited there. Then, the enemy apparently thought the building was empty, or were low on ammo also, because they didn’t fire a shot- just backed up and roared away. The concussion of one round of that huge gun would have killed us all!

We waited there until later that evening to leave, a few at a time, and I was the last one to withdraw. By that time, it looked like they had moved the whole German Army in there! I radioed divisional artillery and called down artillery on our own position, then picked up a German great-coat and helmet, put them on, and slung a Mauser rifle across my shoulder and walked out the back door of the building, while holding my .45 cocked inside the pocket of the overcoat. As I did, I brushed against an enemy soldier coming in. I was sure he could hear the trip hammer pounding of my heart! He must have thought I was one of their own men, because he went on by. And with that thought in mind, I made a dash out of there, through the piles of dead lying all around the place.

Out in the road was a column of a couple of hundred German troops moving through the outskirts of the town, and I reluctantly joined in at the tail end of the group, while trying to hang back from them. I was so scared I staggered. At each flash of artillery that lit up the darkness, I was terrified that they’d get a better look at me, or call out for me to hurry and catch up to the column. Finally, we came to a fork in the road, and as they went one way, I went the other.

I ran like hell and had gone what seemed like a short distance, when one of our own machine guns opened up! I threw myself into an open ditch which had some water in it. My lips were parched with fear, and I was so weak from fear and hunger that I couldn’t stand up. I threw some water in my face and wet my lips with it, and to my horror, I could taste the blood in the water! It made me wretch. I tried to stand up again, but was unable, and found myself clinging to a bush about the size of my thumb -- trying to hide behind it! That seemed to bring me to my senses, as I heard myself say, “I’M LOSING MY MIND! I’ve got to get hold of myself!

I threw off the German equipment and started crawling toward our lines. I crawled about a hundred and fifty yards under our own machine gun fire, back to our front lines. Along the road there, a jeep came by pulling a .57mm antitank gun, and there were so many soldiers on it, they looked like birds roosting on it. But I grabbed hold of the end of its barrel anyway, as a captain hollered, “Get off there, soldier, can’t you see it’s overloaded now!” I yelled back, “You go to hell!” and I laid with that gun barrel; I straddled that dude and held on. I stayed with that outfit until we arrived back at an old German camp where the Americans had some artillery set up. I had no idea where I was. It was still night, so I crawled into a hole with some other GIs I didn’t know. But, I couldn’t sleep. I just lay there with my eyes open. After awhile, I got out of there and crawled under the floor of an old building, where I spent the rest of the night, finally going to sleep, wondering where my own outfit was.

At daybreak, I knew I had better get my bearings, and hearing mess kits rattling, I slipped out and fell in with the men in the chow line. Being from another outfit, I felt like a soup line beggar, and had my woolen cap pulled down almost over my eyes as I hunched along with the chow line. To my astonishment, I heard a familiar voice holler, “Hey, Whitehead, God I’m glad to see you! Where the hell have you been?” By some miracle we were all back together, and they were just as surprised to see me, too. We went in different directions when we left that old building way back, and I had no idea where we’d meet up again. They all asked, “Boy, where in the world have you been? We thought you got it.”

I’d been the last to leave that old farm­house, and I answered with my familiar line, “Just where do you think I’ve been--on a three day pass?” But some of the other guys weren’t so lucky. The Congressional Medal of Honor went to one of the engineers who gave his life helping to keep the muddy road near Rocherath open for the Division’s withdrawal that night. It was the only escape route, and it was a one-way road across swamps and hills, with melting snow and unending columns of Army vehicles.

During those terrible days of December 17, 18, and 19, it was a terrible time for the medics, too. So many of the wounded were taken out, that jeeps and ammunition trucks, without the benefit of Red Cross markings, had to be used to transport the casualties to the aid stations. Medics used enemy infiltrated foot paths, back roads, and trails to get the wounded through.

Service and supply troops fought with the front line foot soldiers: telephone/radio operators, messengers, clerks, cooks- everyone took up positions in the face of heavy fire from fierce enemy attacks. Even the anti-aircraft guns were pressed into service with the ground troops. Quadruple mounted .50 caliber machine guns of the Division’s 462nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion were employed to repulse the enemy armor and infantry thrusts. Those guns provided terrific firepower in the hot spots, as they were moved from one area to another, depending on the seriousness of the situation. Signal companies braved death and maintained urgently needed wire and radio communications, without which, we would have lost the battle. Shoulder to shoulder, service and combat troops fought together to repel the German offensive.

The battle for the twin-towns had been a vicious, 56 hour fire fight against tremendous enemy odds. But we stopped them. Many Presidential Unit Citations were won by units of the 2nd Division around this time. Our 2nd Battalion was awarded its second for “outstanding courage, skill, and fearless initiative demonstrated by all personnel.” Time bought by blood for the Allied recovery. The cost was high. Casualties for the 9th Regiment ran 1,264 men, the 23rd lost 673, while the 38th was whittled down by 1,075 soldiers. We hit the enemy even harder. Thousands of German troops were wounded, and hundreds killed. Von Rundstedt’s panzer divisions paid a heavy price for those towns- out of the 100 tanks knocked out by our division during this battle, 78 were destroyed around the twin-towns; none at ranges greater than 150 yards. Our part in the first stages of the Battle of the Bulge was what held back the great German offensive. The 2nd Division had engaged elements of nine German divisions of the spearheading 6th SS Panzer Army- four infantry: the 12th, 62nd, 277th, and 326th, one motorized infantry: the 3rd, and four armored: the 1st SS Adolf Hitler, 2nd SS Das Reich, 12th SS Hitler Jugend, and 9th SS Hohenstaufen. Some of the most famous, fanatical, and toughest in the German Army. On December 20th, 1944, a telegram by Gen. Hodges, commander of the U.S. 1st Army, was read to the troops of our division, saying:
“WHAT THE 2ND INFANTRY DIVISION HAS DONE IN THE LAST FOUR DAYS WILL LIVE FOREVER IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES ARMY.”

But the Battle of the Bulge was far from over, and the history books were yet to be written, when our division took up defensive positions along the Elsenborn Ridge. Snow lay deep along our lines as remnants of the German panzer divisions were repulsed. Our divisional artillery kept up a circular fire, firing in all directions, as we were attacked by twenty separate assaults of German infantry still trying desperately to break through to Liege. Even the German airforce made a rare appearance, as we were strafed and bombed occasionally. Our biggest worry came from the German artillery- 70 batteries of big guns ranging from .88 - .240mm, which pounded our positions off-and-on, day and night, from December 21st to the 29th.

However, the brunt of the fighting, like what we’d just been through, was over. The main German drive had been turned south, toward Bastogne and the 101st Airborne Division, and Patton’s counterattack with the 3rd Army. A captured German map showed five routes for the northern prong of Hitler’s offensive: two of those lay, south of our division’s sector; the other three routes were blocked by men of the 2nd Division.

The Germans kept getting younger as the war went on. During the Elsenborn Ridge defensive, after their main armor troops pulled out to attack south, the Germans threw young kids at us, no older than I was when I first left home. I hated killing them, but there was nothing else you could do. As small as they were, they could still put a slug through you. Their older soldiers looked very thin, as though they hadn’t eaten any good, nourishing food since early in the war. I thought, “With a truck load of good rations I could go out and get them all to surrender.” That must have been one of the reasons why they were scared senseless of our night attacks; they were probably “night blind” from their poor diet, which made our chow seem like Ma’s home cooking.

In between holding our position, we had to strengthen our defenses and perform numerous other work details. One afternoon while over at the company HQ, we were building the colonel a command post out of pine trees dug inside an embankment, when I overheard him talking by radio to E Company, who radioed, “The captain’s been killed, and we’re taking heavy casualties from 88’s. Over.” “I’ll lay you some smoke in there, try to bring the body back,” he said as he put down the phone. That was the only time I ever heard the colonel’s voice tremble-- he was a West Pointer and as tough as they come. E Company had got ambushed when they tried to straighten up the line.

There were two Paul Turners in our squad when we hit Omaha Beach. Paul Turner, and Paul S. Turner. We left Paul S. Turner in Normandy, where he was killed just before Hill 192. Now, Paul Turner and I were sharing a slit trench along the Elsenborn Ridge. It wasn’t big enough for the two of us, and we slept miserably, cramped in that tiny space, almost freezing to death at night. The ground was frozen so hard that explosives were used to dig foxholes for the men. But I didn’t wait around for them to get one ready for us. Enemy mortar, rocket, and artillery fire had killed four men out of one platoon not more than 200 yards from where we were. That same night, they nearly got us too, the shells hit so close by.

The next day was Christmas. I worked on our slit trench all that day, hacking on the frozen dirt while eating a few cold K-rations to keep me going. To make matters worse, I had a hurting in my side that never seemed to let up. Wood was scarce, so I had to improvise. Along with the few logs I found, I took the stiff, dead bodies of the Germans who had occupied those trenches, and used them as “logs” around our trench--to keep the shrapnel off. It paid off. The next night our trench got a direct hit, but didn’t hurt us because we were so well covered.

As every day passed in combat, I’d lay awake and ask God to forgive me for the things I’d done that day, and pray the same prayer, “God, just let me live one more day, let me out-think the enemy and not lose my head.” But each day I was becoming more animal than human to survive. I slept in the enemy’s blood stained blankets, ate food taken off their corpses, while my own clothes were stiff with dry blood, gore, and pieces of human flesh. Then like a wild man, I would sit in my lair watching and listening for the slightest sound or movement. I swore I’d live to see the States again, if I had to kill every s.o.b. who got in my way in Europe. And that’s exactly what I did every day. If part of me hated what I did, another part of me thought no more of killing someone than breaking a twig for firewood. We were trained to hate the enemy’s uniform, and I killed them almost mechanically. But the enemy did have a face, and I would see them for years afterward. Those I had killed all through France. Young and old. Some had pitiful expressions, others a look of shock, knowing that they were about to die. There are no words, no way of saying what it does to a person to kill people day after day, week after week, month after month. There are no words.

The day after Christmas, around 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I had to take some shovels to G Company. No one was putting out markers, and both American and German planes were strafing the front. I was in one of our weapons carriers alone, driving back to my company after dropping off the shovels, when an American P-51 Mustang fighter plane started strafing me. As he came in shooting, I was cussing him, wondering what the hell was the matter with him. “Can’t that sob see the white star painted on the top of the truck?” I stood up, with one foot in the open door, driving with the throttle wide open, zig­zagging across the open, snow swept desolate area, with those .50 caliber bullets cutting up the ground all around. As he roared overhead, making his pass, I slammed to a skidding stop, jumped out of the truck and ran, trying to find cover where there was none. I looked up and spotted two German planes coming along, and the American that had been hot on my trail spotted them too. Leaving me sitting there like fox on a bluff, he peeled off and was right on them, like a hawk on a chicken, in that silver P-51 he was flying. The German planes split up, and the Mustang showed a fast burst of speed and bullets on one, and shot him down. The other German plane went straight up in the air, banked, and the pilot bailed out. I could see he was going to fall behind his own lines, so I ran back to the weapons carrier, jerked the canvas off the .50 caliber machine gun mounted on the truck, and riddled him. I saw the tracers going through him as he went limp.

The P-51 pilot must have realized his mistake, because he left… to my relief. After that airshow, I had to deliver a load of mines to G Company, and helped lay them in the snow. The only memorable thing on that trip was how the truck bounced along over that rough field, up and down, like riding a horse bareback.

Early the next morning I was put in charge of a detail to bury some dead Germans. Their decayed bodies were frozen solid to the ground, so we had to pry them loose from the icy field with picks. I put my pick through their head, pried them up, and dragged them over to the edge of a pit that had been dug, then shoved them in. The other men in the detail, new replacements, didn’t like the way I was doing the job, and stared at me in disbelief. In their horrified eyes, this was a desecration of the dead. But as a veteran of over seven months of continual front line fighting, I had little respect for the living, and none for the dead. I was miserably sick. The pain in my side was worse, and my spirit was as void of feeling as the dead bodies we were burying. I yelled, “This is war. What the hell’s a matter with you guys? These men are dead and beyond feeling. Get them over to this hole, and I don’t care how you do it, just get the damn job done and get out of here before we all end up in the same condition.” We finished the job in strained silence. After this grisly burial detail at an unmarked, lonely spot somewhere on Elsenborn Ridge, I decided to go to the dispensary for some pills for the pain in my side. I hadn’t slept in so long, I didn’t know what sleep was. I simply couldn’t sleep, and just rested with my eyes open while suffering from a re-occurring pain in my side that at times doubled me up; making it hard to move fast whenever I had to. I had never known anyone who had been ill with this kind of sickness, and had no inkling of what was wrong with me. Just about this time, too, my “unseen friend” who had never once failed me in battle, seemed to say, “This is as far as I can go with you.”

When I walked into the dispensary, I found our own doctor there who had been with us since Camp McCoy. He’d been promoted from captain to colonel since I’d last seen him. “Whitehead, are you still around?” he said, when he saw me. “I guess by God I am, ain’t I?” I replied. While examining me, asking me questions and looking at me, he finally exclaimed, “My God, Whitehead, this war should be over for you. You’ve had enough anyway.” “Just give me some pills for this pain in my side, to keep me from hurting so bad- I’m needed around here,” I told him. He shook his head and said firmly, “You’ve got to have an operation for appendicitis. You’ll have to go back to England, and then it will probably be back to the States for you. The war is over for you.” My arguments didn’t move him. He tagged me, and I was put in an ambulance bound for an Army hospital somewhere in the rear. As we left the front, enemy artillery fire began falling all around the area as the driver dodged his way through it and the shell holes peppering the road."

These quotes comes from a book titled
Diary of A Soldier
Author: Alfred T. Whitehead II
No Publisher, 1989
Pages 1 - 169

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