The Quick and the Dead

Les Gluesenkamp, a BAR gunner in Company C, 397th Infantry Regiment, recounts one of the first attacks made by his company during its part in the defeat of the 708th Volks-Grenadier Division and penetration of the heavily fortified German Winter Line in the High Vosges.

Earl Evans of Kentucky was First Scout as we began to advance through the trenches. We came to a draw that looked suspicious. On the other side was another trench and a number of dark spots that looked like entrances to dugouts. Earl looked over the edge of the trench and fired at what he thought was somebody moving.

I stuck up my head for a quick peek, but no more than a peek. After his first shot he [Earl] ducked down and waited a few seconds. He took another peek and just as his helmet went below the edge of the trench, a bullet hit the ground about two inches away. At this point we decided to wait before taking another peek. After a short period, we looked over the edge of the trench. We concluded that we were too close and our position too exposed. We backed up in the trench to reach more protection. I relayed word back to the company CP regarding our exposed position.

The 3rd Platoon went around to the right flank of the Germans. While they were moving everyone was trying to see what was out in front. It appeared that there was movement in one of the dugouts. I fired about 80 rounds into the entrance. If there was anyone inside, we didn't go to look.

By now, the 3rd Platoon had worked around and behind the enemy positions and they took the Germans by surprise. After only firing a few rounds, they accepted the surrender of six prisoners and killed two of the enemy. While they were in the German positions, one of our sergeants stepped on a Schu mine that shattered his leg. We looked around the trenches. Barbed wire was everywhere. We heard someone moaning. We went over and we found a German major. He was lying on the ground with both legs broken. Nearby were other dead and wounded German soldiers. Our artillery or mortars hit these men the day before.

There was nothing we could do for them at the time, but to have our medics give them first aid. While all of this was going on, a German burp gun fired on the 3rd Platoon. Nobody knew where the firing was coming from, so we all jumped into the trenches. The sniper was a poor shot as no one was hit. Later we notified the medics of the many wounded and requested litter bearers for evacuation. The Germans were left lying there until late that afternoon when the medics came and moved them out. Our company men acted as litter bearers.

After dark, the decision was made to send a squad of men back to town to clean their rifles. Only one of four rifles would fire as the mud jammed the moving parts. The 2nd Squad was the first selected to go back and we moved back through the trenches. The worst aspect was when we had to step on the two dead Germans who were lying on top of each other in the trench. This was a horrible sensation and the memory of the event lingered with us for days. We could not avoid stepping on the bodies.

-- From "The First Bloody Days," in Combat: A Short Interval in the Life of a G.I. in World War II, by Lester Gluesenkamp. Available now through the 100th Infantry Division Association (see the "Century Souvenir**" section of this website.)

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