This story is about
an attack. To begin with, there is something about attacks that I find
interesting and surprising. I, of course, am only stating my opinion, but
all the G.I.'s I have spoken to agree with me.
A soldier feels
better in the attack than he does in any other phase of battle where you
are under fire. I have heard there is a small organism in your body that
releases liquid into your system that reacts as a stimulant when you are
excited. I am not surprised at all as I remember before an attack
thinking how tired and worn out I was, yet when the attack got underway I
did not feel tired, in fact it was quite the opposite.
But back to this
tale I am going to tell. It is a story about an attack our Battalion
made in Normandy, France on a little village named Pretot.
The reason I
remember this attack better than any other is that it went exactly as
planned. Second it was vigorously carried along, and third, the Battalion
was in such good, or should I say, high spirits. I don’t believe any
combat soldier ever feels good while on the line. He has too much to worry
about. This is why I remember and write of this particular attack.
Pretot is a small
village of approximately 1000 to 1500 inhabitants. During the two days we
were in that section I never did see any French civilians in Pretot. They
left their towns and villages as war advanced. They took off seeking
escape like scared rabbits in front of a forest fire. Some stayed, but the
majority took a very hasty departure.
Pretot is a
picturesque village surrounded by low rolling hills. The town itself is
situated in the centre of a little valley, very pretty. As it was June,
everything had the look of spring and a fresh green color. It was ideal
weather for anything but war.
Our Battalion was
about a mile away when we were ordered to go into the attack. t was early
morning, not yet daylight. We were to move up under the cover of darkness,
deploy around the west side of town and attack at the first crack of dawn.
There was to be 10 minutes of artillery before jump-off.
We checked our
weapons and hand grenades and necessary ammunition and rations. All NCO's
had just returned from a briefing by the company commanding officer who
had just been briefed by the Battalion commander.
I was told to check
my squad and make last minute checks like water, ammo, etc.
Everything was now ready.
Every one was keyed
up and having that last smoke. We were making feeble attempts at stale
jokes to show every one we weren’t scared to death. The fear of death is a
fear I don’t believe anyone ever masters. Our Battalion commander used to
say, "IT TAKES A BRAVE MAN TO BE SCARED- AND ADMIT IT".
By his ruler I can
say I was feeling extremely brave that morning.
Cigarettes were put
out, a last warning for silence was given, squads were lined up and we
moved out. We arrived at our destination (jump-off point) in less than an
hour. We moved up into position and prepared to wait for our Artillery
Barrage. When it lifted, that was our signal to attack.
Here is the big
picture, we were deployed companies abreast, squads in line, one Battalion
strong. Roughly speaking we were 600 yards from Pretot on the forward slop
of a hill to the west side of town. We were attacking from the west to the
The first platoon
of G Co was to swing through the southern edge of Pretot and set up
machine guns on the road leading out of town, catching the krauts as they
started to pull back.
We waited about 10
minutes before our Artillery went out and I believe it was one of the
longest 10 minutes I ever spent in my life. Finally, after what seemed a
lifetime of waiting, I heard a dull boom far to our rear, then the funny
whirring sound a shell makes tracking across the sky.
They usually fire
one lone shell in, to see if the range is correct, and then lay it on.
Such was true in this case, for seconds after the first shell hit – just
long enough for the observer to radio back to the guns to fire for effect
- the air was filled with whirring sounds, like angry bees.
I could hear the
dull boom of the 105s firing far to the rear. Then the ground would shake
with the impact and everyone would hit the dirt praying there wouldn’t be
any short rounds.
10 minutes of that
and the countryside was as quiet as before, except now we could hear the
Germans in town cussing and running to their stations.
Up the line I heard
some Joe yell, "LETS GO GET THE BASTARDS." And with that every man seemed
to move out. The gentle slopes leading into town were alive with
charging paratroopers yelling like drunken Indians. The air was full of
snarling bullets looking for a body to stop in. The attack on Pretot was
in full motion.
Before we had run
the first half of the 600 yards separating us from town, I could hear the
slugs ripping through the foliage as the German gunners fought to get our
range. It seemed so thick that I thought it impossible to advance through
it and not get hit.
The German guns
were reaping their toll, but we were too near; nothing could stop these
hell for leather troopers now. They were never taught how to attack and
retreat at the same time.
Things were moving
fast now, no time to think, just act automatically and move. The Germans
were surprised and didn’t have much a chance to organise.
As we approached
the first street in town we came to, I could hear the blam of hand
grenades and the nasty whine of flying shrapnel above the splutter of
Tommy guns and the crack of rifle shots.
I knew the main
weight of the attack had started to fight through town and was
systematically cleaning out house after house with hand grenades and
happened to my squad going through town, that is nothing that didn’t
happen to squads in combat every day.
There was one squad
ahead of mine and they caught most of the dirty work. They were on one
side of the street and we were on the other followed by the mortar squad.
I could hear all hell breaking loose further to my left; I knew the boys
were having it hot.
As we neared the
edge of town the first squad was held up by a machine gun in a front yard.
The platoon leader sent a runner back to tell me to take my squad and
swing around to the right and come in from the flank.
I took seven men
and started swinging to the right down a little alley between houses. I
left my machine gun crew and assistant squad leader behind because it is
hard to climb fences and move fast with a machine gun.
We started down
behind a row of houses, climbing the fences and zigzagging through the
flower beds, keeping as close to the buildings as possible.
As I stepped
through the last hedge row, I nearly bumped into a kraut who was standing
with his back to me facing the street. I will never forget his look of
surprise as he turned and saw me.
I pressed the
trigger of my Tommy gun and he went down like an unseen hand had just
smacked him with a sledgehammer.
I had no sooner let
up on the trigger when two more Germans jumped to their feet and ran. They
had been hiding in the hedgerow. I had 25 slugs left in my clip so I just
split it up between them. It always amazes me how much power there is in a
bullet. If a man is hit solid it is like a house was dropped on him.
Needless to say these two were surely hit solid. They were 15 yards from
A scout and I moved
on around the house. The two of us crawled up towards the street to try
and spot the machine gun that was holding our two squads up. We saw it and
I sent the scout back for the man with the grenade launcher on his rifle.
He took the machine gun out with two rounds.
Then we moved on
through the town with no more than the occasional sniping to hold us up.
Arriving on the east of town we set up our two machine guns covering the
road leading out of town.
All of this time I
could hear the boys raising hell in the main center of town.
Later I learned we
had attacked so fast that two German tanks were bottled up in town and
they were rushing around like a bull in a china shop, up one street, down
another. Every where the tanks went there were troopers laying on it.
Finally they got bored and knocked [the tanks] out.
We hadn’t done much
more than set up when the krauts started pulling back down the road
leading out of town. They were much disorganised and needless to say we
had a field day. Dead and dying Germans soldiers were laying along that
road for a quarter of a mile. Later we learned that we chalked up about
While one of our
machine guns was zeroing in, I was standing behind him. As he fired I
would slap him on the shoulder which meant he needed to raise his sights
by two mils.
I noticed there was
no rifleman protecting the left flank of the gun. I turned sideways and
yelled to one of the boys, "HEY Vanmeter, COME HERE! "
We were standing
behind a hedgerow out of sight, except for the hole in the hedge I had
been looking through at the road to correct the firing of the gun.
Vanmeter came over and yelled, "WHAT DO YOU WANT?" I turned sideways
and reached back to pull him close so he could hear above the noise of the
I had just grabbed
his arm when a sniper got in a lucky shot and plugged Van Mmeter right
through the chest – clean through. He fell at my feet and I dragged him
close to the hedgerow and yelled for a medic.
I pause here for a
minute to explain what happened.
The sniper that
shot Vanmeter was actually zeroed on me. I just happened to turn sideways
leaving Vanmeter facing the hole in the hedge. I never had a closer miss,
I felt the wind from that slug across the back of my hand.
Vanmeter was hit
badly and he knew it [and] he later died. He told me to take his pistol,
that he wouldn’t need it. He refused to let to let the medic bandage up
his wounds. He said it would be a waste of time. He was bleeding awfully
badly and he had a feeling he was cashing in. Funny how guys know, for I
believe they do in most cases.
We got our orders
to move on. We were to set up and dig in on the high ground beyond the
town of Pretot.
I went over to
Vanmeter where I had dragged him. I couldn’t think of any speech so I just
said, take it easy, he answered, "yeah, yeah." As I left his face was grey
as ashes and he was bleeding like a stuck pig. I knew he had had it. I
learned later from the medic who stayed with him that he died in about 20
minutes. He was a nice guy, a good friend of mine.
Well Pretot was
ours. It had taken just a little more than two hours. It was one of the
most organised attacks I ever took part in.