Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Friday, August 01, 2008

The Day We Laughed at Patton

This morning my thoughts drifted back to another August 1 sixty-four years ago. Here is an excerpt from the book Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War:
When Patton’s 3rd Army was committed to battle on the first day of August, he somehow got the idea that the 4th Infantry Division was switched from the 1st Army to the 3rd. That would happen months later, and it was Patton who then recommended that the 12th Infantry Regiment be awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, but on August 1 we were not a part of his command.
The day began like so many other days, wander­ing here and there, backtracking, spending hours in a seemingly aimless search for pockets of Germans. Four hours of sleep for each man had done little to rejuvenate us. Until late morning the sky was gray, a perfect match for our mood.
In mid morning, G Company halted in a field and gathered around Lieutenant Davit so he could read an order from General Patton. No one gave a damn about the first, and erroneous, sentence: “You are now in the 3rd Army.” What difference did it make to us what army we were in?
The next sentence, however, got our attention: “There will be no digging-in in the 3rd Army. The 3rd Army will move too fast for that.”
Patton was a tank commander and tankers could take their foxholes with them. The infantry lived by the maxim “Dig or die.”
There was a short silence, then someone chuck­led, someone else laughed, and soon we had all join­ed in. Tired as we were, I would never have believed it possible. At that time, Bob Hope could have considered his act a success had it resulted in a few weak smiles, but, had we been in a theater, Patton would have had us rolling in the aisles. As for his order, well he knew what he could do with it.
So off we went again and soon the sun came out. I was loaded down with the big radio as we tramped along a dirt road that now and then would take us past a cluster of houses, but for the most part just wended its way through fields and orchards. I stayed at the front of the main body near Captain Moore.
It was around noon when the last man in the squad on the point raised a hand as a signal to stop. A runner double-timed back to tell the captain he was wanted up front. He started off, but in no big hurry. Without being ordered to do so, I fell in behind.
In a whisper the squad leader, John Cwiklinski, told Captain Moore that three Germans were eating lunch in a farmyard on the right. It looked like one was wearing a GI undershirt. After looking over the hedgerow, the captain agreed and sent a runner back with a message saying he wanted B.A.R. men up front. He didn’t specify how many so within two minutes all eight arrived, making nine including the one already there with the point squad.
The farmyard, like so many in Normandy, was a place of tranquil beauty. Sunlight filtering through tall trees created an irregular pattern of bright light and dark shadows, making it difficult to pick out details. The Germans were seated at a sturdy picnic table about twenty feet in front of the house. The youngest, no more than sixteen or seventeen, had removed his tunic. The sleeveless undershirt he was wearing did look much like one of our olive drab shirts. If the trio possessed weapons, and I doubted that they did, they had been left inside the house. These had to be rear echelon men unaccustomed to danger. We were no more than thirty yards away so infantrymen trained to be on the alert would have become aware of us.
The captain said he wanted three B.A.R. men to set up, then fire on his command. Again he failed to be specific so no one knew which three. All of them wanted to take part so for a moment it appeared that they were going to turn on each other. Several were snarling and growling so the captain said all nine could do the job. Captain Moore was not much of a decision maker.
One of the Germans had gone inside the house so they had to await his return. Now there were twenty or more of us peering over the hedgerow. Still the un­wary Germans did not sense our presence. When the third man came outside carrying a bottle of wine, the captain waited until he had taken several steps toward the table before issuing the command: “Fire!”
There was a terrific clatter as the nine B.A.R.s and a number of rifles fired by men who decided to join the fun shattered the noontime quiet. It was a bloody massacre. The German on his feet was hurled back against the wall of the farmhouse. Another was lifted from his seat and sent sprawling across the table. The youngest just fell forward, face down in his mess kit.
Everyone ran into the farmyard, some entering the house, others going on to the outbuildings. Af­ter failing to find more Germans we assembled at the front of the house. By then everyone had come for­ward so the captain said we could take a few minutes for lunch before going on. As there was room for only four at the table with the dead Germans, most of us sat with our backs resting against trees or the wall of the house.
One of the newer replacements, a man of eighteen or nineteen I hadn’t noticed earlier, went over to the table for a closer look at the young German. When he re­turned to the wall where I was seated he said to his squad leader, “Sarge, that isn’t a GI undershirt.”
Cwiklinski was working at opening the small can from his K-Ration box. Without looking up he said, “So what? Eat up before its time to move out.”
Soon after returning to the road we were halted again so Lieutenant Davit could read another message from Patton. This had never happened under Bradley or Hodges in the 1st Army. Someone near me mumbled, “This guy must be going to fight the war with his typewriter.”
This time the order was so ludicrous, so down­right unbelievable that even straight-laced, conser­vative Lieutenant Davit joined the laughter that was both louder and longer. The second message read: “As screaming provides aid and comfort to the enemy, there will be no screaming by the wounded in the 3rd Army.”
The man had to be mad. Imagine telling someone with his body torn apart to be quiet so as not to give the Germans comfort from his suffering. He was wrong, too, in thinking that hearing the cries of an enemy soldier was less stressful than listening to one of your own men screaming in agony. Whatever its source, a scream was a scream.


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