Thursday, February 17, 2011

Remembering Norm Riley Part III

Today I am continuing Norm's WWII story in his own words  We have his daughter Lisa to thank for making sure these memories were recorded.

From November 1st 1944 to November 19th 1944 I had nineteen days of WWII combat. After 60 years many memories of that nineteen days are still with me.  The first day when we took over from the 45th Infantry Division we were bequeathed a dugout shelter.  It was nice except that it leaked.  It rained or snowed almost all of the nineteen days.  Nearby was a large unexploded shell, ours or theirs, I don't know.  A dead German was nearby.  On him was a picture of him and his lady.

The 1944 Presidential election was held during my nineteen days of combat  We learned of FDR's victory via The Stars and Stripes several days later.

During all of the nineteen days the sound of gunfire or shell explosions was constant.  We got to hear their machine guns zzzth versus ours that went putt, putt, putt.  It was then I saw how slowly sound travels.  We overlooked an area being shelled.  We saw the explosion and later heard it.  Being a defensive machine gunner, I didn't have to go on scouting missions on enemy lines.  However, defensive positions were targeted often.  I remember seeing a direct hit on one of our rifleman's head.  I remember laying flat in the foxhole with machine gun bullets ripping through the branches above me.  I remember listening to shells roaring overhead.  We learned quickly that if you heard it, it missed you.  The night before our assault in the opening through the Vosges Mountains the air was pierced with a wounded soldier somewhere screaming for help, but we couldn't give away our position....

...The day of the important assault we ascended a slope nearly straight up.  This approach was selected on the theory that it would be least heavily defended.  When I got to the top our captain, very distraught, said get the machine gun set up.  On the top there were dead of our company and dead Germans.  I dug my foxhole and we dug a machine gun position.  We could hear German chatter below us.  The occupation of this hill took place on November 15th.  From then on we were continually a target of mortar and artillery and two of us were on the machine gun at all times.

So on Sunday afternoon, November 19th I was in my foxhole, standing up reading a letter from home when a mortar shell hit a tree next to my foxhole and fragments came from the ground up under my left arm and steel helmet.  The helmet was knocked off my head with a hole in it.  I couldn't move my arm.  I called over to Shuman, the other man not on the gun at this time, if he was wounded.  He said no and I told him I was.  He led me back to Company Headquarters which was located between two large mounds, the safest spot, of course.  I remember thinking as the shelling went on; Maybe I can get out of this.  This is when Lt. Landus remarked "I hope you never come back, isn't this hell, Riley?"  When the shelling stopped the company jeep driver took me back to the aid station where I had the first coffee I had ever drunk and a splint put on my arm.  Later a truck moved me and other wounded men back to an operating tent hospital (probably the forerunner of MASH).  I was gurneyed back to an operating room where a doctor whose name I will never know, saved my arm.

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