When men look death in the face day after day and continue to stare it down, they soon begin to wonder how long their luck will last. The bullets won't always be too high nor the shell that lands in their lap, a dud. Compton carried a picture of his wife inside his shirt and several times before we jumped off March 15 he had told us that if anything happened to him this time, we were to be sure to get the picture and send it to his wife. He made us promise, though we ridiculed the idea.
On the morning of March 19 we finally left the main road and took to a trail running parallel to it alongside a hill. Just before noon the column was halted as the sound of firing came from up ahead. We had met the enemy again! Sitting in an old foxhole waiting for the go ahead signal, I kept thinking to myself: I'm going to get it this time; I'm going to get it this time. I don't know just what I meant by that -- wounded or killed -- but it was an awful feeling that I tried to shake off.
Five minutes later we were told to cross the road and move into the woods on the other side. One by one we raced down the slope, across the open road, through a broken place in some barbed wire, and into the woods. We had been there only a minute when whoosh! WHAM!! a shell burst behind us. We hugged the ground as another one came in....WHAM!! It hit a tree only a few yards away. Something hit my left leg like I had been struck with a broom. I turned to look, thinking a rock had hit me, and saw a small hole in my pantsleg and a few drops of blood. I do not remember my first impression of being wounded, unless it was one of relief. I knew I wasn't hurt badly and if I was lucky I'd get back to a hospital. Then I heard Compton crying, "Medic! Medic!" and I knew he had been hit, too. And as I started crawling toward a hole, I saw Crabtree with a surprised, pained look on his face -- hit by shrapnel in both legs!
I crawled into the hole, cut my trousers open with my trench knife and examined my wound. Just a hole the size of a dime, no bleeding, very little pain. I remembered to take my wound tablets and then lay back to wait for the medics. Another shell landed nearby. I later learned Black was hit in the mouth by that one and a platoon sergeant had been killed, I think by the same shell. I waited until the litter bearers had taken Crabtree, Compton and Black back to the aid Jeep. I'll never forget the faces of the rest of my squad as they filed by my hole as they moved up the hill -- each of them with face taut and scared, wondering if they would be next. Two shells and four men in the squad gone.
The litter bearer finally came back for me, loaded me on the stretcher and started down the hill. I thought I could still walk and save them the load, but nothing doing, I was going to be carried -- around booby traps, across small streams, and down to the Jeep. From then on the same men who had ignored me when I wanted something for a cough, risked their lives to carry me as gentle as a baby and do everything possible for me. The regimental surgeon, who a few weeks ago would not even look at my throat when I had the cold, tucked blankets around me, asked if I were comfortable, if I'd like a drink of Schnapps or cognac, and insisted I smoke one of his cigarets. This all went on just a few hundred yards from where the shells were still falling. Nothing was too good for a wounded man! And that attitude remained from that time until two months later when I left the hospital.
I think the worst moment of fear I had was right here on this road waiting for the ambulance which would take me back to the clearing station. Four of us were lying along the road on stretchers (I think my three buddies had already gone back) when I heard a shell coming in. There I was, beginning to feel the shock of the wound and pain, one leg that probably wouldn't have carried me more than a few feet, the road on one side and a stream of water on the other. I never felt so helpless or exposed as I did then when all the medics ran for the woods and left us alone. I started to roll off the stretcher into the water when the shell landed -- a hundred yards or so up the road. The aid men came back then and moved us into a shelter where we waited for several hours for the ambulance to come back. We slept most of the time...the morphine was taking affect.
1st Battalion aid station near Reisdorf
Note: This scene looks very familiar to me! I think I am the soldier on the stretcher in foreground. The place is right (near Reisdorf), the scene is right (road, trees, bank), the time is right, and I think the man on the stretcher looks like me! I pretty well describe this scene on page 47 of MUD AND GUTS. AJC
Webmaster's note: This is not my book but I can't resist adding a comment here. I, too, recognize my father, Art Clayton, in this picture which was taken some five years before I was born! The man on the stretcher is clearly frowning with concern at the photographer. This is absolutely typical of my dad. As a young newspaper reporter/editor and photographer, Dad just never trusted anyone else to handle the camera correctly. The family has countless old black-and-white photos where Dad is peering at the photographer and frowning exactly as pictured here. -- Bruce Clayton
From Ed DeFoe, December 18,1991:
Ref: Page 45 MUD & GUTS
Holy Cow! I didn't know you guys had been hit...I guess everyone was trying to take care of his own body. I think this is where we made it up the hill and started down the other side. There was snow up there but as we looked down there was the greenest valley like looking at a picture, then, like God watching the goings on below, some guys (GIs or Krauts) were running back and forth on a bridge; then they climbed into a truck and with a great deal of speed, left the bridge and in a few minutes...POW! Good-bye bridge!
Oh, by the way...everybody was out of cigarettes, no water, but guess what? We did get mail and I got a check I had to sign so my wife could cash it for $65. Just what I needed so I could run to the store and pick up cigs and maybe a six-pack...or two...maybe take a cab so I could visit you guys in the hospital. Somehow, I had a hard time feeling sorry for you......
From Ed Fry, April 1986:
Ref: Page 45 MUD & GUTS
I always thought it was mortars coming in because I never heard or saw any tanks. Remember, we were marching up a blacktop road with a bank on the right side and the first rounds started coming in. That was my first experience with incoming fire and I was ready to dive for cover but noticed no one else did. So I asked the guys how they knew when one was headed for us and they said, "Don't worry, you'll know". Sure enough, the fifth or sixth round coming in sounded different and we all dove for cover. I think we then worked our way through a tank trap made by a lot of felled trees....no, we ended up in a little depression where the round came in that took you and the others out. All this time I kept wondering where the Seigfried Line was. After the medics took care of you fellows, we split up your ammo -- I had the grenade launcher and ammo from Foo's rifle, your BAR ammo and four rounds of bazooka from DeFoe (Ed at first understood that Ed DeFoe had also been wounded at this point..ajc). We climbed the hill through the woods and I almost fell into a trench, so well hidden you couldn't see it until you were right on it. We stayed in those trenches for three days, going back and forth, with only K rations and no water. Yet they brought up some mail the third day! (See Ed DeFoe's account and the $65 check! ajc). One morning early, I climbed out of the trench and shook dew from a real heavy fog off the pine needles into my helmet to get water. Also during that time they took the C Company commander out past us, apparently badly hurt and raising bloody hell...that didn't help moral too much. That was my baptism of fire.
The fourth morning while still dark we hit the road on the march and just before light, we could hear noises and see big blotches on the road at our feet. As it got light we could see horses all over the place and smashed equipment on and off the road. We later learned it was a horse-drawn artillery outfit that had been strafed by our Air Force the day before. Boy! The sights I remember! Horses bleeding from the nose like a running faucet; horses standing on their feet.... dead, a horse with a soldier still astride, laying on their side, burning.
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