DIARY ENTRY # 22
By Don R. Marsh
7 April 1945
He slowly opened his eyes and said, "I ain't dead yet, you son of a bitch!" Those were the last words he remembered before the effects of the morphine syrette kicked in and darkness overcame him. This was just as a fellow GI began to remove his combat boots, as he lay wounded on a stretcher on the hood of the medical jeep with severe pain from his gunshot wound to his shoulder and back. At first, he thought the guy taking off his boots was performing an act of kindness in trying to make him comfortable. Then to his astonishment he realized that the low-life bastard was stealing his boots, leaving him shoeless! Although they were ready to give him up for dead, he lived to fool them all one more time. His anger and determination to live helped carry himself over another hurdle in life.
Orphaned at an early age and growing up in my hometown of Racine, Wisconsin, I met this tough street-wise teen-ager one day when my older brother Bob brought him home to stay with us. Even though we were struggling in the midst of The Great Depression of the 1930s, our Irish Catholic mother never turned away a stranger in need and Gordy became "family."
When the pain killing drugs wore off, he kept playing it over and over again in his mind. This time he ran it in slow motion, almost one frame at a time, as if it was a series of stop action still photos and picture clear, recapping the exact sequences leading up to the moment the bullet impacted him. He was the point man leading his squad. When without warning, he heard the shot fired, being so close to the unseen shooter, in the house- to- house fighting in the German village. In that millisecond instant when he felt the bullet smash into his left shoulder he felt the searing hot pain that spun him around as his legs buckled. His arms and legs became entangled with each other, as he fell to the cobble-stoned street in front of the house. His Garand M-1 rifle flew out of his hands and clattered to the ground, as he was unable to break his fall. When he hit the ground his helmet flew off as he recalled looking up and staring at the gray sky, bareheaded and feeling naked without his rifle and helmet.
"God, damn it, I got it again," he thought. Another Purple Heart -- only this time he knew he was busted up inside pretty bad, far worse than last time.
The rest of his infantry squad scattered to take cover for fear the Kraut would pick off another member of this armored infantry company in the lead of the attack on this cross roads village. He had no recollection how long he laid there, out in the open, unaided. What seemed like forever, an unknown amount of time passed as the ensuing firefight raged in taking the barricaded houses one by one at the intersection from the enemy defenders. Finally, his own cry of "Medic" was heard and the kid they had named "Doc" ran out to where he lay twisted, where he had fallen. Carefully rolling him on to his side, Doc found the blood spurting from the shoulder and back of his combat jacket. The bullet had entered the shoulder muscle mass and had exited from his back. It was a clean through and through shot smashing everything, bone and muscle in its exit path.
"How bad is it?" he asked Doc. The medic answered, "You're going stateside." Translated to GI unspoken terms, " if you make it!" The Doc dug into his bag and began applying compresses to staunch the flow of blood, but the internal damage was his main concern and worried him the most. They would have to move fast to get him to an aid station for a medical doctor to take over as soon as possible, before he went into cardiac arrest from loss of blood and shock. A second medic appeared with a stretcher taken from their infantry half-track. They carefully lifted him gingerly onto to the canvas between the two poles. Placing him on the stretcher rack on the hood of their medical jeep they went back to pick up another seriously wounded man for the fast trip to the collection point and aid station.
The Doc had given him a shot from the morphine syrette and it had started to take effect and put him out of it. His mind raced to recall the events that occurred just prior to the moment he heard that distinctive crack of a rifle fired from yards away. Just seconds before his mind went blank from the drugs, he saw the American soldier approaching the foot of his stretcher. Without saying a word, the soldier started unbuckling the tops of his combat boots, to remove them, as though they were a prized possession instead of issue GI boots. Now we have all heard of scum in our own Army who would steal from a corpse, but this live body contained the heart and soul of a street fighter, who didn't know the meaning of the word quit. When the drug over-powered his mind and rendered him unable to fight back, he became totally helpless and also shoeless.
The stops at the various aid stations and evacuation points were all a blur in his memory. He only could recall the first stop where they stripped away his clothing and then it became dark all over again. Unknown voices, motions, movements when he finally came out of the fog, he asked the Army nurse, "Where am I?" Back came her standard reply, "You're in England, soldier." He was now a patient at US Army Hospital, Plant #4150, APO #63, NY. It was April 10, 1945. The long journey home and the painful recuperation and rehabilitation were about to begin. Receiving his first Purple Heart Medal awarded after being wounded at Metz, France, he was briefly hospitalized and was soon returned to duty in time to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. However, that would not be the case this time. With the war winding down, he had almost made it until this happened. Like many other friends of mine in the Army, April was the unlucky month, among them, Gil Lindgren and Norm Steele.
While recovering from his surgery he tried to put the pieces back together and let his mind replay the events over and over repeatedly. He recalled that he had tried to tell his new replacement platoon officer that the village was perfectly situated for a Kraut rear guard defense. By now it was well known that the fanatical teenage Hitler Youth were fighting a desperate delaying action all across the front, refusing to surrender until they ran out of ammunition. His apprehension fell on deaf ears as the new Lieutenant led his first combat patrol and was eager to impress his superiors with his newly learned leadership skills.
It was early April 1945, with all the US armored divisions hell bent to reach Berlin first, pushing the Krauts into the hordes of Russians intent upon doing the same thing. - reaching Berlin. The assignment for Company "B", 63rd Armored Infantry Battalion, 11th Armored Division, was the German village of Suhl. Just one more meaningless Kraut town to capture, in the final rat race that would bring us closer to returning home.
Our soldier was Private First Class Farrell Gordon Schoedel, Regular Army, Serial Number 7032333, hometown, Racine, Wisconsin. Gordy, as he preferred, was another of my friends I grew up with from the old north side neighborhood. He was on the wild side and with an attitude, as were most teenagers I knew during that period of time. Those were hard times and it drew out the hardness in good people, too, in order to survive. He had that wry smile and "that devil may care look" in his eyes that was deceptive. Depending on the gender of the person he was addressing, the look could expressly convey the thought "Well, do you want to frolic, fight or run a foot race? Take your pick. I'm ready for whatever comes up."
Gordy was involved in a lot of fights with that attitude. Often his explanation was a shrug of his shoulders and a laugh. More often as not, Gordy gave as good as he got, while coming out the winner. Gordy was on the small side of average; about 5 foot 6 inches, about 140 pounds, including beer. As often as he was tested, he could take a punch and gained the reputation for being able to punch equally well with both hands. The guy had balls plus a fair share of scar tissue around both eyes as souvenirs from brawls. And so did a lot of other guys bigger than he was after meeting Gordy mano-mano.
Recalling his last conversation with the new Lieutenant after the briefing that fateful day, they learned the "B" Company would lead off the attack and their platoon had "the honors." Gordy was the only member from his platoon to voice his opinion that his platoon got the shaft once more to lead off. For popping off, the Lieutenant glared at him and said, "Soldier, you take the point when we move out." Conversation ended.
Though a Private, Gordy was the senior ranking member in "B" Company from the Old Army standpoint of payroll protocol. In keeping with the Old Army tradition, all Regular Army men, regardless of rank, were paid first in the pay line at the pay table, in front of men with the wartime ranks of First Sergeant and all other "First Three Graders" (Master, Tech and Staff) thereby making him a marked man in the eyes of superiors of both ranks. He was the classic screw up resulting in infrequent promotions and reductions in repeated summary court-martials for minor infractions and off duty run ins with the MPs in town. On post without alcohol, he was the perfect soldier. Off post was trouble. Our paths in the Army crossed on 16 January 1945, when our two armored divisions, the 2nd and the 11th, linked up and closed off the salient separating the northern First Army and the southern Third Army at Houffalize, Belgium, in the frozen snow drifts of the Eiffel Mountains in the Ardennes Forrest, ending the Battle of the Bulge.
We met again after the war in our hometown favorite neighborhood watering hole when I returned home. He had been finally discharged from the Battle Creek, Michigan, Army Hospital Rehab Center. I greeted him with a facetious remark, "Gordy, my little hero, tell me how you got shot in the back?" Which I knew would drive him up the wall -- questioning his courage.
Instantly, "that look" came over his face and his piercing eyes focused on me for a brief moment, when I saw his wicked smile spreading as he said, "You miserable so-and-so, Don! Nice to see you too again. We both made it home alive. The first drink is on me. Ain't we the lucky ones!"
Gordy died May 3, 1970 at the age of fifty, but he had cheated the Grim Reaper out of the 25 years since April 10, 1945, so once again he broke even in the books. Tonight I'm sure he's in Valhalla searching for that low-life-scum-bag who stole his boots. I know once he finds him, he'll give him "that look" just before he belts him.
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.