— By Ken Hutchison
I meant to post this yesterday, on Veteran’s Day, but the day got away from me.
Dad never really talked about the war. As a boy, I always wanted to know how many Germans he killed. He said he didn’t know, wasn’t sure if he did, etc. Looking back now, I remember seeing his blue eyes glaze over, and a heavy breath would follow.
In reading his letters it’s evident that he was in house-to-house, close quartered bullshit. One of his scars went from his elbow, radiating in a spiral across the inside of his forearm to nearly his wrist…it was about a half inch wide. He was searching a house when a “potato masher’ (German hand grenade) broke through the window. He got as far as he could before it went off, costing him a majority of hearing in one ear, plus having his flesh torn apart by red hot shrapnel. It’s the only one of his injuries I heard about first hand. The others I discovered in his letters home. Sniper fire that nearly bled him to death, machine gun wounds in both legs during a battle in a frozen marsh. Despite being hit in the legs, he was able to run to cover, no helmet, rifle jammed with mud.
Despite that, he did tell a few funny stories. In one, he and his men arrived in a train station, largely abandoned, except for the lone tanker car that had a guard (I don’t remember from where, non-US though). The boys thought they’d found fuel. They told the guard to get lost or get shot. He was smart. Efforts to open the valve were in vain, so one of the GIs hit it with the butt of his BAR (rifle).
The valve stem broke off. It wasn’t fuel. It was wine. Rich. Red. Wine.
Being the proud American soldiers they were, they didn’t shy away from the obvious threat at hand. They proceeded to rip out the liners of their helmets and then get six-ways-to-Sunday shitfaced … drinking from their steel hats. Dad maintained, sort of, as he was the sarge, and had to get his men into the boxcar when the time came.
The other story he told was of the tank. Panzer tanks were colossal hunks of powerful deadly steel. Dad and the boys came across one abandoned somewhere in the Ardennes, and of course, boys being boys, they decided to drive it around. Whoever was driving pushed the throttle forward a wee bit too much, too fast, sending the occupants flying into the walls. Then they couldn’t figure out how to steer or stop the multi-ton hunk of German engineering. Poor guys took out a farmhouse, barn, haystack, and God knows what else before stalling it in a dry riverbed.
I would have paid money to see it.