Wednesday, February 24, 2010
THE SNIPER One in a relentless series of adventures during WWII. After eventfully crossing the Mosel river, (see MOSEL CROSSING) heading towards Cologne; Co. C, 2nd Battalion, 1st regiment, 5th Division, 3rd Army was walking into glowing rays of golden sunlight through an evergreen forest cathedral. I was a runner; phoning, (also laying the phone lines) radioing and carrying messages from Co. Hq. to the front line platoons and back. In some instances I found myself the communications link for the 1st Lieutenant or the Captain. The only cloud in our sky was a pesky sniper who was picking us off as we strolled purposefully through the open golden forest. Captain Leasch (yes, he was of German descent) instructed Sgt. Wallace to get rid of the nuisance. Sgt. Wallace was our Platoon Sgt. and a damn good one. He came from the canny sharp shooting Scotch stock that lives in the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee. Though he was as ignorant as a Georgia Cracker, he more than made up for it in intelligence. His race had shrunk and become lithe. I thought of him as a sort of smart, all purpose Jaguar; or a Puma. He was a perfect soldier; he could and did carry out the most complex and confusing orders. He could improvise and read German maps and take the initiative. I was a babe in the woods (literally) beside him. He knew what he was doing and what had to be done! Captain Leasch was that way too. They made C. Company a good company. I only wished the Generals were a quarter as good. Rightly or wrongly, the word “General” always brings a picture of a bumbling idiot to my mind. Sorry about that, you military history buffs. Sgt. Wallace said: “Osburn and Valderrama, come with me.” Osburn also came from the hills, as did a good percentage of the Co. He was lanky and easygoing; and he drawled. We obediently followed Sgt. Wallace to a spot from which we could see the German, way up in a tree. I could barely make him out even with my glasses on, and had to have his position pointed out to me. The M-1 Garand is not considered a sharp shooting rifle but Wallace proved it depended on the man and not the instrument. He whispered to us: “Where do you want me to hit him?” “In the head,” I prompted. “We're supposed to kill him.” He considered my opinion and waited for Osburn to speak. Osburn drawled: “shoot him through the throat and see what happens.” “Good Idea” answered Wallace. “Kill him.” I insisted. “Oh shut up Valderrama” was all I got for my trouble. The Sgt. raised his clumsy M-1 calmly and deliberately. He rested it against his shoulder almost casually and pulled the trigger the instant his eye made out the target. It was a virtuoso display of shooting and marksmanship with the M-1, done with smooth precision and mountain cunning. The man’s throat burst into a fountain of blood high up in the tree. He fell from his perch and followed his clattering rifle through the branches and towards the ground. A rope he wore around his waist played itself out as he fell, coming to its end a few feet from the ground, in the exposed area just lower than the lowest branch. I didn’t hear his spine crack, but it must have. He gently swung back and forth face up in the waning golden light of the sun, erupting pinkish red foam from his throat with the regularity of a geyser, as his body struggled to breathe its last dying gasps. As I wallowed in morbid fascination of the sniper’s fate, a new stimulus presented itself. It was a noise coming from Wallace and Osburn.. I stared dazedly at them and saw they were laughing. They would slap their thighs and guffaw; then point towards the German as he swung and gushed red foam under the tree branches, then another laugh and a slap. Happy as babes they were. I hear the Scott’s have done some pretty wild things up in those hills of theirs in Scotland, too. But did these guys have to enjoy themselves that much?