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Somehow I became the first scout of our group which was about fifteen
troopers. We had a Lt. Colonel Louis G. Mendez, our battalion Commander
and the aforementioned Lt. John A. Quade as Officers. The rest wore
Privates and Non-Commissioned Officers from two Parachute Regiments of
the 82nd A B Division, namely the 507th Pcht. Regt. and my Regt., the
508th Pcht. Reg. Most of us were strangers to each other, so it wasn’t
conducive to a well oiled machine. One would find oneself continually in
the forefront if you were known to the Officers. So that was the
situation where I became 1st Scout. We were trying to cross a road one
mid-day, so I went up first and lay inside the hedgerow on my side of
the road when two German soldiers walked by chatting and smoking
cigarettes. I literally could have reached out and grabbed their boots.
I started to crawl back in the field, and met Lt. Quade. We were both in
this kneeling position when a German tank came up the road and was
opposite an opening that afforded it access to the field. I could have
sworn they saw us. We laid down flat on the ground and waited for the
tank to turn into the field. I could feel my heart pounding against the
ground and terror swept through me. There's something about a tank
coming against an infantry man on a one to one basis that puts the fear
of God in you, especially when you’re not dug in. Well, the tank
continued straight down the road and the Germans had apparently walked
on continuing their conversation and cigarette smoking.
On our left was a dirt road that Iead [sic] out to the road we were
trying to cross, but it was about nine feet below our field and it was
completely enveloped in vegetation as the hedgerows on both aides had
grown together at the top to form a dark green tunnel. Lt. Quade lowered
me by holding on to the top of my rifle while I climbed down the butt. I
had to let go of the gun and drop about two feet to a soft dirt path.
About twenty yards in front of me where the dirt road hit the one we
were trying to cross, was a German sentry, his mauser slung over his
right shoulder, in full battle dress wearing that all too familiar
German helmet and there stood I without a weapon, not even a trench
knife, and the tube-like shape of the road afforded me no concealment.
God only knows why he didn't turn when I dropped. The only reason I can
think of was the German helmet with Its low wrap around back, obviating
any light sounds coming from its rear. I signaled to Quade what I saw
and he lowered my rifle and pulled me back up. After I climbed back up
my rifle we tried a different route.
As I mentioned earlier, though it had been forty years since D-Day,
certain scenes re-appear like yesterday; but by the same token because
of the time span, there appears to be certain gray areas In my recall,
especially putting happenings in sequence. All the happenings that are
important are very clear, but what hour of which day they occurred, or
which followed which is not. Certain things happened that were like a
play in two or three Acts, and I have them clearly locked in the same
morning or afternoon. But there are isolated events that I can't tie to
any day or associated event.
One such event was early morning about 6 A.M. We were walking single
file up on high ground and we had a commanding view. The sun was up, but
there was a morning haze comparable to a morning down South when they’re
smoking pork. There was a fire fight going on below us which might have
accounted for the haze. It was like watching a sand table with little
toy soldiers. I could make out the paratrooper defense line with a
thirty caliber machinegun firing, and we could see the German position
which appeared to have the small band of troopers surrounded. They were
about 1,000 yards away. The distance made everything seem so impersonal.
I have wondered since who they were and how they fared. But that was the
name of the game - keep moving and don't get pinned down, or else your
fighting days would be very short.
We were behind German lines for four or five days and nights. We tried
to be invisible by day and do most of our moving by night, I remember
one night coming up to a dark house, trying to get water for our
canteens. There was a horse trough filled by a hand pump that squeaked.
Every time the arm of the pump was lowered, it sounded like someone
stepped on a cat's tail. There were Germans all around the place, and to
top it off some big watchdog started barking his head off. There is a
line in Kipling's "Gunga Din” that describes the water; "It was crawling
and it stunk, but of all the drinks I've drunk, I'm grate-fullest for
the one from Gunga Din." We were grateful to get the slimy water and not
get our heads blown off.
I remember going down a sloping field in the moonlight, close to the
ground, and we could hear German soldiers talking and working the bolt
on what sounded like a machinegun a few yards from us. It sounds funny
odd, but one of our worse enemies was sleep. At night when we stopped
for a five minute break and laid back, the danger was falling asleep and
being left behind. So it was with Pasados [John J. Pesados] , a member
of my Company (I'll mention in detail later) who after a break was left
behind when we moved out, and no one realized it until daylight,