The east face of the Alsatian farmhouse, near the Saar border, had been sliced clear-and-away, as if by some giant woodsman with surgical skill. The table was set for supper, and looked more like an exhibitor’s display of rural life than a family meal abandoned on the eve of battle. But what froze me in my tracks in the deep snow outside, was the huge picture on the west wall: a two meter tall familiar rendition of the – til now – “hackneyed” Guardian Angel of my youth. It was all there: the “cutesy” Hansel and Gretel kinder, crossing the broken bridge above a torrent below; and beyond, the lightning bolts and hints of wolves in the dark background.
I had been leading the remnants of my rifle company back from our attack upon the ridge above the village of Medlsheim. My platoon had led the advance to the top, and despite, or because of this, we had suffered the fewest casualties from the German 88s concealed on our unprotected eastern flank. They opened up with withering barrages only after our remaining platoons – the rest of L Company – moved out across the open fields and orchards below the crest, as exposed and vulnerable targets. Realizing this, Capt. Howard Wall ordered me to withdraw and reorganize our remnants back in the woods we had cleared-up at dawn. So this I did, zigzagging, as if on automatic pilot, back and forth across the hillside, coaxing terrified young soldiers out of shallow foxholes as the shells burst all around us, and recovering the wounded and as many of our dead as we could, en route to the woods of morning. It was my first day in Germany – 16 December 1944.
Previously published in
The Golden Acorn News