Don R. Marsh
Combat Command “A” was detached from the 2nd Armored Division
and operated directly under XIX Corps with the 13th Cavalry Group
attached. The Corps St. Lo Breakout objective was to seize the area along the
route of Villebaudon-Percy-Monterey-St. Sever-de-Calvados. The road between
the towns Villabaudon and Percy were under heavy fire from anti-tank guns,
Screaming Meemies rocket fire and artillery. The enemy attempted to infiltrate
across the road from East to West between the two towns and set up hasty road
blocks along the road with numerous anti-tank
guns. The enemy had cut the road, but was driven back after fierce fire
fights. Our force attacking Percy terminated the attack at 2150. Nightly
attacks were made on our command by enemy bomber aircraft using flares to
locate our columns.
drove into a field for the night and set up a perimeter defense.
Small arms fire from near by fields from Kraut burp guns told us the
enemy was still present and had not retreated. As soon as the vehicles were
covered with camouflage nets we dug our foxholes for the night as exhaustion
from the lack of sleep over-came us.
before dawn we were required to be up and ready to roll with a moments notice
so eating a cold K-ration was the daily ritual. Coffee, cigarettes and
K-rations were the staples of the day. Our Commander BG Maurice Rose existed
on the same fare only with much less sleep. Each vehicle was issued a portable
small single burner gasoline stove used for heating a cup of water to which we
added a package of instant coffee; that is when we were stopped long enough to
heat a cup. When your turn with the stove came you would wait until the water
boiled and add the contents of the coffee packet, then burn your lips from the
mess kit cup used to heat the water – another daily practice.
was during one of these early morning moments that a French civilian appeared
in our bivouac area excitedly babbling in French something that I could not
understand. When we got him to calm down and speak slowly I picked up on the
words, “Le boche” – their hated term for the Germans. When I asked him
“ou” (where), he replied, “Ici” (here) waving his arms the direction
of the other side of the hedgerow behind which we were standing. Holy shit! I
then grabbed my carbine expecting a Kraut to appear at the top of the
embankment at any moment. Joe Elfer, our Cajun from
this point, alarms went off in my head that he might be a German sympathizer
setting us up for an ambush, so it was decided to only send four of us to
investigate. Bill Veno carried a Thompson sub-machine gun, so along with him,
Larry Hull, Joe Elfer and I crawled up the pathway following the Frenchman.
Breaking out into the open of the next field bordered by hedgerows on all four
sides, we cautiously peered into the field in the direction he was pointing.
About 25 yards away we spotted a lone German soldier with the upper part of
his body exposed from his fox hole with his arms raised in surrender. A
typical ruse used by the Krauts to sucker unsuspecting Americans out in to the
open and then his comrades would suddenly pop up from hidden camouflaged holes
and open fire on us. A hurried decision to go forward or not and it was
decided that Veno and I would go forward part way as the others covered us –
then the last ten yards I’d go alone, so as to cut our losses if it was a
am a communications wire man, not a combat infantryman wearing a CIB and
wanting to be a hero, but here was a chance to bring in a live prisoner who
might render valuable intelligence. So I went for it. Crouching low and
keeping my carbine aimed at him all the time, I crawled within a few feet of
him and stopped. Kneeling, I beckoned for him to rise up out of his hole and
as he stood up, I did as well. He still wore his helmet, which bothered me as
most willing prisoners shed the helmet quickly in a show of cooperation, but
he didn’t. He was wearing the triangle camouflage cape over the top of his
uniform as many of the enemy infantry did. His rifle lay on the ground next to
his hole, but he never looked at it nor took his eyes off of me. It was then
as we stood a yard apart that I looked into his eyes and saw not fear -- but
utter sheer terror. One can only imagine the thoughts racing through his mind
– would he be shot, tortured or was I going to kill him on the spot. In his
right hand he held a palm sized photograph of a woman and two small children,
I gathered they were his wife and kids as he repeated over and over “mein
Frau und kinder, bitte” – my wife and kids, please. The tears began
rolling down his cheeks as I moved to get around behind him to prod him
towards the way we came. I guess as the carbine poked him in the back he
thought any moment this was it.
the bivouac area I was directed to take him to see Major Crust, our
Intelligence Officer. Major Crust quickly summoned one of his German
translators and before they began questioning him, Crust flipped up his
triangle camouflage cover and there in the front of his belt was a potato
masher hand grenade! Sweet Jesus, I had fucked up royal, in that I failed to
pat him down. To say that Crust ripped me a new asshole is putting it mildly.
If the army ever gave out stupid medals I earned one that day, and with a
bonus cluster. After they questioned the new POW, they instructed me to see
that he was sent to the rear with a guard to the MP’s POW pen.
and behold, at that moment, up popped our French civilian with the Kraut’s
rifle, retrieved from the field, slung over his shoulder who volunteered to
take him off our hands and walk him back down to the rear to meet MPs on the
road following our route. Having
passed that task off we soon mounted up and began to move out. We were not
back on the road more than 5 minutes but who the hell do we see standing by
the side of the road going forward,
but the Frenchman – all alone! So what happened to “Herman the German”?
Did he get to the rear? Did the Frog shoot him? Did he ever make it back home
to his frau and kinder? Some how I hope he did make it back home, as I did.
Perhaps today somewhere in