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2014, Aaron Elson


A Mile in Their Shoes

The Online Version

2014, Aaron Elson

Hors d'oeuvres de Combat

Tony D'Arpino and Reuben Goldstein

Nov. 28, 1992

    Ruby Goldstein: I went to gunnery school at Fort Knox. I was in Fort Benning at the time. So they had to pick different people to go to gunnery school. Everybody lined up in the morning, that's it, they'd call out your name, you didn't volunteer nothing.

    So we go to gunnery school, and everything is fine. We get on a tank, the radio is not on, I'm up in the turret, the driver's down below, just us two in the tank. We're going to the firing range. We're going cross-country, in fields. We're going like this [motioning up and down], and I have my gloves on. I'm in the turret, standing on a little folding seat.

    The turret is round, and it opens up in a half, and there's a pin that goes in and locks it in place.

    But we're going up this hill, and as we hit a bump, the pin breaks off, and the hatch comes down on my left side, and my hand is [wrapped around the edge of the turret ring], I'm holding on to brace myself, and the hatch comes right down on my hand, right across the center, and it bounced. Thank God it bounced, because this half would have been broken off.

    This white mark, it was like a bubble, it burst, and the blood started to come out. So I grabbed my handkerchief and I tied it around, and I stuck it in my jacket, and I'm hollering at the driver. We don't have any radio on. How is he gonna hear me with all that noise?

    We finally get to the firing range. I climb up. I jump down onto the ground. They get me in a jeep, back to the post, to the hospital. We get in the emergency part there, and they say, A We'll be right with you.@ I sat there for two hours. Then a nurse came out, and I told her what happened. She looked at my hand, took me into a room, put it over a sink, washed all the blood off, threw the handkerchief away. It didn't need any stitches because it was thin skin. And then she put a roll bandage over my hand, rolled it right up, and gave me a sling. A Okay, you're all set.@

    I go back. I can't dress. I can't undress. I'm not used to doing it with one hand. So the fellows would help me untie my shoelaces. At that time we didn't have boots, in the beginning. We just had the midcalf shoe. So they helped me, on and off, and meanwhile I'm still climbing up and down the tanks with one hand, and trying to disassemble things, you have to do it blindfolded, taking a machine gun apart and all that stuff. It was hard with one hand, but what are you gonna do? I did the best I could.

    We graduate. I get back to Fort Benning. They send me to the hospital. Now they put a cast on, [all the way up to the elbow]. And I was still going out every day with everybody.

    I got a furlough out of it, after I took the cast off, which was all right. I didn't mind that. And it didn't hurt. It just shows you how things can happen. That's all they had was a pin with a ring, if you recall, pull it out, hold the hatch down, and that's it. Going cross-country, forget it.

    Tony D'Arpino: We had a guy who had two million-dollar wounds, and one was caused by something as silly as that. A gunner in the second platoon, his name was Sinclair. He was from West Virginia. And they were going in combat, they were going through some, it wasn't thick brush, but there was brush around. And he had the gun traversed, he was going to shoot something to his right, and I guess the gun traversed to his right and hit a small tree, it snapped the lock and spun the turret around and broke his arm. He went to the hospital. He was gone I don't know how long, he comes back, he wasn't back two days, and he's in the turret of the tank again as a gunner, he had his helmet off, and a mortar shell hit about two miles away someplace, so a piece of shrapnel comes flying, right, so he gets a three-stitch cut in his scalp, they brought him back to the hospital again, two million-dollar wounds.

- - -

    Ruby Goldstein: We had a driver in my platoon, Duane Miner, he was from Minneapolis, I think. Tall, handsome looking kid, just married. He was the driver. And in back of the driver, up above, in the turret, you've got your 75-millimeter, you've got your gunner, tank commander, and your loader, on this side, which is in back of the driver.

    The gun was so hot from firing, the machine gun, he didn't open up the cover. You pull it back and open up the cover. If you leave it on, she's gonna keep firing. And he's sitting up there, Miner is down below, he opens up the hatch, he gets up, it fired. It killed him. That's how accidents happen.

    We had another kid, at the Falaise Gap, remember when we encircled them all, that's the first time they ever caught 40,000 prisoners at one time. We were closing the gap. And everything was quiet. In the distance was the woods out there. Everything was quiet. We didn't know what was in the woods. But we knew that it was our job to encircle and we had to close this gap. And we got out, took a little bunsen burner we had, you remember? Put it in back of the tank, light it up, take your cup, put some water in it, heat it up for coffee or whatever. A mortar shell lands, beeko, he's gone. Just for nothing. Out of the blue. That was the only one that landed at that time, the first one. And then after we jumped back in the tank, all hell broke loose. That's when I caught shrapnel in the neck.

    Tony D'Arpino: This was the Falais Gap [pointing to a section of the battalion's unit history], the pocket there. The battalion knocked out 620 vehicles and [was credited with] the surrender of 1,100 Germans.

    We were all lined up there together, as I recall it, I remember in C Company, everybody took turns firing the guns.

    Ruby Goldstein: We just went to close the gap, and as soon as they started firing all hell broke loose, and the next thing you know, Bingo, the mortars started to come down, and I caught [a piece of shrapnel] in the neck. It started to bleed. I took out my handkerchief, and I held it up against my neck. I jumped down, and a jeep came by, and they had a stretcher with a fellow on it, and one in the back seat, and the driver. I got in the front, and we went to a first aid hospital. It was in back of a huge building, like a castle, but we went around the back, underground, to the cellar like, and they had all the guys who were wounded, everybody in line, waiting their turn to get treated. It was 2 o'clock in the morning, something like that, I was next. I got in a tent, kitchen table, white porcelain table, strip to the waist, lay down. The doctor's got a flashlight, he's looking at it, and he says, "Oh, that's nothing. A little bit more and I wouldn't even have to do this."

    I said, "Thanks."

    Then he had a pail there, and he dug a knife, scalpel, who the hell knows what the heck he had there, he went in and dug it out and I hear, "Clunk." I said, "What was that?"

    He said, "Ah, you don't want to see it." But I looked. It had flesh on it, and it was bloody, with dirt on it. He dug out another piece, and that was it. He couldn't get it all, because it had already gone in. I still have it in my back, small pieces. And then somebody put sulfanilamide, they bandaged my neck, that's it.

    Aaron Elson: Did they give you any pain killer?

    Ruby Goldstein: Pain killer? For what? Are you kidding? It was in a tent, on a kitchen table, it wasn't a hospital. How could you get a pain killer? And you know something funny? It didn't hurt much. When you get hurt, the shock is so great that you don't even feel the pain. In fact, if somebody came in and stuck a knife in you and it was unexpected, you wouldn't feel it right away. It's afterwards that you start feeling the pain. That's when the medication comes in. But where the heck are you gonna get medication? In his pocket, in his bag? He doesn't have anything. But they were lined up there. And they took care of everybody.

    Then I went to a replacement depot, and from there they sent me to another replacement depot in the woods, and I rode in a truck all day long to catch up with the outfit. And when I left, they don't know what happened to me, nobody does. They don't know if you're alive or dead, you disappear. If somebody close to you knows that you got hurt, that's all they know.

    They put me in a replacement depot, and I rode in a truck. It was one of these open trucks, and we sat, well, with the dust and the dirt, I caught a cold. We got into the woods, I don't know where the hell they were taking us, none of us knew. We got off the truck. I climbed in the cab of the truck. I lay down on the front seat, and I felt like I was dying, I had such a bad cold, I was sick as a dog.

    "Everybody off, everybody off, line up!"

    I go to line up, and there's a truck with the tailgate open, and a fellow hands me a canteen cup, and what do you think they're doing? Everybody get in line, they're filling it up with cognac. This commanding officer, this lieutenant colonel of this replacement depot, was a sergeant in World War I. He was a tough egg. I didn't have a run-in with him, but I had some words with him. And they filled up my cup with cognac. Straight. And I'm sipping it, and sipping it, then you've got to put out your hand, and some fellow was there, one guy takes you by the hand and he has a tent all ready, and he has two blankets. And you go with him. You sleep in the tent, you on one side and him on the other side. And I drank that whole cup. When I woke up, I didn't have a cold. It must have knocked me right out, completely out.

    I woke up, and all I had on was what I was wearing, the clothes. Shirt, shorts, the pants, socks and shoes, that was it.

    So you line up, and now we're gonna get chow. What the hell do you do, I have a cup. One guy gives me his cover of his mess kit, and another one gives me a fork. And you lined up and they dished out the food, and this is what you ate. But what the heck are you gonna do there all day? There's nothing you can do. So we had to line up, and a colonel comes around. He's looking everybody over. He says, A Did you shave?@

    I said, "No, sir."

    He said, "Why not?"

    I said, "I just got out of the hospital and was brought here. I don't have any gear, nothing."

    "That's no excuse. See my orderly. My tent is over there."

    I go down to his tent. There's an orderly in there. He gives me the colonel's stuff, and I took a shave. All right. That was very nice of him. Then, after I get out, what are we gonna do there all day, so this fellow says, we're getting hungry, after breakfast, it's getting close to noontime, and who knows when the heck you're gonna eat, what you're gonna get or anything. We take a walk, and we get to a farmhouse. We get some eggs. But we bought them. The Germans wouldn't buy them. They'd take what they want. But we bought them. And I had some francs in my pocket, I said, "Give me six eggs."

    I put them in my field jacket, three in one pocket, three in another. We go along, go into another farmhouse, and I want some eggs.

    She could understand what I wanted. She went out to get the eggs, and I go to sit down ... forget it! I made a mistake. I should have stood up. I crushed the six eggs in my pockets. What a mess I had.

    And I got the other six eggs. I cleaned up as best I could. I cleaned out my pockets. She gave me the six eggs. Then I said if she had a rabbit we could buy a rabbit. So it cost me, I think it was ten francs, it's two cents a franc, twenty cents, and I got a rabbit. It was a nice big, fat one.

    We get back to camp, we said, how the hell are we gonna kill this and cook it? So this one kid from down South, I don't remember his name, he says, "I'll show you how we do it."

    He takes the rabbit by the hind legs, on the tree, Bam! Hits the head right on the tree, holds the hind legs, puts the rabbit on the ground, puts his foot under the neck, and pulls his head right off. Then takes a knife and guts it.

    Now he cleaned it out. So we got a couple of branches from a tree, and two forks, put another branch in here, cleaned it off, dug a little pit, started a fire, and I got some salt from a guy, and we poured it all inside of the rabbit to clean it out, we didn't have any water. We poured all the salt, and we're scraping it with knives to clean it out, and everybody, their mouths were getting full of saliva, we're gonna have something to eat.

    We're turning that thing, and turning it and turning, it should be done by now. We break a piece off and go to eat it. Did you ever eat shoe leather? You started chewing, you figured looka, it's better than nothing. You spit it out, you couldn't eat it.

    But we did get chow after that. Then a couple of us took a walk in the woods, and lo and behold, what do we see? A small hut in the woods. It's just like it appears out of nowhere. There's nothing in the desert and all of a sudden something appears. So three of us walk over, get a limb from a tree and whack it, there's a lock. A couple of whacks, it opens right up. Open up the door, what do we see? There's a table, a couple of chairs, there's a stove. And we said gee, this must be a hunter's shack. Which it was. And then all of a sudden I see a wooden ladder in the corner, and there was a trap door up in the top. I go up, climb up there, open it up, and what is it? They had bags of pine cones, that's what they used to burn. Now all of a sudden we look under the table and see something, in the floor. So we push the table, open it. Holy cow! Surprise. Bottles and bottles of wine, red wine. So we each grabbed some. We started to drink some, and whatever we could carry, we took it back to the place with us. Just closed the door, and walked away with it. It shows you what things happen.

    Tony D'Arpino: In C Company, I can't remember who thought of the idea first, but you get an empty five-gallon can, with a handle on it, something like painters use.

Ruby Goldstein: Yup. I know what you're going to say, because we did it.

Tony D'Arpino: You put gravel on the bottom, about six inches, and then you put some potatoes. Then you put about six more inches of gravel on top. And you tie it underneath the, the tank had two exhausts coming out, you tie it to that. And after the tank has been running all day long, the potatoes are baked. And we put the gravel on it so we don't get the smell. We used to have baked potatoes all the time. I don't know where it started, but I remember we did that.

    Ruby Goldstein: We did something similar. We didn't have the kitchen trucks very often, remember? So whatever you could scrounge you scrounged, wherever you happened to be. So one of the fellows says, "We're gonna cook up some stuff."

    I said, "What are we gonna do?"

    We got some cans from the kitchen, these big cans, put a little hole, put a piece of wire through each hole on the top. And we built a fire. We put dirt in the bottom, made holes in the bottom, put some gasoline on it, and put a smaller can on top of it, with water, a little bit. Then we went scrounging for vegetables. And we hit a potato field. So if you hold your lever and you gun it, the tank turns, this tread's stopped and you're turning. And what are you digging up? Potatoes.

    So we peel the potatoes, chunk them up, throw them in. We had cans, if you remember, of English style stew, you remember?

    Tony D'Arpino: I can still smell it!

    Ruby Goldstein: And we'd throw it in, whatever vegetables we could find, the potatoes, and I made a pot, I mean a big can full of it. And everybody had it. And you know something? It was the best thing you ever tasted in your life. It was delicious.

    Tony D'Arpino: Some of the rations we used to get used to have that bouillon powder. Everybody would throw it away. I'd pick them up and save them. And when we got to a place like he's saying, where we would be there a few hours, I had a gallon can too, a big empty can. Fill it half full of water. I'd put about a dozen packages of that bouillion powder in there. Then I'd scrounge around and find a carrot here, a root there. Best goddamn stew you ever had.

    Aaron Elson: What were the rations like?

    Tony D'Arpino: I remember, when we first went over there we had the cans, right? There were three different kinds. There was meat and vegetable stew, meat and beans, and hash. Now you had to have one of them for breakfast.

    Ruby Goldstein: Yeah, but then we had another can, with the crackers.

    Tony D'Arpino: Well, that was the box.

    Ruby Goldstein: Not the C rations.

    Tony D'Arpino: Yeah, the small cans of crackers, the round crackers, there were ten crackers in them. I remember that now.

    Ruby Goldstein: You have peanut butter.

    Tony D'Arpino: Peanut butter.

    Ruby Goldstein: Peanut butter. Because that's what I ate when I got hurt one time.

    Tony D'Arpino: And there were little containers of butter. You couldn't even melt it. You put it in a frying pan.

    Ruby Goldstein: We used to bitch a lot, and why? Because those in the back, like maintenance, service, headquarters company, they couldn't keep up with us, there's no way, because they're not protected like we were with our armor. So they had rations, their rations were good. We had to scrounge. Whatever you had with you, that was it. You couldn't say, "Well, let's send somebody back and get some stuff to eat." Uh-uh. We were way ahead. We didn't know where they were. They didn't know where we were. But we survived.

    Tony D'Arpino: I remember once it was wintertime, and we took this small town, there was a farm, and they must have just killed a cow or something, because they had like a hind quarter hanging up. Some stupid guy name of Klapkowski, he took it and put in the back outside of the tank. The goddamn thing froze solid. I says to him, "What good is that?"

    He says, "Why, we've got an axe on here, we just chop off a piece."

    It was just as hard as this table.

    But the Germans, once we got into Germany, they used to can everything. I don't know if you ever came across it, but the sausages, they put them in jars. And they were all cooked. And they put the white lard, pure lard, white as snow, there'd probably be a dozen sausages in there. And pork chops. All cooked. We used to love to find them. You know, just find a skillet someplace, start a fire, and just heat 'em up.

    And cherries. Jars of cherries. They could have poisoned us, we'd eat more of their food when we went in these small towns than we did our own, because we never got any.

    But then toward the end we got pretty good rations, 10-in-1 rations, they weren't bad.

    Ruby Goldstein: That was fine. It was better than what we had before.

    Tony D'Arpino: They had cans of bacon, sausage meat, and even a fruit cocktail.

    Ruby Goldstein: Spam. How can you forget Spam?

    Tony D'Arpino: And crackers, and little bars of chocolate.

    Aaron Elson: How did you make coffee?

    Ruby Goldstein: We had a little bunsen burner. You opened it up, put gasoline in it, and started a fire. And a wick. And you'd put a can on it, or your canteen cup, you'd heat it up. It was instant. You couldn't get any real coffee. Where could you steal that?

    Tony D'Arpino: And if you ever did find it, we did come across some coffee grounds, I don't know, from a house or what, they put it in this can I had, right, start a fire, boil water, put the grounds right in it. And then you get some cold water and put it on top, and all the grounds would go down to the bottom.

    Ruby Goldstein: That was living it up.

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