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2014, Aaron Elson


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2000, 2009, Chi Chi Press

Chapter 31

A hell of an Easter parade

Wayne Hissong

    I was wounded and captured on Easter Sunday.

    We were taking the trucks to get some gas, and we came up a little knoll in the road, and there was a pocket of Germans. We just never dreamed they would be there. And they hit us.

    Arnold Marshall and I were in the lead truck, and a bazooka came right through the side of the truck. Fragments from it hit me on my arms, and I was knocked out of the truck. Mutt — Mel Paul — was right behind, and when I fell out of the truck, his truck stopped on my ankle. I hollered, "Mutt! Move the truck!" And luckily, he moved it enough that I could get out from underneath it.

    Marshall and I lay in a ditch there. I was hit, and Marshall luckily didn’t get hit. The Germans put me up on this horsedrawn artillery. I had to help myself up. I could hardly get up. I crawled up behind these horses to get up on this seat, and they took Marshall down the road.

    They had searched all my pockets and took everything, and I had a P-38 shoulder holster. Luckily I had thrown the P-38 away, but I still had the holster. And I had a German pocket knife that they didn’t find. When we were going up the road, I showed it to the driver, and he said, "Ach, keep it."

    When we got to this little burg, they dropped me off and they took Marshall on. They put me out in a barn, and there were two other fellows from another outfit. The guy that owned the building could talk a little English, and the only thing he asked was that we didn’t smoke because we could set the barn on fire.

    The next morning, they carried us into the house. In the meantime, one fellow had died during the night. So they carried this other fellow, he had been shot through the knee, and they made stretchers and carried us in the house and laid us down on the floor, and there was a German soldier in the corner to guard us.

    About 9:30 in the morning, this woman German doctor came in. She was dressed in a full Nazi uniform, I mean Nazi everything. She talked to this other guy, and she could speak fluent English, better than you an I can. She asked all kinds of questions, and we didn’t tell her anything. So she gave me a morphine pill to stick up my butt, and she said, "I’ll be back."

    She left, and pretty soon she came back, and when she came back this time she had taken off her Nazi uniform. She was dressed — skirt, blouse, nylon hose, high heels, I mean she was a beautiful woman. Then she went out and she got some hot water and she came in and dressed my arm.

    When she came in with the pan of hot water and set it down, imagine now, you’re laying flat on your back, you can move a little bit, but here she is with long blonde hair, and she comes in with this damn skirt on and she kneels down and she pulls the skirt up when she kneels down. I’m flat on my back and because of my injuries I can’t move. And she says, "Would you like to have a cigarette?"

    I said, "Yeah."

    She gives me a Lucky Strike out of a green package. She lights it with a Zippo lighter which I had tried four goddamn years to get one. And then she starts asking me all these questions about what outfit are you out of, and blah blah blah. All I would tell her was my name, rank and serial number, and she said, "If you just tell me what your folks’ home address is, I’ll write them and tell them where you are and how you are," and the whole works, and I just gave her my name, rank and serial number.

    She went over and talked to this other guy, but she didn’t spend too much time with him.

    She said, "I know that you Americans like your fried potatoes." And she went out in the kitchen and she fixed us a breakfast, fried potatoes and eggs and bacon. Then, after we ate that, she came back in, and she went through this whole rigamarole again with the questions, how she would get in contact with the Red Cross and get the word to out parents that we were all right and all this, and I wouldn’t tell her anything else.

    So finally she says, "I’m going to leave, but I will be back."

    She never got back. And I have often wondered what ever happened to her. Man, I’m telling you, she was a beautiful woman.

    The next night, I could hear these tanks coming. I didn’t know whether it was our tanks or their tanks or who it was. And all of a sudden, this tank stopped out front, and the next thing I remember is this great big black lieutenant busting through the door, and as he busted through the door, right over in this corner sat a German soldier with a rifle guarding us. I said to the lieutenant, "Don’t shoot him, he hasn’t hurt us."

    I remember writing home to my uncle, and I told him it was a hell of an Easter parade I was in. But the hell of it was, they sent a telegram to my folks, and the first telegram that they got said that I was missing in action. Then they got a telegram that I was a prisoner of war. Then they got another telegram that I was wounded in action.

    When I got hit, my mother was in the hospital. So when Dad got the first notice, he went to the doctor and he said, "Doc, how are we going to explain this" to my mother? "She looks for a letter from him about twice a week."

    "Welll," the doctor says, "you just leave that to me. I’ll find some way to explain it to her."

    So he got these telegrams. Three telegrams. Dad got two one day and then one the next day, all of them conflicting with one another.

    So Doc went in one morning to my mother, and he sat down beside the bed and talked to her, and examined her, and he said, "You know, that son of yours, he is one tough sonofabitch."

    And my mother said, "What?"

    "Well," he says, "they kicked the hell out of him, but he’s all right. He’s gonna make it. Don’t you worry now. He got beat up a little bit, but he’s gonna be all right."

Bob Rossi

    In April 1945, we were in a column and we had reached our objective for the night. It was near a bridge, and these two German civilians came up on bicycles and told us there were American prisoners in the next town. So we called up and said we wanted to proceed into the next town. They said there were American wounded, American sick.

     We proceeded into the town, and naturally, where do you think you’d go to see wounded, we went to the hospital. There were only German wounded in there, no American prisoners. They were across the street. They had these guys laying on the floor of the schoolhouse. There was straw on the floor. These were the guys from the 106th Division, they were captured during the Bulge.

    Every one of them was a stretcher case. A guy told us that all they had for three months was potatoes, that they would put a wire through and hold it over an open flame, and weak tea, that’s what they had for three months. They used to torture one another, like make up a menu, every time they made up a menu for one another, it always had sugar, something sweet.

    One guy pulled up his pants to show me his long johns, I thought they were o.d., they were brown from the dysentery.

    This one guy came from Connecticut, his family owned a roller skating rink, and one of the MPs came from that area, this guy kept saying, "God bless you men! God bless you men!" When I walked in, my heart was in my throat, because you can’t believe what you’re gonna see, these guys were like skeletons.

    One guy was buried the night before we got there, and they told us it was the first time any one of them got buried. These guys were being marched away from us, and if a guy died, they just picked him up and put him on the side of the road.

    I went out to my tank and I got a box of those Tropical Hershey bars we had. They’re called Tropical Hersheys because they wouldn’t melt. I was giving the Hershey bars out to these guys, and Dr. Reiff comes in, he starts chewing me out, he says, "What the hell are you trying to do, kill them? They’ll get sick." And they promised him they wouldn’t eat them fast, they would eat them slow.

    The GIs that were with us shot two SS guards that were left behind to guard them, but the prisoners told us, "Don’t let them shoot the medic. He’s a good guy. He was decent to us."

    The next day — we’re traveling now, we’re still moving, moving, moving — I’m up in the turret when I see these two guys come out of a barn. They were part of a group of 150 that were still being marched away from us. Well, these guys figured this is it, and they hid in the barn and escaped.

    One was a short guy with red hair, and as he’s looking at me up in the turret, I could see the tears were just coming down his face. Like he was in a state of shock, like I’m liberated. And the other guy was tall, black hair, had a mustache and wore glasses.

    I reached down, I said, "You guys want a butt?" because I used to smoke at the time, and they couldn’t reach me, so I jumped out of the turret and gave them each a cigarette, and as I went to light the cigarette, the little redheaded guy, as he cupped the light, I noticed he had a big, festering cut on his hand. I said, "What happened to your hand?"

    "The Krauts cut me with a bayonet and they refused to dress the wound."

    I called, "Medic! Medic!" Again, Dr. Reiff comes — they mentioned him in the newsletter, he just got remarried — Captain Reiff comes down, he said, "What’s the matter?" And I told him.

    With that, Captain Reiff asks the redheaded kid, "What happened to your hand?"

    He told him, and Reiff says, "The sonofabitches." And he starts putting sulfanilamide on his hand and bandaging it. And Dr. Reiff says, "Okay, son, we’re taking you back now." And with that, he can’t move, like he’s stunned. So Dale Streeter, who was Gibson’s driver, he was a pretty big guy, he threw a blanket around him and picked him up and put him in the jeep.

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