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A Veteran Remembers

When The Sky Was Fallingstan.jpg

I began wondering if any of the guys in my platoon got hit in that first flurry of MG fire. I got to thinking maybe I was the only guy still alive - how could I know? Were they all sitting at the bottom of trenches like I was? Or had they managed to get back out of line of fire, leaving me here all alone? If that was so, then I knew I'd just have to wait it out and make a break for it as soon as it got dark.

During a lull in the MG fire and a slackening in the rate of mortar fire I heard someone hollering, but couldn't make out who it was and what it was all about. At first I thought it was someone calling out for a stretcher-bearer, but I detected a tone of calm authority in the voice. "Who in the hell's stupid enough to be out there in the open? The sonofabitch'll get himself knocked off if he doesn't smarten up."

With care I stood up to see who it was. First I put my helmet on the muzzle of my rifle and lifted it above the lip of the trench. When no shot drilled, I took a chance and stuck my head out to have a quick look around. That's when I saw Gord Forbes, Jimmy Ees and George Simeays hot-footing it for the protection of the gully. And not ten yards behind them sprinted Ken Topping, Walt Thomas, Bob Wheatley, Cec Vanderbeck and Bill Robotham practically falling all over each other in the flight to safety, with bullets chewing the ground at their feet and snapping past their ears. 

artillary-big.jpgHow the Jerry gunners failed to plink any of them will forever remain a mystery to me. Was it a miracle? Was it divine intervention? Or was it simply that the MG 42 wasn't the magic weapon everyone touted it to be?  Had the Jerries used Brens, it's not likely the boys would have made it. I watched them as they ran admiring their guts for getting out of cover to run the gauntlet, I was thinking "they've got a hell of a lot more guts than I've got!"

I hesitated for at least five minutes trying to screw up courage, and then without really being conscious of what I was doing, I was up and out and picking the old feet up and laying them down, tearing off across the open ground like a scatback in a football game, dodging tackles, but hundreds of steel-jacked 7.92 mm rounds snapping and cracking all around.  I knew that if I threw myself on the ground I'd get stitched up from asshole to breakfast in nothing flat. 

And then to speed me on my way even faster, a mortar bomb plunged out of the gray sky and exploded with an earsplitting crash not twenty yards to my left. With the stink of the HE (high explosive) burning in my nose I pelted right on as fast as my furiously pumping legs could carry me.  That seventy-five yards seemed more like three hundred. With my lungs on fire I hurtled into the cover of the embankment just as one split second before. In doing so, I damn near bowled over three of my buddies, who were watching my desperate flight as I had watched theirs.

As soon as I hit the protection of the embankment I flopped on the ground on my back gasping for air, my heart pumping away at breakneck speed like a runaway engine.  I don't think it was because of the energy expended that I was near done in.  Blind fear had to be a good part responsible.  And then after my respiratory and heart rate returned to near normal, I realized what I'd just gone through and felt proud of myself.

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