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Follies of a Navy Chaplain

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Tanks for the Memories

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They were all young kids

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Love Company

A Mile in Their Shoes

A Mile in Their Shoes

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Nine Lives

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2014, Aaron Elson

   

Love Company

By John M. Khoury

online edition

2014 John M. Khoury

Chapter 8

Truck Convoy to the Front

    The Morning Report of 29 October 1944: Departed Delta Base Section Staging Area at 0730 Traveled by motor convoy approximately 142 miles Arrived at Valence France at 1700.

    Love Company arose early in the morning to strike our pup tents, gather all our equipment and pack it up before moving out. We had a hot meal before we mounted our assigned truck. This Army truck was called a two and a half ton truck, a deuce and a half truck and a six by six because its six wheels had power to drive the truck. We took seats along the bench on each side of the back. The canvas top was off on that mild autumn day and the countryside was spread out before us. The hand signal was passed back from the convoy commander to move out and the trucks started to roll.

    Along the way, we passed through villages where cheering crowds came out to greet us waving French and American flags. Some people offered bottles of wine but they never reached the back of the trucks. We did get a few freshly picked apples. It felt good to have such a welcome, but you would have to be a fool not to know that you were on your way to the front lines.

    There was some joking, some speculation, and some reminiscing, amid the talk in the back of our truck, but the mood was tempered by the sober reality of the moment. In the group was Pfc. John J. Hudec, also known as "Spider." He was one of the many former air cadets who were now in our company. From the day we arrived in Fort Bragg, we were required to remove our Air Corps patch and sew on the 100th Division shoulder patch. He never took off his Army Air Corps shoulder patch and wore it everywhere. Former airmen would tell him that he would get in trouble, but he scoffed at them and said that the commander of the Air Corps, General Henry "Hap" Arnold, is calling us back. Spider said repeatedly, during infantry basic training, on the ship in the middle of the Atlantic, and when we landed in France, "General Arnold is calling us back!" Now, in this truck convoy to the front, we asked him, "Spider, what have you heard from General Arnold?" He replied, "Don't worry! General Arnold is calling us back." We all thought, "He'd better hurry up." Some of us managed somber smiles but no one felt like laughing now.

    The convoy stopped periodically so that the soldiers could relieve themselves at vacant areas along the roadside, digging cat holes when necessary. We had K rations for our meals along the way because the cooks could not prepare hot meals for the convoy. We slept overnight near the trucks in sleeping bags, taking turns at guard duty.

    The Morning Report of 30 October 1944: Departed Valence France at 0830 Traveled by motor convoy approximately 190 miles Arrived Dijon France 1950. The day was similar to the previous one. There were no signs of war or destruction, just people and villages along the Rhone Valley in autumn. Our convoy was the only motorized traffic on the road. There was no fuel for civilian cars or trucks. They relied on horse power.

    The Morning Report of 31 October 1944: Departed Dijon Fr area at 0630 Traveled by motor convoy approximately 124 miles arrived at Fremifontaine France at 1800. On that day, we saw the wreckage of war. We passed American and German tanks and trucks, disabled and burned out along the side of the road. Walls and chimneys were all that remained of bombed or burned-out houses and churches. Furnishings from their insides littered the area around these hulks. Civilians and farm animals wandered in a daze among the ruins.

    There was the distant rumbling of artillery fire ahead of us. Civilians were not visible anywhere on the road ahead of us. We drove past the grim and chilling sight of dozens of dead GIs laid out side by side near the road. They were inside white cloth body bags with bloody marks on the outside. As I looked at them, I recognized the white tie strings of the cotton mattress covers we used on our beds back in the barracks. In our duffel bags, each of us had to pack a cotton mattress cover with our overseas gear. I wondered, at the time, why we needed the cotton mattress covers because we did not bring any mattresses with us. Now I knew. We had brought our own shrouds with us! The Army had thought of everything!

    When we arrived at our destination, the artillery fire grew louder and the flashes of light lit the sky. We dismounted the trucks and moved up on foot toward the front. We reached the edge of a woods and the company commander assigned an area for each platoon. The order to "dig in" was given. We formed groups of three to dig foxholes that were about six feet square and about three or four feet deep.

    We proceeded to gouge out the soil with our little entrenching tool. This special instrument, which was a combination shovel and pick, is carried only by infantrymen. It had an 18-inch handle and a blade about 8 inches wide and 8 inches long with an obtusely pointed edge. In the straight position it served as spade or shovel. When the blade was turned and locked in a 90 degree position it could be swung like a small pick. We dug our foxhole in a short time, especially when we saw the flashes of cannon fire in the evening sky, followed by the boom of the muzzles and the whistle of the shells as they trailed off into the distance. I could not tell whose artillery was firing or how close the shells were landing. The reality of where we were burst in upon us very quickly. As the intensity of the cannon fire increased, we burrowed even more rapidly into our foxholes. It felt a little safer sitting in a hole and relaxing with a cigarette. Some food in the form of K rations also helped make the situation better. Nevertheless, sleep came fitfully that night.

Contents                       Chapter 9

(If you would like to order an autographed copy of "Love Company," please contact the author, John M. Khoury)