Praetorium Honoris

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Regrouping

U.S. Army Photo

Sgt. Jack Wilson walked up to where S/Sgt Stephen Hernandez was sitting, next to a row of poncho-shrouded bodies. Hernandez looked as crappy as Wilson felt, seems like they had been moving and fighting for as long as Wilson could remember. In truth though, it was not that many weeks ago that they had been preparing for a kid's Christmas party in Aubel. The German attack on the 16th of December had spoiled all that.

"Ya wanted to see me, Top?" Wilson asked.

"Yeah, step into my office Jack, pull up a snow bank."

Wilson unslung his rifle and sat down next to Hernandez.

"Smoke?" Hernandez said, offering his pack of Lucky Strikes.

"Yeah Top, don't mind if I do."

The two men lit their cigarettes and sat quietly for a few moments. Wilson looked over at the bodies, men he had known and liked for the most part. Sgt. Greg Jenkins, Pfc. Harry Mitchell, Pvt. Justin Long, Pvt. Thomas Spencer, Pvt. Edgar Freeman, and Pvt. Eugene King had all been killed in action the day before. Wilson recognized Jenkins' boots, one of them had a distinctive scuff mark across the toe, he sighed. Greg had been a friend, a fellow squad leader, now he was dead. Who knows, Wilson thought to himself, I might be lying there in a day or so.

"How's the L.T.?" Wilson asked.

"Doc says he'll be fine. Million dollar wound he said, Hell I'd pay that much to keep him here with us." Hernandez answered.

"Yeah, I hear ya." Wilson took another drag on his cigarette, then asked, "So why'd ya need to see me, Top? I don't want to leave my guys alone too long, ya know how they like to get in trouble." Wilson chuckled, the guys were too tired to get into any mischief. At any rate, what mischief was there to get into in this war-torn area?

"You're the new platoon sergeant." Hernandez stated in a flat voice. "Diego's a solid guy, he should have his own squad anyway." Cpl. Diego Pena was Wilson's assistant squad leader.

"What happens when they send a new lieutenant down, do I get my squad back?" Wilson wasn't sure he liked this new arrangement. Just seven months ago he'd been a buck-ass private storming the beach at Omaha with his buddy Bill Brandt. Bill had made sergeant before getting hit in Belgium, now he himself was a sergeant, leading Bill's old squad.

"There ain't gonna be a new lieutenant. Cap'n Palminteri says I'm getting a field commission. I guess I'm a lieutenant now." Hernandez tossed his cigarette butt, he pulled the pack out, thought better of it, but offered one to Wilson, who declined.

"Damn, Stephen Hernandez, a Second Looey. Man, do you have to start making dumb mistakes and misreading maps now?" Wilson joked.

"Nah, I'm sure I'll make enough other mistakes. By the way, I asked the Cap'n if I could make you a S/Sgt."

"Yeah? What did he say?"

"You need to sew some new stripes on, Jack. You can have mine, they're kinda grimy but..."

"Okay. Can't say I'm thrilled, but the extra few bucks a month will be nice. If we ever get to a place where we can spend it. Guess I'll just send the extra on to my Mom. She'll appreciate it,"

"Yeah, now we have work to do, we're not getting any replacements any time soon, and division wants us to start pushing the Krauts again. They don't want the bastards digging in I suppose, you know how tough they are to root out again."

"Oh boy, attacking through this crap." Wilson gestured at the snow-covered fields.

(Source)

"Manfred! Come here, we need to get moving, it will be dark soon." Major Jürgen von Lüttwitz had his map out, it was soiled and torn, but still legible. He'd been carrying it since the 14th of December and had been referring to it constantly. It was a good map, from the Wehrmacht's pre-war stocks.

"Herr Major, where to?" Leutnant Manfred Sauer needed a shave, a bath, a haircut, and sleep. Most of all he wanted to sleep, in a real bed, with real sheets. He was exhausted, he remembered the amphetamine tablets the Army used to issue in the early years of the war, he almost wished he could lay his hands on some now.

He and the Major had spent the day under the cover of a stand of pine trees reorganizing what was left of their Kampfgruppe. They had started the month of December with 527 men, a full battalion. Now they numbered just 43, barely a platoon, yet they were still carried on the 6th Panzerarmee's rolls as a battalion. They had orders to march for Losheimergraben, a place they had gone through some weeks ago heading west. Now they were headed in the opposite direction, east, back to Germany. Perhaps further east as well, the Reich was in dire need of troops to hold back the Russians. Sauer rather hoped they would stay in the West, he had no desire to fall into the hands of the Communists.

"I've shuffled things around, we now have three squads of nine men each, based around the MG 42s we have, and we have six of those left. I've created a weapons squad to operate three of the 42s, we had a seventh but it was constantly jamming, so we turned it in." Major von Lüttwitz was pleased with the way Sauer had reorganized things.

"Good, get the boys together, we move when the sun goes down. Make sure everyone stays closed up, I don't want anyone wandering off in the dark. They'd freeze to death out there. If we keep moving we should be all right." von Lüttwitz looked at his watch, "We've got about ten kilometers to go, on a road which has been badly torn up over the past few days. But with any luck, we can be back in the Reich by morning."

"We march, the wrong direction perhaps, but we won't be stuck in a frozen mudhole in Belgium. I'll get the troops assembled." With that Sauer offered his hand to von Lüttwitz.

Von Lüttwitz took Sauer's hand and grinned, "Just like France again, eh Manfred?"

"Jawohl Herr Major, but a lot colder!"





Link to all of The Chant's fiction.

40 comments:

  1. Oh man, a metal pot on your head in winter, my fingers are cramping up typing this. Aha! M1 carbine, those are nice shooters, a friend has one.

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    1. Never fired the carbine nor the rifle. Have worn the steel pot in winter.

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    2. My buddy got a carbine (reproduction) back in 1981. I did some horse trading for it. It was the first rifle I owned that would shoot through a telephone pole. (heh). Potting at an old engine block 200 yards away was easy. Dumping a magazine was effortless, with little recoil to boot.

      The M1 is a beast. 600 yards is not out of the question at all. It's marked up to a 1000 IIRC. That '06 round will penetrate concealment. Concrete blocks don't stand up against a clip of 8. That isn't cover. It'll punch through cars, houses, trees.... When I shot competition (the club had loaners), I'd have a bruised shoulder from the 50 round course of fire. She loved on you when you used her.

      Dad shot it in boot camp, and carried it through his service. He said it weighs "8.9 lbs loaded, 2700 fps, 167 grain bullet...*" He could still spout that off without thinking forty years after the fact.... But he said at the end of the march it weighed 75 lbs and the sling would cut your shoulder all the way to your chest...

      *not an accurate rendition

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    3. Got to shoot the carbine for annual qualifications, and I REALLY liked that rifle. Never could afford one with the collector craze driving up prices, though.
      Frank

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    4. STxAR - The Garand is one of the finest rifles to ever be carried by the infantry.

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    5. Frank - Ah yes, "collectors." Craze describes it well.

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    6. And the chance of any Garands or Carbines coming back to the States from South Korea went down the drain on November 3rd. CMP was seriously drooling at the chance for them, along with all the people eligible to buy from the CMP - (which means vets and people belonging to a CMP recognized club. And to make matters better, the guns could be shipped directly to your home.)

      Sigh.

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    7. It shouldn't be. But one party has been blocking the return of the guns since forever.

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    8. I was fortunate to have good friends who were a whiz at M1's and M1 carbines. He restored a Garand for me that is presentation grade, just beautiful, but not worth much to a collector since it has been refinished. I picked up a very nice Carbine made by Winchester at a gun show back in the late 90's - came with a little index card typed up (yes, on a typewriter) saying it was a WWII bringback and had not been shot in anger. Is in great shape with all parts matching with the exception of a couple of minor items. I'm amazed at how much it's worth these days... and while some internet experts poo-poo the effectiveness of the .30 carbine round, it's caused the demise of a LOT of our enemies in several wars.
      We still run high power rifle clinics, and you can still get Garands and Enfields from CMP - a lot are kinda junky, but their store at the Marksmanship Park in Anniston, AL, had some very nice reworked ones for sale - pricey but nice.

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    9. Beans - Don't blame one party, both parties want us disarmed and compliant. There is only one party in reality, the new aristocracy in DC has two faces, but only one goal.

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    10. Tom - "Internet experts," kind of an oxymoron isn't it?

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  2. My compliments: once again you have described life on the frontline in a very realistic and detailed manner. Makes one wonder whether you aren't a time traveller. ;-) Ausspreche Lob und Anerkennung, chapeau!

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    1. I just read a lot and have an overly active imagination. Though I did spend a lot of time in the great outdoors in my youth as well.

      Danke!

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  3. Yes sir, this is a top drawer story you are spinning. I have worn or used all the gear that they did, up to and including their arms, and I know a lot about the time, but you pull in some things that open my eyes to new detail. Thank you.

    Seeing them in my mind's eye smoke Lucky Strikes reminds me of all my old mentors... Lined up, sitting in the stands, watching the goings on down here, smoking Luckys...

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    1. Lucky Strike Reds, the old man used to say, because Lucky Strike Greens went to war. Apparently the original pack was green, but they needed the pigment for paints used on war materials. Funny how that just popped into my head.

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  4. I hope that 'our' Germans manage to stay far away from the Eastern Front, even though it's getting closer every day.

    And it looks like the Army is going to be keeping up the pressure on the Germans. Which means more dribblings of casualties and prisoners and stupid mistakes.

    Excellent story. As always.

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    1. The friction of war as Clausewitz termed it.

      The Eastern Front is getting very close to the Reich's old border with Poland.

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  5. Sarge, your description makes me picture the Bill Maudlin cartoons. My uncle had a book of them and I remember looking through them as a child.

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    1. Mr. Mauldin recorded what he saw. I love his work.

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    2. me, too - I also had a book of his cartoons and read it several times - Mauldin had a great insight into the dogface's life and was loved by the troops

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    3. And hated by some generals, in particular one George S. Patton, Jr!

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  6. Hey Old AFSarge;

    The "Lucky Strike" reference was a gem. And an excellent Pic you selected and the comment "Yeah, step into my office Jack, pull up a snow bank." was a good reference with some tongue in cheek humor. Still want to add a carbine to my rifle collection but I think that ship has sailed due to the collector craze that has struck in recent years. Oh well. I got a Garand and an 03 so I am good.

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    1. Never did get a Garand, by the time I was interested, they were far too pricey.

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  7. Again, the photos really add great value to the words. I am shivering just looking at those poor SOBs, equally miserable in the snow and cold, regardless of which uniform they wore.
    John Blackshoe

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    1. Often the photos set the tone for the story.

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    2. Yes they do! Before I even start to read, I study the first photo for awhile, and I'm transported through time, and space...the worries of today lost in the mists, as I find myself on that long ago battlefield.

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  8. I can echo many of the above comments - your writing definitely paints a picture, to the point I can 'see' what's going on in my mind's eye and feel what the characters are feeling. The cigarette scene was brilliant. Funny how the US Government issued Lucky Strikes in ration packs, got the soldiers addicted to nicotine, then came after the evil tobacco companies for marketing a deadly product all the while not taking responsibility for the government's part in it all. Reminds me of the meme currently going around about how it's a felony to lie to the government, but the government can lie to us with impunity.

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    1. To be fair, the government didn't really go apeshit over cigarette smoking until the late '80s. Of course, then they went completely overboard. If the gubmint had tried to ban smoking in the '40s or '50s, there would have been blood in the streets. Our predecessors weren't sheep.

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    2. (Don McCollor)...many did not have time to get too addicted...

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    3. I remember in 1954 when we got our first TV set John Cameron Swayze at the end of the 6 o'clock news announcing which VA hospitals were receiving cartons of Camels that night. Also there were Chesterfields, Camels and some other brands I cannot recall in the C-rations we were consuming 1959-63. Old Guns

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    4. Old Guns - Yes, I think people knew they were "bad for you" but this was before the nanny government days.

      (My first real boss in the Air Force smoked Pall Malls, that brand has been around for a while.)

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    5. (Don McCollor)...War and smoking are both bad for your health. There was an account of a badly wounded Marine on Tarawa who asked the corpsman trying to treat him "Gimme your cigarette". The corpsman offered to light one for him. "No time, gimmie yours". The corpsman held his cigarette to the lips of the Marine, smoke curled out through his chest wounds, and he died...

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    6. Yes, but one eases the stress of the other.

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  9. I saw an interesting YouTube video on the M1 carbine some months ago and for the life of me can’t find it again. I always thought it was a little under powered and looked like a toy rifle but for what it was designed for it did it’s job well.

    Think it’s reasonable range was only 300 yards if that.

    I am feeling a bit sorry for Manfred and Jurgen. Do you wonder if they weren’t feeling like the whole thing was hopeless.

    And I am thinking seeing so much death every day from your friends would really suck on your soul.

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  10. Sarge, the only WWII stuff I've read has been Pacific Theater stuff. I knew things in the ETO were brutal, but I'd never read about them.

    Thanks for writing this. It's given me an even greater appreciation of the "other half" of The Greatest Generation.

    And if you do a dead tree version of this, try and stick as many of these photos in as your Editor will allow. They add so much to each chapter.

    Bravo, sir!

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