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Wayne Van Dyke
Many Americans, reading their morning newspapers on Monday, January 15, 1945 overlooked the small communiqué which merely stated, “American armored units by-passed Noville Belgium”. There were, perhaps, some few Americans who knew that it was Company B, 41st Tank Battalion, 11th Armored Division to which the communiqué referred. If any of these people had sons, sweethearts, and loved ones in this valiant combat company they probably heaved a sigh of relief, and thought “at least it was quiet yesterday, and perhaps no one got hurt”.
Communiqués have a habit of being brief. They do not reveal all the story. They omit the bloody details because such news would be bad for home moral-- and we must keep the moral high at home.
The communiqué actually meant Company B engaged in battle around and inside Noville. They fought, and lost. They were unsuccessful in capturing the town so they by-passed it. Here is what actually happened.
The battle for Noville was only a small segment in the over-all fight to close the bulge. The objective of General Patton's Third Army was to drive North up the Bastogne road to Houffalize, Belgium, and there link up with the First Army driving south. This would close the bulge and trap all German units to the west. It was sound strategy, but the Germans were not neophytes at military science and tactics. They readily recognized the strategy and were determined to prevent it. They fought like men possessed. They grudgingly contested every square foot of terrain, and took a frightening toll of American life and equipment in exchange for each American advance.
The story of Noville actually began after dark on the 13th. The 41st Tank Battalion had just completed a few precious days in a rest area some two to three kilometers behind the front lines when orders came down to move out and assemble in an area near Foy, Belgium. It was to be a short move which, according to plans, should be completed in an hour or so, affording the men the remainder of the night to rest and prepare for the ensuing fight. It is odd, but in the army few things happen according to plan. This maneuver was no exception. It was winter and the roads were a sheet of ice, and Belgium roads were not conducive to the movement of heavy tanks. The center of the roads were higher than the edges (an ingenious invention to allow water to run off) and a deep culvert had been dug along the sides. As long as the tank straddled the center perfectly it could stay in the road, but the instant it got a little off center it slid off the road and into the culvert. Then began the almost impossible task of pulling the tank back onto the road. The short two and one-half kilometer trip became a nightmare of slipping and sliding, of cursing and back breaking toil. Funny how such a formidable giant as a 32-ton tank becomes so helpless on an icy road--like a baby when it first attempts to walk.
It was already daylight when Company B finally pulled off the road and stopped in their assembly area. A tired, cold, and wet conglomeration of flesh and bone.
“How about starting that stove and making some hot coffee, Abers?” Sgt. Heady's voice was gruff. “I have to check with the C.O.”
Sgt. Heady was platoon sergeant of the 1st platoon. He was a Texan, and perhaps loved the Army as much as anyone could under these trying circumstances. He was short for a Texan, perhaps 5 feet 5, of average build and with cold, blue eyes that had a habit of seeing completely through a person when he looked at them. He had made bitter enemies in the company during training days at Camp Cook, but in combat everyone wearing the same color uniform is your friend. Personal hatreds had been postponed in order to deal first with the common enemy--mans salvation for man.
PFC Abers began fumbling with the stove, and soon had boiling water for coffee. The gunner was busy checking his sights and stabilizer in preparation for the expected fight. He was efficient and performed his duties like a veteran, although his combat experience totaled seven days.
“It seems like seven years”, he thought, “since we triumphantly drove the tanks through the streets of Paris amid the cheers and friendly greetings of the populace. Ah, what a city--Paree. The queen of them all. Some day I'm going to return and really see that place. I'll lie in the sun for hours along the bank of the Seine drinking wine and cognac, and just watching the girls walk by. Girls, gads, I've forgotten what one feels like, or even looks like for that matter.”
The driver finished filling the gas tanks and stood outside the turret looking toward the German lines. His real name was Robert E. Lee Lawrence, but all his friends called him Lawrence. He was a Southerner, and had spent his entire life, before enlisting in the army that is, on a small farm in Tennessee. His actions were slow and seemingly awkward. He was of even temperament and well liked by all the men of Company B, even though he was made the butt of many jokes. During training days he was probably sent for more left handed tread splicers and automatic turret twisters than any tanker in the army. But he never became angry; in fact he seemed to enjoy being fooled. Perhaps it gave him a feeling of importance. Important and necessary. As if he were not available the joke would not go over and the fellows would be disappointed.
“Man, I'll bet there's a million of 'em just sitting over that hill waiting for us,” Lawrence said; talking more to himself than to anyone in particular.
“Million of what?” asked the gunner.
“Germans, that's what--a whole million of ‘em. And each one with a panzer-faust. And I'll bet they're drawing straws right now to see who gets first shot at us. Aim for the white star, Krauts.”
Lawrence was referring to the large white star painted on the front and sides of the M4 tanks. The purpose of this star, according to the Army Manual, was to identify the vehicle to friendly forces. It may have served this purpose well, but it was also used as a target bull's-eye by German anti-tank gunners.
Lawrence continued, “Man, what a target. Thirty-two tons of stupid steel. Nothing more than a damn match box. I hate the tanks.”
“Why don't you join the Infantry, then,” asked Abers as he stuck his head out of his escape hatch. “I'll tell you why you won’t join the Infantry. Because you love the tanks, that's why. Because you love every stinking tank in this stinking army, that's why. Hell, you'd be lost without a gas pedal under your foot, you lousy cowboy.”
“Don't be too sure, Abers,” retorted the driver. “Don't bet any money, 'cause just as soon as I see the old man I'm asking for a transfer to the Infantry.''
“You'd be scared to death in the Infantry with all those bullets flying around and you without three inches of steel in front to protect you,” said Abers.
“Three inches of steel! A lot of protecting it does. I've yet to see an 88 bounce off. Give me the Infantry where you only have to worry about small arms,” replied the driver.
The bow gunner returned from a short foraging expedition empty handed. He was 19 years old, of slight build and blond hair. “What's all that noise over the hill, Lawrence?” he asked the driver.
“Sounds like ack-ack and airplanes,” replied Lawrence. “Hope to Hell at least the planes are ours.”
“Don't worry, Paley,” chirped Abers, “either the planes or the guns are ours, that's for sure. Either way we lose.”
“Get the rations from the carrier, Joe. Abers has hot water. We’ll try to grab a bite of breakfast,” said the gunner. The gunner had checked everything, and was satisfied with the results.
“What will it be today, Gents?” teased Joe as he passed out one box of K rations to each of the other three, “our selection is limited, but it is all Grade A Government Inspected.”
“Yea, Grade “A” Government Inspected authentic dehydrated eggs, with Grade “A” Government Inspected pure Wisconsin cheese. Home was never like this,” answered the gunner.
“At least,” said Joe, “our mess sergeant can’t ruin this meal.”
“Hell, no,” volunteered Abers, “some mess sergeant back in the States already ruined it, then put it in neat little packages and sent it to us. Special.”
“I wonder what “K” ration means,” asked Joe.
“I don't know exactly,” answered Lawrence, “but I believe they kept inventing new rations and gave each one a different letter to identify it.”
“Naw, that ain't right,” stated Abers. “K means kill. It's the “K” rations they give you when they expect you to get killed. Back home on maneuvers they fed us “C” rations. That meant camp rations.”
“It can't be that simple” said Joe, “nothing in the army is that simple.”
“Whatayamean, nothing in the army is simple. The whole army is simple. A simple army full of stinking simple guys.” Abers had an answer for everything.
“How about another cup of GI coffee, Abers?” asked the gunner. “Boy, when I get out of the army I'll never drink another cup of coffee.”
“Me too, Abers,” piped Joe. “Save some of that Abers, just in case I get wounded. It tastes so much like iodine I'm sure it will kill germs.”
“You're the only germ it'll ever kill,” retorted Abers.
“You know, Abers, for a man with an 8th grade education you actually talk stupid at times,” replied Joe.
“Watch yourself, BOG don't you realize your life is in my hands? Why, I could get all you guys killed by not feeding ole Bessie. Yesiree, when we meet those Tiger Tanks it's me and Bessie that says whether you guys live or die,” said Abers.
“You may feed Bessie, Abers, but you don't tell her where to shoot, and that's what counts,” Joe was becoming tired of this conversation.
“Don't need to tell her,” replied Abers, “my Bessie is educated. She smells out the Krauts-and never misses.”
Sgt. Heady stepped on the rear bogey wheel and pulled himself up. He had returned from his conversation with the C.O. He was drinking a canteen cup of hot coffee. The steam rising from the coffee quickly disappeared in the cold winter air.
“Turn 'em over,” Heady said, “We're moving out.”
There was a momentary scramble while everyone got to their respective places inside the tank. Abers was automatically delegated to clean up the breakfast remains.
The company moved out in column and advanced about 400 yards across the drifting snow. Each tank following in the tracks of the preceding tank. They took up positions in line along the crest of a hill. About ¼ mile ahead stood the remains of the small town of Foy. Black smoke was rising from the center of town. It was being fed by half a dozen fires that were burning uncontrolled. The airplanes had disappeared, and as far as Co. B knew the Germans remained in the town. It was now up to the tanks of Co. B to clear the enemy from Foy.
Baker Company was ready. As ready as they ever would be. Veterans all. But then, everyone is a veteran after the first two minutes of combat.
The gunner kept slowly traversing the turret back and forth, back and forth, scanning the town to pick up any targets. Nothing was moving in the town. Sgt. Heady had his binoculars focused, and was peering intently at the burning houses. No sign of the Germans. Abers was fondly patting the machine gun. It was ready for action. The 75 was loaded with HE and three additional rounds were in the ready rack at his feet. No one spoke a word. Five men, five pairs of eyes, straining through binoculars, sights, and periscopes at a doomed, seemingly deserted, burning town.
They remained in this position for nearly an hour.
“It is all so futile,” thought the gunner. “We sweat and strain, and fight and die. For what? For democracy? Ha, that's a laugh. For the right to live the kind of life we want to live? Don't be a dope. They wouldn't even allow me to vote. Too young to vote, but not too young to die. It doesn't make sense. It just doesn't make sense.
“I wonder where the Germans are hiding. They certainly know we are here. What are they waiting for? All they have to do is shoot. One shot and it's all over for us. I hope it's a big one. A big one that blows me into a million pieces. I don't want to suffer. God, I'm scared. Can't seem to keep from shaking. I'm cold and wet and tired. When will this war ever end.”
Sgt. Heady laid the binoculars on top of the turret and bent his head down inside the tank. The strain was evident on his face.
“See anything?” he asked the gunner. The gunner merely shook his head in the negative.
“Wish we weren't on radio silence,” Sgt. Heady stated as he fumbled with the knobs on the radio. “I hate this damn silence.”
The flames in town continued to grow as one building after the other was fed into the unsatiated inferno. The fire became a monster, destroying everything, sparing nothing, and forever seeking more food on which to thrive.
“The Germans must have retreated,” offered Abers. “They must have seen us and knew the jig was up. When old Abers and Bessie comes on the scene all resistance disappears.”
“It certainly looks that way,” Sgt. Heady answered. “If they were in that town we would have known about it before now.''
The radio finally broke the silence. “Baker 1, this is King, over.” It was Major Koffman.
“King, this is Baker 1, over,” the C.O. replied. His voice sounded nervous. He should be, this was his first time out leading a company in combat; and him a supply officer. Oh, the unfairness of it all.
“Baker 1, move your horses to grids 542-321 according to plan 2, over.” Major Koffman was a civilian turned soldier like all the rest of us, but he was well acquainted with responsibility. He wore the cloak of authority well.
“But, I don't understand, Sir,” protested the C.O.
“To grids 542-321 Baker 1, over and out,” came the crisp reply.
“Wilco,” echoed the C.O. meekly.
War is not for the meek, or the weak at heart, but the meek fight and bleed and die. Not because they want to; not because they enjoy it. They do it because they can not figure out an alternative. And when they come face to face with the enemy they shoot--and hope to kill him before he kills them. Why do they kill? Not because they want to kill, but because they want to live. They, too, realize that the only way to survive this lousy war is to kill--.kill--kill.
Again the company moves out. It is now almost twelve o'clock and not a shot has been fired. Nevertheless, every man in the company knows a war is going on. The strain and the fear, that is still with them. True, they are still alive, but they have all died many times this day from fear alone. They have died inside and are now only awaiting the fatal piece of steel to make the job complete, final, eternal. Sweet dreams, love.
The tanks move slowly across the snow covered terrain in single file. Although the maneuver is through friendly territory each gunner is alert and continually traverses the turret back and forth in 90° arcs. Since the periscope limits his field of vision he must continually traverse in order to see what lies immediately to the flanks. A good gunner is not taken by surprise. And if taken by surprise he is no longer a good gunner--he is no longer a gunner. He is no longer a living human being. He reverts to dust.
“It's all so simple,” thinks the gunner. “We are all like a flock of sheep in the stock yards. We eat and sleep and move around in our pens. We have no place to go except to be slaughtered. We are just passing time waiting for our turn to come--and it will come. There is no escaping. It will come. It is all a matter of time--a matter of time and waiting.”
The tanks pull into position along a tree line. Again they are on the crest of a hill, just high enough for the gunner to see and shoot over the hill; just high enough to expose only the tank turret to enemy fire. The smaller the target the more difficult it is for the enemy to hit them, and the greater the possibility of seeing the sun rise tomorrow.
Below the line of tanks lies the village of Noville. Merely the skeleton of a town with walls standing, but few roofs. It is obvious that the insides of the buildings are a mass of twisted timbers and debris. The Germans, as usual, are living in the cellars. Funny how man seeks the comfort of earth's bosom for protection. Dig deep you Krauts. Crawl in your deep holes and sleep. But don't sleep too soundly. One can't sleep too soundly during a war. Sound sleep leads to eternal sleep.
Across the valley from B Company another hill rises. It is not as high as B Company's hill, and is covered with evergreens. To the right, and extending halfway down the valley is another wooded area.
The right flank of B Company is guarded by two tanks. They are facing the woods rather than the town of Noville. The left flank and rear is guarded by the third platoon. The stage is set.
Radio silence has been ordered and is strictly enforced. Although the radio has been turned on all day the only sound that emitted from it was the brief conversation between Major Koffman and the C.O. at noon.
No activity can be detected in Noville.
“They should invent binoculars that could see through brick walls, see in cellars, and see through trees,” remarked the gunner.
“They should invent binoculars that can spot Germans,” replied Sgt. Heady. “That's all, just spot Germans.”
“What's the scoop, Sarge?” asked Abers. “I mean the real scoop. Hell, we've been sitting and looking all day. My Bessie has been loaded since morning and not fired once. What's the scoop?”
“To tell the truth,” answered Heady, “I don't know. That town down in the valley is Noville, our objective. We are supposed to act as cover and support fire while our infantry battalion attacks the town. I don't know where the infantry is, but they better hurry up before it gets dark. If they don't ---------------.”
Heady’s words were drowned out by the tanks on the right flank firing rapid fire machine gun bursts into the woods. They were almost immediately joined by the tanks on the crest of the hill which were pulling around into position. Lawrence cranked up and moved back a few feet down the hill, then swung around to the right.
The gunner could see the German infantry then. They were using the woods as concealment in an effort to get close enough to engage B Company. Fortunately, the right flank guard spotted them before they could perform their treachery. It was difficult to determine the number of Germans in the woods, but from the scurrying, and movement the gunner estimated there was at least a platoon of them.
Most of the tanks were mixing up their fire, sending rounds of delayed HE into the woods, plus bursts of machine gun fire. The 75 millimeter HE would hit the tree tops, drop and explode; shrapnel would then do the dirty work. The Germans were caught in a devastating fire. They could not fight back. They could only try to escape and survive. Their primary objective was survival. Survival by digging in was useless. The HE was bursting above ground, making a fox-hole or slit trench a grave. Their only hope of escape was to get back deep in the woods and pray. Pray that a stray bullet or piece of shrapnel would not find them.
The gunner was not aiming at any specific target. He sprayed the woods with the machine gun in a systematic manner. He could see the Germans dropping as his bullets tore into their bodies. He fired, and fired, and fired until he could no longer see any dark green uniforms moving. Then he stopped shooting, but kept traversing the turret back and forth just in case he might have missed one.
What makes a man wearing one color uniform kill a man wearing a different color uniform? Is it anger? Is it hate? Is it lust for blood? No, none of these. How can you be angry, or hate a person you have never seen? How can you lust for blood when the mere sight of it turns your stomach and nauseates you?
One man kills another because they are no longer men. They have been transformed by fear and propaganda into animals, and, as animals they react accordingly. They have reverted to primitive passions and become guided by their animal instincts and emotions rather than by reasoning. Man’s mental development, that has evolved through thousands of years is whisked away in a few moments. When he sees the enemy his feelings of “love thy brother” vanish and he becomes as the predator ready to pounce on the unsuspecting victim. War is truly beastly--a game of survival of the fittest.
The engagement was of short duration. Firing ceased almost as quickly as it had begun. Most of the German infantrymen were lying dead or seriously wounded. The snow on the ground between the trees had taken on a crimson color.
Two American jeeps drove up to the edge of the trees. Four helmeted GI's dashed from the jeeps, and into the woods; the red crosses on their steel helmets plainly visible. The mission of the tanks was over--the mission of the stretcher bearers was just beginning.
The tanks pulled back along the crest of the hill, and the job of waiting--of watching and waiting--continued as if never interrupted.
The gunner, tiring temporarily from his task, stuck his head out of the turret. He was watching the corpsmen bring the wounded Germans out of the woods on the stretchers, tie the stretchers on the jeeps, and frantically drive off. As one jeep left another drove up to get its load of bloody, wounded and maimed.
“Ah, those lucky Germans,” he thought, “for them the war is over. They will be taken back to the aid station, fed three hot meals a day, and nursed back to health by some luscious nurse. That's the way I want it--a wound and the rest area. Maybe a leg wound or in the arm. Maybe even have a leg or arm amputated. That would be better than sweating out the war. That would be the end of the war for me, and I would still be alive. It's not so bad to lose an arm or a leg--and the war would be over for me. I could go back home. No more fear; no more cold sleepless nights; no more war--and I could go home. Oh, you lucky Germans.”
The corpsmen were still busy evacuating the wounded Germans. The gunner ducked back inside the tank, and again took up the vigil. Still no sign of life in Noville.
War is primarily a game of waiting. Some fighting, but mostly waiting. The men of B Company were acclimated to this task, and like all good soldiers accepted it as just another undesirable characteristic of war.
At first, waiting gets on your nerves. It builds up tension until you have the urge to jump out of the tank, and run headlong toward the Germans. It gets so unbearable you resign yourself to prefer death to the quiet waiting. Perhaps this is good. Perhaps this makes dying easier. And for
most it is so painful to die.
The quiet was soon interrupted by one shot. Sgt. Heady heard it, the gunner heard it, Abers, Lawrence and Joe. They all heard it, but those inside the tank paid no attention and continued surveying the town and the wooded area across the valley.
Sgt. Heady turned and looked to his right, from where the sound of the shot had come. Immediately he realized that Sgt. Robinson's tank had been hit. Sgt. Robinson's tank was one of the two tanks guarding the right flank.
He saw the bow gunner and driver leap from the tank and take cover alongside another tank on the crest of the hill. He waited and watched. No sign of Sgt. Robinson, or Freddie the gunner, or little Sam the loader.
“Musta got hit in the turret,” thought Heady. “Musta got Robinson and the others. Damn, he was a good man. Usta go to L.A. with him. He was a good man.”
A corpsman jumped on top of Sgt. Robinson's tank and looked inside. He then jumped back to the ground, and continued evacuating the wounded Germans from the woods. Apparently nothing more could be done for Sgt. Robinson, or the other two in the turret.
That is one advantage of being in the tank corps, if one is trying to rationalize his presence in this glamourless branch of service. There is little suffering. A shell enters and explodes inside, and what was a second ago three live men, becomes a unified pool of blood and flesh. No suffering as the infantryman experiences when wounded by a mine or small arms fire. All, or nothing at all. That should be the tanker’s motto. Either he lives today, or he dies. Nothing in between. One or the other. No compromise.
Sgt. Powers passes slowly behind Sgt. Heady's tank. He has reported to the C.O., and is walking back to his tank. Since radio silence has been proclaimed messages must be sent between the tanks by foot. Sgt. Powers' tank was next to Sgt. Robinson's tank when the latter was killed; therefore, his duty demanded he relate the circumstances to the C.O.
“Hey, Jim,” Sgt. Heady called. “What happened to Robinson?”
“It was a Tiger, Max,” Powers replied. “It came form the woods, and came out just far enough to hit Robinson. Then it withdrew before we were able to shoot back. I saw it disappear into the woods, but couldn't shoot. It must have been supporting the infantry we spotted earlier.”
“Just one shot?” asked Heady.
“Yeah--point blank. The 88 made one neat round hole just above the gunner’s head. It was fired at such close range it almost went out the other side of the turret. I looked inside. Couldn't even find enough of anybody to identify him. Just a mass of blood and flesh. They didn't know what hit them. I was talking to Robbie a few minutes before it happened. He had suggested we move farther to the right so we could see around the woods. A premonition, perhaps. I had advised against it because it would put us too far from the rest of the company.”
“If we had moved,” he continued, “Robinson would probably be alive now, but some other tank would have gotten it. That Tiger planned to knock off one tank, and withdraw before we could shoot back. It just happened to be Robinson, that's all. But that's the way it goes--here today, gone tomorrow.”
“Yeah, that's the way it goes alright,” echoed Heady, “that's the way it goes.”
Sgt. Powers plodded off toward his tank, his head bent. He would not soon forget this day, or the sight he saw inside the turret of Robinson's tank.
The gunner had heard Sgt. Powers, story. He broke out in a cold sweat. His hands trembled, his legs felt weak and numbed, as if the blood circulation had been squeezed off. It felt like a huge hollow cavern suddenly opened up in the pit of his stomach. He was not a killer. He was not a brave hero, nor did he care to be one. He was scared and he knew it. He was scared and he showed it.
“It might have been us,” he thought. “It could just as easily have been our tank. I wonder how it feels to die. I wonder if suddenly you feel warm all over, and sleepy, and peaceful, and contented, That's the way it must be. That's the way Robinson must feel now. Warm and contented, and perhaps just a little tired. But that's ok, Robinson. It's ok to feel tired, because now you will have plenty of time to rest and sleep. Sleep; quiet, peaceful sleep. So long, Robinson, see you later.''
Abers began unwrapping a “D” ration--a bar of concentrated chocolate. He performed his duty in silence, which was unusual for Abers. Between bites of hard chocolate he drank from his canteen. The better to swallow the unpalatable ration. The remainder of the crew sat in silence continually watching the town and the woods beyond the valley.
The afternoon passed with only minor incident. Around 4 P.M. a Mark V tank left the woods on the other side of the valley, and headed toward Noville. It was spotted immediately by the tanks, even though it had been whitewashed to help camouflage it.
Every tank in line opened fire with Armor Piercing (AP) and HE shells. The gunner had previously estimated the range to the edge of town, and also to the woods. He had done this shortly after pulling into line on the crest of the hill for just such an emergency as this. He did not wait for a fire command from Sgt. Heady, but rather lined the sight up a few feet in front of the moving target, and stepped on the solenoid.
His first shot was slightly over and behind the German tank. He had not accurately judged the speed of the moving target. Shell bursts from the other tanks hit around the target, most of them falling much too short. The range was over 1,500 yards, and the other gunners had underestimated it.
Abers rammed another shell into the breach, almost before the gun finished recoil. In one smooth, continuous movement he had the gun loaded, and had another round in his hands. This finesse came from practice--months of practice loading in camp and in combat.
The gunner adjusted for his error, and again stepped on the solenoid. The second shot was a near miss, hitting the ground in front of the Mark V, and ricocheting harmlessly into the woods.
By this time the German tank was nearing the edge of town. The gunner knew he would get just one more shot before the target disappeared among the rubble of Noville. He lined the cross hairs of his sight just under the turret of the Mark V, range 1,200 yards, lead 10 mils, and fired. His gunnery training was coming in handy. If his calculations were correct, and with a little luck, he could stop that tank.
His calculations proved accurate. The AP shell hit the side of the Mark V, but instead of penetrating the armor and exploding inside the tank, it glanced off. The side of the German Tank was at an angle to the flight of the shell--too much of an angle to allow the steel nose of the AP shell to penetrate. The tank was now lost from view. It had successfully bridged the open expanse under fire from six American tanks without sustaining a single hit. Near misses only count in horseshoes, and this was not a game of horseshoes.
This made the situation in Noville much worse. In addition to dug in infantry, the American forces now had to contend with at least one German tank. Perhaps this would call for a change in strategy. Sgt. Heady, being platoon sergeant, climbed out of the turret, jumped to the ground, and ran to the platoon leader’s tank to be briefed on any change in plans. The gunner stood up and took Heady's vacated place in the turret. He picked up the binoculars and focused them at Noville, hoping to detect a glimpse of that elusive Mark V. His efforts proved hopeless. He was no more successful with the binoculars than he had been with the gun sight.
Abers tossed the three empty shell cases out the port hole, then leaned out his escape hatch and said, “at least you gave the bastards a good scare. Something they won't forget for a few hours.”
“Hey, dump this for me, will you Abers?” Lawrence called. Abers bent down and came up with the bottom half of a metal cartridge box.
Tankers in combat seldom leave the confines of their steel prison. They eat, sleep, fight and live cramped together in an area so small they can hardly move around. And when the time comes to urinate, they perform this bodily function without getting outside their tanks. Empty cartridge boxes act as the camode for urination and defecation, and after being used are discarded. Field expedients, the Army Manual says, but “damn handy” is the explanation of the tanker.
Lawrence had used the cartridge box, and had asked Abers to dispose of it since Lawrence was buttoned up in the driver’s compartment.
“Damn it,” sneered Abers as he tossed the box and its liquid contents to the ground. “I've got the lousiest job in the army. I'm supposed to be a loader. My job is to keep old Bessie here in business. And that's what I do. That's what Uncle Sam pays me for. But you guys make me do any other dirty job that no one else wants to do. When it comes time for coffee who makes hot water? Old Abers does--that's who. But don't get me wrong, I don't mind playing mess sergeant for you guys. Hell, I'd rather make the coffee than try to drink any mixture you helpless guys brewed up. But I do draw the line at being latrine orderly. That's one dirty job I don't want. If you guys fill a cartridge box then you empty it. Don't hand it upstairs to Abers. And that goes for you too, Lawrence. I resign as latrine orderly as of this minute. Next time you hand me a cartridge box it had better be full of machine gun ammunition or you get it back, right down the back of your neck. Comprende?”
Lawrence did not answer. No use starting an argument--especially with Abers.
Sgt. Heady had been gone almost an hour. It was getting dusk when he returned and stepped down into the turret.
“What a screwed-up deal,” he volunteered. “Nobody seems to know what is going on. With radio silence the C.O. can't call the battalion commander and find out what the score is. The Infantry Company that was supposed to attack the town hasn't shown up, and nobody seems to know where they are. The C.O. doesn't even know where Company A is, or the rest of the battalion for that matter. It's just as if they left us here and went off to fight the war someplace else. The C.O. sent a tank from the third platoon back to Foy to try and establish contact with the battalion.”
“Hope they remember where we are before they capture Berlin,” joked Abers. “We may need more rations by that time. Hell, I don't mind sitting out the war on this hill. I'm beginning to like the view across that valley. Think maybe I could settle down here and retire for life. I might buy a cow or two, and a mule for Lawrence, just to make him feel at home. No, this is a nice, cozy spot.”
“Don't start building your house yet, Abers,” Heady said. “They'll remember about us when they need another town captured. Still, I haven't heard any firing since noon. Must not be much resistance, or else the battalion ain't moving today.”
At last radio silence was broken. Major Koffman's voice was clear and sharp.
“Baker 1, Baker 1, this is King, over.”
“King, this is Baker 1.”
“Baker 1, objective is secure. I repeat ob-jec-tive se-cure. Roundup northwest of objective, over.”
“Wilco,” replied the C.O.
“Better snap it up, Baker. Over and out.”
The major was always in a hurry. Hurry up and wait. Hurry up to fight. Hurry up to die. Hurry. Hurry.
The gunner heaved a sigh of relief. This meant the end of the day’s activity. This meant they had survived today. Chances were good they would see the sun tomorrow. But tomorrow was another day. Whether or not they would live through the next day was debatable. Tomorrow was a long time off.
In the time comparisons of a soldier in combat, tomorrow seemed a lifetime away. They live from second to second, and minute to minute. Hours seem like weeks, and days--days are eternities.
“Crank 'em up and move out in column. Follow my lead. Third platoon first, then first platoon, and then second platoon.” The C.O. did not sound sure of himself.
Lawrence started up the engine, and backed off the crest of the hill. He fell in behind the last third platoon tank, and began moving toward the road. The gunner pointed the turret to the front, and secured the gun in travel lock. Abers removed the round from the 75, and put it back into the ready rack. He then removed the ammunition belt from the machine gun.
These precautions were always taken when the tanks moved in column. It was a safety device to protect those tanks in front, from accidental firing of the 75 millimeter or the machine gun.
When the tanks reached the road they turned right, and followed the road into Noville. It was almost dark now, and everyone was tired. The gunner was resting his head against the side of the turret in an attempt to relax.
It was difficult to relax during combat; the fear and anxiety that goes with danger prohibits it. But at the end of each day this fear abates somewhat, and tension ebbs. A person is then able to forget, for the moment at least, that a war is going on. It is at this time that the body goes completely limp, and you temporarily loose control of your mind and muscles. It is a feeling somewhat akin to the ecstasy experienced after indulging in a marihuana cigarette. And like dope, it only lasts for a few precious moments before you are again brought back to reality.
How beautiful is this world of our imagination, and how wonderful is life's experiences. In our imagination we can swiftly travel anywhere- to real or fictional places. We can do anything, be anyone from a pauper to a king, and experience any emotion. How unfortunate that life is reality; a dull, drab existence full of sadness and hate. Why can't it be imaginary and exciting; why, oh, why?
The gunner is aroused from his lethargy by a blinding flash inside the tank. A brilliant white light criss-crossed with minute red particles. The tank lurches to one side and stops dead in the middle of the road.
The next instant the gunner finds himself huddled along a low stone wall near the edge of the road. Sgt. Heady and Abers are crouched near him. He can not recall how he got there, and why, for that matter. The tank is burning, and lights up the area with a cold somber light.
The gunner reasons that the tank was hit with an anti-tank shell. Everything happened so quickly and so spontaneously that his mind is still a blur. He does not remember getting out of the tank, but evidently did this as a reflex to the blinding flash.
A moan is heard from the tank, and turning his head in that direction the gunner observes Lawrence lifting himself out of the driver's escape hatch. Joe is crawling slowly toward them.
The numbness in the gunner's hands and feet, and the black void in his mind begins to disappear.
“My leg, my leg,” moans Joe as he crawls up to the wall. “I've been hit in the leg.”
The gunner reaches for his first aid packet, which he has always worn on his cartridge belt. Frantically he opens it and removes the morphine syrette. The needle is broken. It can not be used. In despair he casts it aside.
Sgt. Heady and Abers help Lawrence to the wall. Even though the light from the burning tank illuminates the five shocked and wounded men, it flickers too much to afford the gunner a good view of the wound in Joe's leg. From what he is able to see it appears both of Joe's feet are a twisted, bloody mass of overshoes, fabric and blood.
Sgt. Heady rips open his first aid packet, and removes the morphine Syrette. It also has become broken, and can not be used.
The ammunition in the burning tank is beginning to burn and explode. The bursting machine gun bullets sound like the Fourth of July when an entire package of firecrackers is lit, and the firecrackers exploded in rapid succession. This noise is interrupted frequently by a loud report as a round of 75 ignites. The tank rocks with each exploding round, then steadies itself as if waiting for the next impact.
“Abers,” Heady commanded. “Get two syrettes from Powers' tank. Hurry.'?
Sgt. Powers’ tank was immediately behind Heady's. It stopped as soon as Heady's tank was hit. Since Heady's was in the middle of the street, and the street was narrow to begin with, the tanks behind could not pass. Also, the five tanks in front could not back out of the town; therefore, they continued forward.
Abers jumped up and ran back to Powers’ tank for the syrettes. Lawrence and Joe were visibly in pain, especially Lawrence. He kept moaning.
The anti-tank shell apparently hit very low, and exploded on the driver's side near the floor. He was obviously the more seriously wounded. Heady, Abers and the gunner, being in the turret, were unscratched.
The vacated tank was now burning fiercely. The tempo of exploding 75 millimeter shells had picked up until now it was almost continuous.
A lone German infantryman came around the corner of the wall, and was walking toward the four huddled Americans. He obviously did not see them at first, nor did he see the tanks in the street. Upon noticing the enemy soldiers he drew his gun. He was just as surprised at seeing them as they were at seeing him.
The gunner saw the German approaching, and he was seized with fear. In his haste to evacuate the tank he had neglected to pick up his carbine. In fact, no one in the group had remembered to bring a gun. They were unarmed and helpless--completely at the mercy of the advancing enemy soldier.
Before the German could raise his gun to shoot, Sgt, Powers' gunner, Bobelant, had traversed the tank turret around and fired a warning burst from the machine gun at the German. The shots were wide, but served the purpose. The German forgot about his four helpless victims, and turned in flight across the street. Bobelant's machine gun bullets beat a path around his feet, giving impetus to his flight. The bullets missed their mark; but just as the German dashed into a gutted building Bobelant fired the 75. The walls of the building seemed to shudder momentarily, and then all four walls buckled and collapsed in a heap. The German was buried alive amid tons of brick and mortar.
Sgt. Powers called, “Hey, Max. You guys better get aboard my tank. We gotta get out of this town. It's crawling with Germans.”
Heady took one look at the wounded men, then turned to the gunner and said, “Cpl, stay with these guys. I'll send a medic in to take you out.” He then stood up and ran to Powers’ tank. The tanks beat a hasty retreat back down the street. They were now backing out of a town which they had entered only a few minutes before.
The retreating tanks were soon out of sight, but the gunner could still hear them as the sound of their engines slowly faded out.
They were now alone. Alone in a hostile town. Just the three of them. Alone and unarmed. There was nothing to do but wait.
“The medics will be here in a few minutes,” thought the gunner. “We'll just sit tight until they arrive.”
They Waited. Lawrence's moans became louder and more frequent. They seemed to drown out the noise of the exploding shells.
''Damn, why did the syrettes have to be broken?” the gunner thought. “So we could put this guy out of his misery. If there are any more Germans in town his moans will certainly attract their attention.”
They still waited. The fire was dying down now. There were no longer explosions in the tank. The ammunition had apparently all burned up. It was getting quieter. Only the continual moaning of Lawrence broke the otherwise silence.
Still they waited and no medics, Lawrence and Joe were lying side by side on the ground. Lawrence was next to the wall. The gunner was sitting next to Joe.
“How does your leg feel now, Joey” the gunner asked. He was more interested in-breaking the monotony than in learning about Joe's condition.
“Feels ok now,” Joe replied. “I don't seem to have any feeling in my feet. They are numb.”
As the flickering fire faded, a deep feeling of loneliness began to build up in the gunner. He felt lost and afraid. Even though Lawrence and Joe were with him he felt all alone. He knew they were wounded and would be useless in a fight. He wanted to run away and leave them. But where would he run?
“Half the company of tanks continued on into the town,” he thought. “I could follow them. They certainly did not go far since it was nearly dark when we were hit. They are probably just beyond town with the rest of the battalion.”
“Or I could go back the way we entered this lousy town. Sgt. Heady and Rodgers and the others backed out that way.''
The more he thought of getting out of town the more he felt the uselessness of escaping. He had been in combat long enough to know how dangerous it was to move after dark; especially over unfamiliar terrain. Especially when one does not know where the enemy is bidding. After dark, the possibility of being fired upon by friendly troops is just as great as being shot at by the enemy. Bullets are impartial, and an American bullet fired by an American soldier can kill just as dead as a German bullet.
“No, an attempt to get out of the town is too dangerous,” he thought. “My best chance for survival is to remain with Joe and Lawrence until the medics arrive.”
“Someone's coming,” whispered Joe.
The gunner instinctively threw his body over his wounded comrades. Out of the corner of his eye he detected four men approaching from the center of town. Unable to determine whether they were friendly or enemy he lay very still and quiet. Lawrence stopped moaning, but continued to breathe very heavily.
The men came very near, and the gunner was able to see they were Germans-and armed. The men stopped. They were near enough to touch. One of them spoke softly. The gunner was tense, expecting any second to feel a bullet rip through his body.
“This,” he thought, “is the end.”
He wanted to get up and surrender, but his muscles would not respond. He tried to speak, to say “Kamerade” and give himself up, but his mouth would not form the words. There was no air in his lungs. He could not utter a sound. He was immobile and helpless as if he were bound and gagged. All he could do was wait for the fatal shot.
The Germans stood over the three helpless men for what seemed like hours. The gunner stopped breathing, and pretended to be dead. His heart was pounding like a tom-tom, and he thought surely they could hear it beating.
One of the Germans spoke softly in German, and they then quietly departed in the same direction Sgt. Heady and the tanks had gone.
The gunner lay very still long after the sound of the Germans' boots had died out. He then turned his head and looked in their direction. He could not see them. He looked all around, and could see no one else except Joe and Lawrence lying under him. He rose up.
It was now evident that the town was occupied by German troops. It would be impossible for the medics to enter the town and evacuate them. It was the gunner's responsibility now. His own life, as well as the lives of his wounded comrades, was entirely in his hands.
“We've got to get out of the street,” the gunner whispered. “Those Germans may come back and find out we are not dead. There is a place where the wall has been damaged. I think we can climb over it.”
Joe crawled to the damaged section. The gunner helped Lawrence to the spot, and boosted him over. Joe had already climbed over.
As the gunner dropped down on the other side of the wall he noticed they were inside a churchyard. The light was very poor, but he could see that the yard was strewn with rubble. There was a side entrance into the church from the yard. They crawled through this entrance and found themselves in the main part of the church. It was almost impossible to move about in the church. The roof was completely gone, and lay in heaps of timbers and tile on the church floor. The wooden pews were broken and upended in a bizarre fashion. This represented anything but a house of God.
The three picked their way through the debris to the front of the church. Lawrence was now in severe pain, and moaning-continually. It hurt him to move.
The front entrance of the church consisted of two towers. They were more solidly constructed and had withstood the ravages of war without submitting. Lawrence refused to go further.
“This is a good place to stay,” said the gunner. “The walls and roof appear substantial. If we have to sit out an artillery barrage this is probably the most secure place we can find.”
“He is in bad shape,” stated Joe. “We got to get him to a doctor.”
“You stay with him,” replied the gunner. “I'll reconnoiter and see if there are any Germans hiding in this church.”
“Take this bayonet just in case you run into trouble,” said Joe as he handed him their only weapon. “Not much in the way of protection, but it is all we have.”
The gunner took the bayonet and disappeared into the main part of the church. It was difficult climbing over the benches, but the gunner performed his task as quietly as possible. He would move a few feet, then remain perfectly still for a second or two listening for sounds which would reveal the movement of others. In this manner he worked his way to the rear and out a door in the back. He surveyed the entire grounds and found them free of Germans.
From the rear of the church he could see a burning haystack about one-half mile away. It was outside of town along the road they had used earlier to enter Noville.
“If we crawled across that open field, and kept going far enough we should run into our unit,” thought the gunner. He could make out the outline of the hill where they had spent the day and knew it was in friendly hands.
“We could use the burning haystack to guide on, and by crawling across the field we would avoid the road and houses. Our chances of avoiding any Germans would be good.”
He tentatively planned the escape route, and then returned to Joe and Lawrence.
“There doesn't seem to be any Germans in the church or churchyard at this time,” he reported. “However, we know they are in town. If we remain here it will just be a matter of time before they find us.”
“As I see it we have three alternatives. Number 1, we can stay right here and wait for the American infantry in the morning. This might require sweating out an artillery attack from our own guns tomorrow.”
“Number 2, we can go back outside and surrender to the first Germans we see. By doing either of these we run the risk of being killed rather than captured. The Germans are taking a beating right now, and may not look too kindly upon three lost and wounded Americans.”
“Number 3, we can attempt to get out of town. We can leave by the back way and crawl across an open field. It looks deserted, and I think we have a good chance of avoiding detection. Which shall it be?”
Lawrence was the first to answer, “I can't go anyplace. Leave me here and you two escape.”
There was a minute of silence before the gunner spoke up.
“No, we either go or stay together.”
“Could we carry Lawrence across this field” asked Joe. “We could make a sling out of my jacket and carry him.”
“I'm afraid we can only get past the Germans by crawling,” replied the gunner. “If we stay real close to the ground we might make it, but by walking upright it would be too risky. We would be silhouetted against the snow. No, we have to crawl.”
“How about it Lawrence?” pleaded Joe, “You can crawl a little ways. It isn't far. We will go real slow. How about it?”
“I can't” moaned Lawrence. “My legs hurt just lying here. Every time I move a sharp pain jabs me. I can't do it. You guys go on and leave me.”
“Listen, Lawrence,” begged the gunner, “try it. We won't continue if it pains you too much. We'll start crawling slowly across the field. If you want to stop; if you can't go on, then we'll stop and surrender, and get medical attention for you. It's our best chance. I'm sure we can make it back to our unit.”
“I'll try. Help me up.”
Joe and the gunner helped Lawrence up on all fours. He groaned painfully and sank back to a prone position.
“I can't do it,” he uttered, his breath coming in short gasps like a runner who had just completed a two mile race. “It hurts too much to move. You guys go on, I'll be ok.”
Lawrence was completely out of breath by the time he finished talking. The gunner and Joe looked at each other, then looked down at Lawrence. He was a pathetic sight, obviously in pain and completely helpless.
“We are wasting time,” said the gunner, “and every minute we waste decreases our chances to escape. The Germans may come in here at any time and find us.”
“Can we leave without him?” asked Joe.
“Can you make it crawling across a field?” asked the gunner ignoring Joe’s previous question.
“I think I can if we crawl slow. My legs are numb now, and I don't have any pain. Yes, I'm sure I can make it.”
The gunner took Joe aside and spoke quietly.
“Look, I don't want to leave him here alone, but we have no choice. He can’t go with us. It would be better for one to be captured than three. Let’s leave the bayonet with him and get out of here. I'm sure he will be ok. He is seriously wounded. If the German's find him they will treat his wounds and take care of him.”
“Yeah, I suppose so. Let’s go.”
They gave the weapon to Lawrence, and made him as comfortable as possible.
“Good luck, Lawrence,” they said as they departed out the side door. Lawrence waved farewell,
They crawled around to the rear of the church and through an opening in a wire fence. Then began the slow, methodical crawling across the field. Fortunately there was no moon; even the stars were hiding behind the clouds. It was as though He up above was helping them to escape.
The only light was the burning haystack. They crawled slowly toward it by sliding along on their bellies and pushing forward with the hands and feet. The snow was wet and cold, the crawling was extremely tiring.
They had crawled almost fifty yards before stopping to rest. To the left was a small wooded area. They could hear the snapping of twigs among the trees. They knew a person or persons were walking around in the woods, and felt certain they were Germans. Probably sentries.
To the right, and about 150 yards away was the road. They could make out the outline of the trees along its edge. The burning haystack became brighter, like a beacon showing them the way.
After a few minutes rest they continued their crawling, the gunner in front followed closely by Joe. They were now at the edge of town. The open field spread out to the left and far ahead, Only to the right along the road, could they see houses.
The rest periods became more frequent and of longer duration. The pace became slower and more difficult. They were exhausted--completely, mentally and physically. Joe crawled alongside the gunner.
“I don't think I can continue,” he said, “I'm too tired.”
''We can't stop now. We’ve gone over half way to the haystack. Just a little farther and we can get off our bellies and crawl on hands and knees. I think we should begin to circle around that haystack. We don't want to get too close or the light from the fire will show us up. We don't want to be spotted now after coming this far.”
“Come on, Joe, lets angle off to the left.”
The gunner began crawling ahead. Joe did not move. The gunner stopped and looked back. He saw Joe was not coming. A narrow red trail could be seen in the snow where Joe had crawled. His feet were bleeding more severely now.
The gunner waited a minute and Joe slowly crawled up to him.
“I feel faint,” he stated, “and my feet are beginning to hurt.”
“Don't stop now. Try to crawl around the haystack. Then we will stop crawling and I will carry you. But we have to go until we get past the haystack.”
“How far is it?”
“Just a few hundred yards. We are almost there.”
Joe tried to continue, but could not go further. He lay face down in the snow breathing heavily.
Muffled voices could be heard from the vicinity of the road. It was impossible to determine if they were German or American. The gunner also thought he could hear the metallic sound of an entrenching tool.
“This,” he thought, “indicates someone is digging in. Perhaps it is Americans. Chances are the Germans would already be dug in.”
The more he listened to the sounds the more he was convinced it was American infantry digging in. The voices were not clear, but the mere fact they were digging indicated they were friendly.
“How about it now, Joe? Can you continue?”
After a pause Joe answered, “No.”
“Can you make it to the road, then?” I can hear voices, and the sound of digging along the road. We’ll crawl to the road. It's less than 100 yards away. When we get there we will surrender to the first person who challenges us. There is a fence line running to the road and a furrow by it. We'll crawl along the furrow on our hands and knees.”
“Ok,” replied Joe.
The gunner made Joe go first now so he could keep an eye on him. It was much easier and faster crawling on hands and knees.
When they reached the road the gunner stood up and helped Joe climb onto his back. He started walking down the road with Joe riding piggy back. They had not gone ten feet before he heard the word “Halt!” He could not see where the sound came from and didn't particularly care. Also, he did not know if an American or German said it since halt sounds the same in both languages.
He stopped and stood perfectly still. Again the voice, “What’s the password?”
A surge of joy passed through the gunner. “We are safe,” he thought. “The challenging sentry was an American--at least he spoke English.”
“What's the password?” came the voice again.
“Damn,” thought the gunner, “I don't know the password for tonight.''
He replied with last night's password, “Barney,” he blurted.
The sentry was evidently suspicious, and asked, “Who goes there?”
“We’re Americans,” stammered the gunner. “We were trapped in the town. We just escaped. My buddy here is wounded. Call the medics.”
He started forward.
“Halt,” came the hidden voice again. “What unit you guys from?”
'Company B, 41st Tank. Let us pass. We're Americans.”
“Where did you live in The States?” The voice was taking no chances.
“In Illinois--Pekin, Illinois.''
“Never heard of it.”
There was a momentary pause, then the voice tried another approach.
“Who won the World Series last year?”
The gunner could not think. He had evidently read about the World Series, but could not remember who played, let alone which team won.
“The Yankees, I guess.”
“Know any other base-ball teams?”
The gunner rapidly named the Cardinals, Cubs, Senators, Giants, Dodgers, Phillies, Pirates, Reds. He was interrupted by another hidden voice.
“Ok, don't move. The road is mined. Bring them in, Corporal.”
A black shadow jumped out of the ground from the edge of the road, and taking the gunner by the arm, led him to a fox-hole.
The second soldier in the fox-hole was talking on a telephone. The gunner heard him ask for a medic.
In a few minutes two corpsmen came up with a stretcher. They put Joe on the stretcher and departed. The gunner was led to a command tent where he was questioned at length by a Captain. He told the Captain as much as he knew about the town, and the Germans in the town. He also explained how they had left Lawrence in the church.
The gunner spent the next day in a rest area a few miles south of Noville. The following day he returned to Company B where he learned that Lawrence had been found safe and in good spirits when the infantry captured Noville on the following morning. He learned also that very shortly after he and Joe left the church, a German medic had entered it, found Lawrence, dressed his wounds, and left him to be rescued by the Americans.
He never found out what happened to Joe, but surmised he was sent to a hospital somewhere in France where he recuperated before being returned to the States and discharged. Neither Lawrence nor Joe returned to Company B. For them the war was over. They had paid the price, and were free. They could now continue to live a normal life--continue where they had left off to serve their country.
Yes, they could lead a normal life--as normal as artificial legs will allow one to live.
Three days after the terror of Noville, the battalion is drawn up in formation in a small snow covered field near Bastogne, Belgium. The men are clean shaven, as they stand rigidly in ranks, but their torn and soiled uniforms are grim reminders of the preceding battle. Standing in a single row in front of the battalion are seven men. The men, who this day, are to be honored. The few who have been selected for citations, because they served “above and beyond the call of duty”.
The gunner is standing second in this row. When his turn comes, he marches very soldierly toward the Commanding General of the division, halts three paces in front of the General, and salutes smartly. The General returns his salute.
Then begins the droning sound of the Adjutant's voice as he reads the citation in a monotone.
“On the 14th day of January, in the village of Noville, Belgium ----------
But the gunner doesn't hear the words. He is thinking of the past two weeks; of the fear, the blood, the stench of burning bodies. Of his comrades who, one by one, passed on, never to return. He thinks of Gerhardt, Chambers, and Johnson, and how they burned to death in a blazing turret. He thinks of Swanson and Meyers, who never knew what hit them. He thinks of Huntly lying on the ground decapitated. He thinks of Robinson, Freddie and Sam. He thinks of Lawrence and Joe, alive but without feet. He thinks and wonders. Wonders when his time will come, and how it will come.
And as the General pins the Silver Star on his chest there are tears in his eyes. Tears for his comrades who have fallen. Tears for his comrades who are yet to fall.
“They are the real heroes,” he says to himself. “The only hero is a dead hero, because who else would be brave enough to sacrifice his only life?”
He doesn't want to accept the medal because he is alive and in one piece. He is not a hero. He doesn't want to be a hero. He just wants this insane war to end so he can go home and forget. To live and forget. To live--and forget.
Although the story, The Communiqué, is true, individual names have been changed. Wayne Van Dyke’s note.
Editor’s Notes: Commanders as of combat on 30 December 1944 were as follows:
1. 11th Armored Division commanded by Brigadier General Charles S. Kilburn.
2. 41st Tank Battalion commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Wray F. Sagaser
3. Company B commanded by Captain Robert L. Ameno
Follow up information:
1. The tank commander, Staff Sergeant, received a battlefield commission and survived the war. He has since passed away.
2. The tank driver, Technician Fifth Grade, lost both legs at Noville, Belgium, but survived the war. He presently operates a small farm in Maryland with his wife.
3. The bow gunner, Private First Class, did not have his feet amputated. He walks with a limp and resides in La Quinta, California, with his wife.
4. Loader, Private First Class, survived the war, but we do not know where he is at present.
5. Gunner, Corporal, survived the war and resides in Gurnee, Illinois, with his wife Frances.
Short for Bow Gunner.
HE: High Explosives
Armor Piercing shell is a solid steel projectile and does not actually explode. However, if the shell penetrates the tank’s armor it spews pieces of hot steel (the steel removed as it bores through the tank’s armor) inside the tank as shrapnel.
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