The online edition
©2014, Aaron Elson
Following the Ardennes offensive, we requisitioned 69 replacements. When they arrived, they were placed with the companies in different tanks.
About the second day we got word that one of the boys accidentally shot another one of the crew members while cleaning a gun. I went to investigate, and I dont remember the fellows name, I said, "Now, tell me, how did it happen?"
He said, "I picked up the gun and was going to clean it and all of a sudden it fired." He said it went right through this kid.
This gun is what we used to call a grease gun, and theres a cover on it. I said, "Well, soldier, you know where the cover is on the gun, was the cover open or closed?"
And he said, "I aint never seen that gun before."
And I said, "Apparently it was closed because when the cover is open, its on safety."
He said he didnt know that. He said, "I reached for it," and he didnt know this, but apparently when he reached for it, he shut the door, the latch, whatever you want to call it, and the gun went off.
I said, "Soldier, how long have you been in the Army?"
He thought a minute and said, "Sir, I believe just six weeks."
I said, "You mean youve been over here six weeks."
"No sir," he said. "Seven weeks ago I was a civilian."
I said, "It cant be."
And he said, "Sir, it is."
I thought, well, theres no need to make an issue of it. Id better go find out for sure.
He said, "Major, am I in trouble?"
I said, "If what you tell me is true, youre not in too much trouble, but Ill let you know."
So I got my sergeant, and I sent him back to the rear to pick up the records of the 69 replacements. He got back the next morning, and I looked at the records, and all 69 were between six weeks and three months from civilian life. I got ahold of Colonel Kedrovsky and I said, "Weve got a problem."
He said, "Whats that?"
I said, "Weve got a bunch of kids that dont know a thing about Army life. They dont know how to do anything."
He said, "Why not?"
I said, "They just came out of civilian life."
He said, "How long ago?"
I said, "From six weeks to three months."
And he said, "Major, that cant be true."
I said, "I have the soldiers records. Its true."
He said, "Get ahold of all the companies and get those men up to battalion headquarters. They are more dangerous than the Germans."
So we put out the order and we got the 69 back to battalion headquarters, and we set up a round-robin school. We had six or eight positions, and we got some of the sergeants that knew what it was all about, and we trained them in the machine gun and the different sidearms, how to drive a tank and how to shoot the 75 and so on, and in ten days those boys probably learned as much as when we were learning back in 43. It probably took us six months to get as much as we gave in the ten days.
The last man on guard at night was supposed to make sure that all the ammunition was out of the guns. We were in Germany, I forget what part of Germany it was, but it was in the winter. Some of the houses only had a wall up, and the GIs put their bedrolls against the walls, to shield them from the cold.
In the morning I climbed up onto my tank, and my eye caught a glint of brass. I thought, "Who left the ammunition in the gun?"
I had gone into the tank to check on Little Joe. Little Joe is the motor that turns the turret. If you press your thumb on one side you start the machine gun, and if you hit the button on the other side, you fire the cannon.
I got in the tank and I saw that brass, so I removed the shell and I cleaned out the chamber, and then I threw the round back in.
Then I reached over to check on Little Joe, and when I did my hand came up, and I hit the button for the cannon.
The periscope was in front of me, and I saw the whole road blow up in front of the tank. I blew the whole goddamn road up. And I thought, "Oh my God, did I kill somebody?" Thats the first thing I thought about. So I reached up and I looked out. I didnt see anybody walking around with no head on, and I felt good. I didnt care what they did to me, I hadnt killed anybody. And all of a sudden the company commander, the first sergeant, all the guys are walking up to that big hole that I made in the road, and I figured Id better go face the music. So I walked up there, and I was just about to say, "Well, thats the way the cookie crumbles," when the first sergeant says, "Jesus! I drove over this road three times this morning and that goddamn mine didnt blow up!"
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