One evening after dark we set out in trucks, then going on foot when the trucks reached a place in "no man's land" that had not been traveled....the road was knee-deep in snow. We finally came into Pfaffenhoffen, stumbled through the pitch-black and deserted streets, crossed a slippery foot bridge and moved quietly into LaWalk, a little town we had visited when we first joined B company....now it was our foremost outpost -- Jerry was in the next town, Kindweiler, about two kilometers across the plains! Our squad, Blank was now our leader, was posted in a house on the very outskirts of town on the road to Kindweiler.
From the 409 Regiment History Book. Reference Pfaffenhofeu, LaWalck, Kindwiller.
We couldn't see our hands in front of our faces but three of us were sent down to a little brick house about two hundred yards past our main post and absolutely alone and unprotected. Blank left me in charge and after my turn in the open window to listen for German patrols, I sat by the fire in the other room, forcing myself to stay awake all night to keep the other boys on guard from going to sleep. It was a hectic night! When daylight came, Crabtree and I made an amazing discovery....we were in precisely the same house in which we had had our beds, but no sleep, back in December.
For almost two weeks, with one break, we stayed in these two houses, living by night, and sleeping by day, waiting and watching for the krauts in the town in front of us --just a few thousands yards between us, both of us waiting for the other, neither of us daring to drop his guard. I think the letter in the clipping below pretty well describes our "adventures" in LaWalk. The Germans shelled us, we shelled them, they ran patrols through us, and we at one time sent a whole company on a raid against them. Our outpost was used as a CP for the raid that night and we had a ring-side seat for the small battle that occurred in the inky blackness....a scrimmage that left a man dying on the bed in our main living room and a score of men badly wounded.
News clipping from The Brunswicker, Brunswick, Missouri, Feb. 11, 1945:
Well, it has come and gone-- my first box of eats! It was the little round tin box which has carried so many pounds of cake and candy before-- and always found its way back home. Was just like seeing an old friend tonight.
The fudge was a little dry but very good, the divinity still moist, also good, the cup cakes were dry but the Dutch cookies were just right. The flashlight and batteries were in good condition, as were the candles, flints, salt and pencils. And believe me, everything to eat really went fast with twelve of us to eat it. And you should have heard the compliments, Mom.
I hope that you can find more batteries for the flashlight and maybe send me a set about every three weeks, throwing in an extra bulb once in a while. When kerosene and candles are scarce and because we do as much "living" at night almost as day, flashlights usually get quite a work out.
Am going to try tell you a few experiences without divulging any military information but if some of it is cut out, you'll know I slipped up and the censor had to take over. First, we are again at the place where I told you we had such good eating, only this time it's beginning to wear pretty heavy on our nerves. I'm part of a group on outpost guard--way ahead of our main line of resistance, in fact--and we are up all night looking and listening for an enemy patrol to come across "no man's land." The nights are black as pitch and we can see all kinds of imaginary objects and our nerves are soon strung to a fine pitch.
About the time we decide there is no danger of krauts paying us a call, they pull a trick like the other night. About midnight, our guard came in and said, "I hear Jerries down the road !" Sure enough, two minutes later here they came, shouting at the top of their voices, "We surrender! We surrender!" They were halted, their weapons taken away, searched, and sent to the rear. Guess they were more disgusted with war than we are and just decided to take it easy by surrendering. But it sure put us more on the alert than ever! And helped our nervous indigestion not one bit.
We've also had box seats for two other shows, ones that far exceeded anything the movies can put out but I hope I never see again. These towns in France are very close together and we happen to be in one only about a mile or so from the next village, occupied by the Jerries! Only a grassy plain lies between and observation naturally is perfect. The other night, a Yank group made a raid on the town, leaving from our post and keeping contact by wire with us. We could therefore follow their progress step by step and were watching from our vantage point when all hell broke loose near Jerrytown. The whole skirmish took place right under our noses and believe me, there was plenty of racket. It was a real show, action packed, but it made our blood run cold just to watch and think of the boys going through that living hell.
The other show was in daytime and much more enjoyable for us. It was a clear, bright afternoon, ideal for our observation--and also the air corps. And the boys gave us a real treat. Several dive bombers, roaring in over our heads, plastered the town in front of us with bombs and bullets. The planes were firing when they came over our post; we could follow the tracers as they blazed their way into town. A few seconds later the bombs were released. We watched the explosion, bricks, timber and dirt hurl into the air like a fountain; then the concussion would reach us, rattling windows and shaking the buildings. At only a few hundred yards we could miss nothing. What a show. And I'll bet Jerry thought so too.
We're still looking for the end of the war every day, feeling certain it can't last much longer and hoping it's over before our good luck turns to bad.
Well, enough for this time. Guess you'd better send this on. I'm too lazy to write two letters this long!
Love to all,
Our nerves were soon so on edge we could hardly say a civil word to each other. One alert after another kept us straining our eyes into the night to catch a movement in the snow in front of us. One night we all took up positions outside the house, expecting an enemy attack. Compton and I, with the BAR, were out in front. We changed our position several times trying to find good protection with observation as well. Later when we came in I found one of the other boys, standing at the house, had seen me moving around, had raised his rifle and was ready to shoot before deciding to wait a minute!
One night Blank called me up to the observation window and asked if I saw some men about 200 yards in front of the house, standing in the snow. I stared through the falling snow and sure enough...I could see about six dark objects that we had not noticed before! A patrol? DeFoe and I sneaked out the front door, keeping low in the snow, and I crawled and wiggled my way up to a little knoll where I could get a better view of our "visitors." For several minutes I lay there, blinking my eyes, trying to penetrate the heavy snow fall. The figures were still there. Were they moving? I couldn't tell.
We kept our eyes glued to those six or eight objects for several hours before giving it up as an optical illusion. When daylight came I was standing at the window during my shift at guard. The "patrol" gradually came into view; I called Blank and together we laughed at each other -- our patrol had been a row of cabbage stalks not more than 15 yards in front of the house! That will give an idea of how keyed up we were. Then there was the night the four German soldiers came in to give themselves up (see letter). It was enough to keep us with the jitters.
During all this time we lived on our own. Officers of the day weren't so anxious to check on us when the Germans were known to be right under our noses! We had an ample supply of C rations and 10-in-Ones and with those and what we could find in the deserted basements and houses, we lived like kings. Crabtree did all the cooking -- pancakes, biscuits, eggs, bacon, a variety of jellies, fried potatoes and gravy. I laugh to think of one night when Blank and I were on the prowl for food and firewood. He was armed with a .45, I with my trench knife. I've never fancied sticking a knife into anyone but l am sure that had someone stepped out of a doorway that night in front of me he would have been dead! You get that way after a while on the front.
We spent many thrilling nights on the outpost. Dogs and rabbits, nosing through the rubbage and empty cans around the house, scared the living hell out of us more than once but kept us from getting drowsy on our post. We had to run contacting patrols several times at night along the outskirts of the town to other posts of our platoon. We never knew but what the next minute we would run head on into a Jerry patrol and they kept sending up flares which lit up the whole countryside. When one went off we froze in our tracks until the light went out because against the brilliance of the snow, we would be seen for several hundred yards.
One night a funny thing happened when Compton and I were making the patrol. We were pussy-footing down the road as quiet as mice; a sharp wind blowing, and all of sudden we heard a loud scraping noise. I stopped dead and turned toward the noise, nothing happened. Then I heard a wiggling and squirming in front of me and turned to look at Compton -- he was flat on his belly, crawling into the ditch! "What the hell?" I whispered, "that was just a shutter banging." He said, "Yeh," kind of disgusted like, and we went on. Later we had a great time kidding him about being so jumpy -- but to tell the truth, I've never convinced myself he was so far wrong at that! Had the noise actually been krauts, I probably would have been shot. On the other hand, if it had been some of our own men and they saw Compton hit the dirt, they would have opened up on us. Besides, it never entered my head it was a person; it sounded like a shutter to me.....but one never knows.
An example of the irony of the army occurred here, too. During the day, when we became more brave, we walked around the town like we were going for a Sunday walk -- helmet, to be sure, but usually a carbine or pistol, the lightest weapon we could borrow, maybe two clips of ammo. Then we proceeded to wander through deserted houses, attics and basements, not looking for hidden Germans, but...well, frankly, just snooping (war is war, you know). But whenever we went back several miles where there was absolutely no danger, I never went out the door without my BAR, a full belt of loaded magazines, gas mask, and helmet, even downstairs to eat chow! Orders. That's how the Army runs things.
From Ed DeFoe, December 1991:
Ref: Page 27 MUD & GUTS
There was another barn we stopped at that I remember. Some of the non-coms stayed in the house, the rest of us in the barn. We received some fart - I mean, sleeping bags that they said came from England. Art, those suckers were full of fleas! I could feel them start at my feet and work up and up! A few days later the medics came with some flea powder or something and the guys were sprayed ----but again DeFoe was on guard and I missed it. About a week later I could no longer feel them....they must have starved to death or my not having a bath so long the stink done them in. You know what, Art, I never had regular GI pants since that long ride we had on that open truck...until after the war.
From Ed DeFoe, December 18, 1991:
Ref: Page 27 MUD & GUTS
Now here I'm kind of puzzled. The reason I remember this incident was it was January 19, my birthday, and we were to get a shower, yes, a hot shower, and to remind you of the intelligence of the Quartermaster outfit, they had pitched a large tent in a field with a truck fixed up to make hot water. Of course, steam came out like the atom bomb. We stood in line and some of the guys got their showers. It was a nice day and the sun was quite bright. Suddenly out of nowhere came two airplanes....krauts! I knew it wasn't God but a lot of the GIs were saying so. Well, they opened up and strafed us...twice. Then two of our planes took off after them. I don't know if they got anyone 'cause our planes chased one out of sight and the other crashed into the ground. And damn! I didn't get a shower and I ain't had a bath or shower since Thanksgiving. Oh, well, I didn't want to get a cold like Clayton had.
From Ed DeFoe, December 18, l991:
Ref: Page 30 MUD & GUTS
That night they sent out a company (a raid on Kindweiler to capture prisoners for information) they got shot up pretty good (?). I was at a "listening post," I'm not sure who was with me but whoever it was loosed the ring on a grenade 'cause he thought he heard a noise. Then, of course, (we realized) we didn't want to give away our position so with the help of the flares he got the pin back into the grenade and just threw it away....in case he hadn't done it right. It didn't explode...so there is a live one out there in some farmer's field. And don't forget the wine and cordials we confiscated at this town!
That "listening post," I'm sure, Ed, was LeWalck. During that prisoner raid on Kindweiler I was up in the second story window on watch....along with the phone line back to the command post. I was so hoarse I could barely whisper but an officer on the other end of that line kept shouting at me to tell him what was happening. The more I croaked back at him the madder he became. I think if he had ever found out who I was he probably would have shot me on sight!
Later that same evening the raiding company began to return and several severely wounded were brought into our "listening post" for first aid. Finally there were so many people crowding into the little front room I was told (I was now guarding the front door) not to let anyone else in. Suddenly there was a banging on the door and a shouted demand to "Open up!" I repeated my orders that no one was to be allowed in. The voice outside replied, "We've got a badly injured man! Open this door or I'll shoot it open!" I pulled the light-security blanket and let them in. I have long wondered: Did that poor soldier make it or not. I hope so......
From Ed DeFoe, October 30, 1991:
Ref: Page 31 MUD & GUTS
Wasn't it you and I that went out to see if eight or ten objects in the yard of a listening post were live or dead krauts and found they were eight or ten head of cabbage....it seems to me someone called the CP for reenforcement before we got back to the house? I know it got into the Stars and Stripes.
AJC: It was at this "listening post" on the edge of LaWalck that a persistent flea and I engaged in a relationship. I probably was wearing two pair of longjohns, two pair of OD pants. We took turns sacked out in the one or two beds in the house, unfortunately loaded with fleas. Somehow one little fellow managed to invade my person and lodged himself behind my left knee. That was okay until he got hungry or wanted to turn over and my skin began to itch like crazy! On the alert all the time, no telling when something might happen, I just could not undress to get at my friend flea. With all the clothing I was wearing, I could not pull my pantsleg up far enough out of my boot top to get to the spot behind my knee, neither could I drop my pants far enough to get to the itching spot. This went on for several days with neither of us retreating. Finally in total desperation, I pulled off my boots, stripped down to the bare nothing and grabbed for Freddie (that was his name by now). Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending upon your point of view, Freddie departed my body and disappeared into the bed covers only to bite again.
From Ed Defoe
Ref: Page 31 MUD & GUTS
Don't you think they changed the names of some of those towns? The one where we did the cabbage scene... well, maybe you're right. Anyway, I'll tell you what I did while we were looking at the frozen plant life. I heard a noise in the outhouse on my side of that little hill, fell to my stomach and looked into the outhouse door (the hinge side). I lay there for a few minutes and heard it again, put my M-1 inside the door and, well, there he was, a very large crow walking around the toilet hole! It's a wonder we didn't all get fired....wouldn't that have been nice!
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