THE LAST DRIZZLE-
Because of the pressure of other matters which made it impossible for
"the editor" to devote any time to The Drizzle during the last two months,
no issues were prepared for September and October. And because only three
letters were received from servicemen in the meantime and so many of the
boys have now returned home, this will mark the last issue of The Drizzle.
I sincerely regret that lack of space makes the mention of all of the boys
an utter impossibility so the contents of this last issue will be restricted
to several thrilling and harrowing experiences which have come to my attention.
THE STORY BEHIND A BRONZE STAR MEDAL-
Back in the summer of 1944, word came through from the European theatre of war, telling of the award of the Bronze Star Medal to T/4 Emil Weigert, a member of Hq. Co., 1st Bn., 4th Division, who was discharged at Fort Sheridan Oct. 4th after over 4; years in service.
No details accompanied the announcement, however, and the thrilling story which led to the award has never been generally known. In fact, it was only after a great deal of urging that Emil, who is an unassuming fellow, finally consented to relate the full story and permit its "publication" in the Drizzle.
Here it is:
Out in the open country of Normandy, the Yanks and the Germans had been engaged in a hot fight since the early hours of June 24th, 1944, with the action growing particularly fierce around 4 p.m. when the Germans opened up with a furious heavy artillery concentration. It was during this barrage that the lieutenant colonel of Emil's battalion was killed. His death enraged the boys and made them fighting mad. The battle mounted in fury.
The fierceness of the Ratzi artillery concentration gave rise to strong suspicions that the enemy might be preparing to launch a vigorous counter-attack in an attempt to wipe out the American positions some time during the night.
Shortly after 7 p.m., however, a strange thing happened. Straggling through the American lines, his arms raised in surrender, came a bedraggled German medic.
Emil, who was born near Hamburg, Germany-and of course, speaks and writes German fluently-was immediately summoned to question the enemy soldier and act as interpreter.
While a number of officers and men gathered about them, Emil began to quiz the Ratzi and he quickly discovered that the medic was there on a very definite mission-to arrange for the surrender of not only himself, but also of 35 of his comrades whom he said were awaiting the outcome of his negotiations in a valley a half mile away. Moreover, he wanted one of our soldiers to accompany him back to his outfit.
Emil immediately volunteered to go with him.
"He seemed to be a sincere fellow," reminisced Emil, "And I was pretty sure he wasn't trying to pull anything. Besides, we had gone through some pretty rough fighting all day long and I figured if we could get these Germans to give up, it would probably save the lives of quite a few of our men-possible even my own."
The German medic, incidentally, said they had tried to surrender a few times before, but every time they tried, the Americans, who were grimly determined to avenge the death of their lieutenant colonel would open up on them and the fighting then broke out anew. The Yanks, of course, were suspicious because the Germans were noted for treachery, but the medic insisted that the artillery concentration was not the prelude to a counter-attack, but was solely for the purpose of permitting most of their troops to withdraw to the rear while he and his other comrades were ordered to hold fast to their positions. As time wore on, however, they had become "fed-up" on the deal and decided to surrender, choosing the medic as their emissary because they knew he could get through the American lines without being fired upon.
"No, Weigert, you can't go," the battalion major declared, after Emil had tried at length to pursuade him, "It looks too much like a trap. It's too dangerous."
As he continued to quiz the German, Emil became more convinced than ever that the man was sincere and really meant what he was saying. He kept urging the major to let him go. Finally, after nearly two hours of discussion and persuasion, the major relented.
"All right, Weigert," he said, "You can go. But, remember, don't go a step beyond the outpost. It's too risky."
So off Emil went with the German medic. But when they reached the outpost, he conveniently forgot what the major had told him.
"What's the difference," reasoned Emil, who is a care-free, happy-go-lucky sort of a guy, "I'll just go a little farther. And if they get me, they'll get me-that's all!"
It took a lot of nerve to do this-but, of course, Emil would never admit it-because there had been instances where German SS men, secretly planted in the ranks by Hitler unknown to the rest of the Ratzis, had fired upon and killed both the German peace emissary and the American soldier accompanying him back to discuss surrender terms.
After going about ten rods beyond the outpost, Emil, who was armed with a rifle, and the medic were about to descend the hill leading into the valley. Here Emil halted, however, because he decided it would give him a splendid vantage point as the Ratzis marched up from the bottom of the incline.
"Now, I'll give you exactly 20 minutes to get back here with your men!" Emil commanded the medic sternly. "If you're not here by that time, I'm going back to our lines. And remember! Bring no guns or knives! Carry plenty of white flags! And don't talk! Because if any of our boys back there hear anyone speaking German around here, they're liable to open up on you."
The medic went-quickly and eagerly.
It was nearly 10:30 p.m. A curtain of almost complete darkness, relieved only by the sickly beams of an indifferent moon and the feeble twinklings of scattered stars, had lowered over the countryside. Five minutes passed . . ten minutes . . then fifteen . .
Emil began to wonder. What was the matter? Why the delay? Was it a trap, as the battalion major had feared?
Just then Emil heard the shuffle of marching feet at the bottom of the hill. Ah, this must be it! And it was! Because as Emil peered into the darkness, tense with anxiety and with his trigger finger poised for instant action if need be, he could now see the dim outlines of several white flags.
And there was the medic, flanked by a lieutenant, marching at the head of the column of surrendering Germans who were coming up the hill four abreast. Nearer and nearer they came.
"Halt!" commanded Emil. The Ratzis came to an abrupt stop immediately in front of him.
There they were - not 35 Germans-but 58 of them!
The original group of 35 had swollen to the higher figure when stragglers, who had been cut off from their respective units, kept joining them after the medic had first left to discuss surrender with the Yanks several hours earlier.
When Emil hollered "Halt!", he hollered the command loud enough to provide a signal for several Yank guards awaiting it back at the advance outpost to move forward and help him march the captives in to the battalion command post.
After the 58 prisoners had been subjected to a thorough search here, Emil and the guards took them to the regimental prisoner cage two miles away, finally getting back to their outfit around 3 o'clock in the morning.
And so there it is - "The story Behind a Bronze Star Medal."
FURTHER AMPUTATION OF LEG MAY BE NECESSARY-
Although it was a year ago last July 26th that Harry Schuerch, then serving as technician fifth class with Co. E, 314th Infantry, 79th Division, had his right foot blown off just above the ankle when he stepped on a German land mine, he is now having trouble with his artificial limb. Because there is only two and a quarter inches of the leg remaining below the knee and since seven inches is necessary to assure maximum success in manipulation, the artificial limb creates too much pressure against the stump and has caused the bone to break through the skin. Unless a new limb can be designed to shift this pressure up onto the thigh, Harry will have to have his leg amputated above the knee. He has already had five amputations which were necessary before the leg healed properly for fitting of the artificial limb. In addition, he has had one skin grafting operation.
Harry, who was discharged from service Sept. 29th after nearly a year as a patient in McCloskey Gen. Hosp., Temple, Texas, was advancing with the rest of his company into battle positions against the enemy about 10 miles northwest of St. Lo in France. It was about 10:30 p.m. During the day, Harry's outfit had experienced some stiff fighting against the Germans, who had been forced into retreat. Now, under cover of darkness, the Yanks were moving forward to advance positions. At about 11:30, Harry's company hit a watery, boggy swamp about 500 yards wide. They were only about half way across when a German mine suddenly blew up. The explosion brought immediate orders from the company commander to "Hold up." When there were no further explosions, the signal to "move on" was given.
Harry had gone but a few feet when he stepped on a mine, the blast from which tore his right foot off just above the ankle and left the end of the leg a bleeding tangle of shredded flesh, muscle, and bone. Fragments of the exploding shrapnel also struck the local soldier in the thighs and buttocks and one piece pierced his right lung. Scarcely ten seconds had passed when six more German mines went off in scattered areas of the swamp. Of the 12 Yanks most seriously hurt by the exploding mines, Harry was one of only three of them to survive his wounds.
The Ratzis had cunningly planted the mines some distance apart. Thus, if only one mine would have gone off, they could have been reasonably certain that only a small force of Yanks were probing their lines. On the other hand, when all of those scattered mines exploded almost simultaneously, the Germans, who, unknown to the Americans, had secretly dug in along a nearby hill overlooking the swamp, now were well aware that a fairly good-sized attack was under way against them.
Those successive blasts, therefore, were the signal for the Germans to rake the swamp with a withering barrage of machine gun cross and straight fire. With bullets spattering about him, Harry slowly crawled back in search of a safe refuge, dragging his shattered leg through the mud and water. After creeping 100 yards, he luckily struck a dry patch of ground in a "dip" which provided excellent protection against enemy machine gun fire.
Not only did this 'hollow" afford an excellent shield for Harry, but it also enabled the thick coating of mud clinging to his injured leg to dry and clot the blood. The fresh, wet mud had impeded the bleeding considerably, and upon drying, it checked the flow almost completely. Army surgeons said this was all that saved the local soldier from bleeding to death.
"I had plenty of pain," explains Harry, "But I was too scared and was wondering so much about whether I was going to get out of there alive that I didn't have much time to think about it."
Luckily the Germans ceased fire soon, permitting uninjured Yanks to withdraw safely to the rear where they told of the locations of the enemy machine guns. Early that morning - it was past midnight now - American mortar fire wiped out those positions.
All night long, Harry "sweat it out" in that little dip in the swamp, waiting anxiously and some times almost frantically for the medics to come along and carry him to the battalion aid station. Each passing second seemed to drag along like a swollen minute. Finally, at about 6 a.m., they came.
Placing Harry in a stretcher, the medics carried him to the aid station where he was immediately given four blood plasma transfusions. Then he was taken to the field hospital, arriving there at 10 a.m. Here Harry submitted to four regular blood transfusions and then he underwent surgery to remove the shattered area of his injured leg.
At 8 o'clock that very same evening, the Monticello soldier was placed
aboard a hospital plane and evacuated to a hospital near Bristol, England,
a flight requiring 2 ½ hours. Here he was hospitalized for three
months and eight days, during which time he had 11 more blood transfusions.
On Oct. 19th, Harry arrived in the states and was immediately
sent to McCloskey Gen. Hosp., Temple, Texas, where he was a patient until
his discharge from the army Sept. 29th.
"NOT WORTH A WOODEN NICKLE"-
That's how an army doctor described Cpl. Lyle Sinnett's chances of survival when he was brought in, critically wounded and all but lifeless from loss of blood and exposure to the cold on the evening of last Jan. 4th following a raging tank battle against the Ratzis earlier in the day in the historic but disastrous Battle of the Belgian Bulge. So he told Lyle days later after the latter had waged a successful nip-and-tuck fight against death.
Cpl. Sinnett, an erstwhile Evansville boy, is the husband of the former Marion Moser, daughter of Fred and Lydia Freitag Moser. Still a patient at Percy Jones Gen. Hosp., Battle Creek, Mich., where he arrived June 2nd, Lyle is now spending a several weeks' furlough at the Moser home.
On the morning of Jan 4th, the "dueling" between the Yanks and Ratzis in this particular area of the Belgian Bulge was especially severe. An American airborne unit was experiencing great difficulty in taking an enemy strong point and a heavy snow fall was not simplifying operations. The battle now reached a new crescendo of fury with the Germaniacs literally pouring shells from their 88s into the area to check the advancing tanks while they converged upon them.
It wasn't long before a German shell struck Lyle's tank. It was a crippling blow, but nevertheless the crew kept the vehicle plunging deeper and deeper into the battle. Fragments from the shell glanced off the bough gunner's hatch, tore through the tube of Lyle's 76 mm gun, took off the end of a 30 calibre gun, and glanced off the shield. The bough gunner received severe back wounds which later proved fatal, but he succeeded in getting out of the tank. Soon a German 88 shell ripped through the boggy wheel on the left side of the tank. One by one the seven tanks were being knocked out now, victims of deadly German 88 fire.
Shortly a third and direct hit stopped Lyle's tank in its tracks, severely wounding him in the legs and left wrist and knocking him unconscious. Apparently two of the remaining four members of the crew were almost instantly killed. When Lyle regained his senses, the tank was on fire. In desperation, he struggled to get up and out through the hatch of the vehicle because he was well aware that it would be only a matter of minutes - possible only seconds - before the flames would reach either the gasoline tank or the ammunition supply.
Although suffering painfully from his leg and wrist wounds, Lyle succeeded in raising himself through the hatch of the tank and then let himself drop to the ground. As he struggled through the opening, he could hear his canoneer screaming. The latter had been severely wounded. Moreover, the flames were closing in on the poor fellow, this cutting off any possibility he might have had of escaping to safety.
Badly shaken when he struck the ground and enduring indescribable pain from his wounds, Lyle was able to drag himself to a spot only ten feet away from the tank where he turned and watched it burn. The screams of the canoneer were becoming more and more faint now and Lyle's thoughts became a rush of conflicting emotions as he realized how helpless he was to help his trapped buddy.
Suddenly the ammunition began to go off, popping like giant firecrackers. Soon a deathly silence fell over the battered tank - a strange and ghastly silence punctuated by the thunder of battle.
Sole survivor of the original crew of five soldiers, Lyle lay there in the deep snow, greatly weakened from shock and loss of blood. His left leg was bleeding badly. He was also struck in the right thigh which bore two long shrapnel wounds. A piece of flying steel had hit his wrist watch, driving it into his left wrist. The deep indentation of the watch in his wrist caused another painful wound, but the protection it afforded against the shrapnel is credited with saving his hand.
It wasn't long before two infantrymen spotted Lyle and they rushed to his aid, applying a tourniquet to his left leg. Bravely they tried to carry him to the rear, but soon the Germaniacs began centering their fire in their direction and the infantrymen had no other choice than to temporarily abandon Lyle in the protection of a nearby ditch. It was 1 p.m. now and he was forced to lay in the snow in freezing weather until nearly 8 p.m. with enemy shells frequently exploding dangerously close to him. Several times he lapsed into unconsciousness.
Very luckily, Lyle had just regained consciousness a little before 8 o'clock and he could hear men running about near him. He called to them for help and an army sergeant, who happened to be standing right beside Lyle at the moment, looked down at him in amazement and exclaimed, "Why, we thought you were dead!"
Because they thought Lyle was dead, the medics were attending wounded Yanks in need of emergency care. By the time they would have reached Lyle under those circumstances, however, he may not have survived his wounds so it was an extremely lucky stroke of fate, indeed, that he regained consciousness right at that moment.
The medics immediately placed Lyle on a stretcher and carried him back to the field hospital. Because it had been frozen, thus cutting off the circulation, his left leg had to be amputated below the hip. An incision five inches long was made in the muscular part of the upper left arm and shorter incisions in both forearms near the elbow bends to enable the doctors to probe for veins which had collapsed badly from loss of blood and Lyle, of course, was in urgent need of blood transfusions. Two long incisions, extending from the knee to the ankle, were also made in the fleshy part of the lower right leg to relieve gangrene and a deep vein poisoning. For the first six days, his condition was so critical that nurses were with him every minute of the day and night.
It was after Lyle was definitely out of danger that one of the army surgeons told him that "Your chances weren't worth a wooden nickle," adding, "We just thought you were another fellow that would be a waste of time and supplies."
For nine weeks, Lyle was given a shot of penicillin at regular intervals both day and night - or approximately three thousand dollars' worth. When he was eventually removed to a hospital in England, gangrene had developed in his right foot, the circulation of which also had been hampered by freezing when he was forced to lay in the ditch for seven long, seemingly endless hours when the infantrymen had to abandon him there. Amputation of all of the toes was found necessary. Before leaving for England, where he had four operations altogether, Lyle had submitted to three operations in France and he doesn't recall just how much surgery he had while hospitalized in the Belgian Bulge area.
"It's a wonder they didn't amputate the whole foot instead of just the toes," reminisces Lyle, whose cheerfulness and splendid spirit in the face of so much pain and adversity have been an inspiration to his many army buddies and other friends, "Because it was as black as tar."
Even now there is a possibility that Lyle's right foot will have to be amputated because he has no feeling in it and no control over it. In fact, army surgeons have been debating the advisability of amputating the member for the past several weeks. He has already had one operation on each leg since arriving at Percy Jones Gen. Hosp., from which it is likely that he will not be dismissed for another twelve months.
Mrs. Sinnett has a clerical position in the Red Cross office
of the hospital, having assumed these duties July 3.
SPEAKING OF MIRACLES-
Whenever there is a discussion of miracles, one automatically thinks of the narrow escape from death experienced by Pfc. Johnny Frehner, now returned to civilian life, who was critically wounded in a battle against the Germans near Frankfurt March 24.
The day was cold and clear. The advance of Johnny's company had been held up by four nests of German machine guns ambushed along the edge of a timber across an open field. It was the nest on the corner of the timber which was causing the most trouble and so a platoon of men, including Johnny, was ordered to knock it out.
Crawling along on their stomachs, the whole platoon moved forward until the Yanks reached a point only about 60 yards away from the corner nest, the position of which was betrayed by the Ratzi gunners who, for some strange reason, were shooting some tracer bullets. The air was filled with the chatter of machine guns and rifle retorts as the platoon moved forward with its members pausing every now and then to fire at the enemy position. The Germans were also hurling mortar and artillery shells into the area.
Johnny had crawled just a short distance farther when he felt a sharp, stinging sensation in his left shoulder, a sensation which flashed diagonally down across his body. He had been hit by a 31 calibre German machine gun bullet which entered the tip of the shoulder, narrowly missed the heart as it passed between that vital organ and the spine, nicked his right lung and collapsed the lower section of it, and then passed out just above the hip.
Speaking of miracles!
Finding it difficult to breathe and spitting up much blood at first, Johnny turned and began crawling back toward the rear as best he could. Progress was extremely slow because almost every move Johnny made caused him a sharp twinge of pain. In fact, it took him at least two hours to cover two hundred yards. Here a medic - there is one assigned to each platoon - gave Johnny first aid and then he laid there for several hours until stretcher bearers came along and carried him to the battalion aid station which was reached about 2 p.m.
From here Johnny was removed to the 30th Field Hospital, situated in a little German town back across the Rhine. In a critical condition, the local soldier submitted to an operation for the removal of two ribs to enable surgeons to patch up his injured lung. For almost all of the eight days Johnny was in the field hospital, he was under an oxygen tent and he was still in considerable pain.
Once out of danger, Johnny was flown to Paris by plane, and after a
day and a night in a hospital there, on to England where he was hospitalized
until his departure for the United States May 25th. He arrived
in New York City on June 8th. From there Johnny was sent to
Brooke General Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he was discharged
from the service September 1st. During the most critical period
of his illness, Johnny fell off rapidly in weight, dropping to 140 pounds.
Upon his release from the army, however, Johnny had regained all of his
lost weight and then some - tipping the scales at 180 pounds.
LT. "BOB" AMANS LEFT COLORFUL RECORD-
Lt. "Bob" Amans, who was killed in action April 12th on the little island of Jolo just south of the Philippine island of Mindanao, left a colorful military record behind him as a monument to his memory.
"Bob," who belonged to Co. I, 163rd Inf., 41st Division, was originally a member of Monroe's Co. K, having enlisted from Monticello. Co. K was flown with other 32nd Division troops by air transport from Australia to New Guinea in May of 1942 in a maneuver to stem the tidal wave of Japs then swarming down from the north and threatening to roll into Australia. Here was a crucial turning point in the Pacific war because the gallant 32nd threw back the Termites from Tokyo and opened the way for the long trek back to the Philippines.
Here, too, was where "Bob" distinguished himself as the leader of the first patrol to kill the first Jap of the New Guinea campaign, thus starting a string of thrilling exploits which brought him publicity in the metropolitan press of the nation, including three Chicago newspapers and the Detroit News. He was also mentioned in LIFE and pictured with his platoon in LOOK magazine.
Writing about "Bob" in the Chicago Tribune during the New Guinea campaign, War Correspondent Murlin Spencer declared:
"At one pillbox, it was believed some Japs were still inside. Amans took a grenade and stood poised at the entrance of the pillbox like a football player awaiting the signal for the kickoff. He turned to make sure the others stood back and then he tossed the grenade. He dropped to the ground until there was a shaking explosion and then he charged the door, pistol cracking. No Japs came out."
From then on, "Bob's" career was packed with exciting and harrowing experiences. There was the time, also during the New Guinea campaign, when "Bob" and his outfit were making their way through tall, sharp-bladed grass. It was in the forenoon. Suddenly the Japs opened up on them with blistering machine gun fire. Instinctively, the Yanks hit the ground. One of "Bob's" buddies was a little slow in reacting, however, and he was caught in the stomach by a burst of bullets. He lay dying just a few feet away from "Bob," his face etched in agony. It was hot - terribly hot - and "Bob" wanted desperately to give his buddy a drink of water and to aid him otherwise, but he didn't dare move because the Japs were now spraying the area with machine gun fire only a foot off the ground. Even the slightest move might mean death so "Bob" was forced to watch his buddy's life ebb slowly away, utterly helpless to relieve his thirst or pain. On through those long, dragging hours of the afternoon and evening and right up to midnight, the Japs laid down this withering barrage of machine gun fire, pinning the Yanks almost motionless to the ground in this extremely uncomfortable and precarious position.
Still in the New Guinea campaign, "Bob", by then a staff sergeant, was wounded in both legs at Buna Nov. 18, 1942, for which he was awarded the Purple Heart. Later he was twice offered a second lieutenancy, but he refused it both times. Eventually he was "spot commissioned." In other words, "Bob's" commanding officer told him "You're it!" and he had no other alternative but to accept the promotion.
Lt. Amans was killed when an enemy bullet severed the main artery of his right arm shortly after his company had driven the Japs from a hill position. "He died almost immediately from loss of blood," relates Capt. Everett L. Villwock of Co. I. "I asked the battalion surgeon to go forward to attend Bob personally. Although he hurried as fast as possible, he arrived too late."
Thus ended the life of Lt. "Bob" Amans, a young man of flaming courage,
who was so fond of the army that he planned to make it his career.
MY SINCERE THANKS-
To these Drizzle donators, a number of whom have made donations regularly
every month, and also to all Drizzle friends who contributed at any time
in the past: Blumer Brewing Co., Monroe; Dr. H. J. Horne, Dr.
B. L. Clarke, Albert Marty, Sam Pierce, Jake Burgy, F. H. Steinmann, Frankie
Loveland, Leon Gempeler, F. G. Blum, Madison; Dr. L. A. Moore, Wm.
Lemon, Monroe; Ken Klassy, F. Baumgartner, Warren Prisk, Jake Wittenwyler,
August Burgi, H. Krueger, Fred Werner Blum, Edna Babler, J. Minnig, H.
Feenje, Edwin Schlittler, Earl Sarbacker, Rudy Switz, Harriet Sheeler,
Mrs. A. Kistler, Irma Baebler Marty, Jac. Wilds, E. Robert, F. C. Karlen,
Fred Karlen, Jr., Mrs. J. Zeller, Luke Kittleson, Doris Curtis, Madison;
F. H. Marty, Anonymous, John Theiler, Milwaukee; Mrs. C. L. Stillman,
This brings us to the end of the last Drizzle, this also bringing
an end to the entire series which was inaugurated on July 15, 1943. In
farewell, may I express the wish that all of you, servicemen and other
readers alike, have had as much enjoyment in reading The Drizzle as I have
had preparing it. So Long!