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Remembrance of Combat in Normandy

Guy Charland

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

Chapter 23

Whistling (bullets) in the Graveyard

    During our excursion across France, I finally got myself a Thompson sub-machine gun with a full clip of ammo and a couple of extra clips of 60 rounds each. I picked it up in a destroyed Jeep in a ditch. It had run over a mine, so you can figure out how badly demolished it was. I could not see any occupants. They must have been picked up by the
medics, but anyhow, I felt real happy and fortunate in getting their firearm.

    With my M-1 rifle, a .45 caliber Colt auto, and grenades, I was a walking arsenal. The disadvantage was all this weight I was lugging around. I was even thinking how I could ship it back to the States, but it didn't happen. I did get the chance to use it in a couple of scraps. Boy, what a
weapon, it never jammed once even with mud and dirt on it. At one point, I was ready to throw away the M-1 and keep the Tommy.

    Saw several formations of Liberators and B-17s heading over us to drop their eggs on the Germans. As we watched these pass, we yelled "Give the damn Germans hell," which by the number of them flying over us, they no doubt did. We saw a lot of air activity. All of it ours. Sometimes we did see Kraut planes, but they left us alone. Guess they knew better.

    One day as I looked up with my binocs, I witnessed a beautiful dog fight between some P-47s and a mixture of FW-190s and ME-109s. They were mixing it up all over the sky. I could see their contrails all over the place. I saw three Germans coming down with smoking trails and saw one blow up in a blinding flash. No survivor in that one. Then it ended. No planes could be seen. It looked like they had literally disappeared. It didn't look like any of ours got shot down. That was exciting to watch. Next the skies were empty like
it had never happened.

    At one time, one German recon plane came over us in a field where we were eating our "C" rations. We never heard him until he flew over us. It was one of those Henschel HS-126 high wing monoplanes with fixed landing gear. I'll tell you I don't know if he ever made it back to his field. Everybody and his brother was firing at him. I
don't think he made it through that curtain of fire. He probably got shot to pieces.

    During the campaign in Normandy from D-Day on, I saw a lot of American, British and Canadian aircraft and other allied planes, S-20 Havocs, B-26 Marauders, B-25 Mitchels, B-17s and B-24s, Spitfires, Typhoons, Beaufighters, Mosquitos, Mustang P-51s and P-38 Lightwings.

    After much fighting they finally sent us back to the rear for a long and much welcomed rest, with showers, hot food, fresh uniforms, boots, etc. It felt great to be able to write home again. The rest and silence from the front lines was like a dream although we welcomed it after all those weeks in battle. It took us no time to get used to it.

    We were near an RAF field one day. We took a walk over there to meet those RAF pilots who helped us so much and look over their aircraft which happened to be Typhoons and some Spits. I don't remember the wing or squadron number, but they really made us feel welcome and we were given their favorite drink -- tea. I'm not a tea drinker, but I must say they know how to make it. Their coffee is not as good as we make it. They were glad to show us their fierce looking Typhoons and the classy looking Spitfires. Boy, those Typhoons
are huge and real menacing and powerful. They have a top horsepower engine and a high speed of over 400+. As a tank buster, it can't be beat and against railroad trains, ammo dumps, gun emplacements -- you name it. It is an efficient ground staffer and fighter bomber. It just does everything. It's even a good match for the German FW-190 or 109 and comparable to our monster Thunderbolt P-47. The German POWs expressed a lot of fear and respect for these two formidable aircraft. They had a real dread of them with good reason.

    The day came when we got all our new gear and prepared to return to the business at hand, back to the battle, and try to end this damned war. The rest had spoiled all of us. It would be hard as hell for me to dig foxholes again.

    We all mounted the trucks and the engines were revved up and at a signal, we pulled out for the front.

    Nothing eventful happened on our trip. We finally came up to a lot of troops marching along, apparently going where we were headed. MPs were at the crossroads directing traffic. It looked like Times Square back in New York City on a Saturday night. A lot of dirt and dust. My throat and mouth were as dry as sandpaper. It got into your nose, eyes and ears and everybody was coughing up a storm. We were being jostled in the trucks that were hitting every crater and pothole that was possible to drive into.

    Finally, the convoy came to a halt and everybody was ordered to get out of the trucks. We had finally arrived at our destination, wherever that was. Everyone was milling around like lost sheep trying to get into some semblance of order and formation. After a quick roll call to see if we were all
there, we moved out in two lines along this blacktop road and away from all the unbearable
noise and confusion. War was a godsend.

    As we marched along, a whole column of tanks
and assault guns streamed between our column and sped on ahead with a lot of noise and the usual cloud of soot and billows of dust which fell all over us like a blanket. I yelled at Bill, "Gas warfare." With the usual sound of marching feet, all else was quiet. I wondered as I trudged along what was going to happen next and of course, where in the world were we going. In most instances, the officer and non-com never told us anything until something
occurred. It made me feel that they were keeping any and all information to themselves on purpose and keeping us guys in the dark or the blind following the blind.

    I said to Bill, "Don't these damned hikes remind you of a bunch of sheep following a bunch of shepherds?" and Bill retorted with, "Leading us to the slaughter house at the Chicago stockyards."

    As grim as this sounded, it caused me to laugh up a storm. You know it kind of felt like that's what it resembled come to think of it.

    Some terrible unbelievable sights were among the many atrocities committed by the Germans against civilians who were unfortunate to die by these cruel, merciless Krauts. Maybe not all the Germans performed these evil deeds but it was hard for me to believe that not all of them did. As far as I was concerned, they were all guilty under God. Proof of this is all documented by what they did in the first World War and construed by the German government as national policy. They did the same thing in World War II.

    We went through a village and saw a large number of old men, women, young boys and little children murdered and cut down by retreating soldiers in cold blood against a stone wall of a church and in the street, the area was covered with blood and gore. We looked at this horrible scene with shock, revulsion and complete disbelief. We wondered what the hell had all these people done to merit being killed like this and this was not by a bombing of planes or artillery. This was perpetrated by ordinary soldiers probably in retaliation and
downright revenge for having gotten the worst in a battle or an allied fighter attack and to put fear into the French people. They did this type of atrocity to all the countries of Europe.

    Seeing all this made it very difficult for me to feel sorry or forgiving toward the Germans, let alone forget what they did. I knew a lot of innocent civilians got killed which excludes willful and premeditated murder on both sides, but in the case of Nazi Germany, this was part of national policy and that explains it being done by Nazis and non-Nazis alike -- a brainwashed people.

    There were a number of villages in which the Germans had left a rearguard to hold up our advance and some of these troops were the most cruel and vile beasts that they had in their ranks and not SS ones either. They were placed there to hold up and impede the advance of our soldiers. They were the ones who committed the atrocities to frighten the civilians. We had official orders not to take any prisoners of these bastards. If captured by us, they were to simply be done away with, no pity offered. We were doing "house cleaning"
operations; at one time we captured about five of these German devils in this small village while moving in and out of some of the demolished houses. In this particular village, the church was fairly intact. I remember with clarity seeing a small cemetery right near the church grounds. As we got nearer to the houses, we began receiving small arms fire from the windows. Some of us attempted to skirt around to the side of the house. So far, no one had been hit. To get to the house, we had to move into the cemetery in our direction of approach.

    Some of the tombstones offered some protection from rifle fire as some of us moved into the graveyard. Bill and I sought protection behind of the numerous tombstones. He said to me with morbid humor, "If one of us gets killed, we're in the right place." Yeah, how appropriate to die in a graveyard. Can't beat that. We talked to keep up our courage.

    We moved from one tombstone to another and fired at the windows in the house. Suddenly from out of nowhere, some officer came running up. "Come on men, let's go. Follow me. We'll drive out
the bastards."

    I looked at him and at Bill. "Who the hell is that?"

    "I never saw him before," cried Bill. "He's not from our company."

    I figured he was some mad man eager to get killed or be a hero. We didn't move. The man was waving a pistol and screaming "Let's go!" Next
thing I knew, he was dropped by some gunfire and was dead. I never found out who the demented guy was. This graveyard was an awful place full of shell holes. The horrible part was some of those poor people who had been buried, God knows when, were all or half way out of their coffins which were blown out of the graves. Some were very badly decomposed or part skeleton. The stench was terrible and this was a horrible, nightmarish experience.

    Looking at this macabre sight was enough to make us forget the battle. We got up and ran the hell out of this terrible place. I might get killed but it was better than staying here. We got out of there in a hurry and ran into a small wooded area, away from the cemetery, but still within gunshot of the house. This spot at least was better than where we were.

    I thought about how much of a mistake it was to have entered that damned graveyard. Even today, looking at a cemetery gives me flashbacks and mixed emotions. It's very strange to me that a lot of battles I was in started or ended in a graveyard. I guess, everything considered, you might call it an appropriate place to be in a fight.

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