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.