Friday, December 4, 2020

In the Rear

Near Aubel, Belgium
Position of the 1st Infantry Division (highlighted in yellow) on 03 Dec 44
Position of the 1st Infantry Division (highlighted in yellow) on 09 Dec 44*

It was the 7th of December 1944, three years since the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. 1st Lt. Nathan Paddock was sitting on a cot in a drafty wall tent outside the town of Aubel in Belgium, staring at a calendar sitting on his camp desk.

He'd been a Plebe at the Point when it had happened, he had had thoughts of leaving and enlisting, but his roommate had talked him out of it.

"Damn it, Nate, don't be a fool. We're not in it yet. Don't rush into something you might regret."

Paddock had listened to his roommate, at Thanksgiving his own father had seconded that opinion. At Christmas, back at home for a brief leave, he had taken a long walk with his grandfather, who had served in what the old man still called The Great War. His grandfather had convinced him to stay at the Point.

So he did.

He had been part of the Class of 1945, when the Class of '43 had graduated in January of that year and not in the spring, then when the Class of '44 had graduated in the spring of '43, Paddock realized he wouldn't be waiting all that long to get into the fight. The Class of '45, Paddock's class, had graduated on the 6th of June, 1944. A number of his men had landed on a beach in France while he was being commissioned on the Plain at West Point.

He felt old now, he remembered when he had arrived, practically the first man he'd met was one of his old squad leaders, Sgt. Bill Brandt. Brandt was back in the States now, he'd been wounded bad enough that he had been medically discharged. Sgt. Jack Wilson, who had come ashore at Omaha Beach with Brandt, still received the occasional letter from him.

The day he'd taken over the platoon now felt like a thousand years ago.

He looked at the two letters on his camp desk. He'd received them that morning. One was from his mother, the other was from the mother of his roommate at the Point. The news in his Mom's letter was bad enough, but the news of 1st Lt. Harold Williamson's death in Italy was earth-shattering. Harry had been killed in action near the city of Leghorn.

He and Harry had had some good times together.

His Mom had written with bad news as well, his grandfather, the WWI veteran, had had a stroke back in October. He died in early November, while Paddock had been with his men in the Hürtgenwald.

"There's too much death in my life," Paddock muttered.

"Ain't that the truth L.T.!"

Paddock looked up to see his platoon sergeant, S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez. "Aren't you supposed to be on light duty, Top?"

"Hell Sir, sitting on my ass all day typing reports is light duty."

"How's the back?"

"Since Doctor Simmons pulled that shrapnel out of me, pretty good. A bit sore but my left leg doesn't get those shooting pains now. Doc says I'll be okay in a week or so. Thanks for asking, L.T.!"

"Is that the latest platoon roster you have there?"

"Sure is L.T., here ya go. It's in the format Cap'n Palminteri wanted." Hernandez handed the list over to Paddock. "Twenty-five replacements, eight men restricted to light duties for two weeks, I've listed them again at the bottom. We lucked out, four of the new guys are returning to duty from the hospital, so they've been around the block once already. So they're not all green."

"Thanks, Top."

07 DEC 1944
Platoon Roster
2nd Platoon, "C" Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry

Platoon Headquarters
1st Lt. Nathan Paddock CO
Sgt. Stephen Hernandez Platoon Sergeant
Pfc. John Myerson Radioman

Pfc. Charlie Gammell Sniper
Pfc. Jackson Hebert Spotter

Sgt. Woodrow Sherman Platoon Guide

Pfc. Theodore Erickson Platoon Messenger
Pvt. Robert Jennings Platoon Messenger

Pvt. Luke Houston Basic Duty Private
Pvt. Will Jones Basic Duty Private
Pvt. Fred Strickland Basic Duty Private
Pvt. Peter Romanov Basic Duty Private
Pvt. Irving Dixon Basic Duty Private

1st Squad
Sgt. Jack Wilson Squad Leader
Cpl. Melvin Katz Assistant Squad Leader
Pvt. Chris McWhorter BAR man
Pvt. Luther Thomas Assistant BAR man
Pvt. Cecil Brown Ammo Bearer
Pvt. Caleb Christensen Rifle Grenadier
Pvt. Brad Gonzales Rifleman (Scout)
Pfc. Alexander Boone Rifleman (Scout)
Pvt. Anthony Lewis Rifleman
Pvt. Justin Long Rifleman
Pfc. Bogdan Nowak Rifleman
Pvt. Bill Zielinski Rifleman

2nd Squad
Sgt. Greg Jenkins Squad Leader
Cpl. Hilario Santos Assistant Squad Leader
Pvt. Henry McTeague BAR Man
Pvt. Rick McCarthy Assistant BAR Man
Pfc. Harry Mitchell Ammo Bearer
Pvt. Derek Carson Rifle Grenadier
Pvt. John Kilpatrick Rifleman (Scout)
Pvt. Dave Hudson Rifleman (Scout)
Pvt. Frank Genovese Rifleman
Pvt. Peter Moreno Rifleman
Pvt. Donald Adkins Rifleman
Pvt. Curtis Lambert Rifleman

3rd Squad
Sgt. Flavio Gentile Squad Leader
Cpl. Diego Pena Assistant Squad Leader
Pfc. Franklin Barnett BAR Man
Pvt. Ken Buchanan Assistant BAR Man
Pvt. Javier Munoz Ammo Bearer
Pfc. Homer Ginter Rifle Grenadier
Pvt. Riley Taggert Rifleman (Scout)
Pvt. Jeb McCall Rifleman (Scout)
Pvt. Joe Gray Rifleman
Pvt. Ross Flowers Rifleman
Pvt. Thomas Spencer Rifleman
Pvt. Edgar Freeman Rifleman


.30 Cal MG Team
Corporal Judd Maxwell Squad Leader
Pfc. Jim Weber Gunner
Pvt. Eugene King Assistant Gunner
Pvt. Brad Chapman Ammo Bearer
Pvt. Steve Pacheco Ammo Bearer

T/4 Harry "Doc" Milbury Medic

Wounded, Assigned Light Duties for Two Weeks
Sgt. Stephen Hernandez
Pfc. John Myerson
Pfc. Jackson Hebert
Pfc. Homer Ginter
Pvt. Brad Gonzales
Pvt. Anthony Lewis
Pvt. John Kilpatrick
Pvt. Joe Gray

Replacements Source
Sgt. Woodrow Sherman Return from Hospital
Cpl. Hilario Santos Return from Hospital
Cpl. Diego Pena Return from Hospital
Pfc. Theodore Erickson Return from Hospital
Pfc. Bogdan Nowak RTC Wheeler
Pfc. Alexander Boone RTC Wheeler
Pfc. Franklin Barnett RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Luke Houston RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Fred Strickland RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Irving Dixon RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Luther Thomas RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Cecil Brown RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Caleb Christensen RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Bill Zielinski RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Derek Carson RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Donald Adkins RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Curtis Lambert RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Rick McCarthy RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Peter Moreno RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Javier Munoz RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Edgar Freeman RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Ross Flowers RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Thomas Spencer RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Eugene King RTC Wheeler
Pvt. Brad Chapman RTC Wheeler

RTC Wheeler: Replacement Training Center, Camp Wheeler, Georgia

"Scouts? We have scouts now?" Paddock asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Officially we do, Sir. According to 1st Sgt. Saeger anyway. Some Army regulation says that two men in each squad are scouts, so I chose those guys accordingly."

"All right, how's Jenkins doing?"

"He'll be okay L.T., I took him out and got him blind drunk last night. He needed it."

"Where? Where on earth did you find a place to get him drunk?"

"A little bar in Aubel, I didn't think you'd mind, so I took your jeep. I didn't get drunk myself, nursed the same damned beer all night."

Paddock sat up straight and looked hard at his platoon sergeant, "I have a jeep?"

"You do now Sir."

"Okay, sounds good. What's the plan for the next few weeks anyway?"

"Well, with all the new guys, Cap'n Palminteri wants to run a series of field exercises. Major Josephson likes the idea. All the companies will rotate through playing the bad guys, Able Company will pretend to be the Krauts first as they have more guys with experience than we do."

"Yeah, they didn't have to go up that f**king hill back in the Hürtgen, did they?" Paddock was still bitter about that.

"Well, I suppose someone has to be in reserve. By the way, Able has a new CO, Tex, er I mean Major Josephson, fired Cap'n Christiansen."

"No shit? Why?"

Hernandez paused for a moment, looking at his lieutenant, then spoke. "Do I have to spell it out for ya L.T.? The man was a coward, a rear echelon sad sack, you know it, I know it, the whole battalion knows it, his XO did all the leading over there."

Paddock knew Able's XO, Jack Morrisey, he'd been a year ahead of Paddock at the Point, "How does Lieutenant Morrisey feel about all this?"

"Ya mean Captain Morrisey, the new commander of Able Company?" Hernandez asked with a smile.

"Yeah, him. I'm guessing he's okay with the new job?"

"He sure is Sir, do you know him?"

"Yeah, we were at the Point together, he's a good man."

"Okay, good to know. I've got to go see Doc Milbury. He wants me to check in with him every few hours, if I'm not sleeping."

"Really Top? You get to sleep?"

"Theoretically Sir, theoretically."

Stadtkyll, Germany, northern boundary of the Schnee Eifel
© Superbass / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Major von Lüttwitz and his Spieß, Hauptfeldwebel Klaus-Peter Keller, were in a barn overlooking the town of Stadtkyll. They were going over the Kampfgruppe's roster and looking at some of the other mounds of paper most armies seemed to run on. They heard a car pull up outside, moments later a young Waffen SS officer walked in, followed by an enlisted man carrying a briefcase.

The briefcase looked out of place as both men were dressed in the typical SS camouflage smocks with matching helmet covers and both looked as though they had been sleeping rough for quite some time. They looked, in a word, dangerous, Keller thought to himself.

The second surprise came when the young SS captain saluted von Lüttwitz with a regular army salute, not that ridiculous "Hitlergruß¹."

"Herr Major! Beg to report, I have dispatches and orders for you and your Kampfgruppe. I am Hauptsturmführer Manstein."

Von Lüttwitz returned the salute then asked, "Could you synopsize those orders for me Manstein? Give me idea of exactly what's going on?"

"Jawohl Herr Major! Certainly. The orders I carry are that you and your unit are to fall under the command of the First SS Panzer Corps under SS-Gruppenführer Hermann Priess. You will be drawing all supplies and rations from now on through Waffen SS logistics channels. In the next few days you will be receiving a consignment of trucks to motorize your unit. Also expect new marching orders within the same time frame. We shall soon be on the offensive once more!"

"I see. Well then, any idea as to where we will be attacking?" von Lüttwitz had to ask.

"Nein, Herr Major. But you will receive a messenger from Corps Headquarters no later than tomorrow morning with further instructions."

With that the young officer placed the briefcase on the table in front of von Lüttwitz and saluted in the old style once more, "By your leave Herr Major, I have more stops to make."

"Certainly Hauptsturmführer, carry on."

After the SS men had left, von Lüttwitz turned to Keller, "Company and platoon commanders to report here," he checked his watch, "within the hour. Now Klaus-Peter, I wonder what mad scheme the high command has up it's sleeve now?"

Before Keller could answer, young Grenadier Günther Löwe, von Lüttwitz's orderly, came through the door like an excited puppy, "Sir, sir, it's snowing!"

Von Lüttwitz sighed, looked at Keller and shrugged, "The enthusiasm of youth my dear Keller."

"If you say so Sir, I'll be about my business now. Within the hour it is."

"Carry on Spieß, I guess I'll have a look at the snow."

Donning his cap and his new reversible winter parka, von Lüttwitz stepped to the entrance to the barn. It was indeed snowing, the valley of the Kyll River looked lovely in the falling snow.

"Hhmm, three weeks until Christmas, it certainly feels like it now. It looks so peaceful, perhaps the war is nearly over..."

Little did he know.

* Some elements of the division were already in the vicinity of Aubel on the 7th of December.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Man, we made a lot of jeeps! Even ships like my Dad's, the Refrigerated Stores Ship, (AF ), USS ALDEBERAN, AF-10, even had two jeeps assigned to the ship, for running errands in port, and were chained to the deck by the after mast house, while at sea. I bet Paddock's jeep won't be around long, alas!

    1. Read that some 640,000 Jeeps and almost 2.4 million trucks of all kinds were made in the USA.

    2. StB - Where they're going folks might be too busy to watch over it anyway.

    3. Nylon12 - Something we used to be good at.

    4. They even made a special crate that contained one Jeep. Could be opened using a bayonet or entrenching tool and all the parts except gas were in the crate. Use the jeep jack to lift the body to put the tires on, roll off the base of the crate, add the windshield and canvas top, stow all the tools, top off the oil, add gas, and away you go.

      Scary is they did the same basic thing to a P-47...

      Logistics was crazy back then.

      All those trees and men (and some women) involved in just harvesting wood and milling and building crates.


    5. Logistics wins wars. But the work going on behind the scenes sometimes boggles the imagination!

    6. Beans, I found an original instruction manual for the OY-2 (USMC designation of the Consolidated-Vultee L-5) I used to fly. That manual featured step-by-step illustrations of how to assembly the aircraft when it arrived in the field in a crate. A 5 man crew could have it from shipping crate into the air in under one hour.

    7. (Don McCollor)...At a deeper level..The National Bureau of Standards worked overtime to produce gauge blocks-the primary standards that every company needed to make parts to exactly the same dimensions...With the fall of France, a ship (besides carrying virtually all the heavy water produced in the world) carried a million dollars of industrial diamonds - to tip tools for precision machining...The US bought the entire production of pure quartz from Brazil at prices no one could match-back then quartz was used for controlling radio frequency, and none was going to the Axis through third parties...In 1944, it was coming on to Christmas, and there were no Christmas light bulbs to be had, because they had went to war-the little bulbs were filled with sulfuric acid. Pretty robust, but fired out of a gun, it would shatter and power the battery of the radar of a proximity fuse for a few seconds...

    8. (Don McCollor)...on a lighter note, some of the first testing of metal/plastic 75 mm shell nose cones for proximity fuses was done at John Hopkins University (better known for medical research). Some genius of artful misdirection labeled the boxes ""Rectal Dilators". There was a remarkable lack of curiosity among those not in on the secret...

    9. Hahaha!!!

      And that is, as they say, priceless!

  2. Lets put those battered men in some quiet rear area far from offensive ops. Biggest "tempting fate" you can get in military.

    1. Next biggest 'tempting fate' you can get in the military is to draw a new uniform supply. "Oh, look, it's summer uniforms! We must be going to Alaska for winter training!"

      (My dad was assigned to Range Tracking and Instrumentation Ships after his fighter career. So the AF, thinking Bermuda was 'tropical' in the winter, sent him to cruise around there in summer 'tropic' uniform, which was short sleeves and bermuda shorts. The captain of the ship took pity on him and allowed him to draw a Navy winter uniform and put AF rank and insignia on it, and issued a special order to the ship while Dad was on it that, yes, there's an AF occifer running around in Navy occifer togs. Dad kept the jacket for years for hunting and fishing until it finally fell apart. Thus I know that drawing uniforms is also tempting fate...)

    2. One group plans things down to the last detail, then some other group decides that the guys equipped for winter go to the tropics and the tropic-equipped guys go to the Arctic. Never fails.

    3. And that's why there were the men of the Chosin Frozen suffering the effects of frostbite for the rest of their days.

  3. Also nice one on Germans sending all orders by courier. Did a number on allied s-2 relying too much on SIGINT

    1. They managed to keep Wacht am Rhein pretty quiet. Even still, some Allied intelligence officers got a sniff, but higher didn't believe them.

  4. Hey AFSarge;

    Nice background, also Powel was correct, the courier idea was brilliant, kept radio traffic to a minimum. According to the Soviets, the Germans were easy to fool, but it looked like they got one over on us...and I smell the groundwork for "Operation Watch on the Rhine" in the works.

  5. "We have scouts?"

    Gotta be a classic exchange between an officer and senior enlisted right there. The book says, therefore you shall have.

    Can't imagine, today, trying to replace a brown-nosing, cowardly officer. It was so much easier back then during actual real war...

    Great story, by the way. Yay... it's snowing... yay... There was much rejoicing... yay.

    1. These days he'd be a general...

    2. And openly lying to the President about troop numbers in Syria... And crowing about it in the media... And getting away with it...

    3. Not to mention being on the board of a company with ties to the Chicoms...

  6. I looked at that picture of Stadtkyll, Germany and wondered how many armies had marched thru there over the years...

    1. Makes the imagination go to work.

    2. I wonder if there is a square inch in Europe that hasn't seen someone bleed out on it...

    3. The peaks of the Alps? Most of the fighting there didn't get that high.

      But yeah, it's a blood-drenched continent from Gibraltar to the Volga.

  7. Something I cannot fathom (probably very few living, anymore) is the concept of dealing with that level of death on a daily basis. I would think there would always be a conflict between the idea of being on a team (to survive really) and some level of disassociation because of the high likelihood that anyone could die tomorrow.

    1. On the other hand, much of military life is waiting. Waiting for something to happen, or not. As has been said, "Hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror."

      But not knowing if you're going to live through the week, or which of your buddies might not make it, yes, that has to be psychologically brutal.

  8. According to that German documentary on the Hurtgen Forest, from the American side the decision to go there was completely unnecessary. What a waste.

    Bet I know where the Kampfgruppen is going.

    1. After the war it was perceived to have been unnecessary. During the war the Allies had two concerns with that region. One was that the Germans could use it as a place to marshal their forces then strike out against the American lines (kind of like what they actually did do in the Ardennes). Two the Ruhr River damns just beyond the forest. The thinking was that we needed to seize those so that the Germans couldn't use the dams to flood the area downstream, imperiling any forces operating there.

      The Germans lost the war through a series of bad decisions (starting the war was the dumbest thing they did), so they are experts at making bad military decisions. But hindsight is 20/20 and the men on the ground thought it was necessary. So bad idea? Probably. Necessary? Who knows?


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