By Don R. Marsh

Heerlen, Holland
10 November 1944

    Every year now when the late fall winds bring the shift of the cold north winds here to sunny southern California, my mind wanders back to a period of time when I was not exactly enjoying life in Uncle Sam's Army. I'm sure at one time or another we all have infrequent reminders of those lost days of our misspent youth. Don't get me wrong - the army wasn't all bad all of the time, just most of the time. Besides, it was what the army had me doing and where. On this one particular day it was bad, as a matter of fact, very bad. The time was November of 1944 and the place was just inside the Siegfried Line near the German village of Baseweiler.

    Somewhere among the cobwebs of the Army archives for World War Two, some diligent clerk made an entry in my personnel record that I was then performing a mandatory function of laying field wire and maintaining the lines of telephone communication between our Headquarters of Combat Command "A" and our subordinate infantry, tank and artillery units. This esteemed position was not one of my choosing but rather pure luck, bad luck. As was repeated thousands of times over in classifying recruits, some damn clerk making life and death decisions on a typewriter inserted my name and MOS for assignment into the Table of Organization for this armored division, known as Hell On Wheels, the US 2nd Armored Division. How they managed to put the square peg in the round hole I'll never know, but here I was for the "duration plus six months" as it said on my enlistment form. A bitter lesson in be careful what you ask for. Regardless, I was not here of my choosing Old Lady Luck had done it to me once again, known as the fickle finger of fate.

    One day during a lull, a couple of us including Doug Donahue, Larry Hull, Bill Veno and I decided to pay a visit to "The Company." Because we were permanently assigned TDY (Temporary Duty) to Headquarters Combat Command "A", we seldom had the opportunity to visit our "company of record," this being a ledger entry on paper only, in the rear echelon. We lived in two different worlds, separated by a mere 10 miles at the time. This was an opportune time to locate them back in the city of Heerlen, Holland, across the border from Germany; safe from the sounds of gun fire. Bill Veno was the only old timer among us; Larry Hull and Doug Donahue and I, having been replacements were in reality strangers to the men and officers of this outfit.

    In retrospect, the men in the company were not hostile towards us, but just seemed cold and indifferent as though we were outsiders who intruded on their private domain. In a sense, we were strangers, but fate had drawn us all together.

    Appearance-wise, we showed up looking like a bunch of poor country cousins looking for a handout, which we were. By comparison, we were crummy looking next to these REMFs (Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers). Our OD trousers were worn, greasy and shiny from six months wear daily in the field since landing on the Normandy beach. Their trousers were exceptionally clean and new in appearance. Would you believe, some even had creases pressed into their pants! We had hoped to obtain winter gear, particularly overshoes, plus whatever else we could beg, borrow or steal. The chance of the latter was zilch as they watched us too closely.

    Veno went to the kitchen to see the Mess Sergeant, nicknamed "Mama" due to his effeminate mannerisms. I thought it was ironic that these "mothers" would call their Chief Bellyrobber "Mama." Bill Veno was trying to put the mooch on him for some real ground coffee bean coffee as we were drinking instant coffee daily. He got a couple pounds only after promising to loot a nice set of china for the Officers Mess from unoccupied German homes; the former occupants having fled across the Roer River.

    Here these lucky characters in the Signal Company were enjoying three hot meals every day, hot showers when wanted at the nearby coal mines shower rooms for miners and sleeping in honest to goodness beds. Many of the guys were making out with the town's willing young women who had taken a shine to the new "liberators."

    I noticed the First Soldier, Robert Koch, strutting around like a peacock wearing a new tank jacket, an item in very short supply. Something else caught my eye; he was wearing a pair of new cloth covered galoshes to keep his tootsies dry and warm. That was exactly why I had taken the ride for a pair of boots. Finding the Supply Room, I asked the tall Supply Sergeant Youngman for a pair of overshoes and he informed me that the company had already received their single shipment of boots and they were all issued and that he had no more coming. Something told me that "my pair" had already been sold on the black-market. When I asked how I was to obtain a pair of boots, he casually told me to try the nearby Graves Registration Collecting Point where they stripped the reusable equipment from dead soldiers. Reluctantly, this is what I was later forced to do under the circumstances. I found one size 10 boot in cloth and the other boot in rubber size 10, hoping they would bring me better luck than the previous owners.

    Wandering around the Company area, the Wire Lieutenant, Nixon Mc Neil, spotted us and asked Veno, our Corporal in charge, what in the hell we were doing back there and not up in Germany where we were assigned. Veno explained that we had driven back to hopefully to draw badly needed winter gear only to learn that we were too late and missed the boat and could not be issued anything. This 90 day wonder, a former cab driver from Oklahoma City, was also the same asshole a month earlier who had requested Sergeant Earlie J. Jones to have the wire team "obtain" (steal) some piglets from the German farms to be eaten in their Officers Mess. Not being a dog-robber nor brown-nosed, I refused to even consider his asinine "order" to earn brownie-points. I thought; eat your damn Spam like the rest of us.

    All this was too much for me and I was eager to return to Krautland with my friends in Hqs CCA and take my chances. Other than scrounging some coffee, we were unable to neither mooch anything else nor find any cumshaw we could use. What we were asked repeatedly, "Got any Lugers to trade?" Other than a mutual desire to return home alive we had very little in common in our respective military experiences. They lived in a protected environment and I seriously doubt any of them had ever heard a shot fired in anger. Never explained to me was why our wire crew was not rotated with other crews in the rear, as was the standard operating procedure in other similar units. I believe it was the old army story of "friends in higher places."

    Several years ago at a national Division reunion, one of "them" unknown to me came up and asked, "Don't I know you?" I just smiled and answered, "No. I'm sure you don't."
The lyrics from one of Willie Nelson's ballads come to mind when he sings, "Forgiving you was easy, but forgetting takes the longest time." There are some things in life one never forgets.

A condensed and edited version of this article (titled As Time Goes By) appeared previously in Issue #1, 1993, in the 2nd Armored Division Association Bulletin.

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