The lieutenants were never dependable. On occasion, they would be battle hardened but most of the time, they were thrown into the fray without being competent. As a result, we had little respect for them. Most were killed in the first minutes of a fire fight for lack of firing back due to the fact that they froze.
The sergeants were another story. These were the men we followed. Almost every sergeant had been in mulriple big battles. And they took no guff. They pushed, with regularity, the poorly placed lieutenants around. One sergeant told us that, “Army lieutenants kill more Dog Faces than the enemy.” And then he would bellow a deep throated laugh, slap us on the back, and yell for us to "Move the fuck forward."
I was on the U.S.S George W. Woodward. We left Southampton England on June 5, 1944. We arrived at Normandy, Omaha Beach on June 6.
The beaches had been secured.
We lowered ourselves from the ship to the LCA. These amphibious boats bobbed in the ocean like corks and men lost their lives trying to climb down the tall rope ladder into the LCA. With heavy packs and a rifle, they went straight to the bottom and drowned.
The LCA ride took about 10 minutes and everyone lost their lunch in the bobbing waves. A real mess. We were really glad when the ramp fell forward and we could stumble out. As we regained our senses, we could see a beach where our comrades fought and died. We could see body parts and blood soaked kelp. It sobered up the weak-at-the-knees in a blink of an eye.
We gathered around our sarge and lieutenant. Can’t remember their names. We would go through at least another dozen before our tour was complete.
Our mission in short strokes: Work our way east through France to the city of Metz. It was over 500 miles inland. And it was held by Nazis. We would travel by truck to Verdun and then we walked. 80 miles. And told we'd be fighting our way, the entire time.
The truck ride was a relief at first. Stories were told, banned liquor was consumed and photos of loved ones were passed around. I had no one at the time. I was glad. Too many “Dear John” letters going around.
Just before Verdun, the lead truck was hit by grenades. The trucks came to a grinding halt and we all scurried into the brush alongside the road. Men jumping from the truck were picked off by snipers.Our sergeant ran up and down the line pointing out where the enemy was, forming groups to flank them and take them out.
The battle lasted more than 4 hours. We vastly outnumbered them and once we got past their entrenched machine guns, it was easy killing. We had to dip into the munitions boxes and resupply ourselves with grenades.
We rode through Verdun, to the outskirts, and then were ordered off the trucks and told to secure our gear.
We were told to expect heavy resistance. The trek should have taken 27 hours with 4 hours of sleep thrown in. It took much longer. The town of Seme’court was on a small river about 10 miles north of Metz.
Word came down that we were told to take a Nazi pillbox, or concrete bunker that sat a couple hundred yards on the opposite side of the river. We hunkered down at dusk and dug in. We were about 100 feet from the banks of the river. The pillbox was clear even at a few hundred yards. No activity was seen. We set up a perimeter. The rest of us hid behind large rocks and damaged vehicles. We ripped into our C Rations. 3 biscuits, cellophane wrapped chocolate fudge, 3 pressed sugar cubes, and a small tin of soluble coffee.
And then we heard a shot. One of our guys was firing at the pillbox. He saw a soldier leaving the safety of the bunker to take a piss. The German ran back into the bunker. We all laughed for the first time in a while.
As it turned out, these Germans had been in this bunker a long time. Whatever sanitary conditions were available were long filled to the brim. So as days passed, we found a new hobby. The Germans would wait until dark to leave the bunker to take a shit. We could hear them but our shots were only in the general direction of the bunker. We never saw any bodies the next day.
But the real fun was that sometimes a bold German had to take a dump during daylight and ran for cover to do so. Everyone fired on him. Each time, the German would grab his pants and dash for the bunker, never completing his duty. (Yeah, I get it).
We eventually made a point of not aiming directly at the Germans. This was more fun.
We were there for 4 days and then the orders came to storm Metz. We encountered incredible resistance and every kilometer was taken with great punishment. Men were killed and replacements sent in.
We reached the outskirts of the city and we saw the damage that the bombers incurred on the surrounding villages. Not one home was standing. We had to clear each and every sector we moved through and then bullets began to whizz by our heads. We hit the dirt and bellied our way into the bushes, or anything that might provide protection.
We isolated the fire and realized that we weren’t flanked. It was coming from directly in front of us. So we flanked them. The battle lasted a couple hours with 4 of our men killed. The two flanking groups were successful. Through sheer hatred and adrenaline, our men stormed their hide outs and killed dozens of Germans.
But we also took prisoners. 33 prisoners. They had given up. They waved white flags and screamed in broken English, pleading for us not to shoot them.
The lieutenant had them strip down to their underwear. And then he had them sit down in a circle with 12 G.I.’s guarding them.
This was a quandry. The lieutenant made several calls to Command. Command kept putting him off and said they would get back to him but to stay at that position. Do not move.
Hours passed. Water was passed around to the Germans. Some of the G.I.s gave them food. I spoke to a German captain in Yiddish. I grew up with that language in the house. As we parted, we both smiled.
The call came that made the lieutenant’s face white as a ghost. He slowly handed the handset back to the radio man. We had no sergeant. He was killed in this battle. I was a corporal and therefore the next highest in rank.
The lieutenant looked at me and motioned for me to follow him.
“They said no prisoners. No fucking prisoners!”
I asked what that meant. And then he screamed at me, “What the FUCK do you think it means?" I lowered my head and I mumbled something.
“Stan. See that house over there with just one wall?” I nodded. Go get the prisoners and have them line up on one side of the wall, in front of the door…..in twos."
My stomach was doing flip flops. When I told a private what to do, the words croaked from my parched throat. He looked at me with horror. I whispered, “Do it.”
The Germans were lined up. They had no idea what was going on. And neither did any of our men. The lieutenant and I stood about 10 feet back from the doorway on the other side of the wall.
He pulled out his Colt M1911A1. He motioned for me to remove my pistol from its holster. He yelled for a Private. He told the private to grab some of the men’s magazines and bring them here. The private returned with 12 magazines. His hands were shaking as he dropped them on the ground. The lieutenant told me to put 5 of them in my blouse.
A private stood inside the wall on our side and was to control the influx of Germans two by two. It didn’t seem to bother him.
“Look Stan, it’s best to do it as quickly as possible. Don’t hesitate. Not for a second. We can do this and be done with it in a few minutes and move on. Don’t freeze up on me. OK?”
The first two came in with no idea of what was to happen.
We ordered them over to us and then we raised our pistols and shot one bullet into each of their heads. They dropped like a sack of potatoes. The.45 caliber bullet is a powerful missile.
The lieutenant motioned for two more. As they came in and saw their comrades lying on the ground, they became stoic and took their bullets without a sound.
By this time, the rest of the Germans knew exactly what was happening. And the screaming began. Some of the Germans fell to their knees and grabbed their captor’s legs sobbing in German, moaning, “Nein, Nein, Nay.”
The Germans were either escorted in or dragged in. Magazines were changed with regularity. Our hands were covered in blood making the change of magazines slippery.
I began to yell at the Germans as they got to their position in front of me to turn around. I screamed it. I could no longer look into their eyes... so I shot them in the back of the head.
15 minutes later, a pile of human corpses lay in front of us. From nowhere, came a primal scream from my throat. I took my Colt, pointed it at my temple and pulled the trigger. Click. Click. I fell to the ground, crying.
The lieutenant bellowed to everyone that they should gather their gear. Time to move on to Metz.
Until my death in 2003, I never watched a war movie. Not once. I never owned a gun.
I was awarded the Bronze Star with 2 clusters and a Purple Heart for being shot in battle.