©2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford
A Weird, Unnerving Incident in Hedgerow Country in Late June '44We had laid up at a partially destroyed cluster of houses of a farm in Normandy about daybreak when a sight suggesting hallucination met our eyes. Some ten or so Germans were there in the courtyard – dead, mowed down by what seemed to have been strafing or intensive mortar and machine gun fire – but in such a natural attitude that but for their pale and waxy color, one could have thought them alive.
One was standing holding to a bush, his hands grasping the branches; his face showed his terror. He seemed in the act of yelling. His eyes were dilated with fear. A shell fragment had pierced his chest. Another was on his knees propped against a wall under cover of which he had sought refuge from the murderous fire. I approached to see where his wound was and it took me a moment to discover it, so intact was the corpse. I saw at last that he had had the whole side of his skull carried away and hollowed out as if by a surgical instrument. His tongue and eyes were kept in place by a filament of flesh. His helmet had rolled over to one side.
An officer appeared to be resting on some hay; his head thrown back looking at the farmhouse. All their eyes fixed us with a terrifying immobility with a look of such acute terror that the men of the squad turned away as if afraid of sharing it and not one of us dared touch the equipment of the enemy which would have tempted us in any other circumstance.
Blood was spattered all over. There were canteens and mess kits, unit badges, rifles, sidearms, belt buckles, dear to the heart of soldiers who would have picked them up for souvenirs. We hurriedly walked away quietly. We had seen incidents like this before but for some unknown to us reason, it shook all of us up – each in a different way. This scene still has a vivid haunting feeling as if it had happened yesterday. During my combat experience, I have a number of times seen soldiers killed and left in frozen positions in the act of doing something. It resembled a wax museum of sorts, but foremost the silence was deathly. A heavy pall hung all over. It was going to be a very long and bloody war and I hoped, with God's help, I'd make it home alive, and if I were wounded, I fervently hoped not badly. I dreaded being maimed and crippled for life – I think that would have been worse than being struck dead. At least I wouldn't have to suffer the rest of my life and be a drag on my family and others. There would be a lot of white crosses across France and Germany to final victory against the damned Germans who brought Europe and the world to the brink of disaster. It would take a long time to recover even after the war ended – those millions of lives.
It took two wars to teach Germany a lesson and also that Americans were not decadent and pushovers. We paid a heavy price, but for the enemy the price was more costly. As I look back in retrospect, I am glad and proud to have been a combat soldier despite the pain, physical and mental, and the trauma that came with it and I fought with a bunch of great guys with the famed 90th Infantry Division, 357th Regiment; some of the best men I would ever have had the pleasure of serving with in battle against a fanatical and tough and cruel foe, and showed them once and for all that the American soldier was tougher and braver than they in a just cause. I lost some good pals and my closest buddy who was killed in action in '44. They were painful loses for me, but that was the price we had to pay to end the war. I wonder a lot why I came through and that I hadn't been killed like the others, and I believe all the soldiers had the same feeling as I, in "G" Company.
Bill did not merit death. He was too fine a comrade. To this day, I still miss him. He died in action without the chance to live out his life. From time to time, I send a floral arrangement to his grave at St. Laurent Sur Mer overlooking Omaha Beach in Normandy. It's the least I can do for a good loyal friend. Someday we'll meet again and discuss old battle stories again, maybe over a few beers at the Hall of Warriors and Heroes if God permits.