STORY OF DAVID R. TALBOTT, 1ST Lt.|
Pilot of 42-52332 downed 15 March 1944
(Abstracted from voice tape from Talbott)
On the first part of March 1944, while on a bombing mission in Europe, the engineer was attempting to transfer fuel from reserve tanks to the main tanks. They were experiencing a little flak. For that reason, they could not make it back to Shipdham but crash-landed on base near Ipswich, England (Near Freston on 20 February 1944).
Shortly thereafter, we were given a rest and recreation leave. Upon returning, we were assigned another aircraft. We had aborted on several occasions due to supercharger problems starting about 15,000-16,000 feet. On the night of the 14th of March we flew the airplane to test the superchargers and they seemed to check out okay. On the following morning, March 15th, we were about half way across the English Channel when trouble developed, but I felt I could avoid aborting by manipulating the supercharger and throttle controls so that they wouldn't over-power each other. But it didn't prove very successful. We had lots of problems in formation not being able to regulate our power. But at any rate, we got through to the target and we probably would have gotten back home had it not been for the fact that our group was assigned the job of distributing some sort of pamphlets which meant that we flew around over Europe dropping these damned papers. Not being able to closely control my power settings, I wasn't able to fly my close position in the formation that we should have. For that reason, and being out of formation we were attacked by fighters and I think we were about 22,000 feet when we took some hits in the fuel tanks, which caused leaks into the bomb bay.
The engineer was not able to open the bomb bay doors to let the gas fall on through and we took another hit in our main hydraulic engine (#3) and he wasn't able to knock them off (the doors?) with anything.
We were losing altitude because we lost that engine and although there was a fire in the bomb bay, it wasn't a large fire until we lost enough altitude so that the increase in oxygen increased the flames. So I finally gave the orders to abandon the plane. All of the men in my (flight deck) section of the plane went back through the bomb bay and left the plane from that point. My inclinometers were not working too smoothly, either. No one told the bombardier and navigator about the abandonment and I could see the boys there but there wasn't much I could do. I finally got the plane trimmed pretty well and went down through the flight deck, down to the bomb bay and started up to the nose section to tell those two that we had to leave. But as I approached the nose compartment, the plane went out of control. I was going to ask them why they were still in there but just then the nose wheel snapped out and threw me out.
When I regained consciousness, I was on the ground near a small Dutch village of Nieuwleusen. I released my parachute as the wind was dragging me across the ground. I got up and started walking, had a twist in my back, flak in my shoulder, flash burns around my head, but nothing to stop me from walking. Some gentleman came up and asked me if I could use help - of course, I could, and he directed me to go in one direction, not to look back, but just to continue walking. That I'd be watched. Well, it wasn't long after that I was told there would be another gentleman, and I could see him riding down the road on a bicycle. I thought it prudent to look for a few minutes, so I crawled into a canal and hid along the bank, allowing him to pass. In less than an hour, walking in the direction I was instructed to, I was met by some gentleman who told me to hide. They piled brush over me out in a field and instructed me to stay there until night fall - that I'd be watched on the road and that at each half hour a bicycle would pass by and if I needed help I could signal for it.
After nightfall, someone would contact me. The time grew later and later and I finally decided that something may have happened as no one had shown up, so just as I was bout to leave my hiding spot, I had already gotten hold of the brush, I heard people approaching. Sure enough, it was the Dutch people and they brought me some whatnots and took me to a farmhouse in a village, where they kept me hidden pretty well for a couple of days. They had children going to school and I had to stay hidden at night in a barn under hay while they were there. But during the day, when they were in school, they brought me in the house.
After a couple of days, I was taken to __________(?) While I was there, I witnessed a burial of my navigator and bombardier. The plane had crashed within sight of the house that I was being hidden in. So I saw the bodies being removed from the plane and carried to the village to be buried. I guess I was only there a couple of days and I was taken to a widow's house in Meppel. She had two young women boarding with her, both of them active in the UG. One of them had a G.I. (?) helping her whom was very active in the UG. As a matter of fact, I think he hid now and then in the village of Mepel. And I also got a traveling mate. He was an enlisted man from a B-17 and we stayed together for a long, long while - three or four weeks - we were taken to a __________ and were provided with civilian clothes, which we kept. In the evening, through contacts with this young man who was the fiancé of one of the young ladies staying at the boarding house. Then our contact was established with this UG forces to move us on, and we moved from Meppel to, I guess, to Zwolle (?) We changed trains and moved on southward for a village of Deventer (?), where we were kept for awhile. We had an interesting total experience there. There was another interesting chap who was shot down, a pilot, who was evading capture, too. He was regular Army, a West Point boy, and he had more determination than we did. As a matter of fact, he proved to be somewhat of a nuisance because of his insistence to be moved, where we were more or less resigning ourselves to the help the UG forces were providing us. This help proved very satisfactory, very helpful in spite of all the persuasion with which this boy used. He had to move on, which he did. But I don't think he was heard from again. After my liberation, when I got back to Washington, D.C., I made an attempt to see if he got back okay, but unsuccessfully. So possibly he got picked up by the German Army. I don't know what happened to him - his name escapes me.
After that, we were put on a train and taken to a town of Heerlen, which is in southern part of Holland, about midway between Aachen and Maastricht, I think. Well, we stayed there with the post office executives. I guess they called him chief of post office. Pleasant place, pleasant people. Had to stay there, but after we were there for a bit, despite the fact they helped us more than we could expect of them, you'd have to move on. I had some of my personal effects with me, such as my class ring, my watch, etc. This pilot's class ring was particularly attractive to someone within this group, so I agreed to let him have the ring if he would provide me or to find me some transportation to Belgium. This would necessitate going through Maastricht, which he did. He drove us to Maastricht and put us in charge of an old man who looked like, very much like Wallace Berry.
We walked into a side of a hill - literally walked into the side of a hill - just a gate that they had opened into a hill. It turned out to be a sand cave. That particular mountain was possibly completely dug out inside. I don't know what the use was, but at that particular time, it was being used for mushroom cellars. This man and us walked all night underground, under the mountain. In the morning, we came out in a dungeon (?) in this old castle in Belgium. And not far from Fort Eva Mavail (?) We were taken to a home of two elderly ladies that I understand had some sort of school in Brussels before the war. But that school had to be closed during the war, and they had to come home. They let us stay for awhile, kept us in the greenhouse, and we met a few teachers, nice people to be around. We could watch the soldiers' activities at the Fort each day. It was interesting to sit there at a distance and watch the enemy. Shortly after that we moved to Liege itself. Liege had quite a M/Y for trains - one of the main ones in Europe, I guess. The home we were placed in there was with a pleasant old lady who made alcohol for the UG forces. That was a pleasant experience as we liked a cuppa - which we did every night. Had all thoughts of war, like helping neighbors distilling this alcohol, a couple of times. And it was all right to drink - a little raw - but they had little pills to put in it. Cognac, could put tablets with it; bourbon; tasted gin. If you wanted, you could drink it straight. Alcohol was plentiful there.
We stayed there for awhile and had to move because sooner or later the news would get around that these people were keeping American airmen. An interesting story is that American airmen were somewhat of a premium in Europe because there were an awful lot of other people hiding as well, such as Jews, young men who were hiding out from German forced labor camps, etc. Those people had to be cared for, too, so rule of thumb was that natives had to keep about ten of these people, first for a certain period of time before they could have one American. It really was interesting to move from place to place as we didn't speak the language at all and the people were so fond of us that people would come from miles around (at night). The shades would be drawn, of course, and they'd just sit around the room looking at us. I don't know what the hell we were supposed to do, but they were pleasant, and it was interesting. We didn't know what they were talking about, but could pick up the gist of it form their expressions, etc. They would also bring us food.
We stayed with this lady as long as we could, but the word got around and probably was suspected, so we then moved along. It was about a hop, skip and a jump, but we kept moving. We did stay at one place where we could overlook a marshalling yard. It was very interesting to me because at that particular time there was a big assault (May 1st) by the Allied forces trying to attack all types of transportation, trying to disrupt all types of transportation in advance of the upcoming invasion. They used to bomb this M/Y each day, coming in from high, medium, and even dive-bombing. Being right on the hill above these M/Y we were able to see these activities - see the bombers approach, see the bombs released, see where the bombs fell. But there was no feeling about this sitting and watching the bombs fall. Strange as it seems, no feeling. The natives had sort of become shell-shocked at all of it. When the bomb alert sounded, they started hurrying, getting together and into air raid shelters. It was a pathetic thing for us seeing this because the people were praying and praying. But it was strange that it did not affect us the way it did them.
But shortly we moved on from there, went down into the Liege area - don't know the name of the village - same area as __________ that came later in December. When we got to this village, we found the transportation had been disrupted. So we had a backup of people, the men that were being moved southward - for two or three weeks. About 40 or so men were living in the upstairs section of the school. I often wondered how that was handled, but it was done successfully. So many people were there it was downright touchy - people would drop in, unknown people - and it was up to us all to determine who they were - friends or possibly spies. None of us really knew who they were. Not long after being there, some decided to strike out on their own. But I was having the same thoughts. We had to consider what possibilities would happen if those who struck out on their own, and proved not to be Canadians, but spies for the Germans. If that happened, there were about 40-45 of us being picked up by the German soldiers who were hiding in this place. So we had a conference one night, where I was the senior officer and carried a little weight in providing a decision of what to do with these fellows. There were only about two decisions possible. Either we wish them farewell and send them on their way, or, dispose of them! In times like that you really don't have much feeling of disposing of a person - it's either your life or his. I don't know why, I just had a feeling that these boys were okay - some of the other fellows agreed with me - so we took the poplar choice and provided them with as much help as we could - shared our maps and whatever with them, and sent them on their way. It wasn't long after though that I began wondering if it was really wise to stay there too long. We weren't accomplishing anything, transportation seemed to be completely disrupted. We didn't even have an opportunity to use bicycles. Sometimes during my stay over there we were transported form place to place by bicycles, but even that was not available any longer. So I talked with Bill Shaddix, from Alabama, (nice boy) as he was in the infantry before transferring to the Air Force. I think he was a B-17 pilot, and he and I decided to leave, which we did. It was right tough, being in a strange country, to know where to go and with no contacts. We went about the same direction and tried to maintain thatdirection. We finally did get to the Meuse River, which separates Belgium from France. By that time, Bill had developed leg trouble and couldn't walk much further. So I realized that our traveling days were over and we just had to find some help.
We'd always been instructed that in situations like this, a good choice would be around a church where we could go in and wait. Bill was too weak to walk by then so I hid him in the woods and walked back to Rivera (?), a church in the village. I'd guess it was a Catholic Church. There was a young woman there but I guess I scared her as she wasn't very friendly or receptive to me. So I felt that the best thing to do would be to get away from there - she wasn't doing me any good. So I went back to where Bill was hiding, explained what had happened, and told him I'd try one more time.
There was a family group in the woods behind us picking mushrooms. So I explained to Bill that he should sty hidden and I'd go try to make contact with them. The man was a little fellow who had an education, spoke different languages (including English), a teacher. So he checked me out rather carefully and finally seemed satisfied I was an American. Then he wanted to see Bill. Bill was tall, slender, blonde, and could speak German. I think that my voice convinced this teacher as much as anything else so I went back to Bill and told him the situation - that this teacher wanted to interrogate him. But I suggest that under no circumstances should he use any words - European words - that he had picked up. But he didn't do that at all! I took him up to this little fellow and Bill tried to converse with him in French. No need to do that as he spoke and understood English. But finally we convinced him that we were Americans and he took us in, kept us for awhile, and put us in touch with the UG group called "French Marquis," which was an organization of sabotage people consisting of three officers - one English, one French, and one American. There were probably 24 others in this group, good people, more or less like soldiers of fortune. It wasn't too safe with them as we were constantly being attacked. We were in the woods all of the time, never went near a town, slept in the woods, traveled in the woods, were attacked in the woods. One of these attacks occurred at night, possibly three or four in the morning. I was scared to death, probably never so afraid of anything in my life. I couldn't understand what my friends were saying, didn't know where we were going, and there seemed to be a stream of bullets about three or four feet above the ground. We were crawling on the ground through these woods - and I didn't know which way our men were going. We came out after the attack was over; they led us under quick pace to a radio near the East (?) River. They knew the invasion had taken place and that our armor was advancing. So each night, I tried to walk, to make contact with our troops, but was unsuccessful for a week or two. But one morning, I left our camp and went over a mountain to get some bread and when we went into that village, we saw and got the news that the American Armor was approaching the village form the other side. The Germans were blowing up all the bridges as they retreated - or all that they could. But they left one, a railway bridge, unharmed for some reason. And we saw a skeleton American advance unit, and they greeted me most warmly. I wasn't going to let them out of my sight after that. After I got with them, it was interesting that my first visit to __________(?) (Marshall) the people put me up on their shoulders and marched me up the street like a goddamned fool.
Bill and William Shaddix, from Alabama, got over to the village, too, and we never went back to the camp where we had been staying, but went to the American camp with them. We had to go through interrogation - we talked with this young fellow. But the troops had no use for us and sent us back towards the coast. That was fine with me - pleased me very much. But Shaddix wanted to stay awhile. But the leader said he wouldn't be of any help, he couldn't keep maps, etc., and would hinder them in their advance. So we were finally free and on our way home.
Following is an excerpt from Winans Cornell Shadder's pamphlet titled, "The Bloody Hundredth Again?"
Others took me to a large nearby Catholic parsonage which contained, get this; 6 British, l Canadian and 22 American airmen. This was an established system for getting evaders on a train somehow and sending them to the Spanish border, but due to crowded trains with troops moving here and yon after the invasion, the Krauts had barred civilians from the trains, hence a backlog of us fugitives in the escape pipeline, I stayed at this parsonage from about the 15th to the 25th of July, 1944. Here I met my pal and sidekick, David Russell Talbott, recently of the 44th Bomb Group, B-24s, and he made it plain to all that be was a southerner from Maryland which instantly endeared him to me. (we need all the help we can get, Maryland). Like the preacher says, "Lord, if you can't help me, then please don't help that bear."
He was a pilot whose aircraft had precipitately blown up over Holland. He had awakened on the ground with civilians working over him and trying to bring him back from the dead as they viewed the situation and he had a piece of shrapnel buried deep in his upper back. Did you ever get that thing out, Dave?) Perhaps the explosion blew his chute open, he could not recall pulling the "D" ring. During the time we were hiding out here we became concerned about our chances of remaining secure under such conditions. Just too many possibilities of being detected by a passing patrol, food in such quantities might be traced, on and on. So, we talked ourselves into the most stupid decision of all time. We would strike out on our own for the Spanish border.
Our friends tried to talk us out of the idea but we would not be dissuaded. One fine morning we left with the only food they could spare us, one kilo of sugar and one of those large round loaves of bread. Always sticking to back roads which did not always go southwest towards France we pressed doggedly on. The first night we slept fitfully on the ground and the second night we found a small barn separated from a farmhouse by about two hundred yards. There were cracks between the boards of this small locked building but I spotted a flat rock with which I was able to pry a wide vertical board off the side and gain entrance where we spent the night in a warm comfortable pile of hay. It saved us a very miserable night out in a pouring rain which ended before daylight at which time we got the hell out of there before some irate farmer tried to tear our heads off.
About now we were completely out of food and from this point on we had to steal what food we could find from individual gardens, being mostly rutabagas and turnips which we ate raw. I hope I never see one of those things again.
After four days we came across an enormous forest cut through by a huge chasm. I now know that this was the Meuse River in the Ardennes Forest, so we had to alter course to the south rather than traverse this deep canyon.
On the fifth night, while walking along a forest trail, we suddenly came upon a parachute tent with low conversation emanating from within. If I had just done a little thinking I would have deduced that this had to be a Maquis outpost but being in a foggy mental state due to fatigue, hunger and the like, I immediately assumed the worst -- Huns. We would have saved ourselves thirty miles of walking if we had only made ourselves known but on the other hand we might also have been shot for Krauts. So, we sneaked out of there and continued on our way.
Considerably past midnight we found some leaves and laid down for a few hours sleep. Awaking at first dawn I drearily looked up at a big marble monument. With my mind still not all together I saw the Kraut Maltese cross, followed by German language. This portion I understood: Heir bein (82 thousand, some odd) deutscher soldaten. It was dated 1918, this being a mass grave we had slept on. The thought occurred to me that if they shot me they could just add me to the collection and engrave, "und em dumbkopf Amerikaner," on the marble. It makes one wonder how the Krauts could allow a few insane men to lead them into such a terrible carnage. I am not sure these Teutonic types will ever be able to exist in a civilized world. They seem to glory in their own grief. Gotterdammerung.
I heard of one very resourceful air person who walked halfway across France with a hoe over his shoulder. The Krauts obviously took him to be an industrious gardener going back and forth to tend his garden plot. (All of them had one) Since we didn't have access to soap much of the time and that of poor quality, he was rather smelly and grimy and the guards declined to approach too closely to him to check his passport. God only knows how he got enough food to sustain him - begging and stealing I suppose. I know the feeling. It was reported that he safely made the grueling trip over the awesome Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and freedom.
Now, folks, I am not making these things up. Unfortunately I don't have the creative capacity to concoct wild stories like this, if I did I would be a rich author instead of a timber farmer. I'm just reporting on a time of widespread human insanity. Some of the things that took place stretch the credulity of any rational person that did not share the experience. That's the reason I leave out the more brutal stories. Just remember the desperation of the situation into which we were thrust through no fault of our own. The will to live and return to freedom was overpowering and called for imaginative solutions even to the last milligram of stamina. Most of us didn't make it of course. It was well known that Hitler was irrational and might at any time order the execution of all prisoners. Thus the intense motivation for attempted escape.
At one point we were walking down a gravel road devoid of any nearby cover when suddenly, around a corner a couple of hundred feet in front of us came two uniformed men in our direction. They were riding bicycles and wearing the ridiculous kepi headpiece so admired by the French military and police. My first impression was that they were some form of Quisling (traitor) police officers in the employ of the German establishment. It was much too late to attempt to run away so we thought it best to just try to brazen it out. I believe I had some piece of metal on me to use as a crude knife and upon being confronted by them I intended to use it with the intention of causing bodily harm if necessary to effect our escape. However, on closer examination, they did not appear to be armed. Dave was much better acquainted with the French language than I, and probably a better bluffer, and was jabbering away with them. It turned out that they were postmen on their rounds and I relaxed a bit and we parted company amicably. After liberation we met these same two dudes in a nearby village and they were affable, greeted us warmly, and offered us some of their copious supply of cognac which we kindly declined and we parted company with many greetings of bon chance. I hope they were able to make it home in their inebriated condition.
Bear in mind that there were hundreds of us unfortunate young airmen turned loose on the European countryside, always hungry, and lusting for the pretty girls. So we were treated with warmth and compassion by the locals but not to be trusted too far while daughters were near. (Sorry about that, Mama)
We proceeded as always with stealth - avoiding German patrols and guards and remaining in forest cover whenever possible. About noon we arrived in the little town on Nouzonville, France, bone-weary, ragged, filthy and gaunt from our long-time starvation diet and we must have looked like death warmed over.
Since we were fast approaching the limit of our endurance we decided to enter a Catholic Church (about the only kind France has) and ask for help. The first person we encountered being a sister and us having a poor knowledge of French we just uttered the word, "Americans," at which she blanched, flew into a panic and ran to the back of the church. We rested on a bench until a gruff and mature man, very suspicious, came in and motioned us outside the church where he flew into us with great apprehension, accusing us of being German deserters, spies and a good many other things in his broken English. Sensing that he wanted to help genuine evadees as we were called, we could not take umbrage at his remarks for what choice had we? At this point I made the mistake of simply answering one of his questions with, "Yeah." He flew into a rage thinking this was too close to the German, "Ja." (The J in German being pronounced as Y)
After calming him down for some time he finally became half convinced that we were telling the truth. I guess our bedraggled appearance settled the issue. He left and we rested for several hours until darkness. We were then accompanied to the edge of town where we were turned over to some eight young men, all suspicious of us, equipped with American M-l carbines and wearing the Maquis (or Resistance or Armee Blanche) berets. Having spent two years as a private and corporal in the 167th Infantry Regiment, Alabama National Guard, 31st (Dixie) Division, which had been called to active duty in 1940, and three short tours in the 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, I was well acquainted with the splendid little carbine and wondered how on earth they came to be in possession of them. I soon found out - air drops.
These very quiet gentlemen were either unacquainted with our broken French or refused to talk. One man led the way while the others walked behind us and the one thing that was certain was that we were being closely watched. This was truly a tough bunch which was emphatically demonstrated somewhat later. After trooping until nearly daylight back to the northeast, I truly was at the limit of my endurance when our guide made identifying sounds and we walked into an armed camp of about seventy men with parachute tents as shelter. This camp being located on the top of a gently rounded hill totally forested. All this walking to return to a spot we had just passed thirty hours earlier took the heart out of us.
After resting all day and being fed standard frugal Maquis rations, we were beginning to regain our strength and take an interest in our surroundings.
The most fascinating character in this group of extremely brave man was our commander by the nom de guerre (I use this phrase because one could not believe anything told to a stranger for security reasons. You might talk when they started removing your fingernails with pliers) of Derrien. He was made a lieutenant colonel during our stay there and was notified of such by radio from London. This from Free French headquarters commanded by General DeGualle who of course was in daily contact with our little operation. During the same radio contact we were told our names were submitted as members of the Maquis and this information was presumably passed to American authorities. At least my dear parents were surreptitiously advised that I was still alive. For three months they had no word, it has been that way with parents forever, I guess. Of course they had received one of those, "we regret to inform you," telegrams.
Colonel Derrien had a withered left arm which he habitually carried over his stomach, the arm having been disabled by several machine gun rounds in an infantry assault as a young French soldier in WWl. I was told that he had served as a distinguished officer in the French Foreign Legion between the wars. He had extremely poor vision, wore glasses with thick lenses, and walked around in combat with a Kraut P-38 side-arm stuck out in front of him. We were careful to identify ourselves when approaching him under such conditions and our admiration for him knew no bounds. I cannot help but compare this brilliant and fearless combat leader with circumstances in our own U.S. Armed Forces where he would have been forcibly retired in WW1 with a lousy Purple Heart and a bare subsistence pension.
We had a quite elderly man who did our cooking for us under extremely primitive camp conditions. He did wonders with virtually nothing. The story was that he had lost two sons to Hun firing squads presumably due to partisan activity with the Maquis. This old fellow cursed Le Boche with every other breath. when an isolated Kraut guard was captured they were habitually brought into camp and he did the honors. He earned his reputation as executioner. It sounds rough, I know, but I certainly had no sympathy for them either, let them go, they kill you tomorrow. You rape France, you die in France.
These men conducted themselves with reckless abandon, well aware that if they failed to succeed they would die. Their desperate will to prevail was evident in everything they did, knowing full well that no earthly force could give them a hand. I felt that this knowledge gave all of us superhuman strength.
My primary activity on our frequent moving days was to carry a very large sack of precious lentils, a small form of bean. To this day I love lentils. Our last couple of days with the partisans I was given a rusty French bolt action rifle made in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian war but with no ammo and no bayonet. I was wondering if I was supposed to scare Le Boche to death with it
Another remarkable person here was an officer in the OSS (forebear of the present CIA). We were told that he had parachuted into our midst during the course of an air drop so that he could gather information for our intelligence system. Dave and I had an hours long conversation with him during our first full night there. Hereafter I will call him victor.
The reader will have to bear in mind that the stories he told us could have been pure fabrication for security reasons, but I believe that he was telling us the truth. All he related to us dove-tailed with facts known to us. He was fascinated with us as to how the hell we had come to be in such a mess. After pouring our hearts out to him he told us this story:
His father had been a diplomat in the U.S. service. As a young child he had lived in Paris and had learned to parlay French like a native. Then they were sent to Berlin where he learned to sprecken der Deutsche ditto. A smooth talker and apparently fearless, he once stopped along a road and helped two German soldiers repair a bicycle flat tire. He established a rapport with them posing as a minor 'Kraut official which his phony passport bore out. He came back with an incredible amount of information which was promptly relayed over our radio to London. I hope that he survived and was adequately rewarded, he richly deserved it.
This organization called itself the Ardennes regiment although only of small company size. They wore a circular metal logo on their berets which was labeled as such. They took the name from a proud military outfit whose roots were lost in antiquity.
During an engagement on the 11th of June, 1944, they had been overwhelmed and surrendered. They were promptly executed on the orders of the son of a bitch Klaus Barbie who was recently discovered, tried and executed by the French government. Sometimes there is justice in this life. If he had been tried in the U.S. he would still be languishing in a fancy air conditioned federal prison where he would have died of old age and enriched a lot of golfing buddy lawyers along the way while our irrational El Supremo for life federal judges spent ten years concocting new "defendant's rights" with which to delay his execution if indeed they allowed him to be convicted. One thing is certain, we are going to have to build some hot fires under our lethargic politicians before we make them overhaul our ridiculous judicial system. This experience more than anything else convinced these fine men that never again would they capitulate but rather would stand and fight like the Greeks at Thermopylae. They certainly did in their next action.
The following morning a messenger ran breathlessly into our camp just at daybreak and in an agitated tone of voice warned our commander that the Krauts were on the way in force. I believed this person to be a medical doctor because an hour later he was performing open-air surgery on our wounded.
The camp became a beehive of activity and just minutes later all hell broke loose, literally. We had two machine guns mounted on the trail that the Krauts had to take in approaching our position and about sixty riflemen. We also had two bazookas in case of the appearance of armored vehicles but none showed up probably because the wehrmacht could not spare them.
At the first burst of machine gun fire I grabbed up a carbine and ran to the firing. One of our lieutenants ran after me yelling in English, "My rifle, my rifle." Of course I had to relinquish it to him and quickly found there were not enough carbines to go around so I returned to the top of the hill where Mon Commandant was along with Dave, Victor, the radio operator and others. Victor translated the Colonel's first order to me which was a Smiling, "take cover." There was a deep trench traversing this hill which I assumed was left over from the previous war into which we bad taken refuge. I could not help but wonder if my uncle had not occupied this same position a generation earlier. Mon colonel refused to take cover. Maybe he had a death wish for the glory of France and all that garbage. I later learned that he had received one of La Belle France's high decorations for valor.
This was one time that the brass received a high decoration on pure merit. All of us have seen cases of high rankers sitting around writing citations for one another and forgetting whose lives were most at risk. Witness the Distinguished Service Cross given to Lieutenant Colonel Georgy Patton in 1918 for leading four enlisted men in an infantry charge, something a corporal was expected to do routinely. The enlisted men got nothing and when did you ever hear of the rare occasion of a corporal getting a DSC? Patton never even made it to the Kraut lines, being incapacitated by shrapnel in his rear beforehand. Much as we might admire the man we should first be fair. The West Point Protective Association at work again, and before you trade school graduates start whining, I can swear to having witnessed its effectiveness many, many times. Or the slimy political trick of giving Lyndon Johnson a silver star when the bum was never even in a combat zone and the orders awarding it have never been countermanded to this day, apparently.
One young fellow had been hit by rifle fire through the arm just above the wrist. His artery seemed to be ruptured and the recent messenger was at work putting the mess back together. This brave Maquisard just stood there without blanching during the surgery until the repair was completed. I was trying to figure out if there was any way I could help, getting water and such, and wondering how a human could endure such without a whimper or complaint I surely could not have. I suppose he had been pumped up with morphine.
The Krauts having us badly out-numbered began steadily advancing around our flanks. Not one of our people took a step backwards although it had to be pretty hot at those two points. Around noon we were nearly surrounded when Mon Commandant made his move. He quickly assembled all of us on top of the hill and in column sent us through the one remaining opening with orders to be very quiet. We left the area without being discovered and trooped about half a mile to a mountain overlooking the battle area. The firing continued for a full hour or more to our puzzlement until we realized that the Kraut heads had advanced into their own people with gratiating results if you are on my side. I have never seen such a huge grin as there was on Mon Colonel's face when the ramifications dawned on us.
Anticipating the Hun's return to the Nouzonville garrison and knowing where their trucks were located, he placed us along a forest road on which they had to return with the intention of giving them an additional headache. Upon approach of the approximately twelve trucks it was evident that French civilians had been placed in the cab of each of them, so the order was quickly passed to hold our fire. I was still in possession of my huge sack of lentils and hanging on for dear life. How they failed to see us is inexplicable to me as we were close to the road without much cover. It may be that they did not want to see us. We were later told that they buried fifty-four of their number which I could not bring myself to believe until I obtained an account of the action by a Belgian historian, Cynrik De Decker (thanks, pal) which states only that they lost several dozen of their number including their commander. Since we lost only two dead, I suppose it had to be counted a victory, but a sad one.
This must have been a dispirited bunch of Huns returning to their garrison. Of course our people had a far better knowledge of the local countryside and far better intelligence system than Le Boche. The account that I read may also have indicated that we were all awarded the medaille de la resistance, whatever that is. I never inquired, they are just junk to me. This action took place very close to the Belgian/French border and I never did find out which country we were in. The border was not well marked and I was told the Krauts never did come back into the Ardennes. Well, they weren't TOTALLY stupid.
One man in a forward position had not been contacted during the withdrawal and was left inadvertently. There was much agonizing and soul-searching at his loss but late that evening he came walking into our new camp in one piece and with an empty carbine creating a flood of tears and much hugging at this miracle escape. I still don't know how he did it. As an old Army Air Corps philosopher once said, "there is always one son of a bitch who doesn't get the message." The rest of the joke escapes me at the moment but it was probably too risque for tender eyes anyway.
I was party to a night drop that was dictated by our low ammo supply. Another was arranged but the C-47 drop aircraft never showed perhaps because of poor weather in England. Weather information in those days was classified and never broadcast. So we spent the night in a fruitless quest.
Obviously, airdrops could only be made at night in moonless, clear weather. it was patently dangerous for the recovery team at best. First of all, the aircraft must find the drop zone, no easy task, usually a rather isolated pasture or field. There could be no nearby tall structures for the plane to run into, so a hilltop was a more ideal location.
Nearby trees might hang up a parachute, causing loss of property and a dead giveaway to an investigator or Kraut aircraft the following morning. The drop aircraft could show no lights for they might be seen for miles nothing could be done about our old trouble-maker the exhaust stack. The presence of a low-flying plane could be detected from the sound alone and bring the bad guys running. The recovery team could only show a brief light upwards which must be coded according to a pre-arranged covert understanding. We didn't want to be dropping our goods to the Huns. Assuming no hitches were encountered during this process the goods must be gathered up quickly and they fervently drifted far and wide so that much hustle was required and get all personnel the hell out of there fast. Timing was of the utmost necessity. A defense perimeter must be manned with riflemen especially along any nearby roads to contest any unfriendly visitors, and these guards would help to carry the goods after collection was completed to a necessarily distant camp. It was a real test of cunning, stamina and above all, teamwork.
Of course the local populace was subjected to intense investigation by the Gestapo after this action but since the Maquis was more active all over the place and the Krauts were sustaining heavy losses everywhere, they did not have the manpower to spare for a thorough harassment of our people. However, one group of ten suspected partisan helpers was rounded up and grilled mercilessly. Most of them were severely beaten but not one of the broke down and informed on all of us. One Belgian was given a truly severe thrashing and was admired by the rest for his steadfast courage. No one ever needs to tell me about the bravery of the Belgians and French.
Finally, a Kraut official told the inquisitors to turn them all loose, that they represented no threat to the Germans. Five of these heroes were part of our team that helped recover supplies during air drops, and who had sons in our outfit, and two were bakers who provided us with all the bread that they could beg, borrow and steal flour for. I fervently hope they all had a good life.
About ten days after our arrival we were sent to a private home fronting on the Meuse River since we could not communicate well with our friends and there were not enough weapons to go around anyway. This was a typical French home of the time, certainly not affluent, but wonderful, caring people who wanted to help the resistance any way they could. There was a narrow foot-bridge about two hundred feet down river from this house which crossed the river where with usual Kraut head logic they had stationed a permanent guard post with the guard rotated every few hours. We were thus required to observe the strictest discipline and not even show face in a window.
This house had a wooden rowboat in front where foresight dictated that a hole be knocked in the bottom to prevent the Krauts from commandeering it. Sure enough, they showed up one day at the front door creating a quiet near-panic. The lady of the house who was a patriotic shrew, God bless her, flew in to these guys like you would not believe, pointed out the hole in the boat and told them in no uncertain terms to, "raus," which they promptly did.
At the end of the war General Eisenhower sent out large certificates of gratitude with beautiful scroll work to the altruistic people who assisted us so bravely during these dark times. I hope that she and her husband received one.
This family and the home they lived in became a conduit for supplies and recruits. On one occasion while we were in the Maquis camp, someone contributed an intact cow to the cause. We had some improvement in our diet and it was consumed in one day but this gave rise to some talk that we had "biffstek."
When the new recruits inquired we had to admit that it was true but didn't tell them that it was a one time thing. I sure hope they fared well. I felt really sorry for them and the Spartan, rigorous existence they were entering into not to mention the perils involved.
On our final day at this house we were informed that Mon Commandant had been killed in action harassing the Krauts who in turn were in full retreat in front of Georgy and his bunch. I just felt like sitting down and crying, and maybe I did. I'll bet he and his men gave a good account of themselves..
On the third of September, (1 believe) we heard the steady roar of powerful engines to the west and over a precipitous mountain behind this house. They did not have the rattling sound of Kraut tanks with their poor quality gasoline. Dave and I hastily climbed over the mountain and clambered down the other side. There we came into sight of the most beautiful Sherman tank in the world in spite of its lousy name. I stopped it and told the top man that I was a lieutenant in the U.S. army, that I wanted an M-l so that I could go back to the river to kill some Krauts that had been bugging me for a long time. Surprised at this dirty, gaunt peasant speaking perfect Alabama, he referred me to a nearby captain who turned out to be commander, CHARLIE COMPANY, 22ND INFANTRY REGIMENT, 4th Infantry Division, Patton's Third Army. None of my former acquaintances were left of course, but I was firmly resolved to go to Berlin with them. (Bust me to a private, give me an M-l and let me stay)
The German army was in total disarray, running for their lives and stopping only long enough to fire a few bursts at their pursuers then running again before concentrated fire could be brought to bear on them.
We had the spirit of the chase in our nostrils and it was particularly gratifying for me to be a part of it since I had been the chase-ee for so long. Sort of like the rabbit turning on the hounds in this real-life dog race, only this time the rabbit had a hell of a lot of help, like a multitude of Allied combat divisions. What a hell of a feeling it was.
As a young private I had participated in the war games (maneuvers) held in Louisiana during the spring of 1941. Georgy later wrote disparagingly of some of the things that took place there. I have one for him, and I wish that he were around to defend himself, much as I grudgingly admire him.
This was primarily a schooling exercise for our general officers who had achieved their rank through peacetime political influence, many of them incompetent, and these rarely retained their commands in the future combat process. There was a tank regiment with antiquated equipment in the opposing army of this mock war and it was reported to be commanded by Colonel Georgy Patton, none other than old "Blood and Guts" himself. (His guts, our blood, as the 4th used to say). He had spearheaded a column of half a dozen tanks or so through our lines into an area that was shown on our maps of the time to have numerous roads through it. Trouble was, these roads were intended mostly for mule and horse drawn wagon traffic and became bogs in the Louisiana heavy spring rains Our sister regiment, the 156th Infantry, being native to this country, were well aware of the topography, so we established our wooden "tank guns" behind them on the one passable road and the referees ruled that they were trapped unless they could traverse the swamp. This being impossible, they were stymied and soon ran out of water in the hot Louisiana sunshine. Checkmate.
Shortly thereafter, an opposing sergeant showed up and offered to trade a tank for a Lyster bag of water, the swamp water being unfit for human consumption. Of course we gave them the water but declined use of the tank since we mud sloggers didn't know how to operate the thing anyway. I think our friend Georgy learned a thing or two from the experience. Moral: The locals usually have a leg up on the stranger.
Joining in with my old outfit and looking for access for our tanks across the Meuse, we were informed by the locals that Le Boche had failed to blow up a concrete railroad bridge across the river near Nouzonville. We went there in all haste to claim this prize and arrived as the Krauts were beating a hasty retreat toward Der Vateriand. The Shermans (why did they use that ugly name?) clattered across the crossties making a happy racket and then we heard machine-gun fire back towards town and on the river. A soldier came up shortly, out of breath, and said that he was the object of the firing from a Hun patrol across the river and upon coming under fire he had bailed out of the jeep he was driving along the river road into the security of a ditch and the jeep had careened into the river. I went with a detail to retrieve the vehicle and the only thing we could see in the murky water was the big white star painted on all Allied vehicles for air identification. (Why didn't you let me have an M-1, Cap'n?)
Someone managed to get a cable hooked on to it and winched it out when it was found to be OK except for a couple of bullet holes in the sheet metal. The soldier was all right except for a couple of scrapes and the jeep was dried out and presumably returned to service. We stayed with them for one more day until some lieutenant colonel showed up, said that they had been looking all over Europe for us (joke) and we were being sent to Paris for intelligence purposes. The GI food and coffee were EXQUISITE.
The following day we were jeeped to Paris and billeted in one of the fancy antiquated hotels in the middle of town near Notre Dame cathedral. The Seine River was very smelly, Parisians using it as a public urinal and heaven knows what else and I was not impressed with the whole place. The Eiffel tower seemed interesting though.
There was the hulk of a burned out tiger tank in the street near our hotel that the Maquisards had torched. The tankers that survived the fire didn't survive the freedom fighters reputedly.
The Krauts were still firing in isolated pockets where mop-up operations were being completed by the French Army and the Maquis. Now, I'll swear this is the truth. I saw one French farmer coming down the way on with his donkey cart and he had a German soldier in harness pulling the thing. He said his jackass had been misappropriated by Le Boche and he had replaced it with a suitable substitute. After giving his beast of burden a short rest and talking to us, he yelled at the Kraut, "attention," in the French pronunciation (it means more in French than in English) and along with a few insults got him into a trot. Don't feel sorry for our fellow human, was lucky to have a master that did not execute him as they had been doing to us for so long. If you are going to start a war you had damned well better win it. Ask any Maquisard.
The bums had shot out all the windows, walls and lights all over town with their burp guns and the place was a mess with this parting gift. The restaurants were in business, however. No little thing like a war is going keep any Parisian worth his salt from ripping off the tourists, no matter what kind of clothes they have on. The waiters had no doubt been patronizing Kraut brass the week before, bowing and scraping with "heneral" this I "heneral" that. Hooray for capitalism.
Somehow I had managed to hold on to my escape kit two thousand francs all this time and I asked a waiter if the notes were genuine. He said, "Oui." I asked how many liters of champagne they would buy and he indicated eight, whereupon I told him to get them out here. Dave, myself and a few others got roaring drunk and this from a fellow who never drinks. So, I had a lapse. At about two the next morning we ended up on a street in this strange place wondering which way it was back to the hotel. Somehow I looked skyward and there this huge structure over us and I remarked that we surely must be under the Eiffel Tower. So Dave inquired where the hotel was from here and since I had no idea we wandered around until we ran into it. Some prostitutes propositioned us on the way and it seemed to me that Paris and London vied for the larger number of these unfortunate creatures. (No, Don, we did not patronize them).
At the end of the war, all persons who had been POWs were given an allowance of one dollar per day of captivity to reimburse them for an inadequate diet. Many years later they even struck a medal for them alone. As who made their way to freedom and who occasionally had no diet at all got nothing at all and as usual Lucky Pierre has struck out again. Maybe our congressional system needs repair.
After being checked out by a bunch of harried intelligence types we were told to fill out numerous forms wanting to know who had helped us, whom we had killed, etc. No way was I going to tell them and have some bureaucratic foul-up endanger the lives of the people who had risked their all to help me. So, I was evasive. The hell with intelligence.
We then ran into the very dudes we had left at the big parsonage near Namur (Beffe was the village, I believe). After we inquired they said they had been driven by truck to the French border and they had been rated by Patton's bunch. We, in turn, just told them we had taken a long walk. What the hell. After cleaning up and donning GI clothing we were flown back to London in a gooney bird with our last of champagne. Here we were given brand-new officer's uniforms to compensate us for whatever we were wearing when we were shot down, courtesy of the Zone of the Interior taxpayer. Mine didn't fit very well but it was some time before getting home that I was able to buy an Eisenhower (battle) jacket for my emaciated frame.
While here we had a horrendous night-time explosion with usual building damage and attendant puzzlement so I would hate to have to report to the reader that old Lucky Pierre missed out on something. It was more pronounced than anything I have heard until I was involved in nuclear weapons testing a few years later and turned out to be the first V-2 missile to hit London. Please, enough already.
There were hordes of second lieutenants promoted to first lieutenants shortly after arriving in the Eighth Air Force. Consequently there was a dearth of first john bars in the PX. Dave and I therefore put second john bars on our new uniforms. One of the fellows who had been in the parsonage with us said he would be damned if he going to be a retread second john so he put on captain's bars, that it wasn't his fault that the PX had no first bars. Somewhere he had conned a big cigar and during our subsequent physical exam at a GI hospital he given priority treatment with the orderlies carrying on with "captain this" and "captain that." He was puffed up like a balloon and acting like he thought he was Fat Boy LeMay while Dave and I were snickering in the background. He sure did fill that place with cigar smoke. Afterwards we were returned to our respective (or respectable as Dizzy Dean used to say) bomb groups. I didn't even get to see Dave again as the medics were looking for his shrapnel. I wonder if he knows how many times I have thought about him??