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Normandy Thoughts (4 of 10)

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,

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