Contact with the Enemy
Grand pop letter March 24, 2006 with English paper inserted as instructed by author.
I want to tell you I’ve received your thank you card postmarked around 4 March. I wanted to answer you sooner but I haven’t been feeling well (I had the diarrhea for a while and also a chest cold). Finally last Saturday I went to my doctor and he gave me pills for the diarrhea and my cold. Those problems are gone and now there are other problems. So it goes when one gets old. Now about my experience in the Army during World War II.
Back in 1963 I was going Rutgers University in hopes to earn a degree. I had never gone to high school and I took courses in RCA to help me in my work. It was then that I learned that I could get college credits if I had enrolled into Rutgers University. Then I found I had to take a GED test. Well, I found I had to take high school courses which took about two years. Finally I was admitted conditionally, if my grades were adequate, and I started. So I started with English and math. I thought it would be a snap. We all speak English, don’t we? What a surprise!
So finally I got into English 101 and we were assigned the job to write papers. I am copying a revised paper that was titled “Contact with the Enemy”. But I want to add something to the beginning and then later to the end of the paper.
This part is the one prior to the experience “contact with the enemy” and includes the time we landed in England to the time of the paper.
I don’t remember much, it was around June 1944 and if I am correct, it was in South Hampton England.
England was very pretty. The grounds were very green and lots of flowers. We, soldiers, lived in a barracks and life was very easy. We were near a nice village and I met a nice young girl, Joyce Emison, who was around 15 or 16 years old. You know it’s remarkable I could meet someone on the street and if I asked their name in less than five minutes I will have forgotten their name. But it’s been 64 years since I knew Joyce and her name comes to me. I thought so much of her that when our daughter was born I named her Joyce!
After about five weeks I and about five other soldiers were taken to the harbor where there was a small ship that had been used to transport vegetables and potatoes. The potatoes had rotted and us soldiers were given the job of cleaning out the ship. A rope ladder was put against the inner wall of the ship and we threw a bag of potatoes over our shoulders and climbed up a ladder, about 10 to 15 steps, to the top where we threw the bags overboard. I don’t remember how we cleaned ourselves after the job was done. But we were clean and had clean clothes.
About two weeks went by and then early in the morning there were many planes flying overhead. Later we heard that the invasion had begun. About three days later my group of reinforcements were put aboard the same ship we cleaned out and transported across the English Channel. At Normandy France we climbed over the side of the ship down rope ladders onto small landing crafts which held about 30 to 50 soldiers. The landing craft then drove to the shore where the front of the landing craft was lowered and the soldiers walked down the incline into the water which was hip to chest deep. Fortunately there was no Germans firing at us, it was then D+ 4. (D-Day plus 4, you know I’ve forgotten what the D. stands for).
So now I was a replacement radio operator. That was what I was trained for. I wasn’t very good. I could copy around 22 to 25 words of Morris code but I was very bad at transmitting. And now I was in group headquarters of 1107 combat engineers. My basic training was in headquarters Company of 422nd infantry. Life was pretty calm except every once in a while a German aircraft flew over. I was very lazy. I should have dug a foxhole but I didn’t. But I knew where there was. So one night a plane flew over and dropped the bomb. I ran to the nearest hole and dived in. In about one minute someone was on top of me. It was some officer. You know he gave me a good tongue lashing.
The people who planned the war expected 15 to 20% losses and that’s how many replacements had been programmed into each army unit. Consequently there were many extra men in the service. Then at about Thanksgiving Day 1944 all units were broken down to their table of organization strengths.
Oh, before I forget. While back in the 1107 group I met a sergeant who I first met in Delair where I lived. We played baseball, he was from Merchantville. His name was Frank Elbert, phone 656-663-2711. I called a few minutes ago. His wife answered Frank had died about four years ago. We had a nice time together in France. Back to replacements.
So now, I am in a repo Depo. I was there about four or five weeks. Each morning before daylight a 2 ½ ton truck backed up to where we were. A sergeant with a small flashlight lighting a list of names where the soldiers were to be taken. Not called we went to our pup tent. In the meanwhile, we talked about the worst job. Guess what? The worst was radio operator! That’s me! So after four weeks of that I had decided I wasn’t a radio operator. So one day my name was called. I jumped on the truck with some other soldiers. After about one hour the sergeant took me to a captain saying “Capt., here is your new radio operator.” I said “Capt., I’m not your radio operator”. “What?” “Sir, I am not your radio operator.” The captain said to the sergeant, “you take him.” Presto, I became a scout. You know what a scout in the infantry is? He is the first man in the assault!
So now I’m in the Company F of 330 infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry division. So my sergeant said to find the hole and will be leaving early in the morning. I did and fell asleep.
Early in the morning I heard a loud commotion but I didn’t know what was happening so I fell asleep again. When I awoke there was no one there. So not knowing what to do, I kind of walked around and here came a Jeep. I stopped the driver and asked him about my company. He was a mailman and new where to take me. So I’m with my new group. So I sat on an old log. Here comes the captain. He has a civilian with him. Who is about 45 years old, not dressed badly and holding a half a loaf of bread. So the captain says to me, “take this guy in the woods and get rid of him”. This civilian turns out to speak English very well and when we get to the woods, I don’t remember clearly, but he showed me a picture of him, his wife and a daughter and asked me to let him go. He was calm and looked like a teacher but I couldn’t kill him.
So I walked him back to where the captain was. “Is he still here?” The captain looked around and saw another soldier. “Take him into the woods and get rid of him.” The soldier walked him back to the woods. After about three minutes there was a crack sound and the soldier walked back past me. I felt so very bad. One moment this guy was talking about his family and the next moment he was dead. Now I’m not absolutely positive but that is what my senses told me.
This business of killing people is very disturbing. It seems some people can do it without much mental turmoil. It appears that when the killer is close to his victim that there is some kind of communication from the victim to the killer but only to a limited amount.
I remember that while I was attending Temple University taking a radio and television course, the University was able to have the crew of the Enola Gay. The crew that flew the atomic bomb to Hiroshima Japan and dropped it on the city killing and wounding many thousands of people. The crew of about five men seemed to be rather normal looking except for one fellow. He appeared so burdened while his crewmates it seemed perfectly happy. Why?
Going back to the captain who ordered the elimination of the civilian. What was he to do? He had a war to fight and win. Could he have taken a couple of soldiers from their duties to guard the civilian until God knows when?
English, 101 “Contact with the Enemy.” November 24, 1963. By Dominick DeLaurentis.
War, possibly the worst of human acts, generator of human misery, destroyer of saplings of human life, destroyer of property and reminder of God, is in fact much better to read about than to live through.
I remember well that day, January 4, 1944, somewhere in Belgium. Having been assigned two days before to Company F of the 330th infantry division as a scout, I found myself marching towards the enemy.
It was early in the morning, around six o’clock, and we were marching in two single columns, one on each side of the road. Each infantry man had his rifle, ammunition belt, two bandoliers slung across his shoulders loaded with ammo and two hand grenades hooked into straps which hold up the ammunition belt. We were instructed to keep a distance of 8 feet behind the man in front.
It had been snowing softly and there was about 2 inches of snow on the ground. I could hear the hissing sound of the snow flakes dropping in the trees and filtering through the branches. Except for the sounds of the snow falling and the crunching underfoot, the morning air was a very quiet. Then I heard someone sob and a few seconds later another sob and then they came closer together and soon the fellow was crying. The men in the front and behind him tried to find why he was crying, but the poor guy crying just wouldn’t answer; he just kept crying softly. One of the medics went to him and together they left the road and walked into the woods. What happened, I don’t know; but in the meanwhile, the columns marched on.
As we marched on I heard tanks coming up from behind me, their noisy high powered engines pushing the tanks up the hill and squeaking cogs breaking the quiet morning air. The hatch on each tank was opened and its crew leader stood grimly in the hatchway.
There we were, men and tanks, positioned at the top of the hill, looking down on the little village covered lightly with snow and appearing very peaceful. To the right was another hill sloping gently upwards into the midst, to the left the ground was nearly flat. Near the bottom of the hill on which we were was a long narrow drainage ditch. I was among a group of soldiers, one being a major, one a captain and one a private who was the majors driver and attendent.
Then I heard a who-o-o-ishing waffling sound coming. The missile, probably a mortar shell, landed about 40 yards to my left and blackened the snow about 3 feet in radius. Then another shell landed about 30 yards in front of us; no one seemed disturbed but we knew the village was being defended. Suddenly, another missile came and when I sensed it would fall near me, I started to fall to the ground. The shell exploded before I got down; the blast, not 4 feet from me, knocked me to the ground and my helmet off my head. I lay in the snow, stunned, with my ears ringing. One of the soldiers came, stooped near me and asked “are you all right?” I nodded my head slowly. After a while I slowly rose to my feet, still dazed. The major, with my helmet in hand, full of concern and sorrow just as though I was his son, handing me my helmet, said, “son, you’re right; you’ll be all right.”
The daylight was getting brighter; the major and captain had left. Soon, the more forward group of men and tanks began to advance. From the innocent looking trenches below came machine gun fire and other missiles. Before long, four tanks were immobile and the fire from the trenches had been silenced. One disabled tank, with a broken track on its right side, blocked the narrow village road.
Just after the first onslaught, our platoon advanced to the edge of the village. One of the fellows spotted German soldiers running on the hill to our right; they were about 200 yards away and contrasted very well with the snowy background. I aimed at one and slowly squeeze the trigger; my target fell. I took aim and dropped two more soldiers; they were shouting in panic and cries of pain came from the German soldiers.
The platoon sergeant assembled us and said that one squad would go up one side of the road and there would be a second squad on the other. Our squad took position, the corporal instructing me to go to the next house. I left the house, crouching and half running, firing at anything that could hide a soldier. When I reached my objective, the man across the street advanced. The next time I ran towards the next house a machine gun began shooting at me. I could see the tracers just above me and to my right. Firing wildly from the hip towards the machine gun, I ran zig zag, down the road, passing two dead soldiers. Suddenly my rifle quit firing; it had jammed. Quickly I pulled on the ejector, but it wouldn’t move. I slammed the rifle butt on the frozen ground, but the ejector was still jammed. Then I saw another soldier lying dead and his rifle in the snow. Running, I scooped it up and managed to get to the next house without being hit. My heart was thumping and I was breathing very heavily; my whole body was jumpy. I was very scared.
I stood in the doorway looking towards the enemy. Across the street I saw our sergeant running from behind a hedge across the open lot. There was one “crack” and down went the sergeant. He lay still and I thought he was dead. About two minutes later, I could hear him stirring. He propped himself on one elbow, turned his head backward and called, “medic, medic.” About a minute went by and again, he propped himself up, turned and yelled, “medic!”, but no medic came. He tried to get up and suddenly I heard a German curse. “Crack”, went another shot and the sergeant laid dead. I was raging mad. I couldn’t see the German rifleman but I fired wildly in their direction, cursing too, as if the cursing might help.
That was war; it’s a damn shame that anyone should live through it, and a tragedy to your loved ones if you die.
I’m now returning to the end of the paper I had written for English 101.
I don’t remember too clearly, but it seems that several soldiers reached where I was and the sergeant in charge said I was to go again. I turned to the sergeant and said “that’s the last fucking time I’m going first.” So the sergeant directed another soldier and he went. It seems that a second soldier also went ahead and I followed. When I reached the doorway of the next building as I entered I was shot in my right arm and shoulder. The soldier, who shot me, did it out of fright. He said he was sorry, but my right arm just hung down with no control. He took my coat off and got down to the wound. Now each soldier carries in a pack like a cigarette pack a package of sulfa drug, a bacteria inhibiting drug. Next my mind went blank and my next recall is in the middle of the field with the Jeep and no driver. There is an American soldier shot in the chest and dying. He asked me to help him but I didn’t know how. He asked me to write to his mother and he gave the address but I couldn’t remember what he said. I do remember him calling, for his mommy. Also in the field, there were about three German soldiers who made a stretcher from 2 thin trees and a blanket wrapped around the trees. One of the soldiers was badly wounded. My mind went blank. I next remember being in a first aid tent. There was a waiting area with chairs on two sides. One side had German soldiers and the other Americans. On the German side there was a young fellow of about 14 or 15 years old crying WASSER, WASSER asking for water and crying momma, momma.
My mind went blank. I next recall being taken to a railroad train and put aboard. I was ambulatory. Some hours later we were at a hospital in Paris. I was taken to a room on the second floor with one bed. It was late at night, maybe two or three in the morning. I laid there. My wound smelling very much. So after an hour or so, I got up looking for a nurse and found one. Complaining about the smell, I pointed to my wound and the nurse was shocked. The next thing I knew there were nurses running all over the place looking at the newly arrived soldiers.
Someone came in and cleaned my wound and I fell asleep. In the morning blood had dripped through that mattress onto the floor. They changed the mattress and took care of me. Although the wound looked terrible there was no pain, ever. I guess if there are no nerves there, there is no pain. After two or three days I was taken to a field hospital in Normandy France. There were several long tents which held maybe 25 cots on each side of the aisle.
In this field hospital the medics would try to get the patients well inside of one month. If so you were taken back to your company, otherwise you were taken back to England. Twice a day and nurse would visit me and wash my wound would a saline solution and I was getting better. Then it snowed a few inches. Some of us went out and started throwing snowballs at each other. In doing so I opened my wounds and made it much worse. So my time ran out and I was taken to the English Channel where they had little boats which could handle about six patients. We were transported to England where there were larger facilities.
I’m ending this history at this point March 25, 2006, 8:15 AM.
Steve, please forgive my sloppy writing, poor spelling, etc. But I’ve tried to give you a history in the service to this point.