Friday, November 20, 2020


US Army Signal Corps Photo

Throughout the night the Americans had occupied the low ridge above the valley of the dead and the dying. Digging in as best they could in the faint moonlight filtering through the treetops, they tried to ignore the screams of the German wounded below them.

It had started snowing shortly after the survivors of the artillery strike had hastily retreated, leaving many of their more seriously wounded behind. Some of those wounded had since died, a few still lived. There was now a light coating of snow on the valley floor and in some spots in the woods. This had improved visibility when the snow had stopped and allowed the waxing gibbous moon to appear on and off through the scudding cloud. The wind was rising, the temperature was dropping.

1Lt Nate Paddock had the rest of his platoon in position and was watching the valley through his field glasses. Something was bothering him, and his platoon sergeant, Stephen Hernandez noticed.

"Something wrong L.T.?" Sgt Hernandez had an idea what was bugging his officer, but he didn't feel like he should bring it up, best to let the lieutenant sort it out in his own mind. If he wanted to talk about it, he would.

"Yeah, Sarge, those men and horses down there, I did that. I know it's war and all, but..."

"Don't think like that Sir, you didn't do that, that cabrón Hitler caused this when he sent his army into Poland. The Japs caused you to be here when they hit Pearl Harbor. You didn't do this lieutenant, those bastards in Berlin and Tokyo did this."

Paddock lowered the field glasses and looked at Hernandez, "I suppose you could look at it that way, but you're assuming I regret this, this, massacre. Well, I don't. F**king Nazi bastards deserve this and everything else we can throw at them." The bitterness in Paddock's voice could be read in a couple of different ways. Bitterness at being forced to kill, or maybe even bitterness that he couldn't have killed all of the Germans in the valley.

Hernandez was quiet for a moment, then he said softly, "You're better than that Nate, and you know it. You're a good man, we're here to end this f**king war and go home. If we have to kill to do so, we kill, as many of them as it takes until they quit. But we don't have to enjoy it."

Paddock sighed, "I know you're right Stephen, but there are days I lose myself in this shit, there are days I almost enjoy it. Until we lose men, then..."

"Yup, that's when it's no fun, no fun at all."

The two men sat quietly, then they could hear a German voice sobbing in agony down in the valley, the wind had died and the air was cold and still.

"Jesus..." Paddock whispered.

"L.T., let's send a squad and an M.G. team to the Kraut end of the valley, to seal it off. Then maybe Doc can go down there with another squad, maybe we can help some of those wounded Krauts."

Before Paddock could answer Hernandez, a long wavering scream came from below them. Though the language was foreign, both men recognized the anguish and the pain from the wounded German calling for his mother.

"F**k," Paddock thought for a moment, "send 1st Squad, have Wilson take Maxwell's machine gun section with him." Turning, he called to his radioman, "Myerson, go with Sgt Hernandez. I want you with Wilson's squad, in case you need to call in arty again. Regimental Cannon Company is still available. Captain Palminteri told me they're ours until midnight. I'll have Stump's squad escort Doc down into the valley. Go! Before I change my mind."

Gefreiter Markus Becker couldn't feel his legs. Though his comrades had pulled him out from under the dead horse, the weight of the animal had crushed his legs when it had fallen on him. What's more, he had been wounded by fragments in both arms, his chest, and his face. He couldn't walk so his comrades had left him. He understood. If they stayed in the valley, the artillery would return, if they left...

Well, who could say?

Young Grenadier Daniel Hönigswald was worse off than he was, the poor kid had a stomach wound. Though the Sani had patched him up as best as he could, the kid needed a doctor. He had been alternating screaming and crying throughout the night. Poor bastard was only sixteen.

"Danny, stop, you'll draw fire."

"Markus, it hurts, it hurts so much... Mutti!"

Becker tried to shift his position, perhaps if he could drag himself over to the other man, then maybe he could help him. He tried to raise himself up and managed to attain a sitting position, leaning against the dead horse which had crippled him.

As the moon broke from the clouds once more, Becker saw dark shapes moving on the hillside above them. Americans!

Sgt Gentile was moving cautiously, he'd brought PFC Homer Ginter and Pvt Riley Taggert along with him, leaving the rest of the squad with his assistant squad leader, Cpl Jim Holloway. Cpl Melvin Katz had come with them as well, his fluent German might come in handy. Doc Milbury was right behind Katz. Though the L.T. had wanted to send an entire squad with Doc, Gentile had talked him out of it.

"L.T., more men, more noise. Ginter and Taggert move well, they grew up outdoors, they're more help to me than an entire squad. We need Cat for the obvious reason." Paddock had reluctantly let them go after Sgt Hernandez had agreed with Gentile.

Now, as they moved down the hillside, he realized that they probably stood out like sore thumbs against the partially snow-covered ground, so they moved whenever the clouds covered the moon. It wasn't easy, sometimes the moon came out and lit them like they were on stage. While it wasn't really as bad as that, it certainly felt that way to the veteran sergeant from Philadelphia.

Grenadiers Hugo Hettich and Tobias Richter had grown up in the same small village deep in the Harz Mountains, they had been drafted at the same time and had gone through training together. Now they both lay badly wounded in this dark valley in the Hürtgenwald.

The Sani had bandaged Hettich's left arm and had managed to halt the bleeding, though the arm was cut nearly to the bone above the elbow. If he had been moved, the wound would open and Hettich would bleed to death. So they left him.

"Tobias, are you awake?" Hettich hissed at the dark form lying beside him. Richter had soiled himself and smelled terrible, but what choice did the poor kid have? Both of his legs were broken, the left was a compound fracture below the knee.

"Um Gottes willen!¹ Can't you leave me to die in peace, Hugo? Always chattering away like a bloody magpie..."

"Shh! Someone is coming..."

Hettich heard a voice in German, "Ich bin Sanitäter, ich werde dir helfen."

"Bist du Deutscher?" Hettich whispered.

"Nein, ich bin Österreicher.²" Came the response from a dark figure visible now in the moonlight.

While technically true, Cpl Katz had been born and raised in Vienna, it was in reality a lie. Which the wounded German discovered when he noticed that the shape of the helmet was wrong. Though he started to cry out, the muzzle of the M1 Garand pointed at his face was another clue that the Americans were here and that he should keep quite still.

"Doc, I got two wounded over here." Katz whispered to the man behind him.

Doc Milbury checked the two Germans as best as he could in the on again, off again moonlight. He also had made sure that there were no weapons to hand. He'd lost a buddy in Normandy who went to help a wounded Kraut and the bastard had killed him. Of course, that was one of those SS bastards, these guys looked like regular army.

"These two are stable, we need to..." Doc was interrupted by a nearby pistol shot, followed by a muffled, "F**k!"

"Jesus, that sounded like Taggert, what the..."

"It's okay Cat, f**kin' wounded Kraut shot himself. What the f**k is wrong with these people?" Katz heard the anger in Taggert's voice.

Hettich heard the shot, his heart sank, he knew who it was. He whispered to the American who spoke Viennese German, "That must have been Sven, Sven Schreiber. He was wounded in the groin, he's been threatening to shoot himself all night. He was in a lot of pain."

Katz explained that to Doc who simply nodded. "Cat we need to get the f**k outta Dodge, we can move these two on stretchers. The other three we can probably carry, but we're gonna need more men."

"Got it, I'll tell Stump..."

Sgt Gentile came up, looming from the darkness he scared the pants off of Milbury and Katz, the man moved like a cat, a very big cat. Taggert was with him.

"I sent Homer up to bring down the rest of the squad and a couple of stretchers. But yeah, Doc's right, we need to get back up the hill." He pointed to the end of the valley where Jack Wilson's squad had gone, the men saw the flare shooting up into the sky. Maybe the Krauts were coming back to collect their wounded.

Sgt Jack Wilson watched as the parachute flare swung beneath its little canopy of cloth, illuminating the approaches to the valley. Two startled deer ran into the woods at the sudden noise and light. The German patrol was just as startled, but they didn't run, they froze in position, hoping they wouldn't be seen.

But they were.

PFC John Myerson spoke into the radio handset, "Fire mission..." then provided the grid coordinates.

Stump Gentile's squad had two badly wounded Germans on stretchers, neither could walk. The others, there had been four, now there were three - one had died while Doc was checking him - were being assisted up the hill by two Americans each. Which didn't leave many men to cover the squad's withdrawal up the hill.

Gentile had grunted in appreciation when the first round of artillery had whistled into the far end of the valley, a spotting round. He knew that friendly arty could effectively seal the valley off from what he assumed were advancing Germans. The following rounds, five in all, exploded down the valley from them, ruining whatever plans the Germans might have had.

They reached their own positions where the wounded Germans were taken from them and evacuated to the rear. The company commander had been on hand. Grasping Gentile's shoulder he muttered, "Nice work Philly."

"Hey, Lieutenant, I mean, Captain Palminteri, I heard you had taken command, good to see you again!"

1Lt Paddock stepped up to the two men, "Sorry to interrupt this cordial gathering, but Cap'n, Sgt Wilson is reporting a Kraut patrol was turned away by the arty. He thinks they've withdrawn, but he can hear tank engines."

Palminteri looked in that direction, "All right Nate, I'll have 1st Platoon relieve Wilson's squad, I'll also send Corporal Jones' bazooka team with them. Just in case Jack isn't hearing things."

As the Americans settled in to await whatever the Germans had in store for them, it began to snow again.

In the Hürtgenwald...

¹ For God's sake.
² The entire exchange:
I'm a medic, I'm going to help you.
Are you German?
No, Austrian.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. I wonder how much of that happened in the ETO? Americans helping wounded Germans? I imagine it wasn’t frequent because one would be afraid of engagement but I’m sure it happened.

    In the Pacific theater not so sure. The Japanese were known to lay under a grenade

    And they shot our Medics and Corpsmen.

    Nice installment, as usual Sarge.

    Put us right there with the squads some companies

    1. Amis helping wounded Germans? More often than you thought. Same with Amis helping wounded Italians.

      Amis helping wounded Japanese? Er... Well... yeah, as you said, they shot our Medics and Corpsmen. But Intel-weenies wanted Jap prisoners, so we lost quite a few people trying to get wounded. Eventually that silliness stopped and we just basically killed anything that had clothes on (if you look at later pictures, most Japanese prisoners are stripped down to their fundoshi (that diaper-thingy they wore instead of underwear.)

    2. You always want prisoners. Japanese prisoners, feeling that they had lost all honor, would spill their guts about everything they knew.

    3. The way to know your Jap is actually surrendering? Make him take his cloths off. Which effectively leaves out unconscious prisoners or the dead. Late war graves handling of Jap corpses usually involved using a bulldozer blade.

      Those that actually surrendered? Yes. The secret was getting them to surrender.

    4. Many captured "Japanese" were Korean laborers who were quite willing to quit. They didn't like the Japanese Empire. DAMHIK

    5. I remember attending a talk by 2 Iwo Jima veterans - once was saying he was hit in the chest by a Nambo machine gun - and he and his wounded budy were just laying behind some cover waiting for the Corpsman and litter bearers - but the Japanese kept shooting them. Finally his buddy said if we want to go to the aid station we'll have to walk ourselves - and that is what they did. Slowly.

    6. That kinda describes the Pacific theater in a nutshell - brutal.

  2. Surviving an artillery strike and then a long cold snowy night with wounds those five Germans rolled snake eyes......Given the way the PTO kicked off and the way the Sons of Nippon treated POWs, mercy was the last thing on many GI's minds there, unlike the ETO. Ya got the flow going Sarge.

  3. Replies
    1. That word describes the fall/early winter of 1944 very well.

  4. That would be a hard decision to have to make - and a risky one. You have written it perfectly Sarge.

    1. Americans are, for the most part, decent people.

    2. (Don McCollor)...My Dad was a surgical orderly in a general hospital in Oran. The commanding Major decided that for a while his civilian carpentry skills were more valuable, and he was given a crew of Italian POWs (a couple who could kind of speak English) and set to building hospital wards. Later (when Italy switched sides and they were no longer POW), there a couple entries in his diary saying that some of the Italian prisoners cane to visit me last night...

    3. (Don McCollor)...On a number of occasions Dad pulled guard duty...Being a noncombatant medic, he was issued a rifle, but no ammunition (his first time was a supply dump in Oran [his first night in North Africa, and the strange country is full of sounds in the night]. The one time the POWs raised a fuss was when the truck started out of the POW compound. "Mac can't guard us - he forgot his rifle"...

    4. Smart POWs, you're in Africa, where are you going to run to?

    5. (Don McCollor)...some more hearty German ones were in AZ that conducted a classic with the plan to float down the Hela river to Mexico. A boat made of painted bedsheets and bed boards. Sneaked under the wire undetected and launched it. Never figured that the Hela would be bone dry in summer...\

  5. Holding onto what makes you humane while in the middle of war is a story that needs to be told, so that those who find themselves in that situation can know that it IS possible. Thanks for this.
    Meanwhile, snow...when I was in scouting EVERY time we went camping it rained, hailed, snowed, or some combination thereof. Surprised the local farmers didn't make requests during the summer, when some rain was needed. Maybe they were worried that we would attract tornadoes :)

    1. Camping trips always seem to attract foul weather, don't they?

    2. What you said, Frank. Any humane feelings are some of the first casualties of war.

      And, I also agree. I think it's the combination of sleeping bags and tent frames. Sets up some weird vibration in the air that attracts storms. Been hit by frozen sleet, 3" of rain in 15 minutes (and then it stopped, after punching a hole in the tent), tropical storms, flying cow patties... Yeah, camping and stormy weather seems to go together. One of the things the writer of 'Calvin and Hobbes' got very right. Especially the whole lousy weather stopping as soon as the last thing was packed back in the car/van/truck.

    3. Almost like trailer parks attract tornadoes!

  6. Hey Old AFSarge;

    Americans would help Germans and Germans would help Americans, it was something that Westerners would do, unlike the Eastern front where it was barbaric and the pacific where it was no quarters given by either side, In the East, the Germans viewed the Soviets as "Undermenchen" or subhumans and didn't waste medical supplies on them, and the Soviets viewed them as "Fasciesti invaders of the Rodina" and the NKVD would smile and give the German wounded a bullet rather than try to save them. And in the Pacific, the Japanese would bayonet or kill our wounded and medics and fake surrender to kill more Americans, it forced a mindset change and we were hesitant to take prisoners, for fear it was a trick with a concealed grenade which was common initially due to their code of bushido. Excellent post as usual

    1. Just want to point out, the code of "bushido" which the Japanese were using was a bastardized version of the real thing. Literally "bushido" means the way of the warrior (bushi is warrior, do is way). A samurai from earlier eras in Japanese history would not have recognized the WWII code, but would probably understand the why of it.

      Japan has ever been an extraordinary and complicated culture.

    2. And it's not just Japan that has alien ways to us westerners. China, Vietnam (both sides), all the little countries that seem to change their names every 30 years.

      Who hasn't changed much? The Mongols. They are one of the few Asian people I can think of that, until recently, were willing to take prisoners and help the wounded. Goes back all the way to the fundamental orders of Ghenghis Khan himself. Yet people look at the Mongols as uncivilized and look at the murdering Chinese and Japanese as civilized.

    3. I've been watchinkg this series on Netflix called the Liberators. I am ambivalent to it because it is shot in a funky way - the scenes look like comic book scenes - but it is supposedly based on the memoirs of the CO - and in one episode they are up in Bavaria and thius SS mountain unit had them surrounded - many lost and taken POW but the SS "Sanis" took care of our wounded.

    4. And here, in IMdb under trivia - is the explanation of that SS unit

      The SS troops faced in the Vosges were units of the SS Nord Divsion, who'd spent the greater part of the war in Finland on the northernmost reaches of the Eastern front. When the Finns surrendered, they retreated across Finland into Norway, They were supposed to take part in the Battle of the Bulge, but were too long in refitting after getting shipped back to Denmark. They took part in Operation Northwind, a futile offensive into the Vosges mountains in eastern France in the early weeks of 1945. This Division of the SS was a "clean" unit, having no atrocities on their war record over the entire course of the war. This is probably had more to do with their theater of operations than any deviance in ideology from other SS units.

    5. William #1 - I watched the first episode Friday night. Yes, the cartoon aspect is a bit off putting, but it is somewhat entertaining. I'll watch the rest, some good characters in it.

    6. William #2 - 6th SS Mountain Division "Nord" spent a lot of time above the Arctic Circle.

  7. As others have said, you do paint a very vivid picture. I've heard that listening to men die in the night is, at minimum, a soul destroying event. Especially if it's people you can understand. Triple if it's your own folk.

    One of the reasons snipers are so hated and have been since the first ones. Especially when they play the sniper game. Wound one person, then shoot everyone that comes out to help.

    Glad at least three were able to be saved. They'll be needed later during reconstruction.

    And nice interplay between Paddock and Gentile over the psychological impact of war, and the maintaining of humanity, or not.

    1. They saved five in total, two stretcher cases, three who could be carried less gracefully, let's say. That interchange was between Paddock and Hernandez.

    2. Man, misreading is my goal today, and I have achieved it!

  8. a very interesting video on German side of equation in WW2 - why they held out so tenaciously, namely

  9. I enjoy reading the comments. Rereading this reminded me of an account in the Civil War where (I believe) the union line could no longer stand to hear the cries of a wounded confederate, and a Union soldier (or medic?) went out in the open to give the man some water and render aid. And the Confederate line did not fire upon him. Signs of humanity amid the carnage. Trying to remember the circumstances.

    1. There was an alleged incident at Fredericksburg but it was a wounded Union soldier. The man who aided him was a common soldier. There is a lot of doubt surrounding the incident, but I'm sure it happened after the battles, not during.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.