Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Beginning of the End


Sgt. Stump Gentile walked into the old German bunker carrying a package under one arm and a stack of mail in his free hand.

"Hey guys, look what caught up to us!" He sang out as he held the mail aloft. The men immediately crowded around him. After a few minutes, when everyone who had mail was settled back down, one man looked rather downcast.

"So Billy, you didn't get anything?" Gentile asked, looking at Pvt. William Zerbst.

Zerbst looked up, "Nah Sarge, looks like everybody back home forgot about me. Since my brother's ship went down in the Pacific in '43, it's like they forgot I exist."

"Man, that's awful." Cpl. Charlie Gammell said, he looked through his mail and found what he was looking for, "Here Billy, take this. It's from a girl back home who just wants to write to a GI, I hardly know her. Maybe she'll write you if you write her back."

"Seriously Corp?"

"Why not? Hey Stump, what's in the box?" Gammell looked at his sergeant with a wicked grin.

"I'll bet you can smell what's in here, can't ya?" Gentile said. But he shook the box, it sounded like what he expected, then said, "They're probably kinda busted up, but Hell, they're probably still good. Ma sent them maybe four weeks ago."

Gentile tore open the box, there were a number of smaller boxes inside. He opened one, cookies.

"Okay, they're a bit crumbled, but..." He tasted one of the bigger chunks, "yup, still good. Dig in fellas. Ma told me I had to share."

The men all dug in, as they gobbled down home made cookies, 2nd Lt. Stephen Hernandez poked his head in, "Stump, Charlie, a word?" He looked at the cookies, one of the men handed him one of the bigger chunks.

Hernandez bit into it, "Whose Mom made these?"

All the men answered in unison, "Stump's Mom!"

"L.T.?" Stump asked, gesturing towards the door. Hernandez nodded and the three men went outside.

"Fox Company got their asses handed to them yesterday. They were ambushed by at least three tanks. They lost four Shermans destroyed, one damaged, 16 dead crewmen. Six halftracks knocked out, with sixty men out of action, thirty-three of whom are wounded, twenty-seven dead." Hernandez sighed after telling Gentile and Gammell the news.

"So I take it our vacation is over?" Gentile asked.

"Yup, 1st Battalion takes the lead tomorrow while 2nd licks their wounds. They'll be in reserve."

"Any replacements come in?" Gentile asked.

"Yup, ten newbies for us, they're over with Cap'n Palminteri now, 2nd platoon is back up to full strength. Here's the names of your new guys, Stump." Hernandez handed Gentile the list.

Pvt. Herman Bridges
Pvt. Derrick Quinn
Pvt. Jesse Noble
Pvt. Fred Walter

"All fresh out of training I'll bet." Gentile grumbled.

"I know, I know, but Bridges is an older guy, 35 I think. He's a volunteer. The others are two 18-year-olds and a 17-year-old. So you ain't the youngest man in the platoon anymore Charlie." Hernandez slapped Gammell on the shoulder.

"Lemme see that list, who's the kid?" Gammell leaned in, Hernandez pointed at the last name on the list, Fred Walter.

"Holy shit, I know that guy. He's from the next town over back home. Played baseball against him." Gammell exclaimed.

"Small world, eh Stump?" Hernandez chuckled.

"Yeah, I mean Vermont has like ten people in the whole state, we get two of 'em." Gentile laughed.

"Hey, there's more than ten people in Vermont." Gammell said with mock offense.

"Really?" The lieutenant scoffed.

"Yeah, there's like fifty or so, course, most of them are in Burlington, college town." Gammell smiled and winked at Gentile.

"Come on hayseed, let's get back inside before those other guys eat all the cookies."

"Tomorrow morning, zero-five-hundred, be ready to roll. Woodstock's tanks will be in the lead, halftracks in the rear. Be ready to roll." Hernandez ordered.

"Roger that, boss. Oh-dark-f**king-thirty. See you then. If it ain't too dark that is." Gentile answered.

"Carry on gentlemen." Hernandez walked off shaking his head and laughing.

"Charlie, you keep on eye on the new kids, watch your own ass as well." Gentile grumbled, he had grown to rely heavily on his assistant squad leader. Gammell was young, but a solid soldier. Maybe the new Vermonter was the same way.

"So this Walter kid, farm boy?" Gentile asked.

"Yeah, his Dad owns one of the biggest dairy farms in the state. Fred's been working on that farm since he could walk, heck, he was driving a tractor by the age of seven. I think you'll like him Sarge, a serious kid." Gammell said.

"He as big as you?" Gentile knew that Charlie was over six feet and a solid two hundred pounds.

"Actually Stump, he's bigger than me."

"This I gotta see." Gentile said as they reentered the bunker.

"Ah shit, you bastards ate all my Ma's cookies!" Gentile said as he looked at the empty boxes and crumbs on the table.

Everyone laughed, then Pvt. Ross Flowers pulled an unopened package from off of his bunk. "Hell Sarge, we wouldn't do that to ya."

"Ah gee, thanks Posey, you guys are all right..." Gentile paused, "...for a bunch of assholes." He said, smiling from ear to ear.

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  1. Replies
    1. Charlie Company can't be the tip of the spear all of the time now can they?

    2. There's tip of the spear and then there's being speared. Fox got speared.

    3. Sometimes the spear hits a shield.

  2. more day of rest, yet those Panthers are still out there.

  3. Getting a cookie care package from home during a Med cruise was a big deal.
    Sometime during the '75 Med cruise on Forrestal Mail Call brought a package from home.
    I opened it in the forward auxiliary machinery room with the expectation that I'd share the goodies with the watch section.
    After careful unwrapping, we found the box contained a lot of popcorn, and one chocolate chip cookie. ?????????
    There wasn't any evidence that the box had leaked, or been opened and resealed.
    Quite odd, and I wondered what was going on with Mom and Dad.
    A day or so later another box arrived from home, this one contained home made chocolate chip cookies packed in popcorn and a letter.
    Mom explained that they had leftover popcorn, so they sent a box of popcorn and put one cookie in the box.
    They mailed them both on the same day.
    I hadn't thought about the cookie caper in a very long time, and while I was reading today's post I could smell the cookies and popcorn in my mind.

    Well done.

    1. The popcorn is a brilliant idea! Protects the cookies, and you can eat it!

  4. I remember working in an all male environment... It was a tough crowd, but fun, too. A little bit of down time is good when you've been pushing hard for a long time...

    I watched the use of an inertial starter on a Panther yesterday. I remember reading about those, and talking to my old physics professor about them. I always wondered what that bent handle looking thing was on the back. And it is a handle...

    1. Yup, they still had to crank the engine to get the oil flowing before starting.

    2. The Me 109 had an inertial starter, too

    3. (Don McCollor)...And the Me 262 had a little 10 HP motor to spin the turbine up in the cone of each jet engine intake. Essentially, the Me 262 was started with by pulling a cord like starting a lawnmower...

    4. F9F Panthers were started with electric starter motors, powered by three wheeled Jeep NC-1A starter tugs.

    5. (Don McCollor)...Note that the ME 262 was not dependent on ground support for starting engines. Most German machinery was over engineered, but sometimes like with the VW, they were brilliant...

  5. Must have been tough to not get any mail when everyone else was reading letters from home. But sweets raise everyone's mood.
    Bet you knew Gammell and Walter in your youth, right?
    A 35 year old volunteer - wonder why he didn't enlist earlier?
    "...more then ten people in Vermont...". Should be "...than..."
    Funny that while I really don't want anyone in this group of GI's to suffer between now and the end of hostilities, I don't want "our" Germans to get hurt either. Unrealistic, I know. I also feel like the replacements are like Star Trek characters wearing red shirts.

    1. Yes, I knew a few guys like that. Hard to say on why the older guy didn't enlist earlier, essential war industry worker, married, perhaps something changed to alter his circumstances. We shall see that in the weeks to come. Provided, of course, he lives that long.

      D'oh! Fixed it.

      While it is tempting to let all "our" guys live, the story wouldn't be realistic. I tell you what though, it's tough to write of a death when you're invested in your characters. Which I am.

    2. You could pull a name out of a hat to see who doesn't make it...

    3. Seems rather impersonal, I think if I drew a name I didn't want, I'd keep drawing. The Muse often makes those decisions for me.

  6. Got a box of Ma's choc chip cookies in the Gulf of Oman for my birthday (a few weeks late, but who's counting?)in '79. They were some busted up, but a cookie never tasted better! I estimated that they had traveled some 8 - 14,000 miles, by various forms of transport, and been handled by God only knows how many sets of hands! As we were technically still WESTPAC, they probably came the long way. 'Sides, ain't that US Military SOP?

    1. It is!

      (Always loved getting goodies from home while I was still single, living on Okinawa.)

  7. "Whose Mom" not "Who's Mom" automation is rarely our friend anymore.
    Sympathize with you having to make those decisions,Sarge.
    Boat Guy

    1. Argh! Fixed it.

      Those decisions pale in comparison to what real life commanders go through.

    2. True that, Sarge. Command is what many aspire to, and fewer do well.
      Boat Guy

  8. Mail from home was always a big morale booster on the ship, in the days before email. My wife would number the cards/letters so I'd know what order the Navy wasn't following. We'd often get recent mail long before older stuff, depending on port visits, space on the COD, etc. I think one package mailed shortly after the start of deployment chased me around the Pacific and I didn't get it until I was on the way home. The unwritten rule was if you open it in the Ready Room, you have to share with everyone. If you wait until you're back in the stateroom and your roommate(s) is airborne, you get it all to yourself. Not sure how the maintainers did it.

    1. The old days, mail was special.

      Packages still are, can't email those!

    2. Not email, but airmail!

    3. Tuna. And the delivery time span varied depending on where the ship was.
      At best the time from mailing a letter in the Med, to getting a reply could be between two to three weeks, and when we were orbiting Cypress while the Greeks and Turks had their dust up, it was more than a month.

    4. Yeah, when Modloc in the gulf- once or twice a week. South Pacific? Weeks or Months.

    5. Makes sense, the Pacific is freaking huge!

  9. I remember my Mom used to send my Dad cakes in the mail while he was in Vietnam. They used to get htere a bout 3-4 weeks later all dried out and crumbly. He would go get a giant glass of milk and eat happily (He was a Marine pilot so milk was available!)! One year, for his birthday, me and my sisters made him a cake and hid it for about a month before his birthday so it could get "seasoned". We gave it to him and his eyes lit up and then he got misty. He grabbed the milk from the fridge and sat there happy as hell chomping away...not offering any to any one else!

  10. Hmmm... 35 year old. Wonder if he's ex-Lincoln Brigade? Which is one of the weird things not yet touched by you or your muse. Ex-prisoner with rights restored? Some guy from out back of Alaska or Montana? Will be interesting to see the backstory if you create one.

    Must be tough going into a situation where you know another group took it in the neck the day before. The combat report of basically 5 Shermans out and half a company or more out has to make the commanders wonder what is out there. Hopefully 'our' guys will have a scout either forward, if possible, or to the side or somewhere with visibility AND a functioning radio. Maybe even a FAO. Else, well, two Panthers, hull down, in camo and a StuG IV in same will be a hard target to spot and to fight.

    Sad, knowing the end is, well, nigh, but still have to go and try not to get oneself killed.

    Bleh. Morbid thoughts on a cloudy rainy day.

    1. Those Panthers and the StuG boogied shortly after the battle so as not to get immolated by an artillery strike.

      Of course, doesn't mean they aren't somewhere else...

  11. In basic training if someone got a box of cookies the sgt would say, "I HOPE YOU HAVE ENOUGH FOR E V E R Y B O D Y!"

    1. Made sense, one had no place to store the uneaten cookies.

  12. My mom found a local cookie bakery and routinely would go and buy day-old and broken cookies. She'd slip in some toll house wrapped separately jus for me. Everyone looked forward to when I got a "care" package. I looked forward to reading the newspaper she used for packing material. Abound the only time we got any mail underway was when we were operating with a carrier within visual range. Once in a blue moon we'd get some during unrep from a supply ship.

    The bunks in the opening photo remind me of those we had.

    1. I saw the racks on an East German corvette, very similar to those on a WWII destroyer.

      The racks in that bunker do look like that.

    2. The racks in troop berthing were of that type; maybe 13-14 inches between them. You got to share the rack with your Field Marching Pack.
      Boat Guy
      P.S. Mail was vital, packages nice (except in Boot Camp) but mail from wife about the kids (and maybe a promise or two about good thing upon return) made a HUGE difference in your day/week

  13. Once I was sent to Germany on station we all had a mailbox.

    But I can remember before the excitement of standing around during mail call and seeing those who didn’t get any looks so dejected.

    Captured that pretty well Sarge

    1. Had a mailbox on Okinawa and in Korea.

      The only time I ever had mail call was in Basic Training.

  14. Who does not love a cookie? Especially Mom's?


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

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