Friday, October 16, 2020

How Stump Made Private...


"Stump, you have a minute?"

"Sure L.T., whaddaya need?"

"Walk with me."

PFC Flavio Gentile, "Stump" to his platoon, walked with 1Lt Paddock towards the dugout holding the platoon CP. Waiting at the entrance was Sgt Stephen Hernandez, the new platoon sergeant.

"Hey Stump, how goes it?" Hernandez asked, smiling.

"Hey hermano¹, things are good, I'm still alive, right?" Gentile had known Hernandez back when both men were in Able Company, both had been at, and had survived Kasserine, but had been in different platoons.

Stump had been a corporal then, squad leader of one of Weapons Platoon's two light machine gun sections. They had still been equipped with the water-cooled M1917A1 Browning .30 caliber machine gun. Hernandez had been a private in 1st Platoon. They had known each other well back then but had lost touch after North Africa.

Hernandez chuckled, "Yup, good to be on this side of the grass isn't it? The L.T. and I need to talk to you, well, you need to talk, L.T. wants to listen. I know the story."

At that PFC Gentile looked a bit uncomfortable. "I don't know Sarge, I've put that all behind me."

"I need to know Stump, I have my reasons." 1Lt Paddock walked up, he looked very serious when he said that.

"You want the story about Kasserine, right?"

"Yup, all of it."

"Okay. Here's how I remember it..."


"Jesus Philly, that's a lot of Krauts!"

"Just focus on the gun Leibowitz, short bursts. We're out in the f**king desert with a water cooled machine gun, the one thing that's hard to get, water." Corporal Gentile shook his head and spat in the dust.

"I dunno Corp, ammo's kinda short and the food stinks."

"Put a sock in it, Greene. Just make sure that belt feeds when Herbie here is hosing down Krauts."

Turning to the two men behind him, Cpl Flavio "Philly" Gentile said, "Moscone, Jackson, make sure we stay topped off with ammo. I know there's gonna be a temptation to stay in the rear when you go back for more, but don't think I won't come looking for it after."

"Gee Corp, what if you get killed?" Tom Moscone wasn't one to pull punches.

"My f**king ghost will come find you, count on it numbnuts!"

"Now settle the f**k down, here the bastards come..."

Swarming up from the floor of the pass was at least a full company of Afrika Korps panzergrenadiers, supported by at least three Panzer III tanks. As they advanced, German mortar rounds began to drop near their position. The Germans hadn't spotted them, they were simply providing supporting fire for their infantry, meant to keep American heads down and not firing at the advancing infantry.

"Okay, you ready Herbie? Let's start the music."

With his first short, controlled burst, PFC Herbert Leibowitz knocked down at least three Germans who had been far too close together. The others began to return fire and were spreading out, they hadn't spotted the machine gun position yet. But it was only a matter of time.

That's when Gentile's gun ceased fire, and another position opened up on the German infantry. Fortunately for the Americans the three German tanks were dueling with a hull-down Sherman and were far too busy to bother the American infantry.

"Right, grab yer gear, we're shifting to the alternate firing position." Gentile watched as the Germans turned to face the new threat. They were starting to go to ground and return fire, Gentile could tell that the German attack was starting to bog down. At that same instant he saw one of the German tanks begin to issue lots of black, oily smoke. It looked like the Sherman had gotten a kill. The Germans were starting to edge back now.

As the men began to move, a commanding voice bellowed, "Where the Hell do you men think you are going?"

Gentile turned to see an American captain, one he'd never seen before, advancing on them, pistol drawn and running crouched.

"I asked you a question soldier!" The man bellowed again.

"Sir, we're shifting position, who are you anyway? You're not in my chain of command. Now piss off. Guys let's go."

As the men moved to their alternate position, Gentile tried to follow them, but this unknown captain grabbed his sleeve, "I could have you court martialed for disobeying a direct order Corporal!"

"Jesus, I do not have time for this." Gentile had heard the zip and crack of incoming fire from the Germans, the commotion had attracted their attention. At that, Cpl Gentile turned and punched the captain square in the mouth. He shook his hand, knowing that had been a dumb move, but he had to get his gun back in action.

The captain had gone down like a sack of potatoes falling off a high shelf. His mouth was bloody and he'd lost at least two teeth. He was also, for the moment, out cold.

The Germans had fallen back, their initial attack had failed, that night they had returned with a vengeance. The American positions overlooking the pass had been overrun by German panzergrenadiers and Italian Bersaglieri, the American defenses had fallen apart. Of his machine gun squad, only he, Leibowitz, and Bill Jackson had survived.

As they fell back, still carrying their disabled machine gun, they had encountered their section leader, Sgt Will Hammersmith.

"Jesus Philly, is this all you've got left?"

"Yeah, we need to keep moving, Will, the Bersaglieri ain't that far behind. I don't know what happened to McTavish's squad, I think they're all dead, but I can't be sure. They were overrun by a Kraut tank and a shitload of Kraut infantry."

Sgt Hammersmith looked amazed, "What, you're running from the Italians? Are you shitting..." As he spoke, a round from an Italian Carcano rifle hit him in the neck. He fell, grasping his throat and starting to choke.

Gentile got under Hammersmith and tried to stop the bleeding, but Will kept getting his hands in the way, "Jesus Will, stop f**king fighting me, you're bleeding like a stuck pig."

"Corp, we need to go man!" Jackson was starting to panic, Leibowitz looked ready to shoot him though, if he tried to run.

"Shut the f**k up Bill. Will's hurt. We need to cover them." Herbie barked at his buddy Bill.

"With what? The gun is f**ked, we're f**ked!" But Jackson did start firing his M1 Carbine down towards where the Italian fire seemed to be coming from. There was so much tracer fire going both ways, he didn't quite know where to shoot, so he just cranked out rounds.

Leibowitz drew his .45 and started firing as well. When he stopped to reload, he heard Cpl Gentile say, "All right fellas, let's get the Hell out of here."

Leibowitz turned and saw his corporal holding their section leader in his arms. Sgt Hammersmith was clearly dead, and Gentile seemed rather too calm about it. "Corp, you okay?"

"Yeah." Cpl Gentile laid his buddy down, took one of the man's dog tags and leaned over, kissing his dead sergeant on the forehead. Then he smoothed the man's hair and said, "Sorry Will, see you on the other side. Okay?"

Gentile then stood up, told Leibowitz to leave the machine gun and grab Hammersmith's carbine and ammo. Looking around, he then ordered, "Let's move."

They made it down from the pass and regrouped with what was left of Weapons Platoon, the mortar section were all missing, all that remained of the machine gun section was Gentile, Leibowitz, and Jackson. Platoon headquarters was represented by the platoon sergeant, SSgt Mac Kasparovich, and one messenger, Pvt Horace Milhouse. Out of an original strength of one officer and thirty-eight men, these five were all that was left.

As they tried to find the rest of Able Company, they met up with a detachment of MPs² and a very irate captain with a fat lip, two black eyes, and several missing teeth.

"So that's pretty much the story L.T., the guy almost got us killed, I slugged him. Too bad he was some colonel's idiot son-in-law." Gentile sighed, he hated telling that story.

"You got busted to private, fined a hundred bucks, and spent 30 days in the stockade. Then you make it back to PFC in Sicily, then you wipe out a Kraut machine gun position on Omaha, for which you got a Bronze Star..."

"Don't forget the Purple Heart L.T." Sgt Hernandez offered.

"No, I haven't forgotten that, Stephen."

"Just doing what I was trained to do L.T., I ain't no hero." Gentile was wondering where all this was going.

"I talked to the captain, and the battalion commander. We're giving you your stripes back, as of yesterday you're a corporal, the battalion CO agrees. As of today, Captain Josephson has promoted you to sergeant for your actions since joining Charlie Company. I'm giving you 3rd Squad."

"But that's Mike Peavey's squad..." Gentile began to protest, then Hernandez raised a hand to stop him.

"Mike was killed by a sniper this morning. A simple f**king patrol, out and back, wasn't even supposed to be hard. One goddamned Kraut in a f**king barn ended Mike's life. His guys are devastated. I know you can handle this, Stump. Okay hermano?"

"All right, I don't know what to say L.T., Mike was a good guy."

"He had a good squad as well, you'll do fine." Hernandez stated flatly.

"Okay, okay Sgt Hernandez, if that's the job, I'll do my best."

"I expect nothing less, Sgt Gentile." Nate Paddock looked at Gentile, waiting.

"Roger that Sir. I better get over there, see how they are."

"They already know Stump. They're waiting for you. Carry on." Paddock nodded at Gentile, smiling.

"Yes sir!"

Paddock looked at Hernandez and sighed, "I've got another letter to write, I hate this shit."

"We all do sir, we all do."

¹ Spanish for brother
² Military police


  1. Imagine being thrown in the brig for smashing an officer in the mouth after losing your entire unit in one of the worst losses the US suffered in WWII. Amazing that something that stupid would happen after getting your ass handed to you.

    1. I've heard of similar things happening. One of the things which struck me about Kasserine was just how bad some of our officers and senior NCOs were. Too much peacetime, not enough realistic training. Some units were nothing but social clubs between the wars.

      Kasserine taught us a harsh but valuable lesson. Problem is, we tend to forget those lessons over time.

    2. Sarge, although not so many shells and bullets flying (in general), the reality is that in the business world, things are not all terribly that different. Show too much initiative, you are doing the wrong thing. Show not enough initiative waiting for instructions, you are lagging behind. The amount that one has to sort of "instinctively" know what your superiors want and do it before they ask or even indicate their preference is staggering.

      And, of course, all helpfully noted in the annual review.

    3. And just when you think you know what they want, it changes.

      Love my job, despise my corporate masters.

    4. What TB said about corporate America. You can't be smarter than your boss, because that threatens him/her/it. So, as you go down the corporate ladder, you encounter dumber and dumber people. This wouldn't be too bad, but... most bosses aren't that bright to begin with. So you end up with corporate stupidity.

      And if you shine? Expect a dagger in the back in about... 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Bingo!

    5. It is a careful dance of being ready for everything while appearing to wait for instructions.

  2. Ya....Kasserine was a clusterf#@k all right, one account gives 300 KIA, 3,000 WIA and 3,000 MIA with 180 tanks destroyed while the Germans had under a 1,000 total casualties and 20 tanks destroyed. Interesting backstory Sarge today for Gentile.

    1. Kasserine was a shock to the US Army. We learned a lot from that, mostly how not to do things.

  3. Panzer III? Looks more like a Panzer I/2, and the rest is scattered around the countryside. Also looks like the German crew would not have survived (Legend has it, at least one of their jaunty tanker caps is still in orbit.), while the crew of the "death trap!!!!" Sherman was able to bail out before it burned.

    Although I'm not completely sure what happened to that Panzer, since it looks like it was being towed. Were they actively salvaging it when this photo was taken? When it got blowed up? Did it break down and they went after it to salvage scrap?

    1. Rapid, unorganized disassembly!

    2. You can tell it's a PzKw III by the six road wheels, PzKw I was a lot smaller and had different looking running gear, ditto with the PzKw II. The PzKw IV looked similar from a distance but eight eight road wheels per side. I wish the caption had been more explicit.

    3. Probably the onboard ammo detonated and blew the vehicle apart.

    4. The joke was that the / in the nomenclature denoted a fraction. :P

    5. That sound you hear? Me waving at the clue train as it goes by.

      Teach me to answer comments that early.

      BTW, good one. 🤣🤣🤣

  4. I learned the value of good, proper tools by not having any as a kid. I imagine we've all learned lessons like that.

    What chaps my hide is that we do this over and over in our military. You'd think that we'd have a thick book of military history that gets inculcated in our military leadership. "We don't need ground support aircraft, we need sexy zoomies!"

    I guess it speaks to human nature.

    Great story. All too believable.

    1. We relive past mistakes every war. Then people die and we need to remember what we forgot.

  5. I guess it doesn’t matter how why, or what that officer would have done if he prevailed.

    At least from my perspective Gentile Wouldn’t have told him that he wasn’t even in his chain of command.

    an ossifer is an ossifer.

    Good ones and bad ones.

    AcVording g to my neighbor, as a Marine he kept getting busted from the sergeant back to private. He said he felt like he was on an elevator at times.

    For the same reason.

    I always remember that scene from Patton when I think of Kasserine.

    Weren’t our tanks originally gasoline powered? The Germans called them “Ronson‘s“ after the cigarette lighter

    What a horrible way to die.

    I read about Patton in my book on World War I. He was a major and lead from the front, like Colonel MacArthur.

    1. No, an officer is not an officer. American soldiers don't blindly obey whoever is wearing rank.

    2. And, yes, our tanks were gas powered, radial engined, fast beasts, and they hadn't learned to weld extra armor over critical points yet.

      The Russkies and the Marines favored diesel-engines in their armor.

      It would not have been an issue facing even Pzkfz IVs with the long 75 as long as the enemy attacked from the front. But against side or rear hits? No Bueno. And then add in the Tiger Is that participated, with the 8.8cm, that could easily pass through the Sherm longwise and that's all she wrote.

      As to the chain of command, as OAFS said, if one isn't in the chain of command, then there are some serious questions as to the validity of orders from outside the command. If the Captain had been a good out-of-chain-of-command and been giving sensible orders, then Gentile might have considered them as potentially valid. In this case, though, Gentile et al were obviously being given conflicting (and deadly stupid) orders from some dimbulb outside of their chain-of-command and Gentile rolled for initiative, got it, and that's all she wrote.

      The truly bummer thing? Good men died. Captain HeaduuTucus, though knocked out and missing teeth, lived. Said Captain was lucky he wasn't shot by Gentile.

      As to Patton, yes, he led from the front, even when running over Bonus Marchers.

    3. Obeying orders from outside one's chain of command is a major no-no.

  6. Officer category: Energetic Stupid - during peacetime they can sometimes work their way up via selective backstabbing and other fun games.
    Had one guy promoted because he married someone's daughter.

    1. Ah yes, those officer categories, this guy was definitely energetic stupid, he was also way out of his league and not where he was supposed to be.

    2. He should have been in charge of counting shoes....

    3. As long as someone checks his work.

  7. Ha! Excellent backstory. Gentile was waaaay too smart to be just a private. Apparently punching Captain StupidPants followed him all through Sicily and Italy and onto the beaches, else his actions and experiences should have rated him an extra stripe. But Stupid has a long memory, doesn't it?

    Kasserine Pass... Where Rommel did to the US what he did to the Italians in WWI in the Alps at Caporetto. For much the same reason - bad officers leading a mix of experienced and inexperienced troops.

    Gentile should have been bumped up, at the latest, after being wounded on the Beaches. Someone in the Division has a looong memory and will be right peeved at Sgt. Gentile's rapid ascent. Which the screaming thereof Captain J. can use to find the paper-pushing idiot that has screwed so many over and arrange to get him fragged.

    Reminds me of what someone once said about fighting the enemy isn't so bad as long as you're not fighting your own side at the same time. One enemy at a time, please.

    1. Often the fight is with the enemy to your front and the paper pushers (read "shoe clerks") to your rear. One will kill you physically, one will kill you metally.

  8. Hey AFSarge;

    Good to see Sgt Gentile to be made "Whole" as they say, that Capt was wrong as rain to be interjecting in the operating of a battleplan, he was out of the chain of command, he should have been crucified for doing that, Gentile's legal defense dropped the ball on that one, but with Kasserine being the disaster that it was and the American Army in turmoil and Patton was just taking over and firing a bunch of incompetent officers and senior enlisted, he fell through the cracks. It took Task Force Smith in Korea before the U.S. Military decided to take training seriously with red flag exercises so we wouldn't lose the first battle of the next war.

    1. Losing the first battle all the time makes it tough. But peacetime habits set it, the harsh lessons of combat are forgotten and the PowerPoint rangers get promoted while the warriors get passed over.

      It's happening now.

  9. (1) It sure helps to see your wonderfully researched pictures on my Dell LCD screen rather than my iPhone. Didn't see the owner of those separated tracks on my iPhone was the Third Reich. My guess - an explosion blew the top off. What I have learned so far - here and elsewhere on the Net - there was an episode on Netflix or Amazon on the Sherman M4 and nowhere did they mention the Firefly - a serious omission IMO.

    (2) I know that my Army time - a bit over 2 years - puts me at a disadvantage to those I would consider "career people" - 8 years or so more more in service.

    We were told to obey the officers - EXCEPT -

    My time was a bit after Wm Calley and My Lai

    We were told to obey all lawful orders.

    The exception to this?

    When on Guard duty - if a friggin 4 star gives you crap to let him though without proper ID - it is your authority to take all measures up to and including shoot him he he wants to fail to comply.

    And any officer worth anything would know this - and I believe some have tested it to make sure that their guards are good.

    There was a somewhat funny story - Army or Marine? about a guard being given crap from a 4 star and it came down to his telling him he would shoot him if he made one more move across the gate.

    There was a Pentagon general somewhere relieved for trying to do this to an Army or Marine guard, who held his ground. And I say, good for the guard.

    But I will file this away - if not in the chain of command...

    1. Kasserine was a mess, officers who didn't know how to lead, men who had been poorly trained, and a competent enemy in Rommel and his lads. A recipe for disaster, which it was.

  10. BTW that picture must me in North Africa - sure doesn't look like Europe. I read something about German tank design - that all of their tracked vehicles came from maybe 6-8 chassis designs. Would you say that overall their tanks were better than ours? The one thing the Sherman had going for it - like the T-34 - was numbers.

    1. Kasserine Pass is indeed in North Africa. German tank designs weren't really better, just different. Some parts were good, the optics, the guns on some of them. They succeeded because they had very good doctrine and tactics. Their tanks like the Panther and the Tiger were too complex for mass production, and over engineered. Shermans and T-34s were produced in quantity and were more than adequate to the task.

  11. I did the E3-E4-E3 ride a couple of times. Each time I got busted it was my fault for doing stupid stuff when I had a choice to not do stupid stuff. This was obviously peacetime navy post-Vietnam, so not even apples-oranges. Apples-pocket lint maybe.

    I refused dubious and very arguably unlawful orders a couple of times. Once a shiny 0-3 tried to make me sign a form I didn't understand which appeared to be associated with my taking personal responsibility to deliver a crate of morphine to a herd of enemy-ish gee-effers. I told him to eff off in front of a bunch of witnesses, he got tossed out of the ready room, and I got severly dressed down -- quietly and in private -- by a principled officer I respected a great deal.

    Another time I had an 0-5 order me, in his capacity as command duty officer, to give a drunk and raging sailor (just back from a liberty run and packaged in a stokes litter clamshell) "a shot of tranquilizer." I was anything but polite when I told him no and that his order was unlawful. I got dressed down mildly the next day in public during morning quarters at the same time I was getting mildly praised. "Right call, Evertson, but wrong execution. Watch your effing mouth."

    Sometimes people -- enlisted and officer -- get squashed when they shouldn't. It's not a perfect system. The mission has priority over all else. Break stuff and kill people at the lawful direction of lawful authority in support of the Constitution of the United States of America. Given that, in my experience at least, the squashing is kept to a minimum because good, principled people work very hard to execute their solemn oaths to the best of their ability.

    Very well written piece as usual Sarge. Thought provoking and entertaining. Thanks.


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