Thursday, December 3, 2020

The Rescue Party


"Nine men Nate, no more. You've got until tomorrow morning, if you don't make it back in time, you'll be walking back." Captain Tony Palminteri looked over at his company first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Mort Saeger who looked at his feet, then looked up again and nodded.

"We can give you one deuce and a half L.T., everything is going back to the rear with battalion. We're down three trucks already, can't spare anymore." 1st Sgt. Saeger looked at 1st Lt. Nathan Paddock.

"Should be more than enough, I've got 14 MIAs and with the nine of us, it'll be tight, but we'll all fit in one truck." Paddock finished, expecting to be sent out to find his missing men. But Cpt. Palminteri wasn't done with him just yet.

"What if they're all dead, Nate? Have you considered that possibility?"

"Yessir, much as I hate to say it, the only thing we're bringing back from the dead is their dog tags. I mean to save the living. The dead will still be there when we take the town. Whenever that might be." Paddock shrugged, it was a harsh thing, leaving one's dead behind, but war was harsh in and of itself. Sometimes the hard call had to be made.

"All right then," Palminteri checked his watch, "it's 1500 now, it'll be dark in about an hour. Get your guys ready and get going before I change my mind. The truck leaves tomorrow morning at 0700, whether you're on it or not."

"Understood sir."

"You taking a radio?" Palminteri asked.

"Negative sir, this is a no noise mission, if we take a radio, we'll be tempted to use it. We won't need it really, there is no arty on call, correct?"

"That's affirmative Nate. Regimental Cannon Company is on the road and all of the division's assets have already withdrawn. So yeah, I guess you won't need a radio. Anything else Nate?"

"No sir."

"Then go and God go with you man, be f**king careful out there."

"You pick out my team Jack?" Paddock looked at Sgt. Wilson, sensing that something was wrong.

"Yessir, but, I dunno sir... Stump pointed out that if you and I both go, and if neither of us makes it back, where does that leave the platoon?" Sgt. Wilson was obviously holding something back. Before Paddock could ask, Stump spoke up.

"With all due respect sir, you aren't going."

"I beg your pardon." Paddock was incredulous, what was happening here?

"Sir, you aren't real good in the woods, you make more noise than a team of horses goin' over a plank bridge when you're in the field. Ya just don't move well L.T., I figure we need guys who know how to move real silent like, ya know. Sorry sir, but ya asked." Pvt. Riley Taggert shifted from one foot to another after he said his piece.

"Really Taggert, am I that bad?" Paddock wasn't angry, it was just something he'd never considered before.

"Yes sir, you're pretty noisy, you're just not real graceful, bull in a china shop kinda thing." This time it was Sgt. Stump Gentile who spoke up.

"Damn, alright, who are you sending Jack?" Paddock was still a bit shaken at learning this, but then again, it wasn't something he'd ever thought about. Moving with the whole platoon, there was always some noise. It did strike him that some of the guys in his platoon moved like ghosts they were so quiet.

"Okay, L.T., it's myself, Gammell, Jennings, Jones, Taggert, Gonzales, Long, Ginter, and Pacheco. I know, I know, Brad and Homer are a little banged up, but all of us were hunters before the war, Gonzales and Ginter are two of our best guys in the woods. Trust me L.T., this is the right team."

Paddock thought for a moment, checked his watch, noticed it was getting dark, then he spoke, "Brad, Homer, you good to go? Doc check you out?" He turned to Doc Milbury as he said that.

"Yup, minor cuts and bruises. Of course the cuts were caused by shrapnel, so technically they are wounded, but nothing to keep them out of going out there." Doc said this with his arms folded, he obviously wasn't happy about this, but the men were fit for the mission.

"Alright Jack, go. Be f**king careful okay?"

"Yessir." Wilson and his team began to move off, the rest of the unwounded men, including Cpl. Judd Maxwell's machine gun team, began to follow them into the woods. Before the lieutenant could say anything, Sgt. Gentile asked him...

"Coming L.T.? We're going to set up just inside the tree line facing the town, near that knocked out Sherman. If they need covering fire on the way back..."

"Yup, let's go." Paddock was angry with himself for not thinking of that himself, he had been so focused on leading the mission, he hadn't thought of anything else, it's a good thing, he thought, that I've got some damned good sergeants taking care of my ass!

It was dark now, the scouts had left behind anything which would make noise. Dog tags, equipment, canteens, and helmets, all they carried were their weapons and their ammunition. Gentile had gone down the line and made sure that everyone carried their weapon with an empty chamber, there would be no accidental discharges on this night.

Three of the men, Taggert, Gonzales, and Pacheco all carried combat knives, they were the only ones with edged weapons. As Gonzales had said, the bayonets they all carried were too shiny and the metal scabbards were a noise maker. The men's knives had blackened blades and were in leather sheaths sewn into their field jackets.

Gammell had had the idea for the men to blacken their faces with ashes and mud. Which provoked a laugh from Gonzales, "I dunno Sgt. Wilson, I'm pretty dark as it is..."

"Paint yourself Brad, just so you don't feel left out."

There was no noise from the town. The Kraut tank that Hernandez, Jones, and Wells had destroyed was still burning, fitfully. A few houses near the edge of town were also burning, but much more fiercely. The fire provided some light and the smoke provided lots of shadow, so the men got across the field without much problem.

As they were passing the tank, the team froze, there was a noise.


"What the f**K?" Wilson muttered.

"It's me hermano, Hernandez. I'm kinda banged up, but I'm okay. What the f**k are you guys doing out here?" Hernandez had spoken all of that in a low voice which could barely be heard above the flames from a nearby house.

"We're here to rescue your sorry ass, Staff Sergeant." Wilson whispered back.

"Okay, I think I know where some of our guys are. I saw Jenkins take what was left of his squad into that low building across the way. Just past that burning shed."

The team was huddled beside the wrecked tank, on the side away from the village. "What do you mean, what was left of them?" Wilson hissed.

"Right, well, there was a lull right after those paratroopers came boiling out of the town, screaming and waving their rifles around. Jenkins made his move while those Krauts were dying. He led his guys into the town in the confusion. Unfortunately Rizzo and Lopez were killed by a Kraut with an MP 40, Johnston and Phillips killed that guy, next thing I know a mortar round drops into the hole they were sheltering in. Killed both of them and Roberts too, I think so anyway, he was with them, then there was nobody left." Hernandez took a deep breath.

"Later, as it started to get dark, I snuck over there. Found Johnston and Phillips, almost no sign of Roberts..."

"Almost no sign, what does that mean?" Wilson asked.

"Found one of his boots, well, it was a GI boot anyway, the top of it was all charred."

"Why do you think..."

"Johnston and Phillips still had their boots on."

"Damn. Okay, Top, make your way back to the lines, Stump and the L.T. are by the knocked out Sherman just inside the tree line."

"F**k that, I'm going with you guys. I know the lay of the land so to speak as I've had nothing to do all day but watch. The Krauts had a f**king Tiger roaming around in the town earlier. But I stopped hearing that about three hours ago. Tell ya the truth, I think the Krauts pulled out."

"Okay, Taggert, take point, Top, are you up for this?"

"Yup, I'll watch Taggert's back, you gonna take drag?" Hernandez asked Wilson.

"Yeah, good idea Top, I'll bring up the rear. Let's move out."

The team slipped into the town and slowly made their way to the building Hernandez thought Jenkins' squad was in, along the way Taggert had stumbled over a wounded German. The man had moaned, "Bitte..." before Taggert quickly silenced him. Everyone's nerves were on edge now, Hernandez was worried it could all go to shit at any minute if the Germans were still around.

"Hey, shithead. Is that you out there Taggert? You ugly hillbilly." The voice came from the building just ahead.

Taggert recognized the voice of his buddy John Kilpatrick. "Izzat you, John? You stupid city asshole. Show yourself Johnny, it's just me and some of the boys come to save you, any Krauts around?"

"Nope, they pulled back a couple of hours ago, except the guy you tripped over. He got left behind, his buddies probably thought he was dead. Is he?"

"He is now. Where's the rest of your squad?" Hernandez had moved up and had directed the rescue party to take positions to cover the approaches to the building.

"Sgt. Jenkins took Genovese, Mitchell, Hudson, and McTeague a bit further into town, to make sure the Krauts were really gone. It's just me and Cantwell. We got two dead, Rizzo and Lopez. Cantwell is hurt pretty bad, can't walk, keeps drifting in and out, he's really f**ked up."

"Hey Top, we got guys coming down the street, sneaking from house to house." Taggert had his Garand trained in that direction.

"Hold your fire, it might be Jenkins. Gammell, Jennings cover those guys, the rest of you get inside, let's get our guys and get going."

"Top, it's Jenkins, looks like they got a Kraut prisoner."

"Okay, Jack you handle the wounded guys, leave the dead..."

"You ain't leaving my guys Top." Sgt. Greg Jenkins shoved a wounded German paratrooper in front of him, then kicked the back of his legs to put him on his knees.

"Bitte, nicht schiessen." The German moaned. The paratrooper was just a boy, he looked to be about 16-years-old.

"Shut the f**k up you Kraut f**k." Jenkins kicked the kid.

"Greg..." Hernandez began, only to be interrupted by Jenkins getting real close to him.

"These Kraut bastards killed a bunch of my guys, I have no sympathy for 'em. Now let's get my dead and wounded and we can go." Jenkins was on the edge of madness. It was obvious that he was ready to kill anybody or anything which got in his way.

"Right, do it." Hernandez knew that arguing or ordering wouldn't work. The town did seem deserted and his wounds were starting to bother him, a lot.

He had been hit by a number of fragments from a mortar round which detonated nearby, by all rights it should have killed him, but it didn't. But two of the fragments in his lower back had moved a bit, he was having some sharp pains in his left thigh which really bothered him, he wondered if something had hit nerves back there, it sure felt like it.

"Sarge, I got movement out here." Cpl. Maxwell was manning the .30 cal himself. He'd seen a shadow which looked out of place in the flickering flames from the village. Then he'd seen it again, with at least two more man-shaped shadows.

Gentile slid in next to Maxwell, "Yup, I see 'em, hold your fire."

"LITTLE!" Sgt. Gentile yelled the challenge.

"ORPHAN ANNIE!" The countersign came back, he thought he recognized Wilson's voice. He wondered if they'd found everyone.

"Top, you're alive!" Paddock exclaimed as he came up.

"Yeah, L.T., don't suppose you brought Doc Milbury with ya?"

Paddock could see that Hernandez was in a lot of pain, so he called for a stretcher. He also got a stretcher for Pfc. Mike Cantwell, who was badly hurt. Doc checked him out, then looked at the lieutenant and said, "He'll live, if we can get him to an aid station within the next couple of hours."

Paddock nodded and ordered, "Let's get up the hill to the castle, we have a truck waiting. Sgt. Jenkins glad you made it, who's the Kraut?"

"Dunno L.T., I figured the S2 would like to talk with him."

"Yup, I'll bet he would, Cat talk to this kid, tell him if he runs, we'll kill him. If he behaves, then his war is over. Now move it guys, let's get out of here."

Paddock looked back towards the burning town of Merode. He watched as the men carried the bodies of five of his men. According to Wilson, there was no sign of Pfc. Adam Roberts, except maybe the boot Hernandez had found.

Roberts would remain one of the over 72,000 men who are still listed as Missing In Action.

Paddock sighed and began the long walk back up to Burg Laufenburg. It was all he could do to maintain his composure. He had a lot of letters to write.

* With apologies to the Rangers in the photo. I removed three of the men's ranger tabs as I know you alert readers would jump all over that.

Link to all of The Chant's fiction.


  1. Now Paddock and Company get to go for a rest in the Ardennes?

    1. According to Wiki... The 1st Div gets pulled back from rest and refit, and then shoved right back in. No rest for the weary.

  2. A long night for the rescued men not to mention 1st Lt. Paddock. Maybe a little rest & regroup for a few days......ya... I know.....the sixteenth is coming up fast Sarge.

    1. Historically the 1st Infantry Division was pulled out of the Hürtgenwald for rest and refit in early December. So yes, our boys will join them.

  3. The only thing worse than knowing is the not knowing. I've found that out the hard way this year. Now, I crave clarity.

    I can understand the LT, completely.

    1. Clarity is something which has been lacking on many fronts this year.

      I crave it as well.

  4. Sarge, having practiced Iai for 10+ years now, the draw from the sheath (there is a word, nukitsuke) is intended to be silent as is sheathing (also a word, noto). This has a lot to do with the angle of the draw and sheathing, especially on the draw: getting the tip of the sword out straight and then turning it into the angle of the cut is much more difficult than most people think. If you turn the tip too soon it grinds against the inside of the sheath, thus making noise. The sheaths and bayonets never occurred to me but of course, probably the same challenge (I imagine worse with bayonets as they are commercially produced and not fitted to the sword like most Japanese swords).

    1. Nice detail on the drawing of the sword, I never gave that much thought but what you say makes perfect sense.

      Just the metal scabbard of the bayonet contacting the rifle or a branch makes some noise. I'm not sure if that would be heard over the flames of burning buildings, but if the men had had to penetrate deeper into the town, it could have been a factor. So I had the guys go in as stealthy as possible, though it probably wasn't needed.

    2. It's why a lot of combat knifers made/make their own sheaths for their combat knife. No metal, just leather, sewn, with maybe a snap or tie to hold the knife in.

      Big, clunky scabbards with metal all over them, hanging from the belt? Too noisy. And could catch on things.

      As to the noise, it's not if it can be heard over the sound of something burning, it's if the noise is different enough from the sound of the burning.

    3. I should have probably added that traditional Japanese scabbards (saya) are made of paulownia wood. The opening where the sword goes in (the koiguchi, or mouth of the fish) is traditionally made of buffalo horn. Most have limited or no metal ornamentation on them so the draw can be quite silent, especially if you are careful about it.

    4. Beans - Yup, noisy. Can't be heard over the sound of a fiercely burning building though, no matter how different it sounds. It would be critical if they had had to go deeper into town, where the sounds of the conflagration would, if heard at all, be faint.

    5. Toirdhealbheach Beucail - Thanks, while I knew that, not everyone here does. Another good detail.

    6. (Don McCollor)...Not only the Army listens .In the sustained roar of a ship engine room (probably 120 decibels+) [from D. Galley's "Clear the Decks]. "To a good engineer, it is a melody of sounds...If the sound changes, a good engineer can go right to the source"...

  5. Getting a direct hit from a mortar, not a lot left. Must have been one of the German's little 5cm infantry mortars, basically a grenade launcher. (The US 60mm mortar had quite more of a punch, of course it also weighed more...)

    Glad Paddock et al at least found out what happened, and recovered most of the bodies.

    Why would Roberts be listed as MIA? There was enough visual evidence of him being in the hole and then the recovery team finding only a spare foot, with no other bodies missing feet or any extra missing people? I mean, one missing soldier, one foot, must be missing soldier. Is it because they didn't find any id tags or other identification to prove the foot belonged to Roberts?

    1. It wasn't a direct hit by any size mortar on the MG team. As to Roberts, a single boot is not evidence of anything. He might have dragged himself (or been dragged) somewhere. No body, no witnesses, no dog tags, he's missing. Again, no foot, just the boot. If he'd taken a direct hit by a mortar, the other two guys would've been killed themselves in all likelihood.

    2. Aha, he will be coming back! Right now he is either in hiding or on the run or a POW.

    3. Anything could happen. I hardly know myself what the future holds, and I'm the writer!

    4. (Don McCollor)..Boot charred at the top, no foot reported in it...Most interesting, Watson...

    5. Anything could happen, nothing might happen. You never know.

  6. You wonder how many are still in that forest...

  7. Great job, Sarge. Thanks for solving the mystery.
    Good NCO's won't let their officers do dumb things; though I used to have a rule - after the third "but, sir" I'd let him discover the folly of his intentions. Of course this was all in training, not combat.
    Boat Guy

    1. You can learn from your mistakes.

      Ask me how I know...

  8. Marvelous choice of photo to lead off this chapter; it makes the text more poignant still.
    My father-in-law was an arty mech with Cannon Company, 271st Infantry during the final push in 1945; not line infantry, but he was awarded the CIB. If he didn't make night rescue patrols, nonetheless he saw a bunch of destroyed towns and the ruination caused by the war. My respect and admiration for him and his buddies only grows deeper with time.

    Thanks, Sarge -- reading this saga has become one of the high points of my day.

    1. Thanks, it has always been my intention to pay homage to those who went before.

  9. Hey Old AFSarge;

    I remember before going on patrol, we would jump up and down and around to see what "rattled" then secure it, tape it or get rid of it before heading out. Another excellent post :)

    1. That's the best way to do it!

    2. I thought though by leaving the dog tags if they died and we’re not found they were forever MIA.

      Didn’t they used to tape them together?

    3. Dog tags were typically taken when the man died. No body, there would be no dog tags. Through modern DNA testing, they are still recovering, and identifying, casualties from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.

  10. Hey let me ask all of you guys a question. I watched that German production of the Hurtgen forest and some of the local Germans today were peeved that these reenactors-American-would come there to reenact battles. And they would even dig new trenches.

    I think it is sacrilege to the dead and those who suffered so much.

    Sacrilege to those on both sides.

    Why someone would want to play soldier amid such carnage is beyond me

    Maybe with a little luck one of them will step on an old mine and get a real feel for how it was.

    Am I over reacting?

    1. Yes, I am over reacting? And what’s the difference between that and going to Gettysburg and digging new trenches and playing unions and Confederates?

    2. Feisty lately, aren't you?

      You asked my opinion, I gave it.

    3. Not me. I just thought there’d be a little more discussion than one word but that’s OK

      I am enjoying your installments.

    4. Way off topic. Might be something to chew on over at MeWe. Not Failbook though, they're not on the side of the angels.

  11. SOME people can learn from their mistakes - glad you're one of them :)
    Reminded of the butter bar showing off his mortar team, gave the order for load and elevation and the Sgt said "are you sure?".
    Told yes, they chased all the newbies back to the trench, then set the load, dropped the round in, and skedaddled to the trench themselves.
    The visiting officer being shown off for...his jeep suffered some injuries from shrapnel. Yes, he was impressed, but not in a good way.

  12. As to the uniforms in the photograph, several of the men appear to be wearing L.L. Bean hunting boots, 1 definitely wearing the new buckle-tops.
    No discernible leggings. Old Guns


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

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