Previously Displayed War Stories



The following are some of my war experiences that were previously displayed on my main web page. I have moved them here to make room for new stories on the main site.

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The Brotherhood of Warriors
It is strange what the impact of war -- with all the massive forces that it brings to bear on the participants -- can have on the men who are involved. Friendships developed during the deadly combat that was a major part of our lives were as if magnified by a scale of 10 compared to peacetime friendships. When death is a part of your life more than living is a part of your life, you find yourself drawn to those men who share your incomprehensible existence.

So it was with my friendship with Johnny Bathurst, who shared space with me in our tent which we had named "Duffy's Tavern." Johnny and I had been through flight training together, but it was only after we got into combat that we became such close friends. There were missions during which we each – without hesitation – threw ourselves into great personal danger in order to help our buddy who was bracketed in by German flak guns. We flew down the gun barrels of those flak guns to give our buddy a chance to break away.


Landing Strip A-1, Normandy. July 1944. "Johnny and Quent"

One night we were in the Officer's Club at Laon, France, after a brutal day of strafing and dive bombing German strong points in our front. We had both had a couple of drinks as we tried to put that day out of our mind, when Johnny pulled something out of his pocket, and told me he wanted to give it to me. It was a St. Christopher Medal, and Johnny tied it to the metal pull tab on the zipper of my flight jacket. With great sincerity he told me it would keep me safe on future missions. Just before every future mission – as a part of my ritual – I touched the St. Christopher Medal as I swung into the cockpit.

Strangely, when I went back to the States on leave a few months later, the medal fell off my flight jacket and was lost. It deeply saddened me, but I took solace in the fact that it had fully served its purpose.


Officers' Club, Laon, France, October 1944

When the war was over, our lives went down different roads. Johnny stayed in the Air Force, and I went back to finish college, then went into a career in the business world. We kept track of each other by letter and telephone calls for a number of years, then I lost track of him. In the early 70s I got word through a mutual friend that he had been killed while testing a high performance spy plane at high altitude. It was not until 1992 that I found out he had survived the disintegration of this plane, and was living in Seattle, Washington. We arranged to meet at the next reunion of our old Fighter Group, and renewed our friendship of those dramatic days so long ago. We had many good conversations and meetings during the next few years, but on December 6, 1999, my good buddy, John Forrest Bathurst, died after a long illness. But I will never forget him, and I will never forget how our friendship during those brutal days of combat during World War II helped both of us hang on to our sanity.



Bidding farewell to Johnny as I departed for home on leave -- March 1945




The Face of War


During part of the time I was assigned to direct the close air support in front of the 7th Corps, I would occasionally work directly with the lead tank crews that were attacking the German lines. On this particular occasion, I had spent the night with my tank crew and a few infantry guys who were hunkered down in the ruins of a small village that had been fought over a few days before. The next day as we were leaving this little town, we came upon a small church set back about 30 yards off the road on the right. An assortment of American military vehicles were parked around the church -- jeeps, weapons carriers, and tanks, so we pulled over to go into the church.

There was a special drama about the scene. The sky was steely gray and solid overcast. The ground around the church was chewed up by the vehicles -- the deep tread marks of the heavy tanks -- the tire tracks of the other vehicles, and the footprints of men coming and going.

Some of the infantrymen coming out of the front lines ambled toward the church, as did some of the replacements who were moving up from the rear areas into the lines. The face of war could almost be defined by the appearance and expressions of the infantrymen who were changing positions.

Those coming out of the lines, who had seen more than men should ever see, who had done things men should never have to do, had a blank, expressionless look about them. They were as dead men, walking, unseeing, silent. There was a different look about those going toward the front. They still had some of the characteristics of the boys they were. They talked and showed expression. They were not boisterous or joking -- for they knew where they were going. But they still retained some of what they were.

This assortment of men -- all young men, but you couldn’t tell it by looking at them -- moved in and out of the small Belgian church. A Belgian Priest and an American Chaplain were conducting this ongoing service. There were 30 to 35 men standing among the pews as we walked in. The service continued for about 10 or 15 minutes. The Chaplain began reciting the Lord’s Prayer, and we all joined in.

As he neared the end, German 88s started to drop nearby. No one moved. Just as he finished, a shell landed quite near the church. Normally, men would have been making a mad dash for cover, but for some strange reason, nobody moved -- we just stood there. Then behind me on the opposite side of the church, a man with a deep voice started reciting the 23rd Psalm, and soon everyone had joined in. The shelling continued, but it seemed that the voices of the men became stronger. I guess the thought was, if we are going to die, it might as well be in a church.

In a few minutes, it all ended, and we were each on our way to our next assignment.”



BURNING THE BODIES OF DEAD AMERICANS BELOW POINTE DU HOC


During our first two or three weeks after landing in Normandy, a terribly disturbing and distressful situation was taking place below the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. Bodies of decomposing American soldiers who had been killed during the invasion continued to wash up on shore. We could look down from the bluffs overlooking the English Channel and see them. For the pilots who faced death on every mission, this was particularly upsetting. Some of us had trouble getting this gruesome picture out of our minds, especially when we were lying in our cots at night trying to go to sleep. We could visualize those bodies just a few hundred yards away rolling in the surf.

The graves registration people had moved on by that time -- up closer to the front -- so there was no one we could call on to retrieve the bodies. One evening our Engineering Officer -- a solid, no-nonsense guy -- decided something had to be done. He asked several guys to help him, including some of the pilots. We carried 5-gallon jerricans filled with aviation gasoline -- and several long poles with hooks attached to the ends -- down the hill to the beach -- then we carried everything to the area where the bodies were piling up. The mood was somber; there seemed to be a sense of unreality about what we were going to do.

It was a terrible, gruesome ordeal. Most of the bodies were badly decomposed and bloated, but some looked surprisingly normal. We hooked the bodies with the long poles, and pulled them together and piled them up as much as possible. We added as much driftwood to the pile as we could find. In a couple of instances we were able to get their dog tags for identification purposes, but for most of them, there was no way we could make any identification. Then we soaked the whole pile heavily with aviation gasoline.

The engineering officer had us back away, then he paused by the bodies for a minute as if in prayer, finally he ignited the pile. It burned furiously for a short time, then more slowly as the gasoline burned off. The driftwood kept the fire going for some time.

As I watched the fire consume the rotting bodies of these young American boys, I couldn't help but think about their families -- and how it would drive them insane if they knew what really had happened to their sons. Better that they should picture their boys being instantly killed by a rifle bullet -- and then being given a proper military funeral -- with a bugler playing "Taps" over the grave. But deaths in battle seldom involve dignity. They are horrible, brutal, degrading, and the fact that they died for a good cause cannot sanitize the reality of the circumstances of their deaths.

We slowly drifted away from this horrible scene, but I am sure all of us who were there still carry vivid images of it in our minds.

A few days later I again followed the mine-cleared path to the edge of the bluff and looked down to the water’s edge, only to see that our traumatizing experience had been for naught. More bodies were rolling in the surf, as the English Channel continued to give up its dead of D-Day.












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