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Remembrance of Combat in Normandy

Guy Charland

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

Chapter 5

Back From the Hospital

    The ocean–going jeep was loaded with wounded on stretchers so they put me on the bow of the jeep with three Kraut soldiers. I complained to the driver, "Do I have to sit up here with these bastards?"

    The guy said "Yeah, there's no room for you with the stretcher wounded."

    As we started off the beach (Utah) toward the hospital ship, I sat there in the front with the Germans. I gave them a real cold menacing stare. I turned to the driver and asked what would happen if I pushed these SOBs into the channel? It would be good riddance. The driver got real concerned and upset by my remark and told his assistant driver to watch this "demented infantryman" because by the looks of him, he'll do it. So he made me sit in his lap. There was a look of relief on the faces of the three Germans and hateful scowls from me. Believe me, I would have done it. I wouldn't care if they had court-martialed me or not. I did it and I'm glad. After what I had gone through, it would have been "frosting on the cake." After what these atrocity committing bastards did to us, our allies and innocent civilians, it would be justifiable homicide.

    From the U.S. Navy hospital in Southampton, I was transferred to the 7th Gen. Army Hospital in Lincoln, England, which was near Robin Hood's old haunts in Sherwood forest outside of Nottingham. They patched me up and said to me that I was a valuable, experienced soldier and that they needed men like that. So, with the flowery compliments, they sent me back to Normandy in time for the great St. Lo breakthrough. They could have kept the compliments and assigned me to a rear echelon job to do illustration combat pictures for the war effort and "Stars and Stripes" newspaper with the Signal Corps, but they didn't see it my way. They said at the 10th Replacement Center at Lichfield that they knew a good infantryman when they saw one.

    That was a busy place where they sent all the unfortunate GIs back to combat. To this day, I still have bad memories of the 10th and the sadistic non-coms and officers that ran that infamous rat hole. They were all rear echelon f-----s and had never seen combat or fired a gun in anger. They really were a sorry, cowardly bunch. It was their job to be careless, antagonistic, unfeeling towards the combat soldiers they were sending back to the hell of Normandy and other campaigns and feeding the "devil's grindstone." They were no better than the damned Shutz Staffle, the dreaded Waffen "SS," so you see, we all had our military American reprobates too. What amused me, to say the least, they all wore the "Good Conduct Medal" – what a laugh, these bastards qualifying for the Good Conduct Medal. They were so unscrupulous, they didn't care who received it. I bet they even gave it to military criminals or members of the Guard House group for the great job they were doing. Those damned shitheads.

    When I left the 7th Gen. in June of '44 and the short stay at the 10th Replacement, I went by train to Southampton, England, where a bunch of us loaded on a ship bound for Cherbourg, which by now was in American hands. From there all of us or most of us went back to our old outfits. My hand wound had healed up okay. For me it was back to the "Fighting 90th," "Tough Ombres," the 357th and my old "G" Company – just in time for the big push and breakout at St. Lo.

    I was glad to see them again, or what was left of "G" Company. A lot of the old hands were gone. I located Bill and we greeted and hugged each other. I was so glad he had not been killed. But he had some close calls. A warm cloudy summer day in early June, we were in action with some German troops. They opened up on us with a withering small arms fire. We had walked into an ambush by how many enemy – we had no idea. It seemed every tree, bush, or wooded area was alive with rifle and machine gun fire. It was hot and deadly for all of us. The casualties were pretty heavy. I could hear the cries of the wounded and frantic calls for aid from the men, and the ones who didn't utter a sound – the dead. I could hear the bullets zipping over my head and clipping the branches and leaves of the trees around me. I heard and saw some of the bullets hitting the ground near me with dull thuds. I tried to get into a good hiding position, and make myself as small a target as I could and try to shoot some of my tormentors, but could not see anyone. I could only hear a lot of noise of rifle and machine gun fire and could not tell which direction the firing was coming from.

    Bill and I tried to make ourselves small targets. Firing seemed to be everywhere. I expected to be hit any second. As I think about it, I wonder how I got through this hell in one piece. As I looked around I spotted a small farmhouse a few hundred yards to my right across a dirt road. I jumped up from my shelter and made a run as fast as I could, hoping I would get to the house before I'd get cut down by all this fierce gunfire. This was, no doubt, one of the fastest runs I have ever made, including my time as a track runner in high school. I don't know if the Germans saw me or not. I didn't stop to notice, but just before I got there, I drew fire from a machine gun emplacement, which thank God, missed me.

    Now I was in a bad spot. They knew I was in the house and had me pinned down and every time I showed myself, they opened fire. Either I would have to try to get them or wait for nightfall when I could make my escape. I was too scared and impatient to wait, so I attempted to see if I could get rid of them and get away. It was a big risk. It was the only way out as I could see. I did have, besides my rifle, one grenade that I discovered in my ammo bag. If I could only get near enough to them to use the grenade without being seen. The house was situated in a bad place, with very little concealment. What I had thought was a secure place turned out to be a "job hazard" – very bad for one's health. To this day, I don't know what possessed me to do this crazy thing instead of waiting for it to get dark and take the chance to get the hell out of there. I am, by nature, no hero, but I had made up my mind to eliminate them, wipe 'em out. Two less Krauts was an incentive. Anyhow, they were trying their damnedest to kill me. So after crawling around and making short runs from one corner to another, I got near enough to them to heave the grenade into their little pile of rubble emplacement. I was very lucky that they had not spotted me, but I felt I had a 50–50 chance of getting to them. They were looking straight ahead when I pulled the pin and threw the grenade into them. I remember yelling "Here's one for 'der Fuhrer' " just as they looked up at me with surprise written all over their faces. It went off and blew them and the MG away. Scratch two Jerries.

    When the smoke cleared, I crept up to their position and saw they were both stone dead. I didn't bother to check them out. A grenade sure does make a messy job. In a way, I felt sorry, but they tried awfully hard to kill me. Anyhow they did not suffer much.

    I finally made my way through the wreckage of this village and found some of my buddies from the company. As far as I know, no one I knew had been killed or wounded, which was a miracle, considering the heat and fierceness of the fight. I knew before long, there'd be more of the same. "C'est la vie." To add to the depression and anxiety of the day, the sky was gray and cloudy with a fine drizzle of rain to make matters worse. Some of us felt it was a bad omen of bad things to come and we found it out to be true. There was not much optimism amongst us except for the possibility of a "million dollar wound" – just serious (minor) enough to get me out of here and I know there were others that felt the same, even our officers.

    The rain continued all that day and night so we were pretty well soaked like drowned cats and morale was at a low, perfect for a mental casualty. We could hear the distant booming of the big guns and an occasional crack of German rifle fire, a sniper or snipers someplace. It was difficult to figure out where they were. Sometimes they would find their mark and you would hear a cry of pain or worse, no cry at all. I lived with terrible feelings in my gut; that I'd be at the receiving end of the next one. I felt a kind of resignation. If so, so be it. As the Arabs say, "Kismet" – but it still scared the hell out of you.

    I went on night patrol to bring in a prisoner for interrogation. The 2nd squad of the 3rd platoon was selected for this evening's escapades which included yours truly. We found our man, who happened to be washing himself in a nearby creek. We came upon him by accident. We surprised him. He heard and saw us and attempted to grab his rifle, but staring at three menacing bayonets quickly changed his mind about offering resistance and he came with us quietly. I never, in the whole war, captured an enemy so easily – just a routine patrol. Ha! He didn't seem too upset about his capture – what the hell – the war was over for him. I'm quite sure that Intelligence found him an agreeable prisoner ready to talk and he did speak English. Like a true New Yorker, it struck me. I asked where he had learned English. I was right. He had gone to school in New York City, the dirty f-----g bastard. I had rights to shoot him. Imagine that – a "Yankee Speaking Hun."

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