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2014, Aaron Elson


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2000, 2009 Chi Chi Press

Chapter 6

A Quiet, Early Dawn

Jim Flowers

    Sometime on the 11th, our artillery shelled that position, and it ended the war for some of the German kids because I could hear them screaming. And one of the shells — several of them landed nearby, as a matter of fact I was almost covered by dirt, these things would hit and explode and throw dirt out — one of them landed just right to hit the infantry boy. Shell fragments from it hit the infantry soldier and me, and did an almost complete traumatic amputation of my left leg this time, about seven inches below my knee.

    I had to get this belt off of my right leg and over to my left one, because I haven’t got all that much blood left, especially since I’m pretty well dehydrated.

    I took the belt off of my right leg and put it on the left, then pulled it up as tightly as I could, twisted the stick, and slowed the blood down. Then I checked Rothschadl. He didn’t get any shell fragments.

    The infantry boy had been hit. He’d been hit hard.

    I crawled, pulled myself over on my elbows over to him, and he’s a bloody damn mess. I can’t just lay there calmly and let this boy join his ancestors. So with whatever mobility I had left in my bandaged hands, I managed to tear some of his clothing off of him and get it ripped up into strips to put some compresses over the places where he’s bleeding badly.

    We made it through the rest of the day, and then that night, this is the night of the 11th now, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s a full moon, whether it’s dark or not, I don’t remember. The Germans evacuated that position, and in the meantime our artillery had stopped trying to kill me. There’s a boy named Frank Norris who was a lieutenant colonel commanding a field artillery battalion in the 90th Infantry Division, and who became a major general after the war. I’ve accused Frank of trying to kill me. He said hell, he didn’t even know me.

    We laugh about it, and he admits that it could have been his battalion that was firing on that position.

 Louis Gerrard

    I lay there all night, and then this artillery opened up, and the dirt and cinders and everything, stones were coming off the road, they were hitting me on the head and all, I said, "Boy, I’ve got to get the heck out of here," so I crawled back up the hill, and I heard this one guy say, "Get the hell over here!" There were some GIs in a big slit trench. So I got into that, and I think I must have practically been exhausted. Then they called for a stretcher.

    They took care of my wounds and put me on the stretcher, and put the stretcher on a jeep. They had another soldier on the other side, two of us going down a big narrow road. Christ, I could hear the small arms fire. I thought I was going to get killed before I got back to the beach.

Jim Flowers

    Sometime on the morning of the 12th, this infantry soldier told me he wasn’t gonna make it, and he asked me to administer the last rites to him. I said, hell, I don’t know whether I told him but I’m not a Catholic boy, I’m a Baptist. I don’t understand anything about the last rites of the Catholic church, but I can pray, that was one thing I can do. So I crawled over and did the best I could, but at the same time I admonished this boy for even thinking about dying, and asked him to just hang on a while longer, they’ll be here eventually to get us.

He didn’t make it.

Jim Rothschadl

    When morning came, the 12th, it was a quiet, early dawn. Everything was quiet. You couldn’t hear a shot. In fact, I heard birds singing. I was laying there, and I was really felling bad. I was feeling so bad that I thought about dying. I wanted to.

    Then Jim said, "Give me a cigarette."

    I had cigarettes, but my hands, you’d be surprised how a fellow swells up. My hands were huge from the swelling. I couldn’t get into my pocket. I remember trying to get in my pocket because the cigarettes were there, and I wanted a cigarette, too.

    The next thing he said, he swore a little bit, he said, "Jesus Christ, Jim, you’d better go get some help."

    I said, "Why?"

    "I’m getting gangrene in my legs. I’m getting gangrene." He said, "Can you see a little bit?"

    It was hard to talk because I’d swelled up so much. But I knew what he said. I was desperate myself. And everything was quiet. So when he told me about this gangrene, I crawled out through the hole in the hedgerow. But I turned the wrong way. I was confused somewhat, in terms of directions. The tanks were there, they were still smoldering. So I put my left shoulder to the hedgerow and was crawling along, blind, then I’d stop once in a while and I’d look. And I was trying to call for medics. I don’t know if I got any noise out or not. And I don’t know how far I crawled. It might have been three hundred feet, or it might have been more, but all of a sudden I heard this awful kind of a laugh. There I was sitting in front of a German machine gun nest. There were three guys behind it. It was a water-cooled machine gun, because it had the big casing on the barrel. And they were looking at me. They were saying something and they laughed. And I thought, "Well, okay, shoot me. Go ahead." I didn’t give a damn.

    They must have thought I looked awful. My clothes were burned, I suppose, and I was all puffed up.

    After a few seconds I turned around. I put my right shoulder to the hedgerow and I crawled back. I came back to the hole and continued on past it, and I’d stop every once in a while and try to call for medics. I could hear. There was nothing wrong with my hearing. And I heard a little noise. So I opened my eye up, and there was a GI. He must have been down on his hands and knees because I saw the helmet down toward the ground, and a head, and even though I couldn’t see that well I immediately recognized that it was a GI helmet. So I must have hollered or something, and pretty soon about three or four of them came from around a corner in the hedgerow.

    They picked me up and carried me some distance. It wasn’t too far. They were going through water. I could hear water. I was so goddamn thirsty. I was so thirsty. They laid me down, and I was begging for water. And I heard one of the guys say to the other fellow, "Just give him a little bit now." I could have drank a barrel. "Just a little bit. Don’t give him much, now. Just a little bit." And I was angry about that, because I was so thirsty.

    I got that water down. Then I was telling these guys — by that time there were about eight or nine of them — I was telling them my lieutenant is laying back there. I begged for them to go back there and get him.

    So they left. They came back in a few minutes and said, "He’s dead."

    I tried to get up, and I said, "No, no." I was begging and begging, and they went back again. they brought Jim and laid him down alongside of me, and they sent for some people with stretchers.

    They carried us on stretchers until they came to a jeep, and they laid us both on the hood of the jeep, crossways. The jeep took us to an aid station, and then they put us on the hood of a different jeep, which took us down to the beach.

    In the meantime, they had given us some shots.

    They took us down to the beach, and this jeep went right into the water, and took us to an LST. And it was full. They left space for walking, but the LST was full.

Jim Flowers

    Sometime that morning, I heard some noise coming in my direction.

    The first clear recollection I have is hearing this voice say, "Well, here’s some more of ’em." Then he said, "Wait, here’s another one." This is coming my way. When they got up close to me, why, one of these boys says, "I think these are still alive."

    I heard these boys coming in my direction "Here’s one I think is still alive." He came over and looked, after I assured him that I was still with it. The boy came over with a lieutenant, and it turned out that this is G Company of the 357th Infantry, and the lieutenant was a boy from the western part of Texas, his name is Claude Lovett.

    Claude looked at me, and I asked him for a drink of water, so he gave me some water out of his canteen. He got on his radio and called back and told them to get some litters up there, and a jeep, put the litters out over the hood of it, and get us out of there.

Jim Rothschadl

    When we got to the hospital in Southampton, Jim and I were still together. I was on a gurney and he was laying over to my right.

    Some doctors and nurses came over, and they were looking at me, and one of the nurses hollered, "Jesus! Come and look at this guy. They must be using gas over there." And then the chaplain came in. A Catholic chaplain. I happen to be Catholic. It shows on your dogtags. And he was gonna give me the last rites. He did. I didn’t want him to. I said, "Damn!" I swore at him, and told him to get the hell away from me. I made it this far I’m gonna make it. I don’t need no last rites. I was really angry. But he went through the procedure.

    Jim was still nearby, and I heard him talking. I knew his voice, being with him so long. The last words he said before we were separated, he said, "Goddamn it," I’m quoting now. He’s talking to the nurses or the doctors. He said, real loud, "Goddamn it. Take good care of that corporal. He’s the best goddamn gunner in the United States Army."

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