Pvt. Harry J. Kennedy
Regt, Hq. Co.,
508th. Parachute Inf. Regt.,
A.P. O. 230 c/o U. S. Army
- A NIGHT PATROL IN NORMANDY, FRANCE -
One evening Cpl. Fred W. Robbins, A.S.N. 11052466, and
myself were called to our Capt, of the Regt. Intelligence Section, Capt.
John A. Breen, A.S.N. O-1295656. Just as it happened before we were to
go on a reconnaissance night patrol. Seven other men went along as a
protection in case that we should run into any trouble behind the German
For about two hours we made preparations for this patrol. We selected
our routes for entering and leaving the enemy's lines. Areal-photography
[sic] and maps of all kinds were at our disposition.
We left our Command Post at approximately ten o'clock
in the evening so that we could reach our outposts before darkness broke
in. On the way to the different outposts we stopped in at another
regiment's Command Post. This, in order to obtain all the information we
possible could get. Even the smallest change in the enemy's position
could mean success of defeat and death for all of us. It could change
the pre-arranged route and actions of our patrol or even call it off.
At about midnight we left our outpost and moved slowly
towards the lines of the enemy. We had a half moon which is in a way of
assistance and then again at the less called moment it can mean the end.
Everything is just a matter of luck. Everything was quiet. Not even
small arm fire could be heard and that is unusual. In a way It was hard
to believe that there was a war on and we were right in it. An uncertain
feeling came over us. After passing two hedgerows we knew that we were
in the German lines since at that particular place the American and
German lines ran very close. Every hedgerow, bush or even tree may be
hiding a German machine gun. We knew from past experience that the enemy
had a very good chance to detect us long before we know of his
whereabout. We were moving and at night, when everything is still, a
movement can be noticed immediately. The enemy is dug in and does not
make any noise. He is hidden in the shadow. No matter how well a patrol
is trained it is impossible to move without making any noise. They only
help there is to cover up for the noise is the rustling of the trees or
the firing of friendly or enemy's artillery.
One of our scout walked in front of me. We were the
first two men of our patrol. I kept myself constantly ready to talk back
to any German who may challenge us. This, in order to win a few precious
seconds in which we either can withdraw or take tactical positions if we
have to fight our way out of it. We proceeded another five fields before
our column stopped. It took about two hours to move through these seven
fields; and they were very small fields. All of a sudden the man ahead
of me noticed a German soldier standing behind a small pushcart.
However, he did not notice us. Since we try to avoid firing at night on
a reconnaissance patrol, we moved quietly one field back and outflanked
that German. We know that Germans never stay alone at night. So there
must be another German somewheres. We all were ready for immediate
action. Our tommy-guns were ready to deal with anybody and anything.
We passed some more fields and hedgerows. All of a
sudden a German soldier, in perfect English, asked: "Where are you
going, fellows?" He then turned around and spoke in German language to
two of his commerades who were laying in a slit-trench, probably half
asleep. Our patrol immediately withdrew into another field. We were very
tense and keen as never before. After a few seconds - which seemed to be
hours - we moved ahead again, and again outflanking this German position
After those two experiences our Imagination started to
play tricks on us. We were very jumpy. Every tree looked like a German.
Each move of a leave sounded like the immediate crack of machine gun
fire going off. But everything became peaceful again and this made us
very nerves. We moved ahead again. Slower than before. Five steps in a
crutched position took thirty minutes or more.
The first man ahead of me just started to move across
another hedgerow. We were somewhat located in a corner of two hedgerows
comming together. I was standing about 15 feet away from the corner and
started to cut in. The men behind me were standing half crouched and
completely outlined by the silvery moon which just came out of the
clouds. We all were perfect targets, but these chances we have to take.
All of a sudden a German hollered one word in German. Since it came so
unexpectedly I couldn't understand what he said, but I know it was In
German. He could see all of us. We didn't move because a wrong move
might cause the German to open up with a full automatic weapon. Germans
had in all their position full automatic weapons. If they would open up
we could not run for cover since we were only a few feet away from the
German position. It would have been fatal to us. I could feel my heart
beat and even hear it. I acted rather in an automatic way. I said in
perfect German: "Yes, what is the matter? Everything is all right!" I
said it in an authorizing manner which the Germans respect. Just what
made me speak right away and ask a question I don't know. But what was
next to come? The next few seconds, if not split-seconds were to be the
answer as to our very existing, or in plain words whether we were to be
dead or alive. A machine gun fired at such a close ranch and with such
little distribution can cut a man a part in no time. My mind was working
fast. I thought of a million different things at the same time. I tried
to recall whether all members of the patrol were informed that I knew
German and would use it if the situation would call for it. Would my own
men fire at me? And this has happened to me at various occasions. I
realized that it was too dark for the men behind me, although they were
only a few feet in back of me, and that a clear identification would be
impossible now or in any fight. Everything seemed to be hours. But it
didn't take more than a minute. The German soldier looked at us and
turned away. We immediately turned away and withdrew. I spotted in the
meantime two light machine guns set up next to each other. Their fire if
used, would be murder.
We moved very fast going backwards. We didn't talk. It
was getting late and daylight was showing itself. With daylight we can
not work. We only get discovered much earlier. So we walked very fast,
almost running, back to our line. We used the same route without meeting
any opposition. By the time the sun came up we were back again at our
Regimental Command Post. We all were very tiered, just as if we worked
at hard labor for 24 hours. We were tiered to a point where couldn't
sleep. Our nerves were on edges. We didn't talk at all a cause one wrong
word and a fight would start between us. We all knew we were jumpy. We
left each other alone and that was the best as experience has taught us.
We accomplished our mission which was to find out some
of the German positions. It was just a general patrol, nothing special.
We did find out some position of infantry nature which can mean
everything to us infantry men in an attack. No one went 'hay-wire'
inspite of the critical situation we were in at times. It was not the
only time that I talked to a German soldier in combat who was not our
A member of the patrol came over to me later on and
thanked me for - as he said - acting so quickly and maybe saving us from
plenty of discomfort. This 'thank you' meant more to me than the highest
award on earth. - - -