Verdun Sequel

Verdun Sequel

By Roger Heid

 

Refer to the Blog “Memoirs de Verdun”

 

About a week after our trip to Mulhouse, I visited my GI friend Fred to discuss more travel plans. We were sitting at a table in the base Snack Bar, having lunch, when an E-8 Master Sergeant approached our table and politely asked if he could join us. We told him to do so. He appeared to be in his mid to late forties. From all the stuff displayed on his Class A uniform we could tell he was part of an Engineer unit and that he must have been around some. He had a lot of medals.

Fred and I were re-hashing our visit to the railroad museum and the meeting with Erich and his wife Mireille. Erich had invited us to visit them at their Freiburg residence. At one point, the older NCO interrupted us.

“Excuse me, Gentlemen, I don’t mean to interrupt you and butt in your conversation. But I could not help overhearing. Now, I don’t know much about railroads and such. But I sure would like to meet this Erich and his wife. I also have a story to tell. By the way, my name is George.”

About an hour or so later, arrangements were in place for the three of us to visit Erich and Mireille in Freiburg, on the following weekend. The greeting was very warm and cordial. This time around, we were introduced to Chantal, a very nice looking lady, seemingly in her early forties. We were duly informed that she was Leon’s daughter and a widow.

After a lavish meal, George finally had his chance to tell his story which started out on D-Day 1944, in Northern France.

“Well, I was stupid enough to volunteer to join the paratroopers. I wound up in the 82nd. We jumped into France. We should have landed near a town called St Mere Eglise, or something like that. There was no town anywhere close to where I landed. It was pitch dark, and I had no idea where I was, but I considered myself lucky having survived the drop.”

George stopped for a moment to gingerly take sip from his wine glass.

“Well, in England they had given us a little toy that made a clicking noise when you pressed on it. I clicked it once, but there was no response. That was not very encouraging, believe me. I figured I better move away, preferably to the north. Fortunately, there was a compass in my travel bag. So I started to low crawl toward the North Pole. What seemed like an eternity later, I tried the clicker again. This time, there was a two click response, coming from somewhere to my right. A few minutes later, I found myself in the midst of a bunch of GI’s. They were in a state of mass confusion, arguing about where we were and were we should go.

Anyway, we wound up in some sort of improvised holding area. There the state of confusion was even greater. Unbelievable, so I thought. Some officer approached me, staring at my shoulder patch.”

“We have no clue where the 82nd is. Now you are in the Engineers.”

“But, Sir, I am Air Borne. I’m not qualified to be an engineer.”

“Do you speak English?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Can you handle your M1?”

“Yes, Sir! Expert!”

“Can you lift 75 pounds?”

“Absolutely, Sir!”

“You’re qualified. Follow me!”

George took another sip from his wine glass, this time using a much bolder approach.

“Needless to say, I followed him. As you know, you do not argue with a Major, in a combat zone, especially if you’re only a Private. If the man wanted me to be an Engineer, I was going to be one, for sure. At the time, I didn’t care much. All I wanted to do is go back home. France turned out to be a far cry from what the Travel Brochures promised it to be.

During the next two weeks, I felt like a pack horse. We unloaded supplies from landing craft and loaded them on a bunch trucks. Somebody called them the ‘Red Ball Express’.

One morning, the Major asked if any of us would volunteer for a covert mission, behind enemy lines. This sounded like a suicide mission to me, but it was a chance to get out of the back breaking daily humdrum, lugging heavy containers from boat to truck, from boat to truck, from boat to truck, awwh, you know what I mean. I should have followed my head and stayed there. At least, here it was a lot safer than further south. But, once again, I was stupid enough to volunteer.”

Now, George took a huge sip from his wine glass which prompted Mireille to fill it up, again.

“The mission consisted of delivering ordinance, arms and ammunition and medical supplies to contingents of the French resistance. We were also to assist them to blow up certain real estate, like bridges and railroad tracks, and a train or two, whenever possible. This was not exactly what I had been trained for, but the Major had said I was qualified. We were also told that, if we survived or were caught, the US Army would decline any knowledge of any action taken by us. This sounded fishy to me, but there was nothing I could do about this, anyhow. It didn’t keep me from volunteering.

Two days later, we went on a rather interesting rail road trip. It started in St. Lo. Somewhere, along the line, we needed to switch to another train, in a hurry. It was all very hectic. All I did was follow my Sergeant. I do remember seeing a station sign, saying ‘Fiers’ on it.

By now, we were dressed like local farm workers. Then we got off the train, someplace, during the dark. There were a couple of trucks waiting. They had all the stuff loaded. I was nervous and confused. I can’t recall all the details. We finally managed to link up with a few members of the Resistance, a bunch of very friendly guys. They were so happy to see us. I was scared out of my wits.

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The following night, I helped to lay out some wires, hooking them up to a plunger, hidden in a cluster of bushes on a hill near the some railroad tracks. Others were busy placing the fireworks under or next to the tracks.

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I was told to sit tight, keep my head down, wait for the expected train to be in a certain spot, and then push down on the plunger. During the wait, a young lady, a member of the Resistance, joined me. Her loosely fitting dungarees and the submachine gun dangling from her shoulder were in stark contrast to her pretty face. She told me her name was Nicole.”

George needed to stop, for a moment, to catch his breath and to take quite a gulp from his glass.

“A few hours later, the train we were waiting for, was finally approaching. By now, it was daylight. At the right time, I pushed the plunger down, as hard as I could. The results were quite rewarding, I must say.”

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“Judging by the looks of things, I knew I had become a successful Combat Engineer. My action yielded visible results, whereby my action as a paratrooper yielded nothing but confusion. That is how I felt, at that moment.

Then, out of nowhere, the surrounding landscape was filled with German troops. Oops! They had located us. During our escape action, there was brief shoot out, I caught a bullet. Then I must have fainted.

When I came to, I found myself in what seemed to be in some room in a basement. Nicole was leaning over me, arranging a bandage around my left shoulder. Her warm and gentle smile made me feel so comfortable.”

“George, you got real lucky”, she whispered. “The bullet missed you heart and your lung was not hit, either. But for now, you need to stay put and rest. I will take care of you. You are safe here.”

“It took four more days for the American lines to come through. On the third day, Nicole did not come back. She got killed during an attempt to blow up a bridge. I had fallen in love with her.”

George finished his second glass, tears rolling down his cheeks. After he had calmed down, he continued.

“The medics hauled me to a hospital in England. I had to stay there for eight weeks, before I was released. I was given a choice to either return to the 82nd or stick with the engineers. Well, I decided to stick with the Combat Engineers and to return to my unit. Instead, they transferred me to the Pacific, wouldn’t you know.

Erich, you got lucky, after Verdun. A war later, after D-Day, I did not. I guess that’s the way it was meant to be.”

Everybody now took a healthy sip from their glasses. I did notice little tears finding their way down Chantal’s cheeks.

“So, you have been single, ever since? Never got married?” Erich inquired.

“Uh, while I was stationed in Korea, I, uh, well; she was a US Army nurse. I was going to marry her, but, well, Erich, you know what war is like. She did not make it either. Yes, I have been single, ever since, never married. I’ve given up on the whole idea. I was lucky enough to survive two wars. They have not sent me to Nam, you see. They say I’ve done my share. I got 28 more months, here in Germany. Then I will retire. I’m planning to buy a small spread, out West. There I will raise me some horses.”

About five weeks later, Chantal and George got hitched. It took two devastating wars to make that happen. I will never forget the Wedding Party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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