Excerpts - Part 2

Author's note: I was fortunate to be able to include large portions of my father's combat journal in my book. As a First Lieutenant in Patton's Army, 80th Infantry Division, he wrote about the fierce battle for the Moselle River in September, 1944. The goal of the 318th  (Dad's regiment) was to take the high ground of Mousson Hill, which was key to maintaining the bridgehead at the river. They reached it but couldn’t consolidate their position. The Germans counterattacked, pounding their armor against the GI’s. In Dad's words:

About five o’clock I got a call to go back to the Company Command Post. The Captain was very much concerned, telling me, ‘Everything is pulling back across the river; the Jerries [Germans] are coming in on every side and before long they’ll be in front of your position. I’m sending you forty replacements; get them dug in with good fields of fire. Keep everybody on alert. And, we lost Lieutenant White today."

The replacements were waiting when I got back to the platoon. It was getting dark and I didn’t have time to tell each of them more than, ‘Sergeant Garza is in charge of your squad. Dig in here, fast. We’re expecting trouble.’

            One new soldier stopped me cold by insisting he wanted to know what was going on before I went on down the line. He reminded me about Camp Croft and maneuvers; I almost laughed. But his question did make me realize how the situation must look to the new men, and I made it a point after that to talk a little bit as I moved along.

After the digging was well underway, I went around and arranged the guard for the night. There were two men in each hole — a suggestion of the Major’s that worked very well. Both men in a hole were to sleep at the same time, with the men on either side awake. The night was absolutely quiet, and the soupy dawn arrived with a gentleness and assurance that changed every man from a fearsome, groveling worm to a warm, self-respecting human being.

The next afternoon brought a spectacle, a front row seat at battle. With his field glasses, my father scanned the landscape all around and saw the frightful battle over in Loisy, where the Germans had chosen to make another big push.
Over on the far left, toward Loisy, a terrific battle was going on. Apparently the Jerries had chosen that flank, rather than ours, for the big push. The machine gun near Bezaumont kept firing….hubahubahubahubahub. Apparently the gunner had a good hole; we couldn’t see him although we could plainly see the gun. One of our tanks moved along the ridge at the top of a hill. He got just beyond the machine gun when the artillery started breaking around him. He twisted and turned but still it came and how they missed him was a miracle. Finally, he ducked into what seemed like pathetically little cover. We waited. The next round seemed to be a hit. The tank never moved again and the machine gun was quiet.

Jerry didn’t have our artillery spotted because their replies landed among a group of horses on the hill below Bezaumont. You could hear comments on all sides about the horses being hurt; the men were having the war and somehow it was more piteous for the animals to be wounded. All around us were cows that had been caught by the artillery, lying in grotesque positions.
Up on the ridge above where the tank had been knocked out we saw men moving around. Some of the sharp-eyed, using the field glasses, said they were definitely GIs. Somebody said they’ll catch it for showing themselves on the skyline; they did, and raced around like ants looking for cover.

The sky was clear and bright and we looked for the P-47’s[fighter planes]. The possibility of their arrival – always hoped for about four in the afternoon – was still being discussed when someone shouted and pointed.

There they were, beautiful, beautiful, high in the sky and looking for trouble. Every upturned face was held in a kind of ecstasy. It’s not just the actual physical help that they bring, it’s being remembered and knowing that you’re part of a mighty war machine.

            They zoomed in on Jerry, spraying like mad. Jerry got two of them; the pilots bailed out and the planes landed and burst into flames. We watched the pilots parachuting far to our left and hoped they would land in friendly territory.

            Every eye watched the rest of the planes head for home and you’d have thought every man was watching his love walk away after tender parting.


Excerpted from The Box from Braunau by Jan Elvin. 2009, AMA. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York , NY . Used with permission. All right reserved. http://www.amacombooks.org  

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