Remembrances: Clyde Solomon: Lost at the Front
How does one get lost at the front? It's very easy unless you have all the information on battle results. Because of the bulges in the front lines, one could travel in two or three different directions and come under enemy fire. We were seldom told where we were or where we were going. We seldom saw a map; they were for the higher personnel. We had a compass but it didn't help much without a map. The Germans also changed the signs around to point in the wrong direction. During the day it was fairly simple. There was always someone to ask for directions. We usually received a half-ass answer..."Don't ask me, I don't know where I am. How about BN HQ's? I have no idea; I'm from F Company. The real trouble started at night with total darkness, not a flicker of light anywhere. Everyone is under cover or in a foxhole for the night nothing will disturb them.
It was under these conditions that Lt. Cagney came to me one morning, told me to get four members of my squad and report to Bn. HQ. On arriving the Lt. was standing by a 2-l/2 ton truck. Stated we were going to the ammunition dump for a load of Bn. ammo. This was something new for us; we were usually on mine removal duty or trying to hide some place to shirk other duties. We were told it would be good duty, a nice ride with a little work loading ammo at the dump. He didn't tell us what could happen if the truck was hit by an artillery shell, only we could go sky high and come down in little pieces. I asked the Lt. where the ammo squad was. He answered; you were the first one I found. I made a mental note to find a better hiding place.
It wasn't long before we ran into trouble. The Ammo dump had been moved to a new location. Because of poor directions and army red tape at the dump, it was late afternoon before we could leave. The squad and I crawled into the back of the truck to get a little sleep. Sometime later the truck came to a stop. The Lt. explained to us he must have missed a turnoff. The facts were he was lost. It was so dark; we had no way to see reference points to check out on the map. I made a suggestion to turn back and look for the correct road. The Lt. suggested we keep going in the present direction. You know who won that argument.
Now it was so dark we were traveling at a crawl, on a narrow dirt road, which wound through the farm towns. The Squad and I were walking in front of the truck. We came to a small town with a dozen buildings or more; the road was blocked with debris from bombing or shelling. The Lt. said he was going to use the fields and go around the town. The Squad and I were all for turning back or hole up in the town for the night, wait for daylight. We lost again.
The men and I decided to walk through the town, meet up with the truck on the other side. I was afraid the field might be mined and waited for the truck. It was making enough noise and I was worried that others might investigate. Maybe a shell or flare. The truck stopped just shy of the road. It was bogged down in a marshy area, couldn't move. What else can happen?
We went into a farmyard and broke off some fence posts and boards. Unloaded about half of the Ammo and with the help of the truck's hydraulic jack finally had the truck back on the road. Now there was only one way to go... forward.
I crawled back into the truck for some sleep. I was tired of walking and feeling our way along the road for the truck. Soon the truck stopped again and I could hear the Lt. and driver talking. I dropped to the ground to see what was going on. We were at a cross road with signs posted high on a pole, so high it was impossible to read them. The driver drove the truck up to the pole so the Lt. could stand on the hood. He took a lighter out of his pocket, reached up to the signs, and flicked it on. In two seconds we were under rifle fire. I dove for the ditch praying a stray shot would not hit some of the Ammo and all of us go up in a big bang. We kept very quiet and the firing stopped. The Lt. and driver got back into the truck, slowly pulled away taking the left fork of the road. The men and I now walked behind the truck, traveling at a steady crawl, in order to dive into the ditch if more fire came our way. The truck stopped for a few minutes and Lt. Cagney decided to walk in front of the truck, to guide the truck along the road.
We finally came to another roadblock manned by a Sgt. and four men of F Company, 2nd Bn. Hail Marys...we've been saved. The Sgt. wanted to know how come we were headed for the German lines. The Lt. answered it was a long story. We finally turned around and found a place to stop for the rest of the night. This time, I curled up on the ground, had a peaceful sleep. I realized we were receiving friendly fire at the crossroad and were damn lucky to get away. But then you had to be lucky to survive at the front.
The next morning when we delivered the Ammo, our driver found four bullet holes in the canvas about 18 inches above the Ammo and three inches above the men sleeping there. I walked up to the Lt., tapped him on the shoulder. When he turned, I gave him a salute and said, "Sir, don't ask me to go on any more trips for ammunition". He poked me on the shoulder, answered "Look at the fun you had "old man". He gave me a big grin. Lt. Cagney was one of the best. Wherever you are Sir, I have fond thoughts of you.