©2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford
June and July: Further Combat Exploits in the Normandy CampaignThis happened during a route march approaching a small town, Ste Claire Du Mont, a good part of which was destroyed. During more peaceful times, it was a quaint village, which was evident despite the severe damage. Many of its dwellings were in partial or total ruin. There was a small church which was almost intact. The tall church steeple with the cross on it showed no scars of war, a miracle.
We passed a farmer with a horse cart. Passing by, the old man waved and smiled a sad smile. Even the poor horse looked pensive with his head lowered. He had a straw hat on his head with holes cut out for his ears. It caused me to smile a little. The day was sunny; birds sang in the trees. All I could hear was our boots crunching on the road as we hurried along and the equipment on our uniforms gave off a sad and tingling sound as we plodded along.
I wondered when our next skirmish or battle would break loose, and the quiet reverie I was enjoying would come to an end. I figured sooner or later we would catch up with our foes and we could again be engaged in a bloody fight. All hell would break loose or worse yet, we would walk into a Kraut ambush as had happened before.
How long would this accursed war drag on? "Back in the States by '58" was the current saying and I had no cause to disbelieve it. I would probably be dead long before that time arrived. I was so tired, pissed off and depressed, besides being scared as hell all of the time, living on borrowed time. I thought as we were marching along – for this, I was brought into the world? I was ashamed when this thought hit me. My mother and father were responsible for this damned situation. I wished they had never had me. I was lost in my stupid angry mood. I felt every day I aged 50 years. By the time I get home, my folks won't recognize me. I'll be too damned old to do anything. Here I was, laying my life on the line for the future generations to enjoy at my expense. Some pile of crap that was and the future generations would care less what I had done for them. We had made it easy for them and they wouldn't have to go through what we had in the old war. It suddenly passed through my mind that if this war dragged on too much longer, all of my family would be dead and gone.
We came to a sudden halt and back to reality. We sat down on both sides of the road and took a short break. I took out my smokes for a few quick drags. It really felt good. I could have slept right then and there, and stayed until the whole damned, idiotic mess was over with. I thought, what the hell am I doing thinking like this? I enlisted in this war. I asked for this – to go and be a soldier and fight and kill Germans. That was the whole damned cause for this war. I felt like a coward and that I had let myself and my pals down. They were in this bloody mess too, to rid the world of a psychopathic idiot and his Nazi stooges, his followers and also those slant-eyed bucktoothed Japs, the Sons of Heaven who thought they could make the Pacific a Jap lake. Suddenly we began attracting fire from up ahead. We dispersed to both sides of the road with sudden quickness. The replacements were learning fast. Their reflexes were nimble. They didn't stand there frozen, not knowing what to do. They had learned to stay alive fast or be carrion for the crows and worms.
On the march, Lt. Brotherton singled out Bill and me to go ahead and check the road. "Be careful," he said. "Try to keep a low profile."
"That's easy for you to say," I replied, grinning grimly.
We both ran low along both sides of the ditch trying to be as small a target as possible. I would have been the size of a mouse if possible. I was aware of someone else joining us. Jameson, with his Thompson sub–machine gun came up behind me. We might need all the help we could get. We would have fire power in case we ran into trouble. (I have always wanted one of those tommy guns. It reminded me of Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone, etc, in those gangster movies we used to see as kids.) That tommy gun was as good any day as that German Schmeisser, that infamous burp gun. It was called that because of the sound it made and the rate of fire.
We moved along cautiously until we came to a large foot bridge across a dried-up creek which ended in a clearing, a large open field with a number of barn dwellings and a couple of barns, but no movement of any sort that we could see of the enemy or vehicles. So where the hell did the burst of fire come from? It looked like they disappeared into thin air.
I raised my arm to signal a halt. Jameson came up to me. "What's up?"
"I don't know," I answered. "I've got a damn scary and uneasy feeling about this whole thing."
We waited for the platoon sergeant and lieutenant to catch up to us to look at the terrain ahead and decide what to do. If we moved ahead into the field, we might be walking into a trap and caught out in the open, we'd be cut down like wheat. So we decided to spread out on each side of the road and wait for nightfall which was not too long in coming.
We spread ourselves along the hedgerows and dug in. From our positions, we looked over the hedgerow but could see nothing. I had the feeling that trouble was ahead in that cluster of houses.
For now, everything was quiet. The suspense of waiting was almost unbearable. I wished something would happen to break up the suspense. I didn't have too long to wait. All at once, shell fire came streaking over us and exploded some distance behind our position. The air was filled with shrieking sounds like a legion of demons out of hell. I felt the air currents and the heat of overhead projectiles streaking past us. The ground shook like an earthquake gone mad. The detonations and fearful sounds were deafening. The firing was without letup, but thank God, so far they were falling way off their intended target – us. They had overshot our position. If so, we were safe for a while. It seems they miscalculated.The shelling continued. I looked behind me and saw billows of smoke and fires had broken out in wooded areas behind us. I was glad as hell we weren't there. I looked ahead and to my complete surprise, a wave of field gray figures started to advance toward us. My mouth and throat went brick dry and I felt clammy all over. A battle was about to erupt. All I could tell is that they thought they had struck us with those big guns and made a fatal error. I thanked God for that.
On they advanced. We were told to hold our fire until ordered to open up. What a field day – a real infantryman field day. It reminded me of reading stories of Gettysburg and Fredricksburg. What a surprise we had in store for them. As I think of it now, it was just like those battles in our Civil War, history repeating itself.
I looked for my pal and together we patiently waited in our positions. The Kraut artillery had let up and all became an eerie silence which filled us with fear. I could hear my heavy breathing. I began to tremble. My throat felt like I swallowed sand. I was glad I had urinated. At least I wouldn't be fighting with wet drawers or worse. I had the fear and anxiety you could have cut with a knife. While hordes of Germans advanced, a thousand thoughts flashed in my mind – fear of death. If wounded, how bad? Would my rifle misfire? Would we be in close combat? God help us. Would we stop them? I was sweating like Niagara Falls, a cold clammy feeling. Would I see my parents and friends again? Would Bill make it? I could sense a bayonet going into my chest. God, I had all I could do not to run like hell away from here, but I looked at Bill and knew he felt as I did.
I grabbed his arm. "Let's face it together, pal."
"Okay," he said. "Yeah, let's give 'em hell."
They got closer. You could see the buttons on their uniforms and those coal scuttle helmets, their steady walk spread out. In my fear, I saw thousands of them all at the same time. God, I hope I don't miss, this wave of "feldgrau." One has to be in a desperate position like this to know how it feels to stare death in the face, a battle to live or die. You can't fully describe it to one who never was in a bloody fight. They only see battles in the movies which is a hell of a lot different. There are no John Waynes here friend! The only people who will leave this battle are the ones that will live and the ones that will die.
They are getting closer. Still no order to open fire. My patience is wearing thin. I had all I could do to refrain from shooting. I had fear like you never felt fear. I gripped my faithful M-1 with the old toad sticker on the muzzle. I was wound up like a clock spring which gave me pain. A field gray figure loomed up in front of me, still no order. "God damn bastards, fire for God's sake!" I yell out. The order finally is cried out. I fire, I don't know how many times at my enemy and he dropped a few feet from me and lay still. I rose to my knees firing as fast as I could squeeze the trigger. I don't know how many I hit and they kept coming. My rifle clips jumped out empty. I quickly reloaded and started shooting again. The noise was hellish. The acrid smell of gunpowder. I heard the sound of voices screaming, cursing, sound of the wounded and dying men, us and them but mostly the Germans. We were pretty well in a secured position with hedgerows, shrubs and trees for protection. We opened with our 60 mm mortars, creating gaps in their ranks, not to mention the light .30s sweeping away at them.
Their losses were frightful. I couldn't believe I was in this fierce battle. As I fired, I could see the dead piling up. It was a horrible and terrible massacre we were inflicting on them. Some of our guys were getting hit also, but I didn't think our losses would be greater than theirs. As far as I could see, the Germans so far had not broken through. I was amazed that they launched their attach without tank support. I'm glad they didn't have armor. We wouldn't be having it this easy. We didn't have tanks either. They had been directing artillery fire at us, but it had not been too effective. They also threw a few mortar shells but none hit in our area.
In retrospect, I believe they had a poorly conducted attack, which was unusual for the Germans. They would always plan their tactics effectively and efficiently.
I remember this battle vividly. At one point there was some close-in fighting, but we managed to drive them back with considerable losses. This was an infantryman's battle.
I had originally thought that we had been alone, but other companies of the 2nd Battalion were involved in the attack. Our situation was hot and heavy, but not as bad as in H and I Companies where the near breakthrough attempt I mentioned was. G Company was managing to hold okay.
The weather was hot and humid to add to the fight. There was a lull. in the battle but shortly they attacked again, advancing up a slight rise in the terrain. We wondered where all the Krauts were coming from. They were attempting to overwhelm us with superior numbers (As I think about it, it felt like we were fighting Russians instead). In these attacks, I did recognize SS elements. Their elite troops, well, they died like the Wehrmacht, no exceptions.
This is all I can remember of this battle. It dragged on for the rest of the day with no letup and into the night. Some of our Sherman M4s and tank destroyers came up to us in the early morning hours with much-needed help that ended this hard-fought bloody slug fest.
We moved out of our positions with what was left of the damned Germans retreating before us and in a hurry. The M4s took off after them in fast fashion firing as they went. The field was literally covered with dead, parts of bodies, wounded and dying. I felt sorry for them in a way, but what the hell, they started the damned war and it's about time we paid them back – double.
As we moved out, there were about six or eight dead Germans a few feet from where Bill and I had dug in. "Too damned close," Bill said. He got no argument from me. We considered ourselves lucky not to have gotten a scratch. We looked at some of the enemy dead that we hit. We didn't take any souvenirs. There was one dead soldier out of the ones I got. He was a big guy, over 6 feet, not an SS man. I knew I shot him about four or five times until he finally dropped. That about scared the living hell out of me. I'm glad the others weren't like him. I thought I'm just twenty years old with all these horrible experiences. It gave me food for thought. I had never killed anyone before, at least not this many. I thought about all I had gone through in disbelief like it was all one big nightmare and I would suddenly wake up. For that one moment I felt good, then grim reality. As I write, a saying comes to me used by the author Ernest Hemingway from the poet Keats, I believe. "Ask not for whom the bells toll – the bells toll for thee."