DIARY ENTRY #14 

THE BIG HANDS

    On 5 March 1945, Combat Command "A" had passed between Krefeld and Uerdingen, Germany, having already taken Munchen-Gladbach. Our command had overran and destroyed thirty-six 88mm dual purpose guns in an area about 2,000 square yards after having overcome a fanatical defense in the built-up areas southeast of the city of Krefeld, where the German troops had employed numerous bazookas and also panzerfausts in very close and desperate hand to hand fighting. Very few prisoners surrendered, leaving many wounded behind as they withdrew.

    CCA Headquarters then assembled in the vicinity of Korschebroich, where we waited for orders to cross the mighty Rhine River on the night of 27-28 March, 1945, just south of the town of Wesel.

    It was here at Korschebroich while waiting that our GIs found the underground stored vats of wine. Most everyone dumped their 5 gallon water cans and refilled the Jerry cans with the looted Rhine valley wine. Perhaps the liberated bug juice is what caused the guy with the Big Hands to settle our own private war right here. This same time is when our very own Indian from Lake Okeechobee, Florida, Private Walter Hogan, consumed far too much of the potent grape juice and became inebriated and out of control. While in this state of mental impairment, he unwisely decided to wake up our commander, Brigadier General John H. (PeeWee) Collier, for an old fashioned GI "piss call" in the middle of the night. That and the outcome are another worthwhile story and have been told elsewhere. (See 2AD Bulletin #3, 1985)

    The day it happened I was cold sober and seated at the kitchen table in one of the German apartment style homes that we had taken over as our quarters. I had been writing a letter home to my parents, as was my frequent custom whenever time permitted. I had the room to myself with a good hot fire in the kitchen coal heated cook stove as I sat collecting my thoughts of what I could get past the censors as it was always a challenge to match wits with the brass. The rest of the crew was spread throughout the house playing cards or loafing, when in walked Private Nelson Fountain from Wyandotte, Michigan. He was one of our new division replacements conscripted from the non-descript rear echelon to fill one of the many vacancies that all of our units had suffered after the Battle of the Bulge. At the time, he was in his late thirties, and had not spent any previous time in combat, compared to those of us in our 20s who had been since the D-Day landings, making us the veterans and him the rookie.

    Fountain had the biggest pair of hands I had ever seen. I wore a size nine and in comparison he must have worn an extra large size 12 or 13. I mean he had big hands! Besides having oversized hands he had a big mouth to match those baseball glove sized hands of his. He also had an irksome habit of talking with his hands, so that you could not avoid noticing the big mitts. Quite possibly this was done to impress and intimidate people. Even sober he was argumentative and obnoxious in discussing any topic to the point of being belligerent when told to do something. In addition, because Fountain was near 40 years of age, he had this habit of calling me "kid" - knowing I was but 22 years old. None of which I appreciated, especially coming from a newcomer, but I kept my peace and let Veno run the crew until that day when push came to shove. It had been brewing as my resentment to his snide remarks and general attitude began to fester with each passing day. Now it was just a matter of time until he lit my known short tempered fuse. The others saw it coming.

    Shortly after this incident, Fountain walked into the kitchen and I could readily see he had been sucking up too much wine before lunch and was spoiling for trouble. He had come to the right place to find it. The time had come to settle up. The situation had been brewing for a few previous days as his wise-ass remarks became a daily exercise of his blow-hard summations. The abundance of wine must have been what was needed to confront me although he wasn't too drunk not to know what he was saying or doing.

    He came up to the table and started riding my ass regarding my always writing letters home instead of drinking with him and the guys. I told him to back off and mind his own damned business, but he wanted to push it to the edge and continued. I had had enough of him and his mouth and felt here we go.

    My last trip to fist city was almost two years to the date, when my old First Sergeant Conway invited me "out on to the green" back behind the Regimental Theatre after sundown at Camp Crowder, Missouri. Although I was out-weighed by 20 pounds, I gave as "good" as I got, as the expression goes and gained his respect!

    This time I intended to do much better for myself, because this time the first punch to be landed would be mine. One more time I told him to back off, but he responded, "Marsh, what are you gonna do if I reached over and tore up that sheet of paper you're writing on?" I told him, "Try it and let's find out." Hovering over me and without taking his bloodshot eyes from my face, his right hand reached out and grabbed my letter from the table.

    In his raspy voice, he started to say, "Well, kid there ." And I never let him finish the sentence as I grabbed his right hand with my left and smashed him in the mouth with my right as I rose from the table all in one motion before he was able to ball up his other fist. I nailed him a solid punch because I could feel the needles shoot up my arm to my elbow on impact as bone struck bone. I felt it was the hardest punch I've ever landed in a fist fight as it caught him flush on the jaw. Now I turned loose and continued punching him in the face and body with both hands as fast as I could throw punches, rocking him back on his heels, forcing him back onto the hot stove. Hearing all the racket and curses, Veno, Hull and Donahue came rushing into the room to separate us and pulled us apart. Looking at his bloody mouth I learned that with my first punch that I had split his lips and cracked his lower denture plate. Until then we did not know he wore a full set of dentures - upper and lower.

    From that moment on, his attitude and respect towards me changed and we never spoke to each other unless absolutely necessary, if at all. And then never in a friendly vein. Veno got rid of him shortly after we crossed the Rhine River as the war wound down and we came off the line forever on April 22nd - our war had ended. We assembled in Wolfenbuttel and I last saw him there in May when the war officially ended.

    Someone from the Company asked, "Did you notice the size of that guy's hands?" I answered, "Sure did. Big hands, big mouth mano, mano, makes no difference and sure as hell doesn't make him the better man."

Written March 31, 1993, expressly for the 2nd Armored Division Association Bulletin and pending publication.

Publication or reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family Trust.