Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Oldest Military Blogger in Carentan

The Newest Confliction

Why not!
These are my experiences in the Military that
have nothing to do with the shoot-em-up syndrome
that everyone expects and certainly not worth
writing about.
When the War was over in MAY,we were taken
out of Antwerp and shipped to Carentan, France
and assigned to a prisoner of war hospital where
some 850 Germans were recovering from wounds
after being treated, then housed and being
rehabilitated to normality.
We took out groups of those in good physical
shape to do some sort of manual labor to ease
their boredom and to keep them busy.
They helped widen narrow brooks in the area to
provide freer flowing water to farmers who used
the streams for irrigation of their new crops.
The prisoners also did maintenance to wooded areas
that were heavily damaged by shelling.
My first day on arrival, I had a group of ten Germans,
lead by a German Sgt.with a yellow armband to
signify his seniority, who was going to hand out long
handled shovels to the others, asked
me with a bow and a gesture to the shovels, "O.K.?"
I nodded in affirmation.
Each of the men came up to the truck, took
a shovel, shouldered it and followed
the Sgt on a hardly visible trail into the woods.
I was at the end of the line!
In a moment the Sgt. was out of sight!
Alone with my Carbine and 10 armed Germans
leading me into the woods like a sheep
to the slaughter.
Apprehension turned to anxiety when they
started singing in perfect unison a stirring
Wagnerian melody that sounded like a battle
cry to me.
As we got further into the brush, anxiety
turned to sweat when I realized they were
gaining on me!
Suddenly, we came to a narrow stream that
was carrying a large volume of water
very rapidly.
The Yellow armband pointed for me to go
under a tree and said, "Bitte", asking me
to please sit, with a hand motion and a knee
bending, partial squat.
I wasn't gong to sit!
I had to be on my guard!
I watched them deploy, 5 on each side of
the swollen brook to make the channel wider,
moving away from me, downstream, as a unit.
Two hours passed and they stopped for a
break at the command of the Sgt.
They produced food from nowhere and ate
while they sat on the higher bank of the
swirling waters on their unfamiliar route.
The leader offered me a sandwich of some
kind which I refused..
I ate a chocolate bar from my K Ration.
Break over,they went back to the section
that they had cleaned out, finished it off,
thoroughly, in a very German fashion, neat
and clean.
Outside of the footprints in the very soft
soil there was no evidence of anyone
having ever been there.
Beautiful day!
Plenty of shade!
I noticed that the men were wearing rubber
overshoes that were nearly invisible.
They were happy to be alive with 3 meals a day
They would be going home soon.

The Yellow Armband shook my shoulder!
"Bitte" he said.
I stood and followed them back to the Hospital.

On weekends they had a Bazaar,sanctioned
by the authorities but run by the Germans.
..As were their kitchens.
In fact, we used to go to the German Mess
where they had the same Rations we had
in our kitchens, but the preparation was like
comparing McDonald's to the Waldorf.
GIs came to the Bazaar to buy and
exchange stuff with the Germans.
When Okie and I went to to the large open grounds of
the Bazaar, in addition to the fact that we
were amazed by the industry and the neatness
of the area, there was a Barber Chair with a
GI getting his hair cut.
Seeing that the Barber was removing the
sheet wrapped around the man sitting in
the seat, I was prepared to be next.
The GI turned out to be an American
Captain with a Caduceus Insignia on his collar.
He gave the Barber the going rate,two cigarettes.
I sat down.
Carbine on my lap.
The hair cut was swift and clean taking a
few minutes.
When I stood, the German asked me with
an amusing smile,
"Shave, Sargent?"
He started stropping a straight edged razor
on a leather strap hooked on the side of the chair.
I looked into his dancing blue eyes,
glanced at the Carbine in Okie's lap,
then at Okie.
Okie shrugged, and slammed a cartridge into
the chamber.
"Yes" I said.
I sat.
He shaved.
I gave him 2 cigarettes, which he took
with some humility.
He half saluted with a little nod and said,
"Danke", we left.

Later I recalled.

There were much more than 100 people
in the area making lots of noise with
conversation, clatter and laughter that we
are familiar with in a gathering of this sort.

When that Round was loaded by that
Bolt Action, Time stood still.
There is something in the sound of the bolt
action loading a rifle that spells imminent Death.

The prisoners in the Hospital were immune
from further bloodshed after being treated
and tendered too and now with the war over,
no threat of any bodily harm.

The sound of the rifle action brought the
whole situation back to reality.
Someone could die here!
No one knew who it could be.
Everyone was happy when it was not him.


Red said...

Thank you so much for sharing your recollections, Sir.

Anonymous said...

You write with information about
which we would not otherwise know.Often wonder what soldiers do directly when the war is over.You give us a concise view of after-war assignments..and even then the extreme caution one takes while the "sting of war" is ever present...K

CI-Roller Dude said...

And to think I was issued the last WWII medal in the 1970's.
What for you ask?
The WWII Army of Occuptation in West Berlin, Germany.

Then, while in Bosnia in 2003-04, I worked with some Germans.

They were really good folks.

William said...

Thank you for the great post. My father( now passed) was with the 106th INF DIV. and was wounded in Dec. 1944 at Saint Vith, Belgium.

Your post certainly proves the point that if Generals and Politicians had to do the fighting there would be no war.

Again Thank you for your service.

US Army 66-70
Vietnam Veteran 69-70

Proud father of a Paratrooper with the 82nd ABN. DIV.

Shaun Baker said...

What an outstanding blog. You sir have a gift for writing. Keep it up. A request. Do you have any photos of yourself "back in the day?" I probably speak for many readers in saying we sure would like to put some faces to these memorable characters and events!

Thank you for your service, and keep on bloggin'

membrain said...

Another great post Finnegan. You put flesh on the bones of history.
Thanks again for your service and for sharing with us.

Anonymous said...

It is remarkable, it is the valuable information

seeslime said...

You are a great historian and I thank you for your unselfish story-telling talent. I will be taking my 16 year old grandson to Normandy In June to fulfill his dream of seeing the D=Day beaches for himself. Even at his young age, he recognizes what has gone before him to keep the American dream alive and well. Thank you for your service and keep writing!