On the last day of the month (Ed. - August 1944) armored troops were at Rethel and Montcornet, a hundred miles beyond the Seine. General Rose, who had developed the 3d Armored Division "into a marvelous thing, ... built up morale, taught the division how to ... fight," led the advance, with the 9th Division (commanded now by Maj. Gen. Louis A. Craig) and Huebner's 1st Division clearing the corps zone behind the armor. (Source - Page 672)I don't know how we wound up with halftracks for the entire platoon, we'd lost a few guys, but none from 1st Squad. Platoon headquarters had been hit hard a couple of days before, losing six men killed in action, "KIA" as the Army put it. Sarge said it was unusual to have so many dead and only two guys wounded, neither of them that badly. Doc had sewn up a deep cut on John Myerson's left cheek, and picked out some fragments and debris from both of Cajun's legs and bandaged them up. Other than the L.T., Herm Shapiro, Myerson, and Jim Romano were the only guys left from platoon headquarters. I didn't know any of them very well. Six out of ten, gone.
We'd gotten a lift into some small town just south of Paris from some colored guys from the Red Ball Express, which Sarge explained to me was a bunch of trucks shuttling supplies from the beaches where we'd landed in Normandy. Also from some port called Cherbourg, I had no idea where that was.
The Red Ball guys met up with their convoy and dropped us off, their head guy, a PFC named Jefferson, told us that if his sergeant had seen them hauling passengers, he'd get his ass chewed. But that was okay because Cat, who spoke some French in addition to English and his native German, had found an unattended motor pool with a bunch of jeeps, trucks, and halftracks. All marked as belonging to the 3rd Armored, who were somewhere out in front of us.
The lieutenant was still kind of shaken up, his field jacket was stained with blood from the guy who had been sitting with him when their halftrack had hit a mine. So Sarge was covering for him with the assistance of the other two squad leaders in the platoon, Sergeants Jenkins and Peavey.
We still had a bazooka team and a machine gun section with us, though we were short six guys, we still had a lot of punch. Doc Milbury, the company medic, rode with us as often as he could, he said it was to keep an eye on us. He was with us today. Now that we had liberated five halftracks, all with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on them, we were riding in style. Cat had started referring to our platoon as "Kampfgruppe Paddock." Which I guess means "battle group" in Kraut. Paddock of course was our lieutenant in command, so the group was named after him. I'm still learning.
Yeah, I started smoking, helps to settle my nerves. I've written home a few times but haven't mentioned that, nor have I mentioned that I've killed more than a few Germans. So I talk about the French countryside, it is really pretty around here, not all closed in like in Normandy. Reminds me a bit of Vermont up around Burlington. But with not as many trees. Good looking farmland from the looks of it.
|The road to Meaux, France, just east of Paris|
What was left of platoon HQ was riding with Sgt Brandt's section, Brandt was still keeping an eye on the lieutenant. He seemed to be gradually coming around, he was young and impressionable, but he was also pretty tough Brandt had noticed.
"Bill," 2Lt Paddock turned to Brandt as the halftrack clattered around a corner, "our intel says that 3rd Armored had cleared out all the Krauts between here and," briefly he consulted his map, "and this place, Château-Thierry."
"Didn't we fight a big battle there back in World War I L.T.?" Brandt knew some history, it wasn't that long ago that he'd been in high school, so he remembered some of his lessons.
"That's right, our 3rd Division and some French division held off a Kraut offensive and then counter-attacked. Might have been America's first fight in that war, I don't really remember all that much about it."
"Anyways, supposedly 3rd Armored is moving to the north fast, all we're supposed to do is make sure that the places the tankers liberated, are actually cleared of Krauts. There have been a couple of occasions where some supply guys were moving into a 'liberated' village only to get shot up by some stay-behind Krauts. Booby traps are a problem too, tell the guys no souvenirs and don't f**cking touch anything suspicious, which is pretty much everything."
"Got it L.T.," before Brandt could get out another word, the .50 on the halftrack immediately in front of them was opening up on the ditch on the right side of the road, about 50 yards ahead.
"Goddamn SS bastards Sarge, f**king MG 42!"
Another burst from the .50 cal, then Dickenson ceased fire, "Ha! Three dead SS bastards! Hey Heinie, f**k you!"
Brandt had noticed that Dickenson was on the ragged edge lately, the man loved killing Germans. It wasn't a job to him, it was a passion, ever since he'd shot that Kraut tanker back in Marigny, he had become a better shot, and a much more efficient killer. Brandt was a bit worried about him.
Brandt and the L.T. dismounted and went up the line, the lieutenant ordering the track to follow behind and cover them. When they got up to where the Germans had set up, even Brandt almost threw up, the .50 cal had literally torn the three Germans to red ruin. The two .50s had even destroyed their MG 42, the barrel was bent and the feed tray was nowhere to be seen.
"I'll never get used to this shit Bill. Never." 2Lt Paddock had seen too much death in the past few weeks, but seeing guys torn up by mines and machine gun fire was pretty common. He'd made the mistake back in Normandy of looking inside a knocked out Kraut tank, he'd never do that again, the crew were still in their vehicle, burned and almost unrecognizable as human.
The lieutenant stood there for another long moment, then took a deep breath. "Hey Gammell, got any Camels?"
"Since when did you start smoking Nate?" Brandt whispered with some concern.
"Since today Bill, since today."
Climbing back into the halftrack, the lieutenant bellowed, "Mount up! We don't have all day!"
As Brandt took his seat next to his lieutenant, he looked at the man, seemed that the lieutenant had gotten his second wind or something. But he seemed grimmer somehow.
"Problem Sergeant?" Paddock asked as he lit the cigarette Gammell had provided.
"Nah, Sir, just that you look a bit green around the gills."
With that, 2Lt Nathan Paddock, U.S. Military Academy Class of 1944, had a coughing fit and tossed the cigarette away.
"Since today, huh L.T.?" Brandt was grinning as he said it.
"Sarge, kiss my ass." Still coughing, Paddock decided that he would quit smoking the same day he had started. What a vile habit!
|Situation as of 31 August 1944|
Approximate position of the 1st Infantry Division circled in red
|The route taken by 2nd Platoon in August 1944|