Wednesday, October 7, 2020


(Screen capture from Film)

1Lt Gus Chambers was the Executive Officer, the XO, of Charlie Company. He was running the company for a couple of days as the company commander, Captain Alphonse Josephson was up at regiment, sitting on a court martial for a sergeant from 3rd Battalion, accused of raping a Belgian civilian. As much as Chambers wanted nothing to do with a court martial, he would rather he was there and that the captain was here to deal with this mess.

All of the company's platoon leaders and platoon sergeants were standing in front of him at the moment. The flurry of rifle fire the previous day, the loss of a soldier killed in action, and the loss of another for psychological reasons had landed right in Chambers lap. He was not happy, not at all.

"All right, who the Hell thought it was a good idea to head out into the wild and fill their canteens from a f**king stream? What the G-527¹ not good enough for ya?" Chambers barked at the men in front of him.

No one said a word. Chambers knew the water, if not replenished often enough, tended to taste metallic from the G-527. The water from a running stream did sound nice, but someone had decided that the preference of the men for better water overrode their safety. Didn't they know there was a war on?

SSgt Joe Dubois, 3rd Platoon's platoon sergeant, spoke up, "Sir, I made the suggestion to the lieutenant when Sergeant Davis asked. According to the map, the stream wasn't that far away, I didn't think it would be..."

"Would be what sergeant? Wouldn't be such a bad thing to lose one of the men, maybe two? What the Hell...  Never mind. Dubois, Lieutenant Childreth you stay behind, the rest of you are dismissed. Let me be clear, no one leaves the damned bivouac unless it's on a patrol ordered by me or the CO. Are we crystal clear on that gentlemen?"

"Yes sir!" was barked out by those assembled. They knew the XO was pissed, they knew the captain would be when he returned.

After the others had left, Chambers pointed at Dubois and Childreth, then pointed to the headquarters tent. "Inside," he ordered.

Upon entry the two men began to sit down, 1Lt Chambers barked at them, "Nobody told you to sit, you're at attention."

SSgt Dubois shot a look at his lieutenant, he knew that he had f**ked up, while he didn't really want to take the heat for it, his lieutenant shouldn't either. He started, "Begging your pardon sir, but..."

"Shut the f**k up sergeant. Lieutenant, was it your idea to send two men out to fill the canteens for a single squad. Two men, into unknown territory. Huh?"

"Well sir, Sgt Davis asked if it was okay. It didn't seem to me that..."

"That what lieutenant? That the Germans had surrendered? Do you have some special knowledge of what's going on out here? Huh? Do you? If it was up to me I'd fire both of you, right f**king now. Send you up to regiment to count towels or something. You're of no goddamned use to me when you pull bone-headed stunts like this. YOU GOT ONE OF MY MEN KILLED! Damn it."

Neither Childreth or Dubois spoke. The XO took a deep breath, then said, "Okay, stand at ease. We've all made dumb mistakes before, we probably will again. But you don't send men out on stupid missions like this all by your lonesome. That's our job. Childreth, I expect a nice letter from you to Lederer's parents. Dubois, report to the First Sergeant and tell him you need a new job. You are no longer a platoon sergeant in this company. Both of you, go!"

Outside of the tent, 2Lt Childreth turned to Dubois and said, "I'm sorry about that Joe, I'll talk to the CO when he gets back. It isn't right that..."

"It's okay sir, I f**ked up, not you. I should have told Davis no. I made the call, no need for you to suffer for it. Things will work out, I'm sure."

The jeep rolled to a stop, PFC Billy Matuszak hopped out and turned to the driver, "Thanks for the lift Mac." He then walked up the trail to where his company was bivouacked. He had had a rough night, all he could think of was holding Ozzie's dead body, and the look on the dead German's face. If he hadn't have been screwing off, Ozzie might still be alive. Hell, he'd panicked when he saw the Kraut. Maybe the kid was just waiting for Ozzie to finish up and leave. What if I hadn't fired. What if?

He knew he could drive himself crazy with that sort of thinking. He'd had a brief chat with the chaplain that morning. It had kind of helped, though the man had spouted a lot of platitudes, he had made Billy feel a little bit better. It was war, shit happened. Though the chaplain had phrased it much more nicely than that.

As he headed up the trail he ran into PFC John Malcolm from his squad. "Hey, John." Matuszak was subdued when he spoke, he wasn't sure how the other guys were taking Lederer's death. Though the kid was brand new, the guys liked him right off the bat. Now the kid was dead.

"Billy, tough break, Ozzie was a good kid. Glad you got the Kraut that killed him. Hey, Sgt Davis said that if you came back, see him right away." Malcolm continued up the trail.

Matuszak thought about that as he walked, Sarge was probably going to chew his ass for getting Ozzie killed. Can't say I blame him, Matuszak thought to himself. And what did Malcolm mean by 'if he came back'? Did the guys think that he'd quit on them?

When he got to his platoon's bivouac, the first man he saw was the platoon leader, 2Lt Childreth. "Morning Sir." Matuszak offered.

"Hey Matuszak, you're back. Everything okay. You all right?"

"Yessir, I'm okay, ready to get back into the war. Yesterday was weird, ya know?"

"Sgt Davis will be glad you're back, so am I."

"Uh, thanks lieutenant."

He spotted his squad leader over by one of the cook fires. He headed that way, it struck him that he hadn't eaten anything since the day before.

"Hey Sarge, I'm back."

"'Bout time you goofball, we're short handed." Sgt Davis was smiling when he said that, which eased Matuszak's nervousness, a bit.

"So Billy, you hungry?"

"Sure Sarge, I am."

"C rations are over there, should be something left. Probably the crappy ones, but beggars ya know?"

"Right Sarge, can't be choosers."

"Get something to eat then come talk to me."

"Sure Sarge, be right there."

Sgt Davis was right about the C rations, not much for selection and all that was there were the less popular ones. But hey, he was hungry, better than nothing.

After wolfing down as much as he could, and pleased that it didn't come right back up, he headed over to where he could see his Sergeant, cleaning his rifle. Sitting next to him was Pvt Curt Bixby, drinking coffee.

"Hey Sarge." Matuszak looked for a place to sit.

"Sit there," pointing to the crate upon which the other man was sitting, "Bixby was just leaving. Right Curt?"

"Uh, right Sarge. Hey, Billy, good to see you man."

"Hey Curt." Then Matuszak sat down, fully expecting an ass chewing.

"So Billy, now you know one of war's great mysteries." Sgt Davis said.

"What's that Sarge? I don't understand." He was still braced for an ass chewing but it didn't sound like things were going that way.

"What it's like to kill someone at close range. Face to face so to speak."

"Well, he was back in the shadows when I fired..."

"But you went over to check on him, right?"

"Yeah, he was watching me. I watched the light go out in his eyes Sarge. It was...  I dunno, scary. Ya know what I mean?"

"Not really Billy, I've never killed anyone that close before. Sure there was one guy I think I hit, but Hell it could have been anyone who shot the guy. I was just firing in his direction."

"No kidding?"

"Yup, no kidding. Don't beat yourself up, believe me, that Kraut would have killed you, if you had given him the chance."

"I don't think so Sarge, he had a bunch of canteens with him. I think he was waiting for Ozzie to finish and leave, but when I saw him, I didn't know that, so I fired."

"Yup, you did what the Army trained you to do. That's all it is. You want to feel bad about killing that Kraut? Don't. Guys like Hitler and Mussolini killed that kid, they started the f**king war, not you. But we're here to finish it, you read me?"

"Loud and clear Sarge, loud and clear."

"Good, now go clean your rifle, bet you didn't do it last night, did you?"

"Uh, no, I guess I didn't..."

"Right then, go do it now. Hop to it!"

"Got ya Sarge!"

Though Matuszak still felt guilty for Ozzie Lederer's death, he didn't feel as bad about killing the German. I guess the chaplain was right, he thought, it's war. It's them or us. But I don't have to like it, not at all.

Tomorrow was another day. "Take it stride Billy boy, take it in stride." PFC Billy Matuszak said out loud. He made it through the rest of the day, busying himself with his rifle and his equipment. Perhaps all that had passed would make him a better soldier.

He sure hoped so.

¹ Official designation of the trailer/water tank combination used by the US Army in WWII.


  1. "Get something to eat than come talk to me." Seen it afore, in a previous episode but didn't mention it, as I didn't wanna sound nitpickin', but I'm pretty sure rather than than, it should be "...then come talk to me."
    On another note, I lived a bounty of c-ration fruitcake when in the field, because most of the guys didn't care for it, for some reason. Never did get sick of it either. As fruitcake goes, it wasn't top notch, but it wasn't bad. I'd trade my ham and muthafuckas for it in a heartbeat!

    1. D'Oh! Fixed it. I know the difference I just can't control the old fingers at times.

      Fruitcake is a much under-appreciated dessert. Love 'em myself, no one else in the family seems to. I vaguely remember coming across one in a case of C-Rations on Okinawa.

    2. Some fruitcake is okay, like those Claxton ones you can buy in the store.

      Some transcend the concept of fruitcake and become unto a divine offering, like those from Collin Street Bakery, in the Great State of Texas (my dad's personal favorite, made with pecans, graced things are downright delicious to the max.)

      And then... some are... um... er... everything that made fruitcake a national joke. I had the family task of telling my one surviving grandmother, while my parents were away for to dad to go to hospital in Alabama, that nobody ate her 10 fruitcakes she cooked every year as they were nigh unto inedible. Only my oldest brother ate them, and that was when he was, er, under the influence of the Devil's Lettuce.

      Yes, my grandma's FC would have met or exceeded the city-lady's pancakes in Green Acres for potential use as building material.

      But, if you can, indulge yourself in one of Texas' finest exports, a fruitcake from the world famous Collin Street Bakery, originally from Corsicana, TX but now in several locations because fruitcake that good just had to be Texas big.

      (www dot collinstreet dot com, if you're interested in God's Own Fruitcake. Yes, it is that good, maybe better!)

      The absolute best fruitcakes I have found. A little pricey, but well worth the price IMHO! Made with brandy, and properly aged. The trappist monks do know how to do Fruitcake!

    4. They make a mighty nice beer as well!

      Okay, I chased the link, now my mouth is watering, no kidding. Those look really good!

  2. 30 days in the field (REFORGER 83), towed artillery, 3 moves a day minimum, 5 meals out of 6 C-Rations dated 1943, 6th meal usually supper mermited out which usually arrived @ 0300-0400. Gained 10 pounds. (weight, not British money). Old Guns

  3. I had to remove that comment because believe it or not blogger only took half of it

    But anyway I would not have thought they would’ve been in such trouble for going to the stream but then going into enemy territory makes perfect sense.

    I think back then the army could shoot you for rape couldn’t it?

    Just a small typo from What if hadn't fired. What if? my programmer’s eyes:

    What if hadn't fired. What if?

    1. Blogger has been sheer crap as of late. I had a hack whereby I was able to use the old interface, Blogger "fixed" that last night. Back to the new and vastly inferior interface the baboons at Google decided we should all use. Argh.

      102 GIs were hanged for rape and/or murder of civilians in WWII.

      D'oh, good eyes, I fixed that error. (Two for one post, I was rushed last night admittedly, but mea culpa.)

    2. The military used to be death, literally, on rape. Today? Not so much. Sadly.

  4. That ass-chewing scene seemed pretty realistic, Sarge. Assume you've been on one side or the other or both of such discussions, although of less importance?? :-)

    Another outstanding episode, really getting into the heads of the characters makes for good reading. Let's us ask, "What would we be thinking had we done those things?"

    1. I have indeed been on both sides of such a thing.

      One ass-chewing I gave out at Offutt AFB was apparently loud enough for a major on the other side of the building to actually have heard it. It was, I was told, epic.

  5. What was the difference between C-rats and K-rats? I've had both but can't remember. I remember one had two Chesterfields in it.

    1. According to Wikipedia - The K-ration was an individual daily combat food ration which was introduced by the United States Army during World War II. It was originally intended as an individually packaged daily ration for issue to airborne troops, tank crews, motorcycle couriers, and other mobile forces for short durations. The K-ration provided three separately boxed meal units: Breakfast, Dinner, and Supper.

      The C-ration, or Type C ration, was a prepared and canned wet combat ration intended to be issued to U.S. military land forces when fresh food (A-ration) or packaged unprepared food (B-ration) prepared in mess halls or field kitchens was not possible or not available, and when a survival ration (K-ration or D-ration) was insufficient. Development began in 1938 with the first rations being field tested in 1940 and wide-scale adoption following soon after. Operational conditions often caused the C-ration to be standardized for field issue regardless of environmental suitability or weight limitations.

  6. And nobody even mentioned possibly getting sick from 'fresh' water. Which is one of the major reasons to drink water from a water buffalo, as it was at least treated with something to kill parasites.

    Good continuation of the water story. Seeing the repercussions of stupid actions is interesting.

  7. Foolish non-military question: Does this sort of thing still happen today? Or do systems take over?

    On the civilian side, there are no demotions. At best you get reassigned to another department (often unlikely) or just escorted out the door.

    1. Well, these sort of things happened 21 years ago, saw a few guys get demoted. Nowadays? Who knows?

    2. Over the decades I was in, I had the unpleasant experience of personally witnessing or being right outside the door during the relief of five Lieutenant Colonels and one Colonel. Career ending in all cases. Like I said, unpleasant.

  8. Interesting connection to this storyline - Pfc. Oliver Jeffers is being buried in his hometown of Huntsville, TN. He was killed in Hürtgen Forest and was recently identified due to mtDNA. He was originally buried in Ardennes American Cemetery.

    1. May we remember him and honor his memory. He was in my great-uncle's outfit, 4th Infantry Division, Old Ivy.

      Welcome home Soldier.

      (Read more about PFC Jeffers here.)

    2. I think they are still finding the remains of soldiers in that forest today

    3. They are. Lots of equipment as well.

  9. Just before reading this and the previous post I listened to the new foxes and Fossils cover of California Dreamin' on the u2b. Hell of a cover band. "I'd be safe and warm..." Then Lederer gets smoked.

    Enjoying the ride as always Sarge!

    And yeah, grugel, they've made the new interface even worse than it was to punish us for coloring outside the lines. I think mssrs shikelgruber and moscarpone got reincarnated to the greater sanfran stupid-plex...

    1. Foxes and Fossils, great cover of a favorite song. One which always chokes me up. I have a soft spot in my heart for California, some might say it's in my head, but...

      I noticed last night that our Danish colleague's hack to once again color outside the lines was taken away. Guess I'll have to overcome, improvise, and adapt. But gee, I don't have to like it, do I?

      Aye on your last, you have the right of it.

  10. Thank you for these stories Sarge. I look forward to them popping up in my RSS feeds every day.


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