Sunday, October 4, 2020

Good News, Bad News

(Screen Capture from Film)

The last of the German wounded  had been evacuated to the rear. 1Lt Paddock was looking over the scene and wondered what to do about the dead. There were so many. He kept glancing over at the dead German lieutenant, his body still sitting against the tree on the spot where he had ended his own life. What makes a man want to kill himself? Paddock wondered. Was it that he felt he had failed his men, most of whom were still lying where they had fallen, killed by American artillery, in the woods to the southeast of the German city of Aachen. They had not seen a single American soldier before they had died. Just the crash and bang of artillery rounds, reaching down, so it seemed, from the heavens to strike them all dead. Perhaps the man feared the cost of failure? Seeking a soldier's death like in old Roman times.

Other than the two men that had surrendered on the edge of the forest, and the distraught radioman who had watched his commanding officer blow his own brains out, only four other men had survived the short barrage. Eleven men had not been killed outright by the shelling but had been wounded, three lived only a short time after being hit, Doc Milbury had managed to patch four of the wounded up so that they could be moved back to the battalion aid station. Despite his best efforts, four had died of their wounds, the detritus of Doc Milbury's medical efforts still lay strewn about their torn bodies.

Some of the men had built small fires and were heating water to make coffee. The platoon had advanced past the gully with its dead men in order to put some separation between the living and the deceased. Some of the younger men kept looking in that direction, and up into the shattered trees, as if the same unseen menace would strike them down as well. Their sergeants managed to distract them by getting them to focus on the task at hand.

"Time is short fellas, brew your coffee, smoke 'em if you got 'em. We'll be moving out soon."

A messenger from Captain Josephson had caught up to the platoon before they had moved on to their next objective, a small stream winding through a shallow valley some 500 yards deeper into the forest.

"Sir, Captain says to hold up," the runner was panting, acting as if he'd run the whole way to deliver the message, "Your objective remains the same, but the whole company is moving up to join you. Something's going on, I don't know what." Pvt Winston Hillsbury bent over with his hands on his knees. He had run the entire way.

"The captain doesn't know what's going on? Or is that your personal observation Private?" SSgt Graves looked at the panting messenger, he wasn't sure if he liked privates chiming in with their own thoughts.

"Nah , Sarge, not the Cap'n. There's a lot of hubbub back at the CP, the battalion CO was there earlier and when he left, the Cap'n was hopping mad. Just thought you'd like to know before the Cap'n got here, he's in a mood, if ya know what I mean."

"It's okay Private, you can head back to the Cap'n, we'll hold here." Paddock interceded before Graves barked at the messenger again. Everyone was still a little rattled at what they had seen in the gully. Doc Milbury had come by and laid the German lieutenant out and covered him with a German shelter half. Paddock appreciated that, the dead German's face would haunt him for a long time, that much he knew.

"Geez, Herb, ya didn't have to tear the kid's head off."

"Sorry L.T., it's just..."

"I know Herb, I know. At least we're not going to be out here on our own tonight."

As the two men stood, drinking coffee, they didn't speak. They were simply content to await their new orders. After about 15 minutes...

"L.T. there's the Cap'n now."

Sure enough, a grim looking Captain Alphonse Josephson, his radioman, and the First Sergeant were paused on the edge of the gully on 2nd Platoon's side, Paddock could see the captain shake his head as he surveyed the scene, saw him say something to 1Sgt Morton Saeger, then continue on to where Paddock and Graves were waiting for them. As they passed through the men, someone offered them coffee, which they all accepted. Miracle of miracles, Captain Josephson actually laughed and slapped his hand on the man's shoulder.

"Pretty nasty scene Nate." Captain Josephson said, then sipped his coffee. "Damn, that's good! SSgt Graves," nodding at that man, "you put the fear of God into young Hillsbury."

"Sorry sir, it's just that..."

"I know, the lad tends to speak his mind. But you should listen when he does, he notices things, it's why I chose him as one of my runners."

"Good to know sir." SSgt Graves nodded at that, then said, "I need to check on the men lieutenant." He knew when to make himself scarce.

"Okay Herb, get them ready, I'm betting we're moving soon." As Paddock spoke, he looked at his commanding officer.

"That's right Nate, we're all moving up to where I was sending you. Plans have changed. Seems that the rest of the division is bogged down in Aachen. The Kraut general surrendered the city, but basically that just means he and his staff threw in the towel. The city center is still holding and division is sending in our regiment to take the last of the city."

"So why are we moving to this stream in the middle of nowhere Sir?"

"Ah, we're not going, 2nd and 3rd Battalions got that job, we need to hold the fort out here in the woods. It's a good news, bad news kind of thing."

"I gather that the good news is that we're not going to be fighting house to house in a bombed out city?" 1Lt Paddock tossed the dregs of his coffee and stowed his canteen cup. "So what's the bad news?"

"We've still not received any winter clothing other than what's on our backs, no shoepacs, no long underwear, scarves, wool caps, that sort of thing. Ammo resupply isn't expected for another couple of days, there won't be any hot chow for a while and..."

"What, there's more?" 1Lt Paddock asked incredulously.

"We won't have any artillery support for a while except for the company's mortars which, as you can see," the captain gestured to the thick canopy of trees overhead, "won't do us a whole lot of good in here. On the bright side..."

"We're not fighting in Aachen." Paddock finished for him.

"Exactly. Now let's get things on the move. Nightfall is in two hours in these woods and I don't want to be stumbling around in the dark at our new position. Your platoon is my reserve, I'll be bivouacking with you guys tonight. Especially if you have any more of that coffee."

"Yessir, coffee we got."

With that the men gathered up their gear and headed deeper into the forest. They weren't very happy with that, but many of them breathed a sigh of relief at avoiding Aachen. Why would the Krauts fight for this forest when they were losing a city? It felt like they'd caught a break for once.

Most of them gave no thought to what came after the city fell. For now they were out here, in the middle of nowhere, doing what soldiers had done since the beginning of time. Following orders.

As they moved off, it started raining.

Video has no sound


  1. "separation being the living and the deceased" Pretty sure you meant "...between...", Sarge.

    Thanks for plugging away at it. On the one hand it's entertainment, but on the other hand, it's the age old therapy for the warrior to see the suffering and destruction beyond what he or she has personally experienced. Puts things in a different perspective to have to look past you own plight to that of others and see that you maybe haven't had it quite so bad as you thought.
    Have a righteous Sunday!

    1. Argh! Thanks for bring that to my attention Patrick. I think I'm getting dyslexic or something. I have autocorrect turned off (as Google isn't that smart) but sometimes my fingers will type something other than what I had in mind. D'oh!

      I really want to come at this story from both sides of the war. Regardless of the ideologies involved, both sides were made up of people, good and bad.

  2. Great Siri Sarge I wake up from insomnia at 0331 and this is the first place I go

    Some thoughts as I read that

    As you conveyed what a horrible thing it would be to see all that carnage from the artillery, even if it is your enemy

    What a horrible thing it would’ve been for those Germans to see their COkill himself

    If I were in that unit stuck out in the dirt and the filth in the blood about that time I’d wonder how navy life is.

    Except the thought of being torpedoed while your five decks below is not appealing either

    And where are those Germans going to go fleeing the city?

    A rhetorical question I believe

    I wonder how long the average infantry man had to march every day during this time?

  3. Cold, wet, no resupply, no support. What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Heh, enlist they said, it'll be fun they said.

      Or something to that effect...

    2. "Be All You Can Be"... "Army of One"... "Army Strong"..."What's Your Warrior". Of course back in WWII there was a draft, been a need to entice volunteers since 1973. Like TB above said, summer clothing, cold rations, only ammo what you have ON you, no arty/air, and in the forest......with rain dripping.... oh boy.

    3. The fall of 1944 along the western border of Germany was no place to be for all the reasons you mention.

      Still, the troops got it done.

  4. Wow, that video brings back some memories. It was only 16 years later that I found myself eating c-rats and drinking coffee from a canteen cup in those woods. First time out to our alert area I was the "new guy" so I wound up on KP. November in Germany, in the woods, sleeping in the snow. Priceless.

    1. There is a rare beauty in such a thing, as uncomfortable as it might be, it's still awe inspiring.

    2. It's even more awe-inspiring when you have the correct kit for the weather. Not so awe-inspiring when you are frozen to the core and damp with no warm food or drink, not being able to keep a fire.

    3. Not to mention the other chaps shooting at you.

  5. For once I read all the comments before commenting, but...

    As you noted, by October, our ability to resupply and re-equip was fragile. Didn't help that winter gear wasn't seen as a priority item until, oh, around DECEMBER!. We experienced the same thing Rommel's troops did in their dash across France. Worn equipment, at the arse end past the edge of resupply.

    And no hot meals? Unheard of! Spoiled children these Ami be (which is how a lot of Germans, French and some Brits felt about us, the jealous little snots...)

    So. The movie.

    The woods look like almost a rain-forest, moss-covered ground covered by pine needles. Not the place for US tanks with road-tracks on (our tracks had rubber pads on each plate so as to get better traction and wear the metal part less when on roads. The rubber did not give as good traction in wet slimy conditions like mud or, well, mossy forest floor.)

    That one guy who almost became one with the tree via tank? Lucky. He should have crossed on the other side of the tree away from the tank. And... weird. Each M4 was equipped, from the depot, with a shovel, an ax, a pickax and 2 massive prybars. So why do they have some infantry going 'tink, tink, tink' with a camp hatchet? Just shows the effect of scrounging and equipment loss once the tank leaves depot, doesn't it.

    And that one tank that falls into the hole, can you tell what it fell into? Looked like to me some ancient stone cellar, but was it some forgotten haunted tomb of some unspeakable horror?...

    As to the guys warming their food, well, they should have dug shallow holes so the fire was below the ground level. Bad enough they're just sitting around facing away from any possible enemy contact, but to have open fires (even small ones) is just too much. Bad boys. You'll learn. Oh, you'll learn.

    Back to the story... no winter gear. Gets downright cold in late October it does...

  6. The story is great, well told, and engaging.
    The carefully selected images really add a lot, and I hope the print edition will be able to include most of them.
    The video was especially appropriate. Thanks for the extra effort to find and include these.

    Stuff like that take this from "entertaining" to enlightening and understanding, and deeper respect for the actual people who were there.
    John Blackshow

    1. Well, that accomplishes a couple of my objectives: entertain and enlighten.

      Now if I could make it remunerative, it would accomplish the mission in toto.

  7. I watched the video on the desktop. What a miserable job using a hatchet to clear trees for the tank. I thought this was a re-enactment until I saw the Germans surrendering. Those little fires - was that sterno - GI issue?

  8. The credits from the movie made me think, a) they misspelled Zweifall, and b) what was Black Entertainment Television (BET) doing there in WWII? Then I thought BET must stand for something else but have no idea what.

    Another good episode - maybe they'll wish they had been sent to the city instead of the possible poop they are going to encounter in the forest.

    1. The city or the forest? The frying pan or the fire? Neither is a good choice.


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