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Normandy Thoughts (9 of 10)

On Hill 30 after all the reunions of members who hadn't seen each other since England (our second home), and hearing all the reports of who got killed and wounded, it was back to work we went.

To try and say that I could remember what happened for the next month in Normandy without taking notes at the time, would be to stretch the imagination. Everything in the battles that followed were almost identical. We'd be behind one hedgerow and the Germans would be behind a hedgerow two or three hedgerows in front of us. There'd be a lot of machinegun fire and artillery and mortars, then we'd attack and get to a position which would be our objective about four or five hundred yards in front of us, and we'd find a few dead Germans. I don't ever remember coming across wounded soldiers. They probably pulled their wounded with them. Two exceptions to the above were the Battles of Pretot and Hill 131 on the 4th of July, which were very bloody affairs and for brevity's sake, I shall omit.

I remember we were moving to change positions at night and going along a hedgerow that was wet with dew. It was a slow process and black as pitch. It was stop and go and mostly kneeling holding your rifle as a staff with the butt on the ground; and with the gas impregnated jumpsuits you were continually sweating, even with the least effort. There's an odor emitted by dead bodies that's unique to itself. It's a heavy pungent scent with a sort of sweet perfumed overtone. Even though I couldn't see them I knew there were dead lying nearby. It's funny-odd how your senses lock things in your memory bank, mostly sight and sound. But here forty years later my sense of smell has stored this odd odor that mentally I can almost embrace it at will, similarly to thinking of strong coffee or new mown hay.

One day we got a briefing that we were going to cross one of the two rivers in our area in Normandy, one the Douve and the other the Merderet. I’m not sure which it was, but the briefing was so demoralizing that it seemed there'd be no way we'd come out alive. Our engineers were going to float a single file pontoon bridge across the river at night and secure it to the enemy shore on the opposite side of the river where two or three German Divisions were. Our mission was to move inland and capture a road junction where five roads converged.

Even the lowliest Private recognized the importance of a junction in a road network which controlled the traffic on five separate roads in hedgerow terrain, where all vehicles were restricted to road use, even the tanks. And to compound a felony they also instructed us that if we were shot on the pontoon bridge, because of its single file design, to do the honorable thing and fall in the river, not on the bridge where we'd create a traffic jam.

Our Catholic Chaplain, Father Majonowski [Capt Ignatius Maternowski], got killed on D-Day and the Protestant Chaplain was holding Services before the attack, and I think that virtually everyone of every Religion and Creed, and those without any, attended. That’d how bleak the briefings were. Mark Twain wrote, "I'm an old man and have had a great many troubles, but most of them never happened” So it was with our dreaded river crossing. It turned out to be a “miIk run”, “piece of cake”, "cup of tea" or any other euphemism which turns a bad chore into a pleasant task.

So it was for the remainder of our combat in Normandy. We virtually spent the rest of our time attacking with no relief or replacements.

We repaired to England on July 12th, 1944 and had a few warm beers before our airborne attack on the "Bridge Too Far" in Holland on September 17th.
 

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