Sunday, November 1, 2020

The Cost


1Lt Gus Chambers and 1Lt Nate Paddock were watching as the wounded were evacuated down the trail. They had to be carried down to where the jeeps could pick them up. It was far too rough to try and bring the vehicles up, the ride back down would have killed some of the wounded men.

"Nate, how many men did you lose?" Chambers understood why it had been done, he even applauded the effort on the part of Paddock's men to show some initiative. Scouts had reported back that the Germans had been hurt, badly.

Paddock shook his head. then he pulled the list from his pocket, his hands were trembling, "Of the nineteen men who made that flanking attack," Paddock sighed, he took a deep breath, the list was still too painful, these his men listed on this scrap of paper, "five men were killed, five were wounded, and three men are missing."

"Thirteen casualties out of the nineteen who went in, Jesus." Chambers knew that Captain Josephson, now commanding the battalion, was going to be hurt by this. He knew these men, he'd often bragged about Paddock's being his best platoon. "Names, Nate, who did we lose?"

"My platoon sergeant, Sgt Hernandez, the leader of 1st Squad, Sgt Wilson, and Pvt Tremblay from 1st Squad are all missing. Only four men out of Wilson's squad made it back in one piece. Leonard, Kennedy, and Cambridge were all killed, their bodies were recovered, the men weren't able to recover Kennedy's body."

Chambers turned to look at Paddock and asked sharply, "And why not, why did they leave him up there?"

Paddock rubbed his sleeve over his eyes, "Sir, there wasn't much left of him. Cpl Katz tried to get to the body and pick up what he could, but it was too dark, they just couldn't find enough of him to bring back."

"Damn, is he the guy who stepped on the mine?"

"Yeah, f**ked him all up, killed Leonard and wounded Dickenson as well. The other wounded man from 1st Squad was Cambridge, a new guy, just got here a few days back."

"You haven't mentioned 3rd Squad."

"Yeah, Sgt Gentile's guys. Mackensen and Duffy were both KIA, Mackensen's another new guy. Sgt Gentile, Pvt Riley Taggert, and Fred McArthur were all wounded. Gentile is okay, Doc Milbury patched him up, Taggert the same, though Doc sent him back to battalion to get checked out. Doc thinks a few stitches should fix him up. McArthur's probably going to lose an arm."

"Man, that's terrible Nate, go see to your men. I need to figure out what we're going to do now that we're up here."

"Opa?" von Lüttwitz was looking at Köhler's leg, it was a bloody mess.

"Sir, I'm okay, really, it's just a deep cut, nothing broken, it's already stopped bleeding. How's your head?"

Hauptmann von Lüttwitz considered that for a moment. The position had held, the Amis had been driven off in the night, but the cost had been high. All of the engineers save one were dead, the Americans had overrun their foxholes, had even bayonetted Sepp Zumbach to death, the blade had still been in his chest when they found him, snapped off at the hilt.

The assault gun had been destroyed. At first the captain thought that the crew had abandoned their vehicle and destroyed it before retreating, but Vorwald, who had actually taken some initiative, had led a small patrol to check that out. There were signs of a struggle in the vehicle, blood and a sleeve ripped from a tunic. It looked as though the Americans had snuck up on them.

"If I'd had the men, I would have given Bielefeld some infantry support," von Lüttwitz looked at Opa Köhler, then added, "but we didn't have anyone to spare."

"I know Sir. How many men did we lose? I don't even know how many we had at the start of the fight." Köhler knew they probably had two squads left, maybe 23 men. More than they had before the engineers and Vorwald's men had come up, but even with that, he figured they had to have lost at least fifteen men dead and another seven wounded.

"Do we hold, Herr Hauptmann?" Köhler had to ask, someone had to mention the possibility that they should pull back.

"Yes, Gefreiter Köhler, we stay, we fight. If we go back, they'll have us shot, you know that." von Lüttwitz shook his head. "All we can do now is obey orders, Opa."

SFC Bud Pedley looked up when he heard the shout, "HALT! Who goes there?" He also heard the reply, "Friendlies, we have wounded!"

Pedley went to the front, "Advance and be recognized soldier!"

Slowly, three men hobbled into view, they not only "had" wounded, they were all wounded.

Sgt Jack Wilson had been hit in the left arm, the bullet had dug a long furrow across the arm, it hurt like Hell but he could still use it. Helping him support Pvt Andre Tremblay, who had a broken right foot and a nasty cut on his left thigh, was Sgt Stephen Hernandez. Hernandez had a very painful wound to his lower abdomen, low on the right, but the bullet had not hit anything vital. The muscle though was torn and it was all he could do to support Cajun with Wilson's help.

Pedley noticed that the men were dragging a poncho behind them, tied to a couple of pine saplings. There was something in the poncho, Pedley was afraid to ask what it was, it seemed too small to be a body. But he knew that's what it was.

"Hey guys, a little help." Hernandez managed to gasp out before collapsing in pain.

Paddock waited as Doc Milbury rebandaged Tremblay's left leg. Doc then examined his foot, "Cajun, ya know this is it, right? Your war's over man. Your foot is really f**ked up. What the Hell happened?"

"Ya know those tank rounds those guys were shooting into the Kraut position?"


"One flew right over the Krauts and brought a f**king tree down on my foot. Jack pulled me out, I think that hurt worse then getting hit by the tree. Damn tree also gashed the Hell out of my leg."

"Ya know Cajun, your foot is made up of 26 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, I swear to God, you probably broke all 26 of those bones and messed up most of the joints. Your foot right now is just a bag holding busted up bones."

Tremblay winced as he tried to move that foot, "So how long will that take to heal Doc?"

"Could take years, Cajun, that's if the battalion surgeon doesn't decide to just cut it off."


"I'm just a medic Cajun, but if that foot gets infected..."

Milbury nodded to the two stretcher bearers, "Get him down the hill." Then he put a hand on Cajun's shoulder, "You're a tough sumbitch, but do what the Docs tell ya. And have a beer for me when you get back to Louisiana."

Doc watched for a moment as the men carrying Tremblay took him down to the aid station. Then he turned to Hernandez. "What am I supposed to do with you Sgt Hernandez?"

"Doc, just wrap it up tight. You said yourself it should be okay in a few days."

"Damn it Stephen, you had a f**king bullet go through you, you should get down to the aid station."

"I ain't going Doc..."

1Lt Paddock interrupted, "Sgt Hernandez, you will go down to the aid station, that's an order. If the docs down there clear you, then come back up. It's gonna be a while before this platoon goes into action again. We're pretty short of men right now. I expect we'll get replacements any day now and..."

This time it was 1Lt Chambers who interrupted, "Nate, take your platoon down to battalion, you're too short of bodies to be of any use up here. Go, get your wounded attended to, bury your dead." He could see that Paddock was about to protest, "That's an order Nate. Go."

Before heading back down the trail, the men of Nate Paddock's platoon passed by the blanket -wrapped bodies of Jack Leonard, Hank Cambridge, Chris Mackensen, Lou Duffy, and Virgil Kennedy. As they filed past, each man reached down and touched the boots protruding from the blankets. Except for Virg Kennedy, as there were no boots there, his legs hadn't been found. But each man laid a hand on the sad bundle containing what was left of their buddy. 1Lt Paddock was the last man in the line, he paused briefly and looked at each body. Then he too moved on, he had letters to write.

The survivors of the 2nd Platoon of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry filed down the hill. They were diminished in numbers but not in spirit. They would be back.

"Manfred Sauer! What a pleasant surprise." von Lüttwitz felt a bit giddy and Unteroffizier Manfred Sauer looked at him with surprise. Then he noticed Opa Köhler pointing to the captain, and then to his own head. Ah, their commanding officer was concussed.

"Sir, Günter Voigt is dead. He was one of the men hit by the white phosphorus. Krauss tried to save him, but the burns were too bad. The pain killed him I think."

Von Lüttwitz sighed, his eyes began to sting. Of the seven men he had led out of France, only Pohl, Sauer, Schumacher, and himself were still alive. One had been wounded and left behind within hours of reaching friendly lines, Böhm and Voigt now lay dead on this very hill.

"Manfred, do you think any of us will survive this war?" von Lüttwitz was dizzy now and his ears were ringing.

"Of course we'll survive Herr Hauptmann." Sauer answered, then called for the Sanitäter as he noticed that his captain had passed out. He looked over at Köhler with a questioning look.

"Someone has to survive Junge, maybe not us, but..." Köhler shrugged. He had asked the same of his comrades back in November of 1918. Here they were, twenty-six years later, asking the same questions, fighting the same war.

"Will we ever learn?" Köhler asked himself as he looked down the slope.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Even if it's fictional.....must be smoke or dust in the room.

    1. Based on truth, things like this happened. We must remember those men.

  2. I'm an avid daily reader of this series. Like everyone else I urge you to turn this into a book.
    One small picking point. A bayonet is much more likely to break at the mounting points than the blade when stuck into a human. That's assuming a wrenching force at an angle rather than a straight in and out thrust.
    Please keep up the great writing!

    1. You're right about the bayonet. After I wrote this, I thought about it, decided not to change it as the bayonet blade itself snapping off could be explained by a flaw in the steel. Something to keep in mind for future episodes!

      Thank you!

    2. Depending on what the blade is stuck in (that would be bone or something beneath the body, the twisting force of the target and the bayoneter can put a metric butt-load (or an English hogshead-load)of wracking stress on a bayonet. Could be the breaking point just was the collection point of all the stress.

      Or a flaw in the metal.

      Or a fatigue point because the bayoneter used the bayonet for non-bayonet things and the worst things were done at the breaking point (chip in the blade, starting a flaw.)

      I've broken three bayonets in my life, two at the hilt, one somewhere around 1/3rd from the tip. So...

    3. Soldiers will use their bayonets for things other than their intended purpose. A soldier will use whatever he has at hand for whatever task needs doing.

    4. Beans, I trust they were not broken off inside an enemy?

    5. Sounds like a "don't ask, don't tell" situation to me!

  3. Butcher's bill is high for both sides as the conflict dies down ...again.

    1. Brief interludes of calm between the periods of roaring chaos.

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    *Durn Dust* Brought back some memories of my friends....You done good.

  5. Thanks so much for the link to all of this ! I intended to ask for same, you beat me to it.
    This is great work, Sarge! The link will allow us to assemble our own "book" but I (and I expect many others) would still gladly pay for a published tome.
    Boat Guy

    1. A couple of folks have indicated that the link would be "nice to have." I agreed.

      Thanks Boat Guy!

  6. It is good that the missing became unmissed, for the most part. Nothing is eldrichicy scary like people just going missing. One minute they're there, next minute gone. And no answers as to why they're gone. Run away? Atomized? Buried? Fell into a hole? Fairies grabbed them? Vampires? Yog-Soggoth? The unanswerable is freaky.

    Fast forward 40-50-60 years and someone walking in the woods kicks a pile of dirt and a skull appears... Or not...

    Funny how the worse meatgrinders that really get into the minds of men are those around hills. They may not be the most casualty-inducing but something about having to fight the terrain and the enemy makes for a memory searing event.

    And... both sides, slowly diminishing. It's like watching cholera or diptheria hit two towns right next together. What's the death toll today, tomorrow, next week?

    Funny, but a quick, decisive victory is actually less deadly, less destructive. This slow winnowing of men will end up costing more bodies than if one side had just gone and trounced the other.

    Now that so many men are physically broken, how soon before the minds are? When will we see a soldier or group of soldiers just refuse to advance? Or even worse, advance far enough to not be seen by their own side and then just hunker down and hide? The there's the one that just... starts screaming or crying or goes catatonic. Stuff you don't normally see in a quick, decisive victory/defeat scenario.

    Men's lives are fleeting. The Forest is eternal...

    1. Hills are natural defensive positions, allowing fire arcs downwards in all directions. Has been truth in television since times ancient, includiong cases like survivors of Custer 7th (the ones that managed to create hilltop perimeter under Reno) or not so long ago on those pages, Poles on Hill 262...
      Quick victory in war of maneuver as opposed to attrition was Holy Grail of German art of war since Clausewitz. They failed hard in 1914 getting stuck in the quagmire, but got it done right in 1940. But Russia was just too vast and too populous to share the fate of France (leadership qualities of high command aside, Stalin was bastard of the highest magnitude, but he was not going to give up, and was smart enough to get Zhukov and Konev make the strategic calls, eventually). By 1944 Alllies learned the lessons of the Blitzkrieg themselves, and while at a times they got stuck like in Hurtgen, their advances like Cobra and followup, or Bagration on the other side of Festung Europa made the WW1 look like distant nightmare. Note that Western allies amnaged to generally avoid the millions of casualties of WW1 trench nightmare...)

    2. Beans - The Forest is eternal...

      Yup, gonna steal that.

    3. Paweł - True dat.

      Also maneuvering is life, holding in one place can turn into a death sentence.

    4. Tacticians genius often hides in spotting positions to hold, or ways to dislodge enemy from them.
      Enemy pinned trying to take one is ripe target for maneuver strike to his flanks or rear. Stalingrad, Midway, history is strewn with battlefields where attacker got tables turned on him. True mastery is to see where to hold the line, where to advance wide, and sometimes even where to retreat to entice enemy into a trap...

  7. Damn, great writing. And soon the men of the Big Red One will be back in fight hurning themselves onto doomed German position. And eventually it will go down. Germans will not send much reinforcements now, since every spare man is now used to build up for Ardennes about to start within 6 weeks... While US is still pumping out fresh GIs, and Atlantic Queens (the transatlantic liners turned troop transports) bring them by entire division worth. Yeah, green troops are not as good as veterans, but still provided enough veterans stay alive they can fill out the gaps in ranks. I wonder if our guys will end up being sent to help north when the breakthru happens? Or will they be helping clearing the Rhine approaches until the time to cross that river happens early 1945?

    1. I am going to try and keep the historical units in places where they were historically. Though I will stray on occasion for the story that might be in it!

  8. Minor correction needed
    " but Vorwald, who had actually take some initiative,..."
    Maybe "taken"?

  9. I never had to see combat but when approaching a sentry in the dark I think there was two words. One for the sentry to call out and one for the recipient to acknowledge

    When the battle of the bulge come shortly it got pretty hairy with those Germans disguised as Americans and speaking American English

    And of course maybe everybody did not adhere to protocol.

    I can’t imagine what that would do to you to have friends in and then see them in body bags

    1. Sign and countersign.

      The English-speaking Germans (Operation Greif) were not all that effective. Or side made them more effective by listening to rumors. Most of those Germans didn't speak English all that well. Caused a security scare in the rear and made some GIs pretty antsy, but as a tactic? Failed.

    2. (Don McCollor)...then there are the little points. There is one story from that time when four Germans pulled up in a captured jeep speaking perfect American slang English that quickly found themselves at rife point. Four American soldiers would have taken two jeeps...

  10. On the Japanese side I can remember growing up in the 50s and hearing the saying

    “Rots of Ruck”

    1. Certain sounds don't exist in Japanese.

    2. ...on some Pacific island one night, the Marine countersign was "Lollapalooza" ("L"s that that Japanese couldn't pronounce)...A Marine was having trouble with with it also "Loel...Laaaplus...Lullepo"..finally "Ah Hell, just shoot me"...

  11. How many chapters do you think you have so far?

    1. If you count each post as a chapter (and I kinda do) then we're at 99, and counting.

  12. I will enjoy reading the hardcopy, and watching the HBO series.


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