©2003, 2009 Colin Charland, Chad Charland, and Claire Ashford
After the BattleA small arms battle is bad enough for any infantryman, but the aftermath is in many respects worse with the silence and the cries and groans of the wounded in pain and the dying. That in itself is a great inducement of cracking up under the stress and not being able to cope with the scene and the gnawing at your mind that it could be you lying out there. The very thought put me into deep depression, anxiety, and severe fright and fear, dry mouth and sick to the guts. It took all my moral strength not to break down and keep my courage up.
Surprisingly, a great many of the regiment kept up their mental fortitude despite the terror and we all prayed for the Almighty to be with us. What caused me the most anxiety and fear was the feeling of the breaking point – every one of us had his limit. It could put you into a state of shock, which can kill as much as a bullet or shell fragment. As I look back on it, I'm surprised I sustained my mental stress as long as I did. The empty feeling in the gut put you in a morbid state of futility – a kind of fatalistic hopelessness pervaded and a hatred against the enemy that was responsible for the state of things, and you were hoping that the damn Krauts felt the same which was some small consolation.
The loss of your comrades caused terrible anguish and revenge was foremost to make them pay for your loss and pain. No quarter was the name of the game.
Back to the war: Sometime later after the seminary fiasco, I gave first aid to a large handsome dog at a typical Norman cluster of farmhouses with a large granite stone barn and a cobblestone courtyard. The poor dog had been the victim of a Kraut artillery attack wounding him in the shoulder with a piece of shrapnel that could have killed him. I called the dog and took care of his wound with my first aid kit, cleaned it with water from my canteen, put sulfur powder on it and then a bandage over it. I have always been an animal lover since I was a child. It made me feel good to take care of one of God's lesser creatures – an innocent bystander. He showed his love and appreciation to me by licking my face and hand. It made me cry. On my way out of the farm area, I came across a wounded Kraut. I passed him by. He didn't deserve my attention. This narration or memoir is not meant to be pleasant or heroic. It is written by me as I saw it and felt it, as cruel and heartless as it more often occurred, by a common ordinary combat infantryman there to do a job with dedication to a cause and the guys I fought with.
I was not forced to join the Army. I willingly quit high school and enlisted at 18 years – volunteered to get into this war and kill my enemy, the Krauts, for their aggressions to rule the world. I felt I was born or destined to this mission and to make a career of soldiering from early boyhood. I was fascinated with this vocation, to become a soldier, a professional soldier in the U.S. Army or foreign countries – Canada, Britain, France, etc. But to my sadness and disappointment, it didn't happen except for a short time as a U.S. soldier in WW II for four years. I guess it was not to be – fate.
I had the God-given talent to draw and be an artist. I remember the first things I drew were soldiers and battle scenes as a young boy. My mother thought I was going to be another Napoleon or Richard the Lion Heart – two heroes I admired. Anyhow, I feel I have been born into this world at the wrong time. I should have been around when the profession of being a soldier was an honorable and admirable thing to do. General Patton thought he had had a previous life as a soldier during the Roman Empire days and in Napoleon's army. Maybe I had also at some time in my previous life (who knows).
As I was growing up and going to grade school, my favorite subject was the study of history. I was fascinated by it and got excellent grades. I hated mathematics and most of the time, I failed it. Finally, I just passed it in order to graduate from grade school and I was just as happy. I cared less about math, but history and geography were something else. Again, I always got good marks and again, it went along with my ambition to be a soldier. During that time, I was in love with the French Foreign Legion, especially books like "Beau Geste" and other tales of the Legion. These influenced me and I always had the hope I would become a Legionnaire someday. I would see any movie about the Foreign Legion and back in the late Thirties and Forties it was still exciting for people to see these exploits.
All these things happened when I was in my early teens, 13, 14, 15 and 16 years of age and up until the day I joined up with the U.S. Army in October of 1942 when I became 18. I was so happy when the United States got into the war against the "Nips and Krauts." Now my chance had come to kick the hell out of the Axis, mainly the "Huns" – now I felt I would amount to something and make my family and friends proud. There were some people we knew, some so-called friends of mine, who were not idealistic like I was and would tell me to "grow up – you are not realistic," and other such tripe. They felt I had no ambition and could "amount to nothing." I would tell them they were entitled to their own opinion and to keep it to themselves. "You don't tell me what to do." The day the Japs attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor, my high school pal and I were leaving church on Sunday and going home. We heard the great news from the radio of a taxi cab on a street corner. We leapt for joy. We were ready to join up but we were too young by one year. We were unhappy about that.
I waited until October '42 to enlist. The Army was for me. My school friend joined the Navy and went to the Pacific theater. He also survived the war.