Combat Duty Begins
We drove through Luxembourg to Echternach, and then continued on our way to replace the 5th Infantry Division on the line before the "Westwall" near the city of Trier. While driving up towards the "combat zone" our convoy made a "pit stop" right after crossing from Luxembourg into Germany. Even though our non-coms warned us about stepping beyond the roadside into the bushes or the trees because of the danger of mines, one of our men was particularly shy
about urinating in the same "lineup" with everyone else! He rapidly walked into the woods to be alone, stepped on a "Bouncing Betty", and was almost instantly killed without ever having encountered a single enemy soldier! As if that weren't enough his buddy ran after him to help, stepped on another "Bouncing Betty", was badly wounded and had to be sent to a hospital in the rear.
Later, it was along this route that I saw my first dead GI out in the open, lying face down, burnt black and crisp from his head to his feet, except for his right boot and part of his OD trousers, alongside his overturned, demolished and burnt-black Jeep. My immediate reaction to this sight was to throw up my K-ration breakfast over the side of our truck. After this reaction nothing much, except "fear pain", described below, ever made me nauseous again, e.g., seeing dead GI's in puddles of blood during our "city" fighting; human heads looking like crushed watermelons with bloody brains squashed out; clumps of intestines strewn on the ground and/or hanging on bushes near a disemboweled GI body after a large caliber artillery shell had burst near by; slipping and sliding around while walking through the melting snow, under which many odiferous, decomposing bodies of Germans, and GIs, were lying since the beginning of the "Battle of the Bulge", etc.!
Our truck and gun kept getting stuck in the snow and ice; and later, in the semi-frozen mud. Our "baptism by fire" was being strafed by ME-109's repeatedly while trying to dig out our truck and AT gun in such cold weather! Almost every time German planes strafed us one or two GI's in our battalion would be wounded, or even killed!
We experienced our first combat action just outside the city of Trier. It was a pre-dawn darkness attack by German machine gunners about 500 yards in front of us using tracers. Our Squad Leader telling us the chilling news, "This is it! Spread out and start digging in! The enemy's firing at us!" It was a good thing that we dug in because soon after we were able to survive, without any casualties, about 20, or so, successive German artillery shells, that I guessed were about equivalent to our 155mm size, quite large and dangerous!!
It was right after this occasion that I decided that I'd rather be armed with an M1 rifle than the 45 cal. M1911A1 automatic pistol, which, being an AT gunner, was my standard sidearm! After all, I'd scored "expert" with the rifle but had scored only "sharpshooter" with the automatic pistol. I guess I felt more secure with a Garand M1 than with the "45" automatic pistol. I found out later after we'd captured some prisoners that German infantryman were jealous of our semi-automatic Garand rifles. I found a truck driver in our battalion service company and traded him my 45 for his Garand till our combat ended, when we promised each other we would trade back. Anyway, he thought my chances for survival, being an AT gunner, were much smaller than his as a truck driver and thought he might end up keeping the "45"?
(Just before V-E day I went to look him up to reverse our original swap! He looked very disappointed to see me "still walking around", so to speak, but returned my "45" as promised, telling me he never had occasion to fire it even once! I admitted that I was not returning his original rifle as I had burned out the barrel during our many days in combat and had needed to turn in the rifle to Ordnance for a replacement.)