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©2014, Aaron Elson



Remembrance of Combat in Normandy

Guy Charland

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

Chapter 18

Comments on and Assessment of the German Soldier

    I had a deep understanding (not admiration) of the enemy. He was, in most cases, resourceful and strictly obedient to orders to a fault. The officers and NCOs were unquestionable leaders. Their orders were to be obeyed and followed with no questions asked. I don't believe that self reliance was one of their strong points or assets, as compared to the American, British, Canadians, French, Belgians or Norwegian, etc.

    The Germans were expert and resourceful at laying mines and booby traps. They were methodical at it and ingenious so you had to be very careful and cautious where you moved around, including any buildings, barns, vehicles of all sorts, and their own dead bodies would be booby trapped, so if you moved them, you took a risk that they would explode, which could maim or kill you. A lot of guys became casualties looking for war prizes (souvenirs). In being careless, the Germans never understood why we disliked and held them in distain and low esteem.

    One of my youngest son's friends once asked me, "What was the most terrible and bloody battle you were in?"

    I replied: "All of them."

    By the look on his face, this was not the answer he expected of me. He had wanted me to be more specific. I said, "I am being specific. When you are in danger of losing your life, it's all the same. Battle is Battle as far as a soldier is concerned, whether it is a squad or regimental fight, it's all the same, the quick and the dead."

    Your life was in danger as a combat soldier at all times. I read this epitaph: "In the cemeteries of courage, all the crosses bear the same color." This article had all to do with the war, and it left such an impression I am compelled to write about it.

    I had a most bizarre and tranquil dream a time past. I was stepping into a beautiful and wonderful landscape painting – the whole vista in front of me. The terrain was a most vivid green, the like of which I have never seen with the exception of parts of Wales, England, and the Normandy landscape in France. The grass was soft and lush and evenly cut as far as I could see. This bright green kept my attention and all the stand of trees were extremely tall, seemingly oaks, and I could not help but be amazed how straight they were, in perfect order, interspersed with all kinds of shrubs and hedges resembling groves and orchards of the Normandy country landscape.

    The dream was so real and intense I could feel the ground I walked on – nearby was a vast lake with lily pads and cattails – an unknown land forgotten by time. Like a highly polished mirror, not a ripple could I see. The air was motionless with a note of utter silence, not a sound, and as I said, not the slightest wind or breeze; very tranquil and peaceful. I felt a sense of sadness when I awakened and a feeling of regret at losing it. I actually had the sensation of having been there before. Maybe I did slip into another time zone or dimension – who knows? I did see one living thing, an echelon of geese flying high in the blue sky. Many times since the incident, I can still visualize it and very clear. Many times when I get distressed, I get a longing to go back to it.

    One time during bio-feedback, I had a short recollection of that very dream, while at spinal rehab. I don't remember if I told John, my counselor, about it. I have had such dreams of fantasy as this since that terrible conflict long ago.

    I had another most astounding and bizarre dream. It left such a vivid impression on me that I thought I would write it down. I am an avid animal and bird lover. As a matter of fact, all forms of wildlife: snakes, lizards, etc., even tarantulas. It was not like the usual nightmare I suffer with. This dream or vision was so uncanny and bizarre as I mentioned. I was in this – what looked like a field, heavily wooded – everything, the grass, the trees, were a vivid green. The sky was cloudless, but the color was something else – a kind of bright bluish gray above and on the horizon it was a reddish glow with yellow streaks, mixed with an angry looking gray. I had never seen such a sky before, especially the horizon. Even now it is fresh in my mind. As I stood there gazing, there was no breeze and a deathly stillness pervaded. Suddenly, a giant bird landed on my shoulder and gripping my shoulder just sat there. It happened so quickly, I didn't have time to stir, let alone drop to the ground to escape attack. At least that's what I thought was its intention, but it did not harm me. Having some knowledge of birds, it looked like a hawk, but a large hawk. I never saw one this big. It just sat on my shoulder, flapped its wings and looked at me. It had a benign look, not a fierce look like most birds of prey have. I thought sure it was going to tear me up. Instead, it nestled up to the side of my neck as if seeking my attention or friendship. I didn't try to drive or shake him away. Then I awoke. After a few moments, I lay there unable to go back to sleep. A kind of loneliness and sadness descended on me like I had lost a special friend. I thought of the hawk for some time and finally fell asleep.

    I forgot to describe the bird. He was, as I said, a large kind of dark reddish and brown. A similar color plumage to that of a species of hawk called the Harris Hawk of the Southwest USA. When he flapped his wings, they were a large span and powerful. I could feel the power of those wings. I'm glad his intentions were friendly.

    One thing I remember, he had a bright yellow beak and claws. But the thing I remember most was his eyes – piercing, luminous, but without malice. The pupil was a dark color, almost black and a yellowish white outer part of the eye. A gaze that still lingers in my mind; a kind of questioning look that I cannot describe or fathom, not a lethal gaze. I have the feeling that he was trying to tell me something. Now I'll never know unless in the near future there might be another revelation to me. Maybe some day in the near or far future, I'll see that bird of prey again.

    I do not have many dreams like that; most of them are violent, combat, fighting at odds, re-creations of actual battles that I was involved in, fraught with danger, scenes of horror and terror-ridden – some so fantastic, it is hard to describe in words, although while at the VA hospital, I did or was able to illustrate some pictures of them. While searching around for possible snipers, the area was being shelled by German heavy artillery – a big fight was going on. Suddenly, a shell blew up near the house and I fell through the floor amid plaster, wooden beams, and the floor I was standing on. I fell on top of a table, bounced off that to the floor. Then I woke up in a sweat and scared.

    Nightmares are just about a daily occurrence. Most of them are combat related. I've had and been in more battles and skirmishes in nightmares than actual fights I had been in during the war. In these dreams, I see people I knew, as well as soldier pals and some who died in the war. Sometimes I talk in my sleep in these battles. Pat, my wife, has, many times, awakened me while having them. These dreams are very frightening as they are very real. I sometimes wake up cursing, crying and just plain shaking in fear. Some have a lot of fantasy, weird and bazaar occurrences, tragedy mixed with humor, as if I actually traveled into another dimension.

    At times I dread going to sleep. It's like stepping into another land of horror and weird bizarre macabre incidents. With a little humor, I managed to survive them all. I have had these recurrent nightmares ever since World War II. I never was able to overcome the trauma and flashbacks of daily conflict and all those gallant men that never came home; the ones we left behind in countless graves. That's why I can still recount those battle experiences, with vivid memory and able to put down in writing the terrible events I went through.

   I cannot keep all measure of it. The impact it inflicts, the trauma is long lived. Memories I'll take to my final rest locked up or I would break down if I did, so I am thankful I have a release to illustrate them in words or drawings, or in talking about it, especially with other combat ex-soldiers, to those who have the ability to visualize and understand to a great degree what it does to a person, not only physically, but to the mind. You really have to go through battle, to feel the full measure of it. The impact it inflicts, the trauma is long lived 'til I go to Valhalla – as warriors go. Memories I'll take to my resting place. There are gifted people who are able to live these events with me outside of combat soldiers who have strong visual powers.

    Death, especially in battle, has a distinct odor – real and very personal. It gets into your nostrils, mouth, in your very clothes. The smell of bleeding trees, shrubs and grass, burning oil, metal, ammunition, rotting and burning bodies – all of these things are part of a battle, but not many people ever think of the manifestations. Much different than watching a Hollywood movie on D–Day or any other battle for that matter. Even today, I hate mowing the lawn as the smell of cut grass makes me sick. The odor reminds me of all the trees in orchards and woods that were destroyed and torn apart by shrapnel from artillery shells. Also, the very ground with its grass gave off a sickening sweet smell – the odor of death. As I said, even today, 40+ years later, it is still in my nasal passages – the images of those terrible days still linger. Some people do not understand this feeling. Well, they were not there. I have had personal contact with all of this and it still lives with me. And I hope my children or any other children will not have to go through this experience like I did. It can affect your life.

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