Monday, February 7, 2011

Remembering Norm Part Two

I am continuing Norm's war story:

On October 5th evening, we were loaded on our ship of demarcation.  The next morning, my nineteenth birthday, while we were asleep, we were off to where we didn't know.

It turned out to be Marseilles France. What I remember most about this were the two times I got sea sick and the passage through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea.  The Mediterranean Sea was one of the two times I was sea sick.

We landed in Marseilles October 20th, 1944, which had been recently liberated.  We marched for ten miles through the outskirts of the city to a bivouac area.  That night was the first of many cold rainy times to come.  After nine days, including a four-hour pass to the city, the divisio headed for the front in open trucks stopping overnight in Valence and Dijion.  

On the night of October 31st arriving behind our front line, we heard artillery for the first time.  it was our artillery, but we didn't know that.  The next morning, November 1st, we relieved the 179th Infantry of the 45th Division.  We met the veterans of infantry combat; the beaten up dog faces that we were to become.

The position was astride the small village of LaSalle France in the Vosges Mountains.  On November 3rd we marched into the town of St Remy where we slept in basements while the town was being shelled, causing casualties.  At dawn we moved to a ground facing the enemy.  I had my first experience in sweating out being shelled by 88's.  The 88 was the German all purpose Artillery and Anti-Aircraft Weapon.  They produced a terrifying whistling sound, while cowering in a just dug foxhole.  On November 6th the company launched it's first attack taking the objection which was two small woods.  It was here I learned a lot of the trouble comes when you have won the position.  I lay prone as I could get with enemy machine gun rounds whistling over me.  Another company relieved us the next day
German 88 capture Sarrebourge France November 1944
On November 10th with snow covering the ground, our company attacked a high hill in the Baccarat Woods.  Again, after taking the hill the position was heavily shelled.  On  Novembe 13th we spent the night on little shelves hacked out of the side of the cliff.  The next day was the operation that earned our battalion the Presidential Unit Citation.  The Seventh Army to this point had been stopped cold the German winter defensive line in the Vosges Mountains.  So on the morning of November 14th a skirmish line was formed at the base of the hill nearly straight up in places.  When the tops of the hill's knobs were reached terrible fighting occurred.  These casualties were incurred by our riflemen.  I was a machine gunner so I was lugging up the machine gun behind the action.

The gateway through the Vosges Mountains had been won.  Our machine gun was set up defensively to protect against enemy attempts to retake the hill.  From the time the hill was taken until I was wounded, November 19th, the shelling was continuous.  It was during a respite I was standing in my foxhole reading a letter from home when the mortar shelling resumed.  I was hit by a ground burst with fragments coming up under my left arm and helmet.  The helmet had a hole blown in it.  I only had a scratch above my ear but my arm was shattered, I thought.

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