|(Source - Page 269)|
Night was falling, the forest seemed alive with noise which was unnerving to someone not used to such things, but to Pvt Charlie "Camel" Gammell it was only when the forest went silent that one had to be wary. He'd been born and raised on a small dairy farm in Vermont, enlisting at 17 after an old hag in town had commented on why he wasn't in the army. He was a big lad, larger than some men twice his age. But all the men in his family were big and burly, life on a farm with lots of good food helped that.
Pvt Jackson "Bear" Hebert walked behind and to Gammell's right as they moved in silence through the dimming light. They were on the edge of a firebreak, a common thing in this area. Fires were a threat, but the firebreaks helped keep them from spreading. They also provided paths through the wooded area which they could use, but the Germans knew that. Walking down the middle of a firebreak invited death. So they kept to the shadows of the trees, which deepened as night fell.
Neither man knew it but they were inside Germany now, less than five miles from the cathedral in Aachen, part of which had been built by Charlemagne over a thousand years before, though neither man knew anything about that. All they knew is that they had lingered far too long watching a German position even further forward. They had missed their objective and were now backtracking, they crossed back into Belgium after their brief invasion of the Third Reich.
The division was in the process of absorbing, and training, many new recruits to replace the losses suffered since Normandy. While that was going on, the experienced men were kept occupied with patrolling and gathering intelligence on the German defenses on this, the westernmost extent of Germany proper. The Germans were losing this war, and losing it badly, they just didn't know it yet. Or perhaps they simply refused to acknowledge the idea of defeat. Gammell and Hebert didn't really care, they had a job to do, a job they did well. But they had grown a little too confident over the past week.
Their platoon leader, 2Lt Nathan Paddock, had been tasked with sending out a patrol to check out the Belgian village of Moresnet-Chapelle. The battalion S2 had received reports of German activity in the village, after a day of observing the place, the platoon had learned that many of the villagers spoke German. After reporting this, the company commander had wanted someone from Paddock's platoon to watch the village, especially the road towards Germany. He was relying on Paddock's platoon a lot lately.
"I know Nate, but damn it, battalion is convinced there's Kraut activity in that village. Not just some civilians who speak German." Captain Josephson had mellowed considerably over the past week. Though he still suffered terribly from the loss of his wife and son, by focusing on the war and leading his company, he could put that aside. So he tended to be a bit more aggressive than the other company commanders in the battalion, which had not gone unnoticed at battalion.
"So Cap'n, my sniper team is pretty good, both Gammell and Hebert are comfortable in the woods and have been out on their own before. Why not have them set up and watch that road?" Though Paddock hated sending his men in harm's way because battalion was nervous about some German-speaking village in Belgium, he knew that Gammell and Hebert were good at being stealthy. Better send someone who could handle themselves than some big noisy squad-sized patrol.
"Okay Nate, observe only, no shooting unless they see Hitler himself. Got it?"
"Yes sir, they're good men, they can handle it."
"Good, oh, by the way, here." The captain said as he handed Paddock a small parcel. "You can put these on now if you'd like."
Paddock opened the parcel, it was a pair of silver bars, first lieutenant bars. He looked up at Captain Josephson and said, "Sir, I've only been a second lieutenant for barely three and a half months."
"Battalion wanted some recommendations for promotions, regiment is being generous lately I guess. What with all the new recruits coming in, they said to promote some veterans. You're a veteran aren't you?" That last part the captain said with a grin, he liked this kid and his platoon had a lot of veterans in it. Well-led veterans.
"Oh yeah, tell Wilson he's officially a sergeant now, also Katz is now a corporal. They've been doing the job, they should get the pay. Now move out before I change my mind and give the promotions to someone else."
Paddock nodded, he had misjudged Josephson initially, the man could be gruff as Hell, but he was a good officer, and a good soldier to boot. He headed back to the platoon to give newly promoted Jack Wilson the news. A good news, "hey, you got promoted" and a bad news, "I need you to send two guys out there," situation. But he knew his guys could handle it, he had confidence in his troops.
I signaled a halt, Hebert immediately moved closer.
"It's getting too dark to continue, I think we missed a turn somewhere, I don't really know where the heck we are." I was pissed at myself for getting lost. We should have come across the road in the last mile or so, now we'll be stuck out here through the night from the looks of it. Damn it!
"Well Camel, at least it ain't raining." Bear quipped. So of course, it started raining.
1Lt Paddock came over to 1st Squad's bivouac shortly before sunset, "Sgt Wilson, they back yet?"
"No sir, I ain't worried yet. Camel and Bear are pretty capable, they might be out there all night if they've got a good position. I wouldn't worry until tomorrow. I don't like that they're out there, but they're careful, they'll do the job. Don't know if it'll satisfy battalion, but..."
"Yeah, I know, you guys hunker down, it feels like rain tonight."
"All right, talk to you later L.T."
With that, the 2nd Platoon settled in for the night. Paddock and Wilson were worried about Gammell and Hebert, but not excessively so.
"Bear, you seeing what I'm seeing?" I couldn't believe it, but there appeared to be light coming from over the next rise in the ground. "Maybe a village?"
I thought about moving up to that rise, couldn't be campfires, no one was that stupid, but we'd all noticed that some of the Belgians were convinced that the war had moved on, their lives were returning to normal and there were no Nazis around to enforce a blackout. So they lit their lamps and acted as though peace had returned.
"Ya know Camel, with this rain we could move up, see what's going on, the rain will help muffle any noise we might make."
"And maybe stumble into a Kraut position?" I asked.
"What, Krauts? You think the Belgians would have their houses all lit up if the Krauts were still around?" Bear sounded skeptical and I had to agree. So we moved.
Antoine Duchein was extremely drunk, he had been drunk it seemed since the Huns had left three days ago. The village was getting back to normal, after four years of being under the Nazis, it felt good to loosen up. But when would the Yanks arrive? As far as he could see, there was nothing preventing the bastard Nazis from returning.
As he took another drink of his vin rouge, he heard something in the rain, a vehicle!
Gammell and Hebert had got into a position where they could now see the village of Moresnet-Chapelle and the road leading into it from Germany. They could now complete their mission, so they settled in for a long, and wet, night. They too heard a vehicle on the road below. It didn't sound like an engine from Detroit.
Sure enough, a Kraut Kübelwagen with two men in it, one an officer, the other an enlisted man, drove up the road. Gammell and Hebert watched as the vehicle rolled into the village, then they lost sight of it. So apparently there was German activity in the village. Battalion was right. Now to report back.
To be continued...
For those wondering, the eye is a bit better, no ointment yet, thanks to the virus thingee shipments aren't arriving when expected. But the moist warm compresses help. At least I felt well enough to write. Had to make it at least a two parter though, otherwise I'd be up all night. Stand by for heavy rolls!