So quiet, so serene ...
So intensely silent I was filled with it body and soul. I heard
no sounds, no wind, no movement, nothing.
So tranquil ... so dark ...
"Where am I?" Did I say that aloud, or just in my
head? The silence was so thorough, the blackness so even, my
voice could not crack it.
Then I remembered the explosion. Our unit had breached the
dragons' teeth of the Siegfried Line. We were just outside Munsterbusch,
south of Aachen, Germany, taking the war home to the Fuehrer
and his henchmen.
It was the last day we were supposed to be in Europe. My crew
and I were being rotated stateside; Colonel Richardson wanted
us to be safe. "No spearheading today, Pool," he had
said. "You guys are heroes and I want you going home to
mama safe and sound. You take the flank." Seems he forgot
to tell the German troops with the 88 hidden behind the garage
I saw the door go up and I looked directly into the long snout
of the howitzer. Too late, I whispered to my driver, "Back
her up, Baby." The shell striking the turret sounded like
a cathedral bell. It hit our ammo racks full on.
"If it's this quiet, I must be dead." I tried to
make my brain work. "If this is Heaven, why aren't there
angels? How come there's no singing?" It was just quiet,
and it was dark, dark as the bottom of a well, or a dungeon,
or "Am I in Hell?" There was no crying, no agony, no
praying for mercy. Just silence.
Then a voice in the darkness, "Where are you bums? You
know you can't hide from the War Daddy."
Someone was there. I strained to hear more, to feel something.
Slowly, I felt myself emerging from the darkness. "War Daddy".
That was what my men called me. Who was talking about me? There
was a familiarity about that voice and those words.
It was my voice I had heard!
Another voice, calm, soft, gentle, soothing, "Take it
I must be alive. There was someone nearby.
"Who goes there?" I growled. "What's the password?"
"Take it easy, Sergeant. You've been wounded."
I could not move. I was beginning to get a sense of my body
- at least I had a body - but now it wouldn't move. I could feel
restraints, so I knew I wasn't paralyzed. Someone had me tied
down. "Let me up, you bast..."
"Calm down, Sergeant. You're alright."
I forced my eyes to open. There, in a misty haze directly
above me, stood an angel, all in white, complete with a white
crown on her head. I was right the first time; I am in Heaven!
Then the mist began to recede and the "angel" came
into focus-an Army nurse in her starched white uniform. I looked
around. White walls, windows, other beds. A hospital.
But we were just hit. My tank is still backing away from the
line of fire.
"Where am I?"
"You're in a hospital in England, Sergeant."
"Impossible, my men ... England? What day is this?"
"October 9th, Sarge," her kind voice was reassuring.
Nevertheless, she was wrong. It was September 19th. I remembered
that much. It was, after all, our last day in the European Theater
of Operations. We were to be in the States on October 1 for a
war bonds tour.
"Where are my men? Where is my crew?"
Over the months of training for the invasion and retaking
of Western Europe, I had assembled the most unlikely band of
brothers, the most motley of crews. They were misfits all, but
they were my "pups", and I had helped turn them into
the most formidable fighting crew in all of the Allied forces.
We were the supermen; we had proved Hitler wrong. We were
the invincible arm of the Lord's wrath. We were the battlefield
inheritors of the mounted knights of old-Gawain and Galahad and
Lancelot. We were the inheritors of their mantle of chivalry,
as well. We were fighting a war we saw simply as good against
In the manner of all tight-knit groups of our age, we had
given each other nicknames, small endearments that, in a later
age, would pass out of favor. I was the "War Daddy",
fierce and fearless leader of the boys of "In The Mood",
our tank. Actually, it was our third tank, all named "In
The Mood". The other two had been shot out from under us
in our bloody, muddy march across northern France and Belgium.
My driver was PFC Wilbert Richards, five foot four at full
attention. We called him "Baby". He could have parallel
parked that big Sherman in downtown New York in rush hour traffic.
Then there was Cpl. Bert "School Boy" Close, seventeen
years old, still with peach fuzz on his gentle face, co-driver
and machine gunner to the stars.
T/5 Del Boggs, my loader, had been arrested on manslaughter
charges. The court gave him the choice of prison or the military.
What could we call him but "Jailbird"?
Cpl. Willis Oller was my gunner. I often bragged that he could
shoot the eyebrows off a gnat at 1500 yards with our seventy-six
millimeter gun. He had seen every mile of the terrain we had
liberated between Normandy and the Rhine through the sights of
that big gun; he was always looking for targets, he was always
looking for a fight, always ready to fire. The imprint of tanker's
goggles permanently stained his face. We never referred to him
by any name but "Ground Hog".
"Where is my crew?" I demanded again. "Where
are my pups?"
"They're fine, Sarge. Just lie back and relax."
She was trying to be reassuring, and I was not having it.
"Don't give me that crock. The last thing I remember
is dressing "Ground Hog's" leg. He was hurt pretty
bad. Now I'm here in this ... Why am I here? And why can't I
move?" My voice was beginning to sound a bit more plaintive
than I wanted. But I was clearly not all right. Neither was Ground
Hog. How was the rest of my crew? Where were they?
"Where are my pups?" I barked. This time my voice
sounded more like the sergeant's voice I had trained and mastered.
Two big corpsmen came into view, one on either side of me.
They were holding me down. I also felt straps across my chest
and waist. "You were wounded in both legs and back, Sarge.
You were hurt pretty bad; we had to strap you down to keep you
"Wounded?" I roared. "I'm the War Daddy! The
Nazis haven't made the bullet with my name on it!" Suddenly
I remembered a conversation as we were preparing for another
spearhead assault, "It ain't the one with your name on it
you got to worry about, War Daddy. It's that one marked 'To Whom
It May Concern'."
My voice lost its bluster as I turned and looked imploringly
at the nurse, "Tell me straight, did my pups make it?"
She looked at me with an expression I could not read. Then
she smiled. She walked to the door. "Come on in you goof-offs.
You've been waiting nineteen days for this. Sergeant Pool's awake."
Through the door walked three of the ugliest, goofiest, craziest
... most hard-working, kind, thoughtful warriors ever put on
the planet. A five-foot-four redhead with an ear-to-ear grin
on his face led them. Behind him was that gangly, blue-eyed "School
Boy". Bringing up the rear was "Jail Bird".
Close took one look at the traction rig they had me in and
I saw a light go out in his eyes, and dark fury replace it. I
was sure no one would call him "School Boy" again.
"Jail Bird's" eyes had a steely glint as if he wanted
to take on the entire German army single-handed.
Only "Baby" could speak. 'War Daddy', I knew I'd
find you holding hands with a pretty nurse."His voice was
shaking as he added, "The SOB's. Why did they have to do
this to us?"
"'Baby," I asked. "Where's 'Ground Hog'?"
From outside the door came a voice I will know as long as
I draw breath, "Hey you guys! I asked you to wait for me.
You know I can't drive this darned chair so good."
Through the door, grinning broadly, rolled "Ground Hog"
Oller. "Hey, 'War Daddy'. I ain't never letting you doctor
me again. You got the roughest hands I've ever felt."
Tears built up and rolled down my cheeks. I wept unashamedly.
These were four men I was closer to than family. We had faced
death repeatedly together. We had brought death to countless
hundreds of our enemies who had sought to end our way of life.
We had given the Nazis pure hell from the beaches of Normandy
right to Hitler's front yard.
I tried to sound tough, "You bums were due in the States
to sell war bonds on the first. What are you doing goofing off
"Baby" replied gently, "'War Daddy', you know
we vowed that it was all or nothing. If we can't all go, none
of us will. We talked to the Colonel before we left Germany.
He's given us new jobs. I'm his driver now. Close will still
be my bow gunner and 'Jail Bird' is my loader. You remember that
Perkins guy, from when we were in the old 40th Regiment? He's
our new gunner.
"We've got to go now, 'War Daddy'. You and 'Ground Hog'
take it easy and get well."
The softness faded from his eyes and an intense distance replaced
it. Another generation of warriors would call it the "Thousand
Yard Stare". His voice retained its gentle affection, however.
He placed his hand on my chest as he added, "Me and the
others, well, we got us a war to win."
I saw versions of that same violent distance grow in each
man's eyes. Slowly, they turned and walked out the door. As the
door closed, I squeezed my eyes shut and whispered a small prayer,
"Lord, take care of them."
My "pups" were gone. Somehow, somewhere those boys
had grown into men; they had grown from scrappy pups to fighting
The enemies of freedom had a new problem. Hell was on the
line with a past due notice to serve.