© 2000, 2009 Viola Oelrich
Clarence Rosen was a gunner in the 712th Tank Battalion. He took part in the battle for Hill 122, which is the subject of "They were all young kids," but was never interviewed for the book. He passed away in 1960. This story, which he wrote before his death, was sent by his sister, Viola Oelrich, of Ogilvie, Minn.
Let's say you were there! You are moving along cautiously, your eyes straining to detect movement that may indicate an enemy ambush.
You are the tank commander standing in the turret of an M4A4 American tank. The supporting infantry are walking close behind in cover of the tanks. You come to a curve or bend in the road, you caution your driver to slow, you direct your gunner to traverse the gun turret to cover the bend in the road, and there is your objective. A river, a bridge, not a shot fired and you are only two yards from completing your mission. You were briefed by your platoon commander, before starting, that reports from intelligence had it that over 100 Heinie fanatics were to fight to the finish to hold a village, named Susisce, in Czechoslovakia. You again order your driver to move but to approach the bridge cautiously. You spot movement through your binoculars, and as you brace and prepare yourself for battle, to your surprise you discover that they are not Germans, but your allies, the Russians. After handshakes and comments and trying the hand sign language, you radio your commander that the mission is complete, and you learn that this is the last combat mission (in the ETO) you have to accomplish. The War is over. The hasty, bloody, smeary messy war is over after almost a year in combat.
So you come home, the old familiar faces are there, but they are empty. There is no expression in them. They don't know -- they haven't been there. They can never know nor can you ever tell them, because they can never understand.
So you're home -- you try to pick up the threads but your hands are palsied, and your brain is numb. Somehow in spite of all your trying, the only real thing is noise and thunder and death and hell.
It is quiet now -- but soon your numbed mind has you outside into flame and crashing death, you drift back to the time on the Normandy beach, the day you were committed to battle, the terrible roar of enemy artillery shells exploding, the rat-a-tat of machine gun fire, the cries of dying soldiers, laying there with guts some with lungs blown out. The smell of dead Germans and Americans and cattle that were grazing about in line battle now dead and bloated. And the days you were spearheading when enemy antitank guns sent armor piercing steel through your armored tanks killing the crewmen, wounding the others and in an instant the whole machine burst into flames and you drag yourself out half dazed, then they open up on you at close range with machine guns and rifle fire. You dive head first into a ditch where they pin you down where you have to lay and hear the blood-chilling cries of your wounded buddy burning to death, whose cries are stopped when the ammunition magazine inside the tank blows and now mortar shells are bursting close, and the heat drives you back, in spite of the danger, but somehow you manage to get back to your own lines, to again in a few hours replace and reorganize another tank crew and back to resuming battle. There is no stopping. Numbed and dazed like walking in your sleep, you must keep going.
Now you can thrust an arm into a flame and it comes back seared and blackened. Later come the scars. Contact with boiling water leaves tortured reddened flesh, blisters, and again scars.
These things you can see and comprehend. You understand them because you have had some experiences with burns; therefore to you a burned person is an object of understanding and compassion.
But have you ever been shot at even once in your life? Have you been shot at day after day, week after week, month after month for up to a year?
Thousands of reasons why we can never pay off our National Debt
Have you ever in your life, when driving past a cornfield such as in Iowa or throughout the corn belt, stopped and gazed in wonderment at long wide endless rows of corn? Or have you ever walked out on a high mountain bluff and stared down at the breathtaking depth below?
While on a tour of duty in France, I learned from a source, the sepulcher of one of my buddies killed at my side in action, and as I was passing close by, I stopped to pay my last respects. As I entered and walked through the gate, there were large letterheads stating that no photography was to be permitted inside. This was a temporary military cemetery, and there, larger than any cornfield that I have ever seen, were row upon row, acre after acre, of white crosses, all in neat, well-kept mounds. As I searched for a certain section, I could not help in my bewilderment to snap photos nor had I up to this time fully realized all the supreme sacrifices that had been made in such a short time and that the cost of liberty and freedom can never be totaled in dollars and cents.