Chapter Sixty-Four Bastogne, Belgium – December 19, 1944
‚??The merit of the action lies in finishing it to the end.‚?Ě Genghis Khan (AD 1162 – 1227)
Dawn broke nearly invisible on the morning of 19 December.¬† Only the shift of color to a paler gray gave a hint the sun had risen beyond the impenetrable blanket of fog enveloping the eastern sky.¬† The overnight trip from Mourmelon took place under a misty rain with the temperature hovering at forty degrees.¬† The Screaming Eagles were transported packed tightly together in open trailers. If they slept at all, it was standing upright.
After dismounting, the paratroopers formed up in a bivouac area immediately outside of Bastogne as their senior officers rushed into VIII Corps Headquarters to receive orders.¬† The unexpected warmth of the previous evening gave way to a crisp northwest breeze that blew steadily through the low man-made canyons of the town.¬† The wind foretold the return to colder temperatures with a subtle promise of snow.¬† When the officers returned, the entire division was rousted from snatches of fitful sleep and formed up on the main road into town.¬† Thundering cannon fire testified that battles were still raging and men were still dying east of the city.
The long lines of Screaming Eagles, exhausted from the long trip and their short naps, began streaming into town on both sides of the main road.¬† Despite being cold, wet and hungry, they walked with a confidence and a swagger that bordered on arrogance.¬† Each face sported a mean and ugly disposition.¬† The unspoken message seemed to be the paratroopers have arrived and the situation would soon be under control.¬† They had won the race to the obscure farming town of Bastogne by the slimmest of margins.
The 506th PIR followed the 501st into Bastogne.¬† They marched past the buildings, small storefronts and an occasional church that lined the main road.¬† The morning wore on and the sky brightened slightly.¬† Out of the misty fog, like ghosts coming to life, troops and vehicles began moving in the opposite direction between the two files of paratroopers.¬† The Screaming Eagles strutted taller as these soldiers retreated toward the rear.¬† But this group was not the expected ragtag wounded and dispirited gaggle of men retreating from a lost battle.¬† They were cleanly dressed, well armed and traveling in good order.¬† Abruptly, the paratrooper column came to a halt.
‚??What outfit?‚?Ě Jake asked a GI as he walked past.
‚??Corps Headquarters,‚?Ě the embarrassed soldier answered.¬† ‚??We got orders to set up our HQ in the rear.‚?Ě¬† The young soldier, probably a clerk, seemed uncomfortable as he watched other men head into the firestorm he was walking away from.
‚??Got any extra ammo?‚?Ě Johnny asked as he walked up.
The soldier slipped off a bandolier of .30-caliber ammo and tossed it to Johnny.
‚??Thanks, Mac,‚?Ě Johnny waved.¬† The soldier lowered his head and kept walking.
All along the line paratroopers were scrounging weapons and ammo from the withdrawing soldiers.¬† The men with the white on blue VIII Corps shoulder patches had been ordered to the rear.¬† Some 10th Armored Division HQ personnel were mixed in and they all willingly parted with ammo or medical supplies as they passed.
‚??I could sure use some forty-five ammo,‚?Ě Jake intoned.
‚??Don‚??t worry, we‚??ll get some,‚?Ě Johnny assured.
‚??I‚??m not worried,‚?Ě Jake answered staring into the eastern sky.
‚??You know, Jake,‚?Ě Johnny spoke to the back of his head.¬† ‚??This is a suicide mission.‚?Ě
Jake turned around.¬† ‚??Johnny, every mission we go on is a suicide mission.¬† It never bothered you before.‚?Ě
Johnny nodded and pulled an envelope from his pocket.¬† ‚??If anything happens to me, you need to give this letter to Rose.¬† Promise me!‚?Ě
Jake turned his back on his friend.¬† ‚??Nothing is going to happen to you.‚?Ě
‚??No, I‚??m not taking it.‚?Ě
‚??Look, Jake, I‚??ve sworn into all your blood pacts and you know you can count on me.¬† I know I can count on you, too.¬† That‚??s why I‚??m giving this to you.¬† So, take it.‚?Ě
Jake turned around and faced Johnny.¬† ‚??All right.¬† But I‚??m giving it back once we get out of this shit.‚?Ě¬† He reached for the crumbled envelope but Johnny pulled it back.
‚??No, you need to hold it.¬† This goes to Rose if anything happens to me no matter when.¬† And you have to do it in person!‚?Ě
Jake nodded impatiently and took the envelope from Johnny‚??s hand.¬† ‚??Sure, sure, but Jeez, you have to rewrite the damn thing once we get out of here.¬† This looks like a mess!‚?Ě
Johnny smiled.¬† ‚??Okay.‚?Ě
Jake stuffed the letter into his battle blouse pocket and buttoned it.
‚??And don‚??t read it,‚?Ě Johnny pointedly admonished.
They heard the distinctive sound of a deuce-and-a-half before they saw it.¬† It crawled forward between the files of paratroopers.¬† When it passed, Johnny pointed to the officers hanging out the back.¬† They were wearing ‚??pinks and greens‚?Ě, their dress uniforms.¬† They were nabbed from leave and were being rushed up to their unit.¬† The truck proceeded eastward until it disappeared into the fog.¬† They had not seen any transport come this far into town and assumed the officers were of sufficiently high rank to warrant risking the vehicle.
They marched through town for ten or fifteen more minutes and were ordered to stop.¬† Suddenly, through the fog, came a ghostly procession of soldiers in various states of disarray.¬† Some were without helmets or without jackets or overcoats.¬† Others wore bloody bandages and were being helped along by a buddy.¬† Some ambled along slowly, dragging their feet zombie-like.¬† There was the ‚??thousand yard stare‚?Ě from the hollowed out eyes of blank expressions.¬† Some faces showed abject fear, while others appeared shocked and vacant of any emotion.¬† A few were murmuring cries of despair. ‚??They got tanks‚?Ě, we can‚??t stop them, we‚??re all gonna die‚?Ě. This small army of the damned appeared hopeless beyond redemption.
Johnny noticed the red keystone patch of the 28th Infantry Division.¬† That Pennsylvania National Guard unit had been involved in some of the most brutal fighting of the War, which had earned their patch the nickname ‚??Bloody Bucket‚?Ě.¬† Mixed in with them were GIs from the 106th Infantry Division with their distinctive Golden Lion patches along with the Checkerboard patches of the 99th Infantry Division.¬† Other patches from various tank destroyer units, artillery units and armored formations were too numerous to count.¬† It was a slovenly, dispirited group that straggled through the two lines of paratroopers who continued to beg for weapons and ammo with mixed results.¬† Some retreating soldiers gave up their rifles easily and therefore felt relieved from their obligation to fight.¬† Others hung on with stubborn determination, refusing to give up any supplies.
Johnny stepped in front of a technical sergeant from the 28th Division who was carrying a Thompson.¬† He was hoping to scavenge some ammo for Jake.
‚??Tell me Sarge, what‚??s going on up there?‚?Ě
The sergeant was a big man with a course beard and bushy eyebrows.¬† His field jacket was ripped and tattered and dirt and grime covered his clothes and smeared his face.¬† His expression was more of exhaustion than fear.¬† ‚??Got any water?‚?Ě
Johnny handed over his canteen.¬† ‚??Here, Sarge.‚?Ě
The sergeant splashed a little on his face and poured some into his mouth without putting his lips on the canteen.¬† ‚??Thanks, Mac.‚?Ě
‚??Will you be needing that weapon and ammo?‚?Ě Jake asked
The sergeant clutched his sling tighter.¬† ‚??I got no ammo but damn fucking right I‚??m keeping my weapon!¬† Right now I‚??m going for a hot and a cot and then join Operation Snafu.‚?Ě
‚??What‚??s that?‚?Ě Johnny asked.
‚??Some colonel, I think his name is Roberts, is forming a company of us guys who got separated or got our asses kicked and came back through the lines.¬† We‚??re going to stay here in Bastogne and help defend the place.‚?Ě
‚??Glad to have you,‚?Ě Jake quipped.¬† ‚??Join the party.‚?Ě
‚??So what‚??s going on out there?‚?Ě Johnny asked.
The sergeant paused and took a deep breath.¬† ‚??They caught us with our pants down, is what‚??s going on.‚?Ě¬† He leaned in closer so as not to be overheard.¬† ‚??The fucking geniuses who put us in front of three German divisions ought to be shot.¬† We were here to rest after getting chopped up in the Hurtgen Forest and before we could absorb our replacements, the Krauts mauled us.‚?Ě
‚??Where were you?‚?Ě¬† Johnny was curious.
‚??My outfit, Headquarters Company of the Hundred and tenth Infantry, were surrounded in a ch√Ęteau in Clervaux about fifteen miles from here.¬† It was like the Alamo.¬† We were inside this old stone fortress, with a drawbridge and all, and the Krauts were outside trying to get in.¬† We made them pay.¬† They brought in Tigers and pounded the crap out of the place.¬† That‚??s when my CO decided to surrender, yesterday around noon.¬† Fuck that!¬† I wasn‚??t about to surrender.¬† I slipped out into the woods with some guys and we made our way back here.‚?Ě
‚??Good for you, Sarge,‚?Ě Jake added.
‚??So don‚??t get the wrong idea.¬† The only reason you guys beat the Krauts to Bastogne was because my boys fought like hell against those bastards.¬† We bought you the time.¬† We killed a lot of Krauts and we held them up in the Clerf River valley for two days until we ran out of damn ammo.¬† We made them pay for every inch of ground.¬† It was only after they killed most of us that they got past us.¬† We didn‚??t bug out!‚?Ě¬† Tears of exhaustion began to form in the sergeant‚??s eyes.
‚??No one said you did, Sarge,‚?Ě Johnny answered him.
The burly sergeant nodded and with a grunt continued on his way.¬† He could be heard repeating, ‚??We didn‚??t bug out!‚?Ě
‚??Chrissake, Jake.¬† I figured all these guys retreating were cowards.¬† I couldn‚??t have been more wrong!¬† Most of these guys are damn heroes!‚?Ě
Jake nodded and reached out to the next infantryman walking by, a private.¬† He had a handsome face except for his harelip.¬† His uniform was still clean and tidy, making him appear woefully out of place.
‚??Got any spare ammo or grenades?‚?Ě¬† Jake asked.
The soldier stopped.¬† ‚??No.¬† I‚??m staying in Bastogne.‚?Ě
‚??Operation Snafu?‚?Ě Johnny asked.
‚??Right, I‚??m Tom English,‚?Ě he held out his hand.¬† Both boys shook it.
‚??Going to a dance,‚?Ě Jake pointed to the tie.
‚??I‚??m with the Four hundred twenty-third Regiment, Hundred and sixth Division.¬† General Jones makes us wear these damn ties.¬† Division regs,‚?Ě English explained.¬† He didn‚??t look particularly fatigued and didn‚??t appear wounded.¬† He just looked scared.
‚??Good luck.‚?Ě¬† Johnny attempted to speed him on his way so they could accost the next soldier for supplies.
‚??I‚??m gonna be a paratrooper, too,‚?Ě he said nervously.¬† ‚??I volunteered.‚?Ě
‚??Good for you, Tom,‚?Ě Johnny was humoring him.¬† He couldn‚??t have cared less.
‚??I mean it.¬† I‚??m serious.¬† I volunteered.¬† Got accepted.¬† Just have to make my three jumps.‚?Ě
The demand for replacements was so severe the airborne had recently relaxed its standards for qualification.¬† The jump schools in the States were not producing enough trained paratroopers to replace the enormous losses the airborne divisions were suffering.¬† To remedy this deficit, the airborne brass decided to qualify parachutists in theatre.¬† They would learn the ropes in an accelerated class and make three jumps in one day.¬† Since the airborne had priority on transfer requests and many young men saw this as an easier back door to becoming a paratrooper, with its extra pay and glory, there was no scarcity of volunteers.¬† This whole new replacement program did not sit well with the majority of veteran paratroopers.
‚??Yeah,‚?Ě Jake agreed.¬† ‚??We just can‚??t wait for you one-day wonders to join up with us veterans.¬† How could we ever survive without you?‚?Ě
English sensed the sarcasm and reacted to the slight.¬† ‚??You guys think you‚??re so damn tough?¬† Big, bad paratroopers!¬† I can do what you do!¬† You‚??re not so tough!‚?Ě
Jake‚??s temper was about to kick in when Johnny stepped between them.¬† ‚??Good luck, Tom.‚?Ě¬† Johnny gently moved him toward the rear and Tom resumed walking.¬† Suddenly, the column of paratroopers started to move.
After some time, they stopped again.¬† The fog lifted and Johnny could see the sign for the Hotel Lebrun on the Rue de Marche just off the main square.¬† Along the side of the street was a conference of officers.¬† Johnny recognized Colonel Sink, CO of the 506th PIR and Colonel Robert L. Strayer, CO of the 2nd Battalion of the 506th.¬† There was also a colonel from the 10th Armored Division.¬† The high-ranking officers were leaning over a map draped on the hood of a staff car.¬† Captain West was within earshot and listened intently.
When the conference broke up, West addressed his company.¬† ‚??First Battalion is moving up to Noville to reinforce some of our guys up there.¬† They‚??ve been fighting a Kraut armored spearhead most of the night and need infantry support.¬† The rest of us will be moving up to Foy.‚?Ě
While West was speaking, a jeep drove up from the direction they were headed.¬† It had wooden boxes stacked up on the rear seats with ammo of all kinds.¬† Upon seeing the paratroopers, the young second lieutenant pulled up between the columns and began unloading the boxes onto the roadway.¬† A few paratroopers helped him unload the cases of .30-caliber ammunition and fragmentation grenades.¬† Captain West walked over.¬† The officer spoke first.
‚??I‚??m Lieutenant George Rice, Tenth Armored, Supply Officer for Team Desobry.‚?Ě
‚??Thanks for the supplies, Lieutenant.¬† Any more where that came from?‚?Ě
‚??Plenty,‚?Ě Rice answered.¬† ‚??I have all my supply trucks on the road to Noville and we‚??re passing out ammo to the paratroopers heading up that way.¬† If I had more transport I could really help you out.‚?Ě¬† Rice looked mockingly at his jeep.
Just then the deuce-and-a half that brought the airborne officers forward was coming back on the return trip.¬† West stepped out on the road and stopped the empty truck.
‚??Driver!¬† We need this truck to make a few supply runs for us.‚?Ě¬† West tried to sound as authoritative as possible.
‚??Can‚??t do it, sir,‚?Ě the black driver answered.
‚??We only need this truck for a short time, soldier,‚?Ě West insisted.¬† Hearing the exchange, Colonels Sink and Strayer approached.
‚??I got my orders from Ike.‚?Ě¬† The driver pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket.¬† The colonels didn‚??t need to see it.¬† They knew what it said.¬† All transport was dedicated to moving troops into the Ardennes and no one had authority to change those standing orders.¬† They were about to let the truck go when Johnny stepped forward.
‚??Let me try, sir,‚?Ě he asked permission from West.
West shrugged his shoulders.¬† Johnny jumped up on the running board.¬† ‚??Remember me?‚?Ě
Lincoln looked at Johnny, a glint of recognition in his eyes.¬† ‚??Yeah, I remember you, ‚??Kilroy was here‚??.¬† I remember you but I still got my orders.‚?Ě
‚??Look Lincoln, we‚??re going to make a stand here but the army forgot to give us enough ammo!¬† A few miles up the road is all the stuff we need.¬† It‚??ll only take a few minutes to scoot up there, load up and drop the supplies right back here.¬† Two trips at most.¬† Who‚??s to know?¬† Half an hour and then you‚??ll be on your way.¬† What d‚??ya say?‚?Ě
Lincoln stared straight ahead without answering
Johnny looked past Lincoln to Chauncy Gibbons.¬† His eyes were pleading for help.¬† Chauncy slapped Lincoln‚??s arm with the back of his left hand and startled him.¬† ‚??Just a few trips, Linc.¬† Right up the road and back.¬† We can do this and nobody needs to know.‚?Ě
‚??Goddamn it,‚?Ě Lincoln shook his head.¬† ‚??All right.‚?Ě¬† He looked at Johnny, agitated.¬† ‚??Get us some help.‚?Ě¬† He turned to Chauncy.¬† ‚??I hated that I owed this white boy a favor.¬† This cleans the slate.‚?Ě¬† Chauncy just smiled back at him.¬† Lincoln looked out the window.¬† ‚??I‚??m serious Kilroy!¬† This makes us even.‚?Ě
Lieutenant Rice pointed out the location of the supply trucks on the map and Johnny and Jake jumped onto the truck‚??s running boards.
‚??Follow the jeep.‚?Ě Johnny instructed Lincoln.¬† The truck made a wide turn and followed the jeep north.¬† West gave the boys a big thumbs-up.
The fog limited visibility to a few dozen yards.¬† The two-vehicle convoy made decent time as it quickly traversed the few miles between Bastogne and the village of Foy.¬† They slowed as they went through the deserted little village and picked up speed again on the other side of town.¬†¬† Noville was only a few more miles north and the men could hear the battle raging in and around the hamlet.¬† A high ridge on the left side of the road gave way to a rolling pasture on the right side.¬† A mile outside of Foy they saw the trucks.
There were ten two-and-a-half-ton trucks, five on each side of the road, parked with their open backs to the highway.¬† Soldiers and drivers were busily milling around.¬† The tail end of the 1st Battalion just cleared the supply trucks having acquired all the grenades and ammo they could carry.¬† Beyond the trucks on the right side of the road was an M16 Gun Motor Carriage, called a halftrack.¬† It had four .50-caliber machine guns arranged on a gun mount, pointing toward the sky.¬† The GIs called the weapon the ‚??Meat Chopper‚??.¬† The crew wasn‚??t expecting enemy aircraft because of the fog so they helped with the unloading.
Lieutenant Rice barked some orders and the supply soldiers began moving ammo and weapons into the empty truck.¬† Jake, Johnny, Lincoln and Chauncy lent a hand and in a few minutes the truck was bulging with guns, ammo and medical supplies.¬† Rice left orders to provide the paratroopers with as much as they required and then, saying his farewell, headed north to Noville.¬† The four GIs headed back to Bastogne and were back in less than twenty minutes.
Chauncy drove the truck back through the columns of paratroopers.¬† He U-turned the vehicle and pointed it back north.¬† The four men jumped into the rear and began handing down boxes into the waiting arms of the desperate paratroopers.
Lincoln looked at Jake‚??s nametag as they manhandled the boxes and crates over the tailgate.¬† ‚??Another Kilroy?‚?Ě
When the truck was empty Johnny looked at Lincoln.¬† ‚??One more trip?‚?Ě he pleaded.
‚??Last trip,‚?Ě Lincoln looked at both paratroopers for agreement.
Lincoln hopped into the cab and started driving slowly out of town.¬† The fog seemed to thicken as they worked their way through Foy.¬† They crept along slowly since visibility was reduced to just a few yards.¬† When they reached the supply trucks they were shocked.¬† Nobody was there.¬† The trucks had been abandoned.¬† Where a few minutes before there was a beehive of activity it was eerily quiet as the four men walked along the road between the trucks.¬† Jake pointed to a fresh set of tank tracks across the road.¬† The supply detail had been run off or captured.
Johnny spoke first.¬† ‚??There‚??s no way the four of us will be able to load the truck.¬† Let‚??s all take a truck back.¬† Check for keys.‚?Ě
‚??We have to take our own truck back,‚?Ě Chauncy explained.¬† ‚??We‚??re responsible for it.‚?Ě
Johnny nodded.¬† ‚??Okay, we‚??ll spread out, find the trucks with the thirty cal and the grenades and drive them back.‚?Ě¬† They began searching the trucks.
Chauncy turned his truck around and slowly headed back south into the fog while the other three worked from truck to truck to check the load and look for keys.
‚??Found one!‚?Ě Jake called out.
The second truck pulled out of formation and followed Chauncy back toward Bastogne.¬† Both trucks disappeared into the fog.
‚??Hey Kilroy,‚?Ě Lincoln whispered loudly.¬† ‚??Listen!‚?Ě
Suddenly, a German flakwagon came over the ridge to the west.¬† It had dual .20-millimeter cannons mounted on a light tank chassis.¬† It stood there ominously for a few moments before opening up with a stream of tracers at the remaining trucks.¬† The two Americans dove for cover behind the halftrack.¬† After a moment the guns fell silent.
‚??Hey, Kilroy,‚?Ě Lincoln whispered.¬† ‚??Kraut flakwagon.¬† We‚??re screwed now.‚?Ě
‚??They don‚??t even know we‚??re here.¬† We‚??ll surprise them when they get closer.‚?Ě
At that moment a German Mark V Panther tank crawled to the top of the ridge from the opposite side.¬† Its gun ranged from side to side, taking in the spectacle of partially laden American supply trucks arrayed defenseless before it.¬† The German tank did not open fire on the vulnerable trucks, revealing the need to capture supplies.¬† However, the armored halftrack represented a potential threat so the high velocity .75-millimeter gun swung over and zeroed in on the exposed vehicle.
‚??Can you drive this damn thing?‚?Ě
‚??I‚??m a Red Ball driver.¬† I can drive any fucking thing in this man‚??s army.‚?Ě
‚??Then let‚??s get the hell out of here.‚?Ě
The German tank fired.¬† The shot was high and went over the top of the halftrack.¬† It ripped into the ground with an explosive roar.¬† Dirt and debris banged off their helmets, ripped into their faces and covered their clothing.
‚??Kilroy!¬† Your face is bleeding!‚?Ě¬† Lincoln jumped into the cab and started the engine.
‚??It‚??s nothing.¬† Let‚??s go, go, go!‚?Ě he said as he jumped into the rear compartment.
Suddenly an incoming round landed near the Panther tank.¬† An American Tank Destroyer had heard the distinctive sound of the German high-velocity cannon and fired a round in the general direction.¬† While it was well wide of the mark, the Panther cautiously retreated to the opposite slope giving the M16 a brief opening to make a break.¬† Lincoln punched the gas and the vehicle lurched ahead toppling the paratrooper to the floor. The German flakwagon came over the rise firing both cannons but lost the M16 in the fog.
‚??Pull over, Lincoln.‚?Ě
‚??What for?¬† It won‚??t find us in this fog.¬† We need to keep going.‚?Ě¬† The M16 hit a bump and both men were thrown in the air.
‚??Jeez, Lincoln.¬† Pull up!¬† Let me take care of this.‚?Ě¬† The paratrooper pulled the charging handles of the four .50-caliber machine guns and strapped himself into the small seat in the Maxson turret of the M45 quad mount.¬† Lincoln shut off the engine.¬† The noisy diesel engine of the flakwagon could now be clearly heard not far behind them.¬† The deadly accurate .20-millimeter cannons fired explosive shells.¬† The Americans would be outgunned and had to make their first shots count.
Lincoln slumped on the floor of the driver compartment.¬† ‚??Don‚??t miss, Kilroy!‚?Ě
‚??Shh,‚?Ě he turned his head to pick up the sound of the flakwagon.¬† The German vehicle moved closer and slowed to a crawl.¬† The occupants were speaking loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the engine.
‚??What the hell are they saying?‚?Ě Lincoln whispered harshly.
‚??Heck if I know,‚?Ě came the answer as he fingered the electrical traverse mechanism.¬† The sound of the turret moving would give away their position.¬† He would have to swing the turret around, get the guns on target and fire in one smooth, fast motion.
Lincoln peered out from the passenger side of the M16.¬† If he could see the vehicle first, maybe he could help.¬† His heart was pounding.¬† He could feel it through his chest.¬† His mouth was dry and his body was shaking.¬† So this is what combat is like?
The high-pitched mechanical whine of the M16 turret startled him.¬† The quad-fifty mount swung into position and opened fire.¬† The entire halftrack shook with the recoil and the noise was deafening.¬† Armor-piercing bullets were flung at the German vehicle at the rate of thirty-six rounds per second from the four synchronized machine guns.¬† Lincoln heard glass shatter, metal rip and saw rubber and canvas pieces flying in all directions.¬† The bodies of the four German crewmen were flung from the vehicle riddled with bullet holes.¬† The vehicle caught fire and ammo began to explode.¬† In less than ten seconds over 300 rounds were poured into the target, ripping flesh and metal alike.¬† A smoking, twisted and charred pile of junk was all that was left.
Lincoln jumped up in the driver seat and started the engine.¬† ‚??Which way?‚?Ě
‚??Head west.¬† I don‚??t remember the map.¬† If we head toward our lines, we might make it back to Bastogne.‚?Ě
Lincoln turned the M16 and headed west through the fields.¬† They traveled for a few minutes when they heard the frightening sound of squeaking bogey wheels off to their right.¬† Lincoln instinctively turned the wheel to the left to avoid the perceived threat.¬† Visibility was still poor but they were certain the tank they heard was not American.¬† The Germans bypassed Noville and were about to encircle it.
Lincoln guided the M16 through the fog trying to avoid any ditches or sharp changes in the ground elevation.¬† Both men strained their eyes to see in the mist.¬† The sound of the tank faded off to their right, probably holding to the main road and advancing cautiously.
The M16 moved slowly and vigilantly.¬† An opening in the fog revealed a small stone farmhouse in a bowl-like depression straight ahead.
‚??What do you think, Kilroy?‚?Ě
‚??Looks abandoned.¬† Pull in the back.‚?Ě
There was an empty open shed with a slanted roof directly behind the structure.¬† It was just big enough for the M16 and Lincoln guided the halftrack into it just as the fog closed in again.
‚??I‚??ll check the house,‚?Ě Lincoln announced and went in the back door.
He exited a few minutes later to see the rear of the M16 hidden by a stack of hay bales, covering everything below the quad-fifty mount.
‚??Good work, Kilroy.¬† The house is empty.‚?Ě
The paratrooper waved Lincoln into the back of the M16.¬† ‚??We need to stay here until we can see better and know what‚??s going on.¬† Out there we‚??re sitting ducks for the Krauts.‚?Ě
Lincoln nodded.¬† ‚??Just what I needed.¬† Stuck out here with Whitey surrounded by Jerry.‚?Ě
‚??Give it a rest,‚?Ě he almost said ‚??boy‚?? but caught himself.¬† ‚??You want to get out of this alive, we gotta work together.‚?Ě
Lincoln nodded again.¬† ‚??Okay, so what‚??s the plan, Kilroy?‚?Ě
‚??I got no plan.¬† If they attack we got this quad fifty.‚?Ě¬† He slapped the ammo canister.¬† ‚??And we got this other fifty mounted behind the driver‚??s seat.¬† That‚??s yours.‚?Ě
‚??Thanks a lot.‚?Ě
‚??Also we got these.‚?Ě¬† He opened both cargo box compartments.¬† ‚??One Thompson.¬† You can have that too.‚?Ě¬† He flipped the submachine gun to Lincoln.¬† ‚??One .30-caliber M1903 Springfield rifle with sniper scope, three carbines and a box of thirty-six grenades.¬† We got what looks like ten thousand rounds of fifty-cal ammo and a couple of cans of gas.¬† Thank God they loaded this halftrack up!‚?Ě
‚??Great!¬† Custer‚??s Last Stand!‚?Ě
‚??C‚??mon, Lincoln.¬† We got no choice!¬† What would you have us do?‚?Ě
‚??We can hide.¬† There‚??s a crawl space under the house and we can squirrel ourselves away in there until the Krauts leave.‚?Ě
‚??No way.¬† They could be here for days and I‚??m not going to get myself cooped up like that.¬† Besides, we need to be able to move and fight.¬† And one more thing, I‚??m not surrendering.‚?Ě
‚??And what if the tanks come, ‚??Sergeant York‚???‚?Ě
‚??You get in the driver‚??s seat and we go like hell and make a break for our lines.‚?Ě
Lincoln shook his head.¬† He had a splitting headache and was trying to gather himself after the adrenaline rush of obliterating the flakwagon.¬† ‚??Not my idea of a good plan but I guess we‚??re stuck with each other.¬† For now!¬† Anything to eat, Kilroy?‚?Ě
The paratrooper kicked around some more boxes.¬† ‚??Nothing here but a pair of binoculars and a medical kit.¬† Let‚??s look in the house.‚?Ě
The two men scoured the small farmhouse and came up with a jar of preserves and a stale loaf of bread.¬† They stood watch at the windows while they ate in silence even though the ground fog limited their visibility to just a few yards.¬† Lincoln watched his cohort bandage his forehead to stop the bleeding from a grazing wound.¬† He easily resisted the fleeting temptation to help while he picked a small piece of shrapnel from his bleeding leg.¬† He didn‚??t want to be there and he wanted no part of this crazy, ballsy white paratrooper.
The deep rumbling sounds coming from Noville told of a fierce battle still raging.¬† The booming sound of cannon fire could be heard echoing off the hills.¬† Both German and American ordnance were identifiable to the trained ear.¬† The battle raged on through the afternoon as the two Americans moved from window to window in a fruitless effort to observe their surroundings.¬† Late in the day, gunfire erupted from near the town of Foy.¬† That battle raged furiously for hours.¬† There were Germans engaged in battles all around them.¬† They were penned in with no place to go and would certainly be discovered in short order when the interminable fog finally lifted.
‚??We just gonna stay here?‚?Ě Lincoln finally blurted out after long hours of silence.¬† The waiting was wearing away his resolve.
‚??For now.¬† There‚??s no place to go until we can see.‚?Ě
‚??And what if they find us here?‚?Ě
‚??We fight our way out.¬† That halftrack out there moves along pretty good.‚?Ě
‚??You a fucking crazy-ass cracker, you know that?‚?Ě
‚??Drop the chip on your shoulder for once.¬† Your attitude sucks.¬† No wonder why they don‚??t let you people fight!‚?Ě
‚??You people?¬† Oh, yeah.¬† You try being a colored boy in this man‚??s army and then tell me about motivation,‚?Ě Lincoln said through an angry grimace.
‚??If it‚??s sympathy you want, go see the Chaplain or look it up in the dictionary next to syphilis.¬† I ain‚??t got none for you!‚?Ě
‚??Fuck you, Whitey!‚?Ě
‚??Right.¬† Now it‚??s ‚??fuck you, Whitey‚??.¬† Back in London it wasn‚??t our fight but we saved your ass anyway and now it‚??s ‚??fuck you, Whitey‚??.‚?Ě¬† He pushed his webbed steel helmet up and back on his head.¬† ‚??You need to aim all that anger at the Krauts.‚?Ě
‚??I got enough to spread around pretty good.‚?Ě
The paratrooper wouldn‚??t back down.¬† ‚??All I hear is how you boys are all pissed off they make you drive trucks, dig graves, and never let you fight.¬† Well, ever since we‚??ve been together you‚??ve shown no willingness to fight.¬† You complain but when you get the chance to prove yourselves, you got no balls!‚?Ě
Lincoln took a step closer.¬† ‚??That‚??s ‚??cause we‚??re surrounded man and it‚??s hopeless!‚?Ě
‚??Get this once and for all, soldier.‚?Ě¬† He took a step toward Lincoln.¬† ‚??I‚??m airborne.¬† We‚??re always surrounded.¬† But we‚??re not surrendering.¬† And I didn‚??t make the damn rules in this man‚??s army.¬† I‚??m not the one who says what colored troops can and can‚??t do.¬† I follow orders just like everybody else so don‚??t take your damn shit out on me!‚?Ě
Lincoln turned away but Kilroy continued.¬† ‚??Maybe they were right not letting you boys into combat if this is how you plan on fighting.¬† What the hell‚??s the point if you‚??re ready to give up as soon as it gets rough?‚?Ě
The Red Ball driver wheeled around and was about to say something when he was interrupted.¬† ‚??You think I want to be here, Lincoln?¬† You think I‚??m not scared?¬† If you want to surrender, go hide in the cellar and wait for me to get myself killed.¬† Then you can wave a white flag and do whatever the hell you want!‚?Ě
A strange calm came over Lincoln.¬† He regained control of himself and smiled.¬† ‚??Go hide in the cellar?¬† Like my granddaddy did when he hid from the Klan?‚?Ě¬† He reflected on the frightening stories his father told him when he was just a young boy.¬† ‚??If it‚??s all the same to you, Kilroy, my people are done hiding in cellars.¬† I‚??ll fight with you!‚?Ě