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©2014, Aaron Elson


A Hot Meal, and an Accidental Death

Arnold Brown

© 2014, Aaron Elson

    Arnold Brown, a company commander in the 90th Infantry Division is one of the veterans whose stories are included in "9 Lives: An Oral History," by Aaron Elson.

    The normal policy for an infantry combat unit, especially an infantry rifle attack, was that we’d move into position under cover of darkness and get prepared for a daylight attack. This way we wouldn’t be under deadly enemy artillery fire as we were getting into our position to jump off on the attack and of course by making an early attack we might catch the Germans before they’re up or ready.

    We had moved into a wooded area and bivouacked, and were going to make a surprise attack at daylight the following morning. We were to get up at 2 o’clock to get ready for that daylight attack. Our battalion commander, Colonel Nichols, wanted to give us a hot meal before we jumped off. But we were in a wooded area, and the trucks could not actually drive all the way up to us. Besides that, it wouldn’t have been safe for them to cook this meal where we were. So they had to cook it back in the rear area and then send it up with a carrying party at 2 o’clock in the morning. But it rained all night long. It just poured down rain. And we’re out in these boondocks in the pouring down rain.

    The carrying party came from so far in the rear that by the time they carried that chow up to our position the coffee was cold, and of course the food was cold. Have you ever tried to eat standing up with your mess kit when it’s pouring down rain, trying to chase these powdered eggs around your mess kit, and you didn’t know whether you were eating powdered eggs or the debris that’s falling off the trees as we were eating. And one of the soldiers had a radio. We always liked to get some American music. Over one channel we could get American music. Also, this was the same channel that Axis Sally used to put out her propaganda. So Axis Sally comes on the radio and says, "Good morning, American soldiers. I know you’re going to make an attack this morning." So much for the element of surprise. "Our soldiers are fighting for their homeland. You’re over here invading. Why don’t you surrender so you can go home alive to your family? Your wife is dating 4Fs, your girlfriend is dating 4Fs, and your government doesn’t care about you. You’re only fighting so the wealthy can get richer."

    During all this, one man had leaned his Browning Automatic Rifle against a tree. With the wind blowing, and in the dark, something happened, and this automatic rifle was either knocked over or fell over, and when it hit the ground it fired and killed a man. Now I am supposed to conduct an investigation and find out if somebody is guilty or not, and there was a violation because the rule on this Browning Automatic Rifle was that the bolt had to be forward. You can have a magazine in the rifle, but you had to pull the bolt back and fire it, load it, and so forth automatically. So the soldier that leaned that rifle up against that tree had failed to follow our rules. But look, it’s so miserable and he didn’t do it intentionally, and I thought it would be better for the family of the boy that was killed to think their son was killed in combat than to conduct an investigation of someone who had accidentally shot him and he could have been found guilty because he did not have the bolt forward on this automatic rifle.

    It so happened that this soldier was killed later in combat. So I think that two soldiers could have received a bad report and their families would have felt a lot worse if they had known about this incident.