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Remembrance of Combat in Normandy

Guy Charland

2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford

Chapter 12

Those 88s

    We had a few poets in our platoon. One poem was composed on a WWI song "Inky Dinky Parley Vous." It went: The 357 will win the war, Parley-Vous, The 357 Will win the war, Parley-Vous, The 357 will win the war So what's the rest of the Army for? Inky Dinky Parley-Vous! We'll shoot the Heinies one by one, Parley-Vous, We'll shoot the Heinies one by one, Parley-Vous, We'll shoot the Heinies one by one Won't we have a lot of fun, Inky Dinky Parley-Vous! The other was a parody on a fearsome German artillery piece called an 88, the caliber of the gun. One of the best artillery guns at the front, so we composed a ditty in honor of it. This was a takeoff on an old popular song called "Those Wedding Bells are Breaking Up the Old Gang of Mine," of the 1930s or earlier: "Can't you hear those guns a-shootin' Can't you hear them cannons roar, Those 88s are busting up That old gang of mine." (And boy, did they.)

    Also, there was a story that circulated around here in Normandy. As we heard it, there was a German soldier with a great tenor voice. During a lull in the fighting in the Sicilian or Italian campaign, he would serenade the American troops of the 5th Army several nights in a row with a rendition of "Lili Marlene," a famous German marching song. One or two nights they didn't hear him any more. One day a prisoner was captured and some of the soldiers asked him, "Hey, what happened to the German tenor with the great voice singing Lili Marlene? We haven't heard him anymore."

    The German replied, "Oh him. Ya, he was signing vun night und von of your soldiers shot him in ze throat."

    So the GI said, "I guess that ended his singing career."

    The German replied, "Ya, und it killed him alzo."

    There was one funny story that happened to my pal Bill and I during one of those rare times in combat when nothing was going on. We stopped near some trees across from a group of houses for a quick smoke. As we sat there smoking, a Kraut soldier ran across the street from one house to another just a few feet away from us. I grabbed up my M-1 and Bill picked his up. We pointed them at him and neither of us fired. We had him dead to rights. He was a goner. We looked at each other and I said, "Why in hell didn't you shoot, you silly ass?"

    He responded, "Well, damn, why didn't you?"

    Then I said, "We sure screwed that one up. You know that damned Kraut owes his life to us."

    With that, we laughed like hell. Bill said, "We shouldn't laugh too soon; we may very well end up getting killed by that bastard."

    It sobered up us a bit. We decided we better keep a watch, but we never saw him again. Maybe he got nailed.

    Another strange story that occurred one sunny day was while we were lined along a roadside ditch. We exchanged shots with Germans on the other side of the dirt road. Looking up the road I could see a procession of some sort and a lone figure in front. As it got closer to me, I could see it was a Catholic priest with a long crucifix staff. He was wearing a white surplice flanked by two altar boys in black cassocks leading two beautiful coal black draft horses with silver trapping and bridles with two black and white Ostrich feathers on their heads. The horses were magnificent, coal black, as I stated, with white socks. The thing I remember about the horses is that they had their heads bowed low. They seemed to be aware of the solemnity of the occasion. They were hauling a hearse, all black with silver trim. The driver was dressed in black with a Napoleonic black hat and plume.

    Following the hearse was apparently a wife and family dressed all in black. The women wore black veils and they were followed by friends of the deceased. It created a real impression on me and a reverence for what I was seeing. All fighting had ceased between us and the Germans. It was a very solemn and reverent occasion. I completely forgot the war. How unreal and ironic this was. Something like this simple funeral procession to let the dead go by for a moment made the war cease until it had gone by, then it was business as usual.

    On thing I vividly remember: As the priest passed by me, he cast a sad gaze right at me that seemed to look right into my soul as if to ask why this killing and war continues. It does not please our Lord. It caused me to dwell on his gaze and what he seemed to say. Bill came over to me. He too was silent and had the same feelings I had. We didn't say much to each other. Breaking the silence, I said to Bill, "I'd love to have a funeral like that, with two black horses and my parish priest leading it, and all my friends walking behind me giving one a sense of importance."

    We both laughed. "You're irreverent," he said. I discovered to my shock and despair I was out of coffin nails (cigarettes), so I began right away making plans to get some somewhere. I wasn't long in my looking around in finding some. I saw some dead soldiers nearby. I ran over to them hoping that they had been smokers. (You have to excuse me, they were Americans) and they had cigarettes. One guy had about eight packs, so I politely took them in short order. I said, "Forgive me pals; I hope you don't mind. It's even my brand, Pall Malls."

    Bill shook his head. "You'd die without butts."

    I heartily agreed. Now I could get on with the war. I said to Bill, "Don't act pious and sassy with me. You smoke as bad as I do. Do you want a couple of packs?" He greedily grabbed them. Speaking of smoking, even that could be dangerous. In striking a lighter, the spark could give your position away to a sharp-sighted sniper and especially at night, it was even more deadly. So we learned to cover the old Zippo by hand or low to the ground. You learned a lot of things quickly in life and death situations in combat. Speaking of lighters, Zippos or Ronsons, these were nicknames given to our old Sherman tanks because they were so inflammable and that German artillery gun, the infamous 88 mm which could shatter any American or ally with no problem. The Tigers all carried 88s as their prime heavy gun. I believe the last year of the war we developed a gun of 90 mm which was better or equal to the 88.

    During the earlier part of the Normandy campaign, the British had a great gun which was as good as the 88. I believe it was a 76 or 78 pounder but it was not used like the German 88. It's too bad because it might have made a great contribution to allied armor as a tank destroyer. It was used mostly for anti-aircraft until later when it was used for ground work. Then a lot of Tigers and Royals were blown away.

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