10 November 1944
Every year now when the late fall winds bring the shift of
the cold north winds here to sunny southern California, my mind
wanders back to a period of time when I was not exactly enjoying
life in Uncle Sam's Army. I'm sure at one time or another we
all have infrequent reminders of those lost days of our misspent
youth. Don't get me wrong - the army wasn't all bad all of the
time, just most of the time. Besides, it was what the army had
me doing and where. On this one particular day it was bad, as
a matter of fact, very bad. The time was November of 1944 and
the place was just inside the Siegfried Line near the German
village of Baseweiler.
Somewhere among the cobwebs of the Army archives for World
War Two, some diligent clerk made an entry in my personnel record
that I was then performing a mandatory function of laying field
wire and maintaining the lines of telephone communication between
our Headquarters of Combat Command "A" and our subordinate
infantry, tank and artillery units. This esteemed position was
not one of my choosing but rather pure luck, bad luck. As was
repeated thousands of times over in classifying recruits, some
damn clerk making life and death decisions on a typewriter inserted
my name and MOS for assignment into the Table of Organization
for this armored division, known as Hell On Wheels, the US 2nd
Armored Division. How they managed to put the square peg in the
round hole I'll never know, but here I was for the "duration
plus six months" as it said on my enlistment form. A bitter
lesson in be careful what you ask for. Regardless, I was not
here of my choosing Old Lady Luck had done it to me once again,
known as the fickle finger of fate.
One day during a lull, a couple of us including Doug Donahue,
Larry Hull, Bill Veno and I decided to pay a visit to "The
Company." Because we were permanently assigned TDY (Temporary
Duty) to Headquarters Combat Command "A", we seldom
had the opportunity to visit our "company of record,"
this being a ledger entry on paper only, in the rear echelon.
We lived in two different worlds, separated by a mere 10 miles
at the time. This was an opportune time to locate them back in
the city of Heerlen, Holland, across the border from Germany;
safe from the sounds of gun fire. Bill Veno was the only old
timer among us; Larry Hull and Doug Donahue and I, having been
replacements were in reality strangers to the men and officers
of this outfit.
In retrospect, the men in the company were not hostile towards
us, but just seemed cold and indifferent as though we were outsiders
who intruded on their private domain. In a sense, we were strangers,
but fate had drawn us all together.
Appearance-wise, we showed up looking like a bunch of poor country
cousins looking for a handout, which we were. By comparison,
we were crummy looking next to these REMFs (Rear Echelon Mother
Fuckers). Our OD trousers were worn, greasy and shiny from six
months wear daily in the field since landing on the Normandy
beach. Their trousers were exceptionally clean and new in appearance.
Would you believe, some even had creases pressed into their pants!
We had hoped to obtain winter gear, particularly overshoes, plus
whatever else we could beg, borrow or steal. The chance of the
latter was zilch as they watched us too closely.
Veno went to the kitchen to see the Mess Sergeant, nicknamed
"Mama" due to his effeminate mannerisms. I thought
it was ironic that these "mothers" would call their
Chief Bellyrobber "Mama." Bill Veno was trying to put
the mooch on him for some real ground coffee bean coffee as we
were drinking instant coffee daily. He got a couple pounds only
after promising to loot a nice set of china for the Officers
Mess from unoccupied German homes; the former occupants having
fled across the Roer River.
Here these lucky characters in the Signal Company were enjoying
three hot meals every day, hot showers when wanted at the nearby
coal mines shower rooms for miners and sleeping in honest to
goodness beds. Many of the guys were making out with the town's
willing young women who had taken a shine to the new "liberators."
I noticed the First Soldier, Robert Koch, strutting around like
a peacock wearing a new tank jacket, an item in very short supply.
Something else caught my eye; he was wearing a pair of new cloth
covered galoshes to keep his tootsies dry and warm. That was
exactly why I had taken the ride for a pair of boots. Finding
the Supply Room, I asked the tall Supply Sergeant Youngman for
a pair of overshoes and he informed me that the company had already
received their single shipment of boots and they were all issued
and that he had no more coming. Something told me that "my
pair" had already been sold on the black-market. When I
asked how I was to obtain a pair of boots, he casually told me
to try the nearby Graves Registration Collecting Point where
they stripped the reusable equipment from dead soldiers. Reluctantly,
this is what I was later forced to do under the circumstances.
I found one size 10 boot in cloth and the other boot in rubber
size 10, hoping they would bring me better luck than the previous
Wandering around the Company area, the Wire Lieutenant, Nixon
Mc Neil, spotted us and asked Veno, our Corporal in charge, what
in the hell we were doing back there and not up in Germany where
we were assigned. Veno explained that we had driven back to hopefully
to draw badly needed winter gear only to learn that we were too
late and missed the boat and could not be issued anything. This
90 day wonder, a former cab driver from Oklahoma City, was also
the same asshole a month earlier who had requested Sergeant Earlie
J. Jones to have the wire team "obtain" (steal) some
piglets from the German farms to be eaten in their Officers Mess.
Not being a dog-robber nor brown-nosed, I refused to even consider
his asinine "order" to earn brownie-points. I thought;
eat your damn Spam like the rest of us.
All this was too much for me and I was eager to return to Krautland
with my friends in Hqs CCA and take my chances. Other than scrounging
some coffee, we were unable to neither mooch anything else nor
find any cumshaw we could use. What we were asked repeatedly,
"Got any Lugers to trade?" Other than a mutual desire
to return home alive we had very little in common in our respective
military experiences. They lived in a protected environment and
I seriously doubt any of them had ever heard a shot fired in
anger. Never explained to me was why our wire crew was not rotated
with other crews in the rear, as was the standard operating procedure
in other similar units. I believe it was the old army story of
"friends in higher places."
Several years ago at a national Division reunion, one of "them"
unknown to me came up and asked, "Don't I know you?"
I just smiled and answered, "No. I'm sure you don't."
The lyrics from one of Willie Nelson's ballads come to mind when
he sings, "Forgiving you was easy, but forgetting takes
the longest time." There are some things in life one never
A condensed and edited version of this article
(entitled As Time Goes By) appeared previously in Issue
#1, 1993, in the 2nd Armored Division Association Bulletin and
in a 1989 issue of the 3rd Armored Division Association Newsletter.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family