A Soldier’s Story
Dedicated to the Edgell family
This is a historical novel about a soldier, a real soldier in a real war. The story is about Kenneth Beryl Edgell, a young man from Goodland, Kansas who joined the Army and became an officer in the 29th Division. Lieutenant Kenneth Beryl Edgell was my uncle and this is a story that will take the reader on his journey as he falls in love and marries, travels to England and trains for over a year, and becomes part of the Allied forces that invaded Normandy in June, 1944. Beryl was a platoon leader, responsible for 36 men who fought their way inland from the Normandy beaches.
All the members of the Edgell family in this story are real and the dialogue attributed to them is compiled from their personalities as they lived and the words they wrote in the Edgell Chronicles in 1996. The events leading up to the invasion of Normandy portrayed in this book have been derived from declassified battle reports and the many sources of personal stories told by the soldiers. General Gerhardt, General Cote and Colonel Goode were members of the 29th Division and are real persons. Their presence in this story is as real as the author could surmise from all the reports, personal stories and the events of D-Day and beyond. Several notable personalities are included in the story and their actions and dialogue are surmised from historical writings. All other characters in this story are fictitious and any resemblance to persons, living or dead is entirely coincidental.
The cold of the hard stone floor was barely dampened by the thin Army blanket underneath Lt. Edgell. How long he had been lying there he wasn’t sure. He woke slowly, first feeling the pain in his left side and then the cold and hardness of the floor beneath him. The fatigue of the last 20 days was still with him and he wanted to sleep. The pain and curiosity of his situation forced him to open his eyes wide and focus on his surroundings. It was dark and all he could see from his position was a high ceiling with ancient stone arches. He could hear movement around him in echoes but had no energy to move his head. He closed his eyes. Hunger and thirst accompanied the pain in his side and the throbbing in his head. He wanted to call someone but his throat was too dry. With two of his senses unable to answer his curiosity, he moved his hand to his side and felt the wound. His shirt was damp and touching the wound was a mistake. The pain worsened and his mind began to shut down. Images of home, training in England and battles in Normandy blurred in his mind and despite the pain, he slipped back into unconsciousness.
“Beryl, can you hear me?”
“Beryl, wake up!”
The command was whispered but demanding. Lt. Edgell could hear the voice but his mind wanted to avoid waking to the pain, hunger and thirst. How could he tell this voice to go away with his throat so dry?
“Beryl, wake up, It’s me, Frank.”
The name registered and he knew the help he needed was here. He forced his eyes open to see his platoon Sergeant next to him. He mouthed the word water, hoping his Sergeant would understand.
“Does anyone have water here?” Frank shouted in the great hall and his voice echoed off the high stone walls.
Beryl could hear shuffling in the distance and then a soldier appeared and handed Frank a tin cup with water. Frank lifted Beryl’s head and slowly tilted the cup. Beryl drank slowly letting the cold water wash away some of the pain and hunger. He tried to speak but Frank put his finger to his lips to tell him to wait.
“Don’t try to talk yet,” Frank whispered. “We’re being held prisoner in an old Monastery. There must be seven or eight hundred soldiers in here and a lot of them are wounded. There are a couple of German doctors here but they seem to have their hands full. How do you feel?”
Beryl sighed and shook his head. Frank looked down at the dressing that he had put over Beryl’s wound.
“Try to sleep now,” Frank whispered.
Frank lay back on his own blanket, feeling the cold floor. He couldn’t sleep and his mind could only concentrate on one thing: how to escape this German holding area for allied soldiers. The fatigue that had built up over the past 20 days was leaving him and except for the pain in his leg he was feeling better. Although it had been over 24 hours since his last K ration, he could feel energy returning. He looked up at the high stone walls where they met the arched ceiling and knew he was in an ancient Monastery. He raised himself on one elbow and started planning their escape.
In 1942 Goodland, Kansas was a struggling farm community 19 miles east of the Colorado/Kansas border. Like most of the wheat belt in the 1930s, Goodland had suffered from the dust bowl and drought and was just beginning to recover when the war started. The population of 5,000 was rapidly being reduced by the young men leaving to serve their country. Goodland has a main street and it’s called Main Avenue. It is 65 feet wide with red bricks for the pavement and wide enough for a two lane street and angle parking on both sides. The red brick for Main Street was put down in 1921 by an Indian named Jim Brown. On Saturdays the red brick road is well traveled as the rural population of farmers around Goodland arrives to shop and greet friends. Main has the typical diner, small hotel, Sears’ mail order store, saloon, barber shop, food market, Duckwalls drug store, the telephone building and small retail shops.
Memorial Day and July 4th are special days as the town gathers for the annual parade that rolls down the 10 blocks of Main: the high school band playing, veterans marching, the Mayor smiling and waving from a borrowed convertible at the street-lined throng. The local fire department drives its ancient fire truck down Main with the volunteer firemen hanging off the sides. It is a tradition for the firemen to throw handfuls of pennies to the crowd for the kids. There is at least one clown walking the edges of the parade handing out balloons. This always assures a good turnout .On a normal Saturday the streets fill with locals and the surrounding farm families. Window-shopping is a favorite pastime since it was coincident with walking Main and greeting friends and acquaintances.
The Edgell family lived on Walnut Street, four blocks west of Main Street and six blocks from Goodland High School where Beryl had captained the football team in his senior year. Yale Edgell, the patriarch of this small family, was a truck driver. Beryl’s older brother, Harold, was doing well, traveling the Midwest to open new stores for Woolworth and sending money home for the family. His younger brother, Forest, lived with his wife and two sons in the basement of his in-laws home on Cherry Street.
Beryl and Forest were walking Main. It was a cold winter that February in 1942 and the brothers were bundled well and wearing smart Fedora hats. Beryl Edgell had joined the Army in December 1941, right after Pearl Harbor and was home on leave before going to his advanced training and Officer Candidate School (OCS).
They were headed for the barber shop and both had issues consuming their thoughts. Beryl was thinking about what his future would bring: training, war and marriage. Forest was not so lucky to have a definite future to think about. Married with one child and another on the way in a small rural town did not provide many options for excitement.
They continued walking Main, past the barber shop with the red and white striped pole on the outside wall. They walked past the beer hall, thick with cigarette smoke and patrons of all ages.
“Do you think you’ll be going to kill Japs?” Forest asked.
“I don’t know,” Beryl replied. “The Army will decide that when I get to OCS.”
“I hope you go to England,” Forest said.
“That would certainly be my choice,” Beryl replied. The islands are pretty secure now that the RAF has taken over the skies and the bombing of Britain is almost over. Still, the Germans own the entire European coast, from Norway down to Spain.”
When they arrived at the barber shop they entered through the narrow door.
“Hello Edgells,” Floyd the barber said cheerfully as he continued to cut the farmer’s hair.
There were four chairs for waiting and one was already occupied by another local farmer.
Beryl and Forest sat in the two chairs. After a short while the door opened letting in the cold air and a young boy walked in and went to the back of the shop. After a minute, he returned with a broom and his shoe shine kit. He swept up the hair from the floor and asked Beryl if he would like a shine.
“Yes I would, thank you.”
As the boy propped Beryl’s right foot onto the shoe stand, the old farmer who had been reading the paper looked up.
“Here is some news on the war front. In Europe, Rommel and the Italians are pushing back the British in North Africa. The battle of Britain has been over for a year and the Royal Air Force definitely has superiority over the German Luftwaffe. With the skies over England secure, the British are able to take the war to Hitler in North Africa and have men to spare to take on the Japanese in the Pacific.”
“Forest,” Beryl said seriously. “You have a family. Stay out of this as long as you can.”
Forest nodded in agreement but his thought was on the opportunity to join and be a part of something exciting. He loved his married life and yet was constantly reminded of his low position in this farm community. With no further training or education, he was stuck working at the local grocery store.
“I will,” Forest replied, “but I really want to go.” He said this knowing that war scared him and death scared him even more. The war news was mostly negative with a sprinkling of high points for the allies. The British had evacuated over 350,000 soldiers from Dunkirk, narrowly avoiding a slaughter by the Germans and the British were suffering defeats in North Africa. Still, the thought of a different life and the travel that Beryl was experiencing recessed his fears.
“Boys, it will be a while. You’re welcome to wait here or you can do some shopping and come back later.”
Beryl stood and Forest followed him out the door.
They passed Horns Grocery where Forest and Beryl had worked during high school. A young girl was coming out of the store with a bag of groceries. She was a senior at Goodland High School and knew the brothers well and their reputations. She had crushes on both of them ever since the Edgell family had arrived in Goodland six years earlier.
“Hi Forest……Beryl,” she animated with a big smile.
“Hi Jeanne,” the brothers said at the same time.
“Where’s your uniform Beryl?” Jeanne teased.
“I’m not on duty today.”
“I heard you were getting married to a girl from Norton,” Jeanne said in a prying way.
“Yes, in two weeks.”
“I met her once at a book fair, Esther Copeland.”
Jeanne was enjoying this conversation and enjoyed being close to Goodland’s most eligible bachelor, for now. Jeanne knew Beryl was out of her reach but she liked to dream.
“Can you babysit tonight?” Forest asked Jeanne. “We plan on going to the VFW Hall for some dancing.”
Jeanne hesitated, as if she was weighing her options.
“I can drop Lynn off at your house,” Forest said
“I guess that would be ok. What time?”
“Fine, I’ll see you tonight,” Jeanne answered Forest but was looking at Beryl, as if one more flirtatious smile would make him change his mind about marrying the girl from Norton.
Beryl and Esther entered the VFW Hall. Beryl wore his Army uniform, which was customary for active soldiers who visited the Hall on evening occasions. The custom was more for the village pride than the display of the soldier. They were a handsome couple. Beryl wore his starched white shirt, black tie, and brown army uniform with polished brass buttons. Esther was wearing a blue dress with a knitted, doily-like collar that was tight at the neck and flowed around her shoulders like a cape. The Hall was almost full and everyone in the crowd turned to look at this handsome couple who would be married in two weeks.
Beryl and Esther found a table near the door. Beryl pulled out a chair for Esther and took her coat to the cloakroom. When he returned he whispered in her ear, she whispered something back and he left to go to the bar.
The door to the Hall opened and Forest, Lucille, Helen and Bill entered. Helen was Beryl’s younger sister. Heads turned again.
“Hi Esther,” Lucille said with a smile.
“Hi everybody,” Esther replied to the two couples.
Forest took Lucille’s coat and walked to the cloakroom with Bill.
“Beryl looks great tonight,” Lucille said to Esther. “Uniforms sure make a man more appealing. You had better keep an eye on him.”
Esther laughed. She was confident in Beryl’s love for her and she was proud of his handsome profile. She was also happy with herself. She had the love of a good man, not to mention the prize catch in Northwest Kansas and she couldn’t imagine being happier.
“I’ll do that. Thanks for the tip,” she smiled.
Beryl’s older sister, Helen, appraised Esther approvingly. “My, don’t you look nice tonight.”
Forest and Helen’s husband, Bill, had joined Beryl at the bar and were returning with the drinks.
“Ladies,” Beryl said as they approached, “are these seats taken?”
“Yes,” Lucille answered, “we’re waiting for some handsome men to buy us drinks.”
“Looks like we came to the right table,” Forest laughed.
Beryl took a sip of his drink and put his hand on Esther’s arm. “Let’s dance.”
The phonograph was playing Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade. Esther was a romantic when it came to music and Glenn Miller was her favorite. As they danced, Esther put her head on Beryl’s shoulder.
“I love you Beryl,” she said without looking up at him.
“I love you Esther,” Beryl murmured, looking straight ahead as if his mind was somewhere else. But his mind was there, in the moment, feeling Esther in his arms, dancing slowly, smelling her light touch of perfume.
Two men in their mid-forties were sitting at the bar sipping their drinks. Both were a bit drunk and reminiscing about the Great War.
“John, it was the most frightening thing a human can endure. First there was the fear of trenches and large onslaughts by the German army and the fear of being overrun, shot or bayoneted by a German. Just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, France broke the rules of the Hague Convention and started using gas grenades against the Germans. The Germans used this action as a justification to up the ante in gas warfare. They began using chlorine and mustard based gases. This became an even greater fear for us men on the front line because gas is a silent killer. Chlorine gas was a slow killer and I watched men slowly asphyxiate, struggling to breath and writhing in pain. Chlorine mixed with phosgene had the same effect but acted much faster on the lungs. Mustard gas was the quiet killer. A soldier would think he was okay for several hours and then large blisters would develop on his skin. He would become blind and experience a slow death by asphyxiation.”
“Oh yes, we were issued gas masks,” John continued for his friend. They were very crude and for every new type of gas the Germans invented, a new modification was needed. We never knew when we put on the mask if it would work.”
This was not the first time the two men had discussed the first Great War. With a little lubricant from the bar, the friends would repeat their memories and concerns of their experiences. Without the liquid, they were silent and inward with their feelings.
“You smell great tonight,” Beryl whispered.
“I’m glad you like it,” Esther said in a low soft voice.
The song ended and they returned to the table.
Beryl quipped, “Forest, if you want more kids, then you need to dance and buy more drinks for Lucille.”
Chattanooga Choo Choo began playing and Forest held out his hand to Lucille.
The final song of the evening was Glenn Miller’s Serenade in Blue and Beryl led Esther to the dance floor.
They danced in silence until the song ended. Walking back to the table, Esther took Beryl’s hand and stopped. He turned to see the seriousness in her eyes.
“Beryl,” Esther said quietly, “I want your baby.”
Beryl gave her hand a light squeeze.
The shadows in the small Minnesota chapel were barely visible with only candle light to show them the way. The old priest and the young man in uniform were kneeling at the altar in prayer; the old man in grief and the young soldier in sorrow.
“Let us pray,” said the old priest and the two men recited the Lord’s Prayer.
The quiet of the night in this small Minnesota community added to the somberness of the meeting between the priest and the soldier; the soldier home on leave with doubts about his choices and the mentor priest who had been his spiritual guide for two decades.
“What will you do as a soldier?” the priest asked.
“I’m in a rifle company now, but because I speak German I’ve been asked to join a new organization that’s just now forming.”
“What does this organization do?”
“It’s headed by a Colonel Donovan and its charter is to gather information.”
“You would be good at that. Would you have to carry a weapon?”
“I don’t know much about it. I have to interview when I go back.”
“I understand your need to join this crusade but all crusades require the company of the cloth. You could still finish your priesthood.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that.”
The priest hesitated before speaking because his heart was heavy with grief at the thought of losing his most beloved protégé. He understood the young man and understood the reasons for his choices but he was not willing to give in so easily. He had known him since his childhood and watched as the boy matured to a young man with qualities of leadership and confidence. The boy never appeared apprehensive about trying new tasks or learning new skills. Almost as if he had a large bladder for a brain and it never filled, only expanded to the tasks.
“Francis Xavier Dietz, whether you realize it or not, you have been ordained a servant of God and the only question remaining is whether you will serve God as a priest or as a man among men.”
“Father, I don’t feel worthy to be a priest.”
The priest put his hand on Frank’s shoulder.
“None of us are worthy, even our Holy Father. None of us are chosen, we are elected by mortals and only the Almighty will decide if our service has been worthy. Only our hearts will confirm if we have served Him and our fellow man the way He has taught us.”
“But I don’t feel like I can remain pure in body and mind.”
Frank looked at his mentor priest, the tears visible.
“Father, I can’t reject my fellow man in this battle.”
“My son, evils come and go. You’ve read your history. Evils never prevail and they’re always overcome by their own expansion or the humans surrounding them. Don’t concern yourself with events on the other side of the globe. Concern yourself with what you can see today.”
“I can see my brothers enlisting and willing to sacrifice for a battle against an evil.”
“Yes, and they will fight and they will die. But you my son are destined for a more worthy role in this world. You have a mysterious past and the talent to change everyone you touch. I love you my son and my love respects whatever choice you make. You need to know that my love for you is why I cry every night with the grief of losing your great potential to serve Christ.”
“And I cry every night for the conflict of my choice.”
Frank bowed his head. His sorrow at causing such pain to his priest, mentor and best friend was the most pain he had known in his life.
Beryl was waking and feeling a new strength. In his slumber he had many images and voices that tried to disturb his calm. Had he ever experienced delirium before he might of recognized what his mind provoked in his sleep. He woke feeling confused, trying to understand why German tanks were rolling down the red bricks of Main Avenue in Goodland while he and Esther were picking strawberries in an English field. He opened his eyes and the gray walls and ceiling became like a mental rudder that steered his thoughts back to the now and real.
Frank woke to the pleas of his Lieutenant friend. He lifted his body on his right elbow so he could look at Beryl and hear what he was saying.
“We have to escape!” Beryl whispered.
“There is a little problem with that plan.”
“I know it’s a risk, but we have to try.”
Frank leaned closer to Beryl.
“It isn’t about risk. It’s about our fellow prisoners. The Germans told us that for every prisoner who escaped, 10 prisoners would be shot.”
“Do you think they would do that?”
Frank slowly shook his head.
“With all these prisoners, how would they know if two escaped?”
“You don’t know the German’s knack for preciseness. Every morning they take a head count, in triplicate.”
Frank looked around the room.
“So how do two soldiers leave and keep the count the same?”
“It has to be during a change, like when more prisoners are brought in or if they transport us.” Beryl answered.
Frank looked at the stone ceiling of the monastery and remembered the many times he and fellow students at the seminary had tried to sneak out for a night of fun and were caught. It had been a teen’s game and the consequences were bearable. This was no teen game.
The wedding was a village event and after the ceremony everyone gathered at the VFW Hall for the reception. Esther wanted Beryl to wear his uniform but he resisted, wanting to be a civilian when he married. Lucille and Helen were the coordinators and hurried about making sure the tables were in order and checking on the kitchen help to add their two cents to the preparation. The parents of the groom, Yale and Sylvia, took on minor responsibilities to give them time to enjoy the moment. Esther’s mom was busy helping Lucille while her father was entertaining the young men with stories of his farm implement sales route.
Beryl, Forest, Yale and Harold were standing outside the Hall enjoying the flask that Harold passed around. Only Forest, the best man, took a sip.
“That is a handsome new Ford you have there,” Yale said to Harold as he pointed to the shiny black 1942 Ford Super De Luxe.
Harold had driven his new Ford sedan from Wichita where he was opening a new Woolworth store and was happy to make the drive to show off his new success.
“It is one of the last to be built, V8 and all. Then Ford began tearing down the assembly lines and retooling for the war.”
“Looks like I’m the last of the free men,” Harold quipped.
“Freedom is a point of view,” Forest answered. “When will you be free of cold sheets and cold showers?”
Harold laughed. “Cold and peaceful,” which was a reference to the sometimes stormy married life of Forest and Lucille.
“Don’t you ever think about having a family?” Forest challenged.
“Think about family?” Harold answered. “This life isn’t about family or country or God for that matter. It’s about money and lots of it. I plan on being rich and that comes before wars and family.”
Yale looked at Harold, his first born and oldest son. He wanted to talk to him about his status with the Army and any chance he could escape the draft. His love for his sons made him worry at night and he prayed for the relief of needing to only worry about one son in the military. If he had to worry about two or three sons, he wasn’t sure he could handle it. The attack on Pearl Harbor was only three months old and he knew the pressure on Harold was growing. Young men not yet in the service were getting pressure from their peers who were enlisting in droves and pressure from the draft board which was eminent. He was having a difficult time enjoying this moment. Unlike Sylvia, he worried about future events that may or may not happen.
The phonograph inside the Hall began playing Glenn Miller’s ‘In the Mood’.
“Excuse me gentlemen,” Beryl said. “This is Esther’s favorite.”
“Don’t let that ball and chain give you a hernia,” Harold said.
Beryl laughed and went inside.
Yale could not hold back any longer.
“Harold, what are you going to do about the draft?”
“I don’t think they’ll take me because of my asthma,” Harold said to his dad. “I’ll probably get a 4F deferment. Can you imagine me trying to finish a 24 hour hike through the woods?”
“I don’t think they’ll defer you for that, son,” Yale replied. “There are a lot of jobs that don’t require strenuous activity.”
“Well, if they don’t, then you can call me Cowboy Bud,” he said.
“Cowboy Bud?” Forest asked.
“Yes, Cowboy Bud. An associate of mine told me about a large cattle ranch in Colorado. If they won’t defer me for my asthma, then I’ll move to Colorado and become Cowboy Edgell, working in an industry vital to the war effort.”
“What do you know about cows?” Forest asked. He couldn’t understand Harold’s reluctance to join the military. It was so contrary to his feelings of wanting to join and be a part of the war.
“Hamburgers and steaks are all I know,” Harold said with a laugh.
Yale looked relieved. He wasn’t sure if the army would defer his oldest son, but he was hoping it was true.
Two weeks later on March 15th, the Edgell family stood on the platform waiting until the last moment before Beryl was to board the train. Beryl and Esther had spent a week in Denver on their honeymoon and they were now unwilling to separate at this last moment.
“Oh Beryl, August is such a long way off,” Esther was saying through her sobs. “I don’t think I’m pregnant. I’m going to miss you so much.”
Beryl was holding back his tears. “That’s ok; we’ll get pregnant when I’m home on leave.”
Yale, Sylvia, Forest, Lucille and her son Lynn were standing a few feet away. They wanted to be there to see Beryl off, yet they wanted Beryl and Esther to have the few moments alone.
“Be careful husband,” Esther whispered in his ear as she hugged him close.
“I will my new wife,” Beryl whispered back.
The train station platform in Goodland was filled with the village crowd waiting for the Rocky Mountain Rocket. A local farmer in overalls paced slowly anticipating the arrival of his wife and children. The Goodland dispatcher was in his dark uniform looking down the track as if to hurry the approaching steam engine. Several families mirrored the Edgell family in their slight anxious movements. The children were tethered close to the parents, anxious to end the waiting and begin some kind, any kind of activity. A mother and her small boy followed the gaze of the dispatcher, looking for the thick column of white smoke that would herald the arrival of the steam locomotive. The Edgell family waited for the train that was bringing Beryl back from Fort Benning, Georgia. Only now it would be Lieutenant Edgell. The family had dressed in their Sunday attire as if to show more respect for the officer in the United States Army. Everyone on the old wooden platform began to move slightly as the locomotive rounded the bend and rolled on the train station track, slowing as it approached. The giant black locomotive was a behemoth piece of machinery, loud and imposing as it slowed, the screeching of metal on metal brakes began to rise above the noise of the engine. The engine slowly passed the platform, aligning the passenger cars with the waiting families. Beryl was one of the first to depart as the train slowed to a stop. He had been gone five months for advanced training and officer candidate school. As he rushed to his family in his dress uniform and shiny gold Lieutenant Bars, he looked more of a man than the boy who had been married in the spring. One thing hadn’t changed; the broad toothy Edgell smile. Beryl first hugged Esther, then with his other arm pulled his mother close to him. Yale and Forest held back, smiling broadly. Lynn looked up with awe at his Uncle Beryl, not knowing what to do.
“Son, it’s so good to have you home,” Sylvia said with tears.
Esther was quiet and just hugged him closely. After a very long minute, Beryl looked to his Dad and brother.
“It’s good to see you Dad……Forest.”
He loosened his grip on Esther and Sylvia and knelt down in front of Lynn who jumped into his arms and hugged.
“How is my favorite nephew,” Beryl said laughing.
Lynn laughed and hugged him tighter.
Lucille stood next to Forest holding the 16 month old Steve, her second son.
The family retired to the Edgell home on Walnut Street. It was an older home, witnessed by the faded wood porch and rustic rails that bore several years of white paint. The wooden outer walls, although painted regularly, had the markings of many years of wear. The family walked from the station to the home in a lively gait with even livelier conversation. Yale, Forest and Beryl talked while Lucille, Esther and Sylvia just walked and admired.
“I made some brownies and we have plenty of coffee,” Sylvia said above the chatter.
Beryl leaned over and hugged his mother who was holding back her tears.
“You weren’t supposed to be here for another few weeks, you’re not AWOL are you?” Forest asked.
“No, they cut out the field training so we could graduate early. Something about wanting an infantry group to graduate as the first OCS class instead of a Signal Corp group.”
Walking up the uneven walk to the front door, Sylvia instructed the men to remain on the porch while the ‘girls’ prepared the refreshments.
“Where do you want me to start?” Beryl asked with a laugh.
“Start with your training,” Forest replied.
“They put you through a lot of classroom training and field exercises. In ninety days they have to weed out the ones who aren’t officer material and make sure the ones who make it through are prepared. The field training is a lot of exercises to make sure you have the muscle to make it and the stamina to go 24 or 36 hours and still be somewhat alert. We did a lot of fire and maneuver drilling to prepare for actual combat.”
“What’s Fire and Maneuver?” Forest interrupted Beryl’s flow.
“It’s a simple maneuver to train a platoon to attack an enemy that’s in a bunker, farmhouse or building. It’s a real test of thinking on your feet and on the run. The squad in the platoon spread out to flank the enemy. While one squad is pouring bullets into the objective, another squad moves forward to a new protected area. That group then pours bullets into the enemy while the first group moves up. You keep moving in this fashion until you can lob grenades and wipe out the enemy position. I’ll be leading a platoon when I return to duty. There are three squads in a platoon, each squad having 12 men, three platoons to a Company, four companies to a battalion, three battalions to a regiment, and three regiments to a Division.”
“Hold it a second,” Yale interrupted. “I am a little slow on my math here.”
“We measure units by the number of riflemen: 12 to a squad, 36 to a platoon, 144 to a company, 576 to a battalion, 1,728 to a regiment, and 5,184 to a division. This doesn’t account for all the support personnel, the headquarter companies, the artillery attached to the division, engineering battalions, signal companies, and a quartermaster company for supplies. In total, a division adds up to almost 14,000 men. Headquarters itself is large. When you figure a Division must operate as a small city, three times the size of Goodland, you can understand why it needs the personnel. Instead of churches, the headquarters has the Division chaplain. We have a banker who is the finance officer, a chemical warfare officer, antitank officer, engineer officer, a Division surgeon, a signal officer, provost marshal officer, ordnance officer, judge advocate and adjutant officer. Then you have the support officers in G1 through G4, administration, intelligence, operations and supply.”
“I see you did your homework well,” Forest said. He was actually very fascinated with any information he could get on the military and the war.
“I was fifth in my class at OCS,” Beryl said with pride.
“The Division is made up of three Regiments,” Beryl continued. “In each Regiment there’s a management team just like Division. Only they aren’t designated with a G but with an S. Instead of G2 it is called S2. Then you have the cannon officer, antitank officer, a regimental surgeon, an officer assigned to liaison between the regiment and the Division. Below the Regiment you have three Battalions which have a commanding officer, an executive officer, battalion surgeon and a headquarter company liaison officer.”
“So it looks like you are way down on the totem pole,” Forest said.
Beryl laughed, “You can’t make General in ninety days.”
“So, you have three squads of 12 men each?” Yale asked. “Is this how the Germans do it?”
“Yes, but the German Army is a little different. They start with nine men squads, but their divisions are about the same size as ours.”
“How much do we know about the Germans?” Forest asked.
Lynn had been listening and watching Beryl with fascination, although he didn’t understand what his Uncle was saying.
“We know quite a bit, thanks to the British and Russians.”
The door opened and Esther walked to Beryl who was standing erect near his slumping brother.
Beryl looked at Esther.
“Esther, why don’t we walk home so I can rest and clean up? Trains have a way of not letting you rest.
Beryl was anxious to go to their home, a rented room and parlor at Lucille’s Grandfather Robinson’s home. It was mid-afternoon and Beryl wanted to spend some private time with Esther.
“Yes dear,” she replied. She was as anxious as Beryl to get home.
“Dinner at eight!” Yale chimed.
Lucille came out the door carrying her youngest. She took Lynn’s hand.
“Come on boys, I promised Lois we would stop by Duckwalls before she closed the store.”
Lois was Lucille’s older sister.
The walk to Robinson’s house was a short distance. Now that they were alone, the urgency of the moment had waned.
“How are Forest and Lucille getting along?” Beryl asked, breaking the silence.
“It could be better,” Esther replied, “I think she’s bored and feels stuck in the basement of the pink house.”
Beryl was concerned about Forest. He worked hard at the Edgell Market that was on highway 24, just outside of Goodland. Both Beryl and Forest had worked at Horn’s Market on Main Street and after Beryl joined the Army, their cousin, Vic Edgell had hired Forest. The days were long at the market. In summer the market would deal directly with the local small farmers for their produce and the shelves were in constant need of being restocked. In winter months the trucks would arrive from New Mexico with produce and the boys would have to unload the produce after Vic bartered for the price. Forest had to work extra hours after Beryl joined the Army. Typical of young marriages, he and Lucille were busy with the children, chores, Church, the market and all the little things that consume the minutes, hours and Days. Instead of being carefree and enjoying their youth, they were in constant demand of the minutia of their lives. Forest was settled into the married life; however, Lucille was missing the enjoyment of youth. She said many times that she missed the parties at the Smoky River and the fun of just hanging out with friends. Most of their friends were single and enjoying the free spirit and independence after High School.
“I do hope it gets better for them, “Beryl said as his voice trailed off. He wanted his time with Esther to be happy.
“Helen is a real dear,” Esther said, “She’s spending time with Lucille and helping her with the boys before she and Bill go back to Loveland It’s really up them to figure it out.”
Helen was the older sister of Forest and Beryl and since childhood, had always walked with a purpose. She had married Bill Riker out of high school/ and waited a year before having her first child, Nellie Jane. She and Bill had traveled to Loveland, Colorado on their honeymoon, fell in love with the area, and moved there within a month of their travel.
“Let’s walk a little faster, I want to get home,” Esther said with a smile.
“Lucille’s grandfather Robinson is a very interesting man,” Esther talked as they walked.
“Did he talk your ears off?” Beryl asked, as they headed to the small apartment in the Robinson home.
“Oh yes, I know the whole story. Lucille’s Grandfather William H. Robinson was born in Plainville, Kansas in 1863. He was too young for the Civil War but his generation collected war memorabilia. The parlor is filled with pictures from the war and a Union Army officer’s sword hung over the door. When he was 22, William married 15 year old Cora Trexler and moved the family in a covered wagon to Goodland. He didn’t have any skills, except the gift of gab, so he became a tradesman and built a sizeable estate in apartment buildings and retail businesses on Goodland’s Main Street.”
“How am I doing so far?” She laughed.
“You certainly know more about him than I ever knew.”
“There’s more,” she laughed. “In 1916 he became mayor of Goodland and served two terms. The dust storms of 1936 and 1937 brought crop failure to the Goodland area and Robinson lost everything to the tax collector. He kept his one apartment building and his house. At the same time Robinson was losing everything, Lucille’s Dad was flourishing in the food business. Carl Joseph Gotthilf Deves owned the Deve’s café on Main Street and the business from the railroaders not only paid the bills but gave him extra money to invest in Goodland.”
They turned up the walkway to the Robinson house.
“I’m going to wash up and go to bed,” Beryl said with a smile.
“Me too,” Esther said with a fake yawn.
The sun was still shining through the small bedroom window as Beryl woke, disoriented from his brief nap and the long train ride. The love making had both invigorated him and made him tired. He lay there looking at the ceiling as Esther curled up close to him. Her light perfume was very pleasant and her hair smelled of fresh shampoo. He stroked her hair lightly, not wanting to disturb her nap. He glanced around the small bedroom that was sparsely furnished: a nightstand, a chair and a four drawer dresser. Beryl could imagine spending the rest of his life with Esther and looked forward to being home every night, coming home to the aroma of her cooking. He envied Forest who had a pretty wife and two sons to come home to and he could see himself having that after the war. He didn’t envy Forest and his work, a job that barely paid the bills and forced he and his family to live in the basement of Lucille’s mother’s home on Cherry Street. He had decided on OCS when he began thinking of life after the war and his choices of support for his family. He wouldn’t be going back to the grocery business. His officer training and leadership skills would hopefully prepare him for a better job. He knew he had the basic intelligence to learn and build a future, just as his older brother Harold had succeeded. No, he wouldn’t be living in a basement apartment and the small Robinson apartment would suffice for now.
“What time is it?” She said in a low sleepy voice.
“It’s only 6.” Beryl answered.
“Oh, good,” she said, “plenty of time.”
She leaned over, looked down at his face and kissed him.
“I have given my notice at the library,” she said slowly.
“You can stay in Goodland then,” Beryl answered.
“What will you do?”
“Well I could lounge around and live off an officer’s salary and get fat,” she said with a smile.
“You will for sure be getting fat..........fat like all other pregnant wives.”
“I have been talking to Gladys at the hair salon and she was impressed with what I know about hair and hair styles. My mother taught me well. I can start there in two weeks. We can bank your officer’s pay to save for a house when you get out.”
“I love the way you think,” Beryl said and kissed her.
Beryl and Esther were the last to arrive at the Edgell home.
They greeted everyone as Beryl took the two boys, Lynn and Steve in his arms and walked to the kitchen where Helen and Sylvia were busy with the meal. He kissed them both and returned to the living room.
“These boys are great,” Beryl said to Lucille.
Lucille smiled,” they really like you Beryl. You’re their hero.”
“And you are my hero for bringing them into the world,” Beryl replied with a smile.
Forest was sitting on the divan and got up to go to the front porch. Beryl set the boys down and followed Forest, Yale and Bill outside.
“Dinner will be a little late,” Yale said”
“Do you know where you’ll be going,” Yale asked.
“Yes, Dad,” Beryl said with a serious note, “I suspect I’ll be going to England to train and then, when the decision is made, on to the continent to fight the Germans. They haven’t assigned me yet.”
“What do you know about the Germans?” Forest asked. “What did they teach about how to fight?”
“We’ve learned a lot from the British, French and Russians about the German army. The British are very detailed and they’ve collected a great deal of information on the German army makeup and tactics. The Germans are an experienced Army. They’ve been practicing with live bodies, not stuffed gunny sacks like we’ve been attacking in training. They’ve been fighting for three years so we have to assume they are hardened soldiers. Our squad is eleven riflemen with M1s and one man with a Browning automatic rifle. The BAR weighs about 20 pounds and shoots 550 rounds a minute up to 600 yards. It sounds impressive but not when compared to the Germans. The German squads of nine men are also riflemen, but one is designated for their MG 42. This is the equivalent of two BARs and a lot more deadly. The MG 42 shoots twelve hundred 7.9 millimeter rounds a minute and has an effective range of 1000 yards. This thing eats ammunition but spits it out at a deadly rate. The German squad is really a bunch of ammunition bearers with a rifle. The MG 42 is light and portable, weighing a little over 60 pounds with a tripod, and the private who mans it can easily move with the rest of the riflemen. When they dig in on the defense, they keep the MG 42 moving from one position to another. They’ll fire a few rounds and then move to another foxhole or position. This one squad of nine men can easily pin down two or three platoons.”
“So how do you fight them,” Yale asked, sounding concerned.
“Keep moving and lob grenades at the MG42,” Beryl answered with a smile. If they’re dug in, then fire and move. If we are on the defense, use mortars and artillery to knock out their positions. It all comes down to fire power.”
Beryl and Esther walked home, both feeling the nostalgia of the party. The next two weeks for Beryl was a collage of romance, reacquainting with people in Goodland and family time. The VFW hall became more of a gathering point for Beryl and Forest as Beryl enjoyed the attention and the free drinks offered by the veterans of WWI.
The Sunday gatherings at Yale and Sylvia’s home were more relaxed than the first few days of Beryl’s leave. Everyone was dressed in warm clothing to protect against the fall chill in the air. Sylvia was making a cold cut dinner with a cold macaroni salad. The men were gathered on the front porch with their cigarettes and a bottle of brandy that Forest had managed to purchase from his tight budget.
The phone rang in the living room. They could hear Lucille answer, ask a few questions, and then yell from the living room, “Beryl, for you, it’s Western Union.”
Beryl made a quizzical expression and rushed into the living room.
“This is Lieutenant Edgell,” Beryl said into the phone. His expression went from quizzical to concern.
“Yes, please read it and deliver it when you can.”
“What was that order number?”
Beryl reached over to the hutch and grabbed a pencil and paper and wrote down a number.
“Thank you, goodbye.”
Beryl slowly put the phone on the receiver and walked back to the porch.
“Dad that was 29th Division headquarters and I’m to report immediately.”
“Where are you going?” Yale asked.
“A camp in New Jersey. I have to get a train schedule.”
Forest volunteered to find a train schedule.
“Esther, can we go for a walk?” Beryl said.
Esther, without answering, stood up and walked with Beryl to the porch and down the walk to the street.
“It’s not good is it, Esther said quietly.
“No, not what we planned. I have to catch the first train out.
“Can you tell me anything?” Esther said.
“Just what the telegram said. I have been ordered to travel, without delay, to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. They assigned me as a Platoon leader in Company M, 3rd Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division. I’ll write you when I am able to let you know where I am.”
Esther stopped walking and hugged Beryl.
“Oh my dear, I want more of you.”
“And I you,” Beryl said, his voice choking.
They hugged for minutes.
Esther looked up into Beryl’s face; her tears had already rolled down her cheeks and were dripping onto her blouse.
“Beryl, I hope I’m pregnant.”
Beryl boarded the train in Goodland in his newly laundered and pressed uniform. He had polished his bars and shoes to a high gleam and looked forward to the travel and meeting fellow travelers. The train slowly rolled out of the Goodland station. Beryl was on the bottom step of the train car entrance, looking at Esther and waving at the family. He was thinking of her last words, ‘I hope I’m pregnant.’ He felt his lower lip tremble slightly as if he would cry, knowing she would be going through her first pregnancy without him. He would not be there to share the moment with her, to watch her small flat stomach grow with the life inside her, and the birth of their first child. When the image of the family on the station platform shrunk to miniature size, Beryl turned and walked up the two remaining steps to the train car entry. He opened the car door and his mind snapped to the moment; first to find a seat. He would be on the train for over 40 hours so he wanted to be comfortable. He looked at the other passengers and the empty seats and sat down in a window seat. He liked to look out the window and watch the scenery; it was a great way to day dream and think. The summer harvest would be in so he would miss seeing the fields of wheat, corn and hay but he could gaze out on the farm lands of earth covered with the chafe from the droppings of the harvest machines. Occasionally the train would pass a farm with large stacks of hay ready to be moved inside for the winter. He forced his mind to erase the thoughts of Goodland and family and turned his inner attention to the army.
Beryl was going to be an officer in the ‘Dandy Fifth’, as the 175th Infantry was called. It was a nickname that dated back to the revolutionary war. Originally the 175th was a small company of uniformed men in Baltimore who were organized in 1774 to fight in the American revolutionary war. It was quickly merged into the Maryland Regiment and joined General Washington in the fight against the British. The name Dandy Fifth originated from the Regiment’s first designation as the Maryland Fifth and developed a military history in battles with the Continental Army against the British and again in the war of 1812 against the British. The Dandy Fifth became the divided Fifth in the Civil War. The state of Maryland found itself with two armies at the outbreak of the war, one regiment fighting on the Union side and the other regiment fighting on the Confederate side and both sides meeting in battle. After the Civil War, the concept of National Guard units across the country was established and National Guard Divisions were formed from the east coast of the United States to the west coast. Each Division was to have a patch for the upper sleeve of their uniform to show the Division insignia. The first Division had a large red number one and was known as the ‘Big Red One’. In 1916 the ‘Dandy Fifth’ was made part of a newly formed 29th Division in the Baltimore area and a shoulder patch design was required. A Major in this new Division proposed an insignia that would depict unity between the North and South, showing respect for the forces of the Union and Confederate armies who had battled bravely against each other in the civil war. The new insignia for the 29th Division became a symbol patterned after the Korean monad, a symbol for eternal life and oneness. The monad is similar to the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol, two teardrops together inside a circle. Monad, stemming from the Greek word monos, means a single, indivisible unit and used in different sciences to mean a primary or elementary unit of the science. The Major’s proposed insignia was a round patch with one teardrop colored blue for the Union color and the other teardrop colored gray for the Confederate color. The choice of the monad was approved and declared appropriate as a declaration of the unity of the new 29th Division in a bond to defend the country.
The Major who had designed the patch had no doubt read the history of the Yorks and Lancastrians in England. Maybe this is where the Major at the 29th Division got his idea for the monad crest for the 29th Division. Henry VII had joined two warring families by designing a new crest for the Crown that included the red rose of the Yorks with the white rose of the Lancastrians.
As the train sped among the fields of Kansas destined to Chicago, Beryl allowed his thoughts to wander through his memories of home.
He smiled to himself as he remembered an exchange with Thelma in 1936. Thelma was the 70 year old Goodland librarian.
“Are you still dating Katy Raymond?” she had asked casually.
“Thelma!” Beryl laughed. “I took her to one softball game in Norton. Does the town gossip call that dating?”
Thelma blushed. Beryl was right about the town gossip and in his usual direct manner; he had said what was on his mind.
Thelma recovered quickly.
“You know Goodland,” she laughed. “And Goodland knows you.”
Beryl noticed a small wink as she said it.
“I have a lot of dates,” he said smiling. “When does a date become dating?”
They had reached the history section with its ceiling high shelves of books.
“I like the number three,” Thelma said smiling.
“Yes, three is kind of a magical number. The trinity is made up of three. We are the third planet from the sun. My birthday is on March third and so I would say that if you date a girl three times, it becomes dating.”
Beryl had visited the library to look up information on King James. He had recently been leafing through the Bible and noticed that on the cover was written, ‘King James Version.’ He asked his mom what she knew about this King James and she, in her normal way of teaching, directed him to the library. Beryl was in the curious period of his life; working at Horn’s Grocery and wondering what kind of a man he would become.
“Do you have anything special on King James,” he had asked.
Thelma had hesitated for a minute before answering.
“Oh yes, the Kingly gift of James the First, the Basilikon Doron,” she answered.
“Is there anything you don’t know?” Beryl laughed.
Thelma smiled. “Who’ll be your next date?”
Beryl had the reputation of dating most of the single girls in Goodland, Colby and Norton. He himself didn’t know who he would date next or the event they would attend. He was never shy and when he ran into a single girl he liked, he would ask them out. He had only been turned down once and that was because the girl was already ‘dating’ someone else.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
“Oh, there is a young girl in Norton who works at the Norton Library. I’ve met her a few times and she seems real nice.”
“Is she as pretty and smart as you are?” Beryl asked, smiling.
“If you mean pretty old, then she is not. But she is pretty young and pretty. And yes, she’s smart.”
“Then I guess I’ll need to look into this available lass.”
“In the meantime you wanted to know about King James I. Here let me show you.”
Thelma turned the book sideways on the counter so Beryl could read along with her.
“Now, King James was an orphan at a young age. His father died when he was young and shortly thereafter his mother was imprisoned by her cousin. Young James was orphaned at an early age and was reared by a strict tutor who insisted on his learning and preparing for his role as King of Scotland.
“Aha, here is the part about the Basilikon Doron. James is advising his heirs on patience, religion, how and why to pray, and how to lead their lives so they would always be ready for death. He cautioned against believing in superstitions, Morbus animi, and the importance of knowledge. He counseled them on the importance of self-discovery and self-criticism and against relying on other men for their knowledge; telling them to beware of the extreme of the Papist authority and the other extreme of the anti-Papist.
“But learne wisely to discerne betwixt poyntes of salvation and indifferent thinges, betwixt substance and ceremonies; betwixt the expresse commandemente and will of God in his word, and the invention or ordinance of man....
“James was warning his heirs to be cautious of all men, men of the cloth or lay men, who preach without following the substance of the Bible. His advice was surrounded by references to specific passages in the Bible, demonstrating his knowledge of the scriptures.”
“You know Thelma, I think I like this king.”
“As well you should,” she said. “James was a man who knew his role in life and was confident in his reign. He was virtuous and faithful to his wife; a religious man who also believed in the duty of every man to account to himself for his own actions and inactions.
“Note here what James wrote. ‘And therefore I would not have you to praye with the Papistes, to be preserved from suddaine death, but that God would give you grace to live, as yee may everie houre of your life be ready for death: so shall yee atteyne to the vertue of true Fortitiude, never being affraide for the horror of death, come when hee list.....
“The king was telling his heirs to always live their life according to the scriptures and be ready for death at any time. He rejected the Catholic notion of the last rites and the selling of indulgences. He warned his heirs to not be fooled by this practice because it was a Papist ritual contrary to the scriptures. A sinner cannot be saved in the last moments of death and the only way to insure eternal salvation was to live a virtuous life.”
Beryl read the next section.
“Now, as to Faith which is the intertayner & quickner of Religion (as I have else said) It is a sure persuasion and apprehension of the promises of God, applying them to your soule: and therefore may it justlie be called, The golden chaine that linketh the faithful soule to Christ: And because it groweth not in our garden, but is the free gifte of God. It must be nourished by praier, which is no thing else but A frendly talking with god.”
Beryl repeated the last words: “must be nourished by prayer, which is nothing else but a friendly talking with God.”
“I can see how easy it would be for a young orphan, lacking the love and companionship of parents, to find in God a friend who would always be there. King James had found a friend who would not be murdered or imprisoned like his parents, to leave him alone and void of friendship; a confidant he could talk to and find guidance in his kingly duties, without the fear of being abandoned as an orphan.”
“Well,” Esther said.
“Have you satisfied your curiosity about this Scottish and English King?
“I think so, Thelma.”
“Well, you are just out of High School and if you look at James as a model of behavior, you can’t do much wrong.”
The train with Lieutenant Edgell rolled among the Kansas wheat fields, through the wooded growth of western Missouri, across the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and north to Chicago. Beryl avoided the other passengers on the train, preferring to daydream or sleep. Everyone became alert as the train slowed, switched tracks, sped up, and disturbed the passengers as the train pulled into the Chicago Union station. Beryl looked out the window to get a view of the mammoth structure. The station was large and imposing with 20 tracks leading into the complex. Its gray exterior was not ornate but stately. The first floor housing the great hall rose to unending heights and was lighted by the high windows at the top.
Beryl stepped down off the train, looking smart in his uniform and gold bars. He had an hour to wait and walked to the station where he bought a copy of the Chicago Tribune. Beryl took his newspaper and sat on one of the wooden benches in the train station, content to sit and read the paper cover to cover.
The Chicago Tribune, like all newspapers across the world, reported any and all news of the war. Circulation of the newspaper had steadily climbed since December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor day, as an anxious population became more and more eager to follow the events of the war. The Germans had laid siege to Stalingrad in September of 1942 and the battle was street-to-street fighting. The Japanese were strengthening their grip on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, fighting to hold onto the island’s airstrip that provided the link between Australia and Hawaii. The marines had landed on the island and were fighting a force of Japanese that far outnumbered them. It would be a long and life costing battle for both sides.
Beryl wondered at the course of the war. He felt fortunate he was going to the European war instead of the Pacific theater. The war in Europe would be more conventional than the island hopping campaign against the Japanese. In Europe, conventional strategies of attack, flanking, superior firepower and defense were standard military issue. Fighting the Japanese army island to island was an entirely new type of campaign that Beryl felt uncomfortable with in his new roll as an officer in the U.S. Army. He knew he was young and inexperienced and didn’t have the instincts of the more seasoned officers. Fighting a battle on the platoon level required quick thinking and improvising with the terrain and the enemy tactics. Beryl felt he would do better when the terrain was houses, barns and fields rather than jungles and wooded islands.
Beryl looked up from his newspaper and noticed the increased traffic of soldiers moving through the train station with their duffel bags, stuffed with all their belongings that they would be married to for the coming months. Some were sitting on the wooden benches, others milled around the gate area watching trains come and go. Still others were visiting the news stand for magazines and refreshments. He wondered how many had received the telegram at home telling them to report, without delay, to their duty station. How many of them had hastily gotten married and left crying relatives on their home train stations. Would they leave home with a wife pregnant and feeling as he did, sorry to be leaving at this time but anticipating the excitement of the new order. If he were single, would he feel different? Without the burden of a family, would this be the ultimate adventure for a boy from rural Kansas; a boy with roots that lead back to Looneyville, West Virginia? The boys and men in uniform that idled through the train station were of many backgrounds and their state of dress varied from barely inspection passable to an example of the military spit and polish.
“Sir?” a voice said.
Beryl looked up at a Private who had sat down across from him and hesitated.
“Yes Private?” Beryl answered. He noticed the private was not the green looking recruit he was used to seeing. This private looked in his late-twenties and could pass for a seasoned warrior.
“Do you have the time?”
Beryl looked at his watch.
“Where’re you from Lieutenant,” the man asked as he leaned over to read Beryl’s name tag, “Edgell?”
“Goodland, Kansas,” Beryl replied. He then paused, remembering that behind him was a large clock on the wall. He turned in his seat and looked at the clock that read 11:32. He looked back at the Private, wondering why the Private had bothered him when the station clock was clearly visible.
The Private noticed Beryl turning and the expression on his face.
“You can’t trust these station clocks,” the Private said. “I’ve missed more than one connection by relying on them.”
Beryl nodded his head and was about to return to his newspaper.
“I’m on my way to Fort Meade,” the Private said as he sat down in the wooden bench opposite Beryl. “Where’re you going Sir?”
Beryl looked at the Private. Everything about this soldier and his manner alerted Beryl to trouble. “I’m headed for Baltimore,” Beryl lied.
“I’m anxious to get the training over with so I can go Europe and fight.” the Private said. “Are you going overseas soon?”
Beryl didn’t like the way this conversation was going. Everyone entering the military was told to be cautious about their training and their assignments. Perhaps this was just a young Private trying to make conversation with no thoughts of discretion.
“I doubt if I’ll be going overseas. I’ll be on a desk job in Baltimore.” Beryl lied again, figuring that would pacify the young Private. He wanted to get back to his newspaper.
“How soon do you think we’ll be invading the Germans?”
“Hard to say, Private. When do you think we’ll be invading?”
Beryl looked at the Private. He sensed something was wrong with this naive line of questions coming from a man who appeared a little more sophisticated than a green Private in the Army.
“The sooner the better, don’t you think?”
“How do you feel about fighting the Germans? You look like you could have a little German blood in your veins,” Beryl said with a slight smile.
“I don’t see why the United States needs to get mixed up in European affairs, so, I have a little bit of a problem with it,” the Private answered. The Private’s tone of voice was now more of a debating tone. His body language changed from sitting in the wooden bench with both arms stretched out on the back of the bench to an arms folded position.
“You seem to have a problem with your loyalties, Private,” Beryl said with his officer’s voice.
“If I have to go to Europe I’ll do my part. But that doesn’t mean I understand what we’re doing or morally approve of it. How soon will you be going to Europe Sir?”
Beryl answered. “Like I said Private, I’ll have a desk job in Baltimore.”
The Private stood, said goodbye, and walked over to the news stand.
Beryl watched him go, thinking he had just met a strange soldier. The Private was a little too interested in where he was going. Beryl watched as the Private bought something at the newsstand and then walked over to three soldiers who were loitering nearby waiting for their train. Beryl looked down at his newspaper and started to read an article about the war. After a few minutes he glanced up and saw the three soldiers alone, the Private was nowhere in sight. Beryl folded his newspaper and walked over to the newsstand and approached the three soldiers.
“Hello Sir, one of the soldiers said to him.
“Hello Private,” Beryl answered. “Did you see where the Private went that was here?”
“I think he went to the street,” a second Private answered.
“Did he ask you a lot of questions about your next assignments?” Beryl asked the group.
“Yes Sir, and he seemed very interested in where we were going,” replied the first Private.
“Thanks,” Beryl said and turned to walk to the street exit. He was now 100% suspicious of the Private who couldn’t wait to blow Krauts’ heads off and yet had a problem with a war with Germany. He sped up his pace as he reached the street exit of the terminal. Outside he stopped and looked both ways. There was a lot of traffic in the street and he couldn’t see the Private on the sidewalk. He stood there a moment looking at the traffic and was about to turn and go back inside the terminal when he saw a new sedan pulling away from the curb at the far end of the terminal behind a row of taxis. As the sedan drove past Beryl he could see inside. A woman who looked to be in her thirties was driving and the Private was in the passenger seat. As the sedan passed Beryl, the Private looked out his window and put two fingers to his forehead as if saluting and then he smiled. The smile was not a friendly smile, but the type of forced smile you would give to an adversary if the game were a stalemate. Beryl waited until the sedan had passed and noted the license number. He wasn’t sure what he was going to do with it but he felt better that he had the number and more options to follow. It looked like the Private would be missing his train to Fort Meade.
Beryl walked back into the train station and searched for a phone. He decided to get this off his mind and the best way was to turn it over to someone who could either decide there was a reason to be suspicious and take action or just let the incident blend in with all the other reported incidents. Beryl located the administration office of the terminal and walked in to find a young secretary behind a desk. He greeted her and asked to use the phone.
“No long distance,” she said with a flirting smile.
“No long distance,” he assured her.
Beryl picked up the receiver and asked the operator to connect him with the local FBI office. He was greeted by a young female voice and after introducing himself, asked to talk to someone who he should report a suspicious incident. In a few seconds he was talking to an agent. Beryl told the story of the Private with all the questions and the agent asked questions about the Private’s uniform, looks, height and build. He then asked for Beryl’s name, rank and serial number. When he asked Beryl for his next duty station, Beryl said only that he was to report in at Camp Kilmer for further orders. Beryl decided he should be cautious with everyone and didn’t see the need for this Chicago agent to know any more than that he was going to Camp Kilmer to join the ‘Dandy Fifth’. He was out of the circle now and it was in the hands of the agent to follow up.
“We may need you later, Lieutenant,” the agent said as he was finishing his questions.
“You can contact the military and they’ll be able to find me,” Beryl replied.
The phone conversation ended and Beryl felt better that he had passed the ball to someone in a position to follow up. He looked at his watch and decided it was time to find his train.
The remaining part of the journey was long and tedious. Beryl kept busy by napping, looking out the window at parts of the world he had never seen and by reading whatever he could get his hands on. He was on his way to a world where he had so many doubts and questions. Life in Goodland was peaceful and predictable. The world of military and war was new and unknowing and he found himself unable to nap peacefully as the train sped toward New Jersey and this new world. Even after his basic training, advanced infantry training and officer’s candidate school, he still had questions and doubts about the future. He felt confidant leading a platoon. Leading a platoon into a battle with a hardened enemy was another thing. He wondered how he would handle himself when the bullets were coming at him and the mortars landing among his platoon. Beryl tried to imagine all the different scenarios of battle so he would be ready and able to react as a good officer and a good leader. He knew that as much as he tried, the war would present him with situations he could never dream of nor imagine. He was determined to be a good officer and leader and he was always thinking of different circumstances about how a leader should act or react. He had heard in OCS that great leaders are not born, they have greatness thrust upon them. They are put in situations where they must act with all the knowledge they have developed and their success depends on the wisdom they have developed over the years and their ability to anticipate all the variables of the situation. Greatness in war is the ability to know the enemy thoroughly and anticipate his next moves, his capabilities, weaknesses, strengths and how they will use their resources. But this was the strategy of war and the greatness of a winning strategy lies with the Generals and politicians. He was a platoon leader with the task of leading 36 men into a battle situation where intelligence was slim and the terrain was new. Each shot fired changed the variables, changed the tactics of the battle for the platoon and the enemy. Each man killed or wounded in his platoon or on the enemy side changed the battle situation. Each mortar or artillery shell landing in the midst of the platoon would change the battle advantage. Men would flinch at the sound of an explosion and in that brief second the battle would change. Men would stumble to get to their next position in a fire and maneuver attack and that would change the battle advantage. A platoon’s destiny changed in seconds. Beryl hoped that wherever he was going he would have more time to develop his own instincts before being thrust into a live battle with a determined enemy.
The train rolled through Pennsylvania and slowly turned south to Philadelphia. The train slowed as it approached the Philadelphia outskirts and Beryl woke with the jerks of the braking train. He looked out the window to see an old city pass by that was over 300 years old and had seen wars and even battles in its streets. Beryl took his dopp kit to the washroom and made himself ready for the coming day. He had been told to report to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, by way of Philadelphia and Trenton, New Jersey. The train proceeded through the outskirts of Philadelphia and into the old city toward the Philadelphia train station. Beryl barely made his connection to Trenton and he had to hurry with his barracks bag to find the right track. As he was walking quickly through the large baroque train station terminal a young Corporal passed him and yelled.
“Track nine for Trenton, Sir, and track three for Baltimore and Fort Mead.”
Beryl had no time to reply and turned to find track nine.
The train ride to Trenton was very brief. Beryl spent the time looking himself over to make sure he looked like an officer with shined shoes and tucked in shirt. He felt his chin and decided to shave the stubble. He would be meeting his platoon for the first time and he wanted to appear officer material even though his confidence was in disarray.
The Trenton train station was full of servicemen coming and going, mainly coming. He lifted his barrack’s bag and walked with an easy gait: as if the barrack’s bag weighed nor more than a pillow. He expected the military to have trucks or buses waiting and he walked directly to the street exit where buses were waiting with a big “Camp Kilmer” sign in one of the front windows. It was a private bus line the military hired to shuttle recruits to the Fort and Beryl boarded the almost full bus and found a seat next to a Corporal. The Corporal nodded hello and Beryl nodded back. The ride was short and silent. Beryl took this to mean that everyone on the bus was going to an unfamiliar destination and preferred to use this time to ponder the unknown and anticipate the next events.
The bus driver began talking loudly so even the back of the bus could hear.
“Listen up men. Camp Kilmer is located two miles east of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Rutgers University is nearby and New York is 30 miles to the north. The camp you are going to was activated in 1941 and in January of 1942 construction began all over the base. You are going to see theaters, hospitals, two story quarters for the soldiers, a meat cutting facility, mess halls, PX buildings and dozens of support buildings. The Camp is spread out over 1,600 acres and has over 1,200 buildings. In 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed and Roosevelt declared war, the military anticipated the need to have a facility to stage hundreds of thousands of soldiers for the ocean voyage to England. The decision was made to establish Camp Kilmer and within two weeks, Congress had appropriated $250,000,000 for the base and the construction of the needed facilities. It was completed in six months.
“You all need to check in at the processing center where I’ll be stopping,” the bus driver said as he ended his travelogue. He didn’t have to yell or even talk loudly. The men and boys on the bus were quiet and still.
The driver pulled the bus through the main gate, got a wave from the MP at the station and proceeded to the headquarters building. When the bus came to a stop, Beryl grabbed his bag and went into the center and found a desk for officers. Most of the soldiers on the bus were non-coms and they lined up at two desks labeled “Non-Commissioned Officers”.
Beryl gave the young male clerk his orders he had when he left Fort Benning and related the order number on the telegram. The clerk looked over the paper work and started searching through a card catalogue until he found what he was looking for.
“Sir, you’ve been assigned to the 175th Regiment, 3RD Battalion. Company M. You’re the officer of the 1st platoon and your platoon Sergeant is Frank Dietz.”
The clerk handed him a map of Camp Kilmer.
Camp Kilmer was a city; a new city with new buildings and fresh paint. Beryl looked at the map. It was a map of the ‘city’ of Camp Kilmer with all the main facilities drawn and numbered. Beryl followed the directions and came upon a row of two story buildings, each with its own military style of numbering. Beryl walked the row until he found the building with the number he was assigned. Above the door was a sign that read, “Officer’s Quarters”.
A private was standing on the walk in front of the building.
“Lieutenant Edgell?” the private asked as he saluted.
Beryl returned the salute, “yes private.”
“My name is Private Leonard Kuzinski. Your platoon sergeant, Frank Dietz, asked me to post here until you arrived. The Company Commander and his First Sergeant are unavailable until next week. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“No Leonard,” Beryl answered. “I need to unpack and get settled. Can you ask Sergeant Dietz to come by in about an hour? Also, tell him that at 1700 hours we’ll have an inspection so I can meet the men.”
“Yes Sir,” Leonard replied and left.
Beryl smiled to himself. That was his first mistake as an officer, addressing the private by his first name.
Beryl entered the officer’s barracks. The large room was partitioned to provide the effect of privacy, with two officers sharing a partitioned area. This had been planned to save materials and make the building process faster. The Lieutenants were at the bottom of the ladder and partitions would suffice; the higher up the ladder, the more private and comfortable the quarters. There were two bunks with a locker at the end of each bunk. In one corner was a fold up field desk and a chair. The bedding was already on the bed, waiting for Beryl to arrive and make it up into an army issue bunk. The enlisted men were required to check out and sign for their bedding and carry it across the Camp to their barracks. Officers did not have to suffer this small indignity; their bedding would be in place. The same type of treatment was at chow time. The enlisted men were required to bring their own ‘silverware’ to chow. Officers would pay a 25 cent fee to have the ‘silverware’ in place at their tables. Beryl took the empty bunk and began unpacking his barrack’s bag. He put his clothing and personal articles in the locker the way it was taught in basic training and again at OCS. Beryl was alone and he enjoyed the privacy and quiet. He was anxious for the hour to go by so he could meet his platoon Sergeant and begin the process of answering the dozens of questions in his mind.
The barrack’s door opened and Lt. Jarvis entered.
“You must be Edgell,” Jarvis said and extended his hand. “Keil Jarvis.”
“Beryl Edgell,” Beryl said and shook Jarvis’ hand.
“Are you fresh out of OCS?” Jarvis asked.
“Yes,” Beryl replied, “Fort Benning.” He briefly described his trip home on leave to Goodland and the telegram ordering him to Camp Kilmer.
“I graduated last year,” Jarvis said, “Been with the 175th since then.”
“I guess that makes me the newest 90 day wonder,” Beryl said with a grin.
“No worries......in no time you will be old shoe leather. The 175th has been all over the place: first at Fort Meade, then down to Carolina and finally at Fort Blanding, Florida. Two weeks ago the entire 29th Division moved north. Engineers and other support groups went to Fort Meade and the rifle companies to Camp Kilmer. I expect we will be here at Kilmer for another week.
“So where do we go from here,” Beryl asked.
“On to jolly old England,” Jarvis said.
Beryl looked up from his unpacking. “Have you been with the CO long?” Beryl was anxious to learn something about the Captain who commanded Company M.
“Captain Connors?” Jarvis asked and continued without waiting for an answer. “You’ll like him. He’s big on training and short on ceremony. He’s got the old school down pat and he wants to see the platoons work as a unit. When its time to fall in, he wants to see the platoons move fast and be ready. If you keep your platoon hustling, you’ll get along with him fine. If your platoon has slackers, he’ll make it hard on you.”
“That’s good,” Beryl smiled. “I’m not big on ceremony either. So what do we do here for another week?”
“Keep your platoon busy. Keep them out of the barracks for ten hours a day and you’ll get along fine.”
Beryl smiled again. He knew how to do that and he already had plans for the kind of platoon he wanted to lead.
“How do you feel about competition Keil?” Beryl asked.
“What do you have in mind?”
“What would you say to a ten mile run with the platoons, no packs?”
“Is there a reward at the end?”
“Just bragging rights for now.”
“You haven’t even met your platoon yet. Are you sure you want to start out this way? Losing a platoon run?”
Beryl smiled, “it’s the best way I know how to meet my men and see what they’ve got.”
“Are you up to a ten mile run Beryl? Sounds like you may be a little weak from your furlough in Goodland.”
“I can handle the ten mile run, can you?”
Keil laughed,” I think I can beat you across the finish line.”
Beryl laughed with him.
“Let me check with Sergeant Dietz first. He may have some other ideas for the men. If it’s a go, then we can plan for an early start.”
During the rest of the hour while waiting for Sergeant Dietz, Beryl and Keil talked. Beryl knew he liked this platoon leader. He was sure of himself and didn’t hesitate when answering Beryl’s questions. They talked of the training of the 175th over the past six months and about Captain Connors’ leadership style. After an hour the barrack’s door opened.
“Sergeant Frank Dietz reporting Sir,” Frank said as he stood outside by the door.
Beryl walked to the door and extended his hand,” Beryl Edgell, Sergeant, glad to meet you.”
Frank hesitated a second, not quite sure how to handle the informality of this young Lieutenant.
He shook Beryl’s hand.
“What did the platoon do today, Sergeant?” Beryl asked.
“We had a 25 mile hike, Sir, full packs.”
Beryl felt a little uncomfortable with his first encounter with Frank. Frank was about his same age, yet he looked and carried himself as more mature, more of a seasoned soldier.
Beryl looked back at Keil. “Let’s postpone the run for a day. I want the men to have some light duty tomorrow. We can run the day after.”
Frank spoke. “Sir, The platoon has been assigned to KP duty tomorrow. A day working in the kitchen will give them a chance to rest up.”
“Good,” Beryl replied,” we can plan the ten mile run for the day after.”
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” Beryl asked Frank.
“No plans, Sir.”
“Do you feel like a run through New Jersey?” Beryl asked.
“Yes Sir,” Frank replied without any disappointment in his voice. He was anxious to spend time with the new Lieutenant.
“Are the men ready for inspection?” Beryl asked.
“I told them to hit the showers and look sharp. Can we give them another 20 minutes?”
“Yes, why don’t you show me around the camp?”
Keil was listening to this exchange. Normally a 90 day wonder, the name for new Lieutenants who had spent 90 days in Fort Benning, Georgia learning how to be officers in the army, would be a little more crisp and authoritative with their platoon sergeants. It was their way of establishing control. This young Beryl had just established a partner relationship with the Sergeant.
“I’ll chart us a ten mile course for the day after tomorrow,” Keil said.
“Fine,” Beryl replied. Beryl thought about inviting him on his run with Frank but changed his mind. He wanted time with the Sergeant alone so the Sergeant could talk freely.
Beryl and Frank left the Officers Quarters and Frank motioned for Beryl to turn left at the sidewalk.
“How long have you been with the first platoon?” Beryl asked.
“I joined in ’41 and have been with them through the Carolinas and Florida. Our Lieutenant broke his leg two weeks ago during an exercise in Fort Blanding.”
“What kind of exercise?”
Frank laughed. “It was a routine fire and maneuver exercise. He and Private Anderson were moving forward and somehow their legs got tangled and they both went down. The Lieutenant’s leg got twisted between Anderson’s legs and a small boulder, crack.”
“Bad luck. How would you assess the first platoon?
“Strong,” Frank answered. “Still some rough edges, some personalities to sort out. But essentially very strong.”
“Did I stick my neck out with my challenge to Lieutenant Jarvis?”
“You may have. He has a couple of good recruits who live for a challenge.”
“What can you tell me about Captain Connors?”
Frank paused for a moment. “He’s a fundamentalist and imaginative.”
Beryl laughed. “You’ll have to explain that.”
“That means he’s a fundamentalist when it comes to the spit and polish and by the book. But all other times you’ll find him questioning the old rules of engagement and looking for imaginative ways to win. He likes new ideas and men under his command that can think during the action and outwit the adversary. You’ll like him.”
After thirty minutes of walking through the Camp, Frank guided Beryl to the barracks that housed the platoons. Frank entered first and yelled.
“Tenhut, fall in!”
Beryl was sitting, leaning against the Monastery wall. The wound on his skull was throbbing and his head was pounding as he looked around the large hall at the men of the 29th Division. He wondered what they had done to be prisoners. What mistakes they had made or the unlucky situation that found them in the hands of the Germans.
“How are you feeling?” Frank asked.
“Like my head was in a vice.”
A soldier walked up to Beryl as Frank was about to speak.
Beryl looked up.
Colonel Goode smiled and sat down cross-legged between Beryl and Frank.
“How’re you men doing?”
“We’re fine sir, except for a mild headache,” Beryl answered.
Colonel Goode looked at the bandage on Beryl’s head.
“What brought you here?” Frank asked.
Colonel Goode lowered his head and shook it slowly back and forth.
“Bad judgment, bad timing and a bad situation.”
“What happened?” Beryl asked.
“Gerhardt wanted those bridges across the Vire Taute canal. We needed them intact to move men and equipment. It was June 12th and we had to secure the west side of the Vire.”
Goode reached into his pocket and pulled out a small map.
“On the first attempt I took what was left of E and C companies. The plan was to take Montmartin en Graignes, push the Germans back and proceed to the canal. Only, the Germans were waiting and we walked into an ambush. A few of us retreated back across the Vire. I lost pretty much what was left of Company E.”
“Gerhardt wanted another attempt so I pulled Company G off the line and we prepared for a night assault. The plan was to cross the Vire at 11pm and bypass Montmartin. We figured we could make it to La Raye unnoticed and then head west to the canal bridges. Company G was in good shape and in tact, all 150 of them. We stayed close to the swamp and avoided the roads. It was pretty slow going.”
“It was almost dawn when we reached La Raye and we walked right past it. There were the usual hedgerows we had to go through and we finally made it to a hill that overlooked one of the canals. The road on this side of the canal looked like a traffic jam. German trucks lined the road, moving slowly. The odds looked pretty good for us so we decided to attack. What we didn’t know was that the Germans were flanking us at the same time we were moving up the hill. Our mortars and machine guns opened up on their position and then all hell broke loose. MG42s and mortars were zeroed on our position. We knew we had disturbed a hornet’s nest and began to withdraw back down the hill and on the other side of a hedgerow. The CO ordered a retreat but by then it was too late. We were on one side of the hedge and the Germans on the other, both sides lobbing grenades. Men were falling fast and I knew that if I didn’t surrender soon, we would lose more men for no reason.”
“How many were captured?” Beryl asked.
“Over a hundred. I don’t know how many were killed or if any made it back across the Vire.”
“Is there a way out of here?” Frank asked.
Goode looked around at the solid walls.
“I haven’t found a way, yet. We might have better luck when they transport us out of here.”
The men of the first platoon scrambled and in seconds each man was standing in front of their bunk at attention.
“I want to introduce your new platoon leader, Lieutenant Beryl Edgell,” Frank announced to the platoon.
“At ease,” Beryl said in a normal tone of voice.
Beryl started walking to the first soldier whose bunk was the closest to the door. When he spoke, he spoke in a conversation tone so the men on the other end of the barracks had to pay close attention to hear what he was saying.
“I’m your new 90 day wonder,” Beryl said. He knew the men would be calling him that when he wasn’t around so he might as well establish up front that he intended to call it straight with his men.
Beryl walked to the second man, hesitated, and looked the private over as if inspecting his uniform and bunk area.
“My job here is not complicated,” Beryl hesitated. “Your job here is not complicated.”
Beryl stopped at the third soldier and in a lower voice asked, “What’s your full name, private?”
“Private John Bell, Sir.”
“Where are you from Private John Bell?” Beryl asked.
“Not very far from home are you private?”
Beryl slowly turned to walk to the fourth man.
“If we try to make this complicated, we’ll all be in trouble when the shooting starts,” Beryl said, again addressing the whole platoon.
“Our jobs here are easy.” he turned to look down at the long row of soldiers and bunks.
“We train and learn. We train so our bodies are ready and learn so our minds are ready to react in all the unknown situations we’ll be meeting once the fighting starts.”
Beryl turned to Frank. “My job is easy. Win battles and do everything possible to keep you alive.” Beryl turned back to the look at the soldiers at the far end of the tent.
“Your job is easy. Train yourself to be the best and keep yourself and your platoon alive.”
Beryl stopped at the eighth man.
“What is your name private?”
“Private Brian Berger, Sir, from Springfield, Missouri.”
Beryl noted he had an accent and was a little less than enthusiastic with his answer. Might be a small bit of rebellion here he noted to himself.
“How’s your marksmanship, Private Berger?” Beryl asked.
Beryl turned and slowly walked to the next soldier, speaking to the entire platoon as he moved.
“I have never been in a battle with real bullets and neither have any of you,” Beryl hesitated, letting his words enter the soldier’s minds. “When real bullets are flying there is no second chance, no chance to do it over. The best way we can prepare for our survival is to train for it.”
Beryl walked to the end of the line of soldiers to the eighteenth man on the end of the first row.
“What’s your name, private?” Beryl had to look up because he was standing in front of a very large soldier.
“Private Edward Torkildson, Sir.”
“Private Torkildson, how is your marksmanship?”
“I’m the BAR man for the first squad, Sir.” BAR man meant that Private Torkildson would be the designated soldier in his squad to carry and fire the Browning automatic rifle.
“And just what is a BAR Private?”
“Sir,” Tork shouted. “The BAR is a Browning automatic rifle submachine gun that weighs only 20 pounds and can shoot 600 yards at a rate of 550 rounds per minute. The BAR man must be skillful and also be able to carry several of the 20 shell clips that the BAR uses.”
“What other skills are there in a platoon private?”
“Sir,” Torkildson shouted. “A platoon consists of three squads, 12 men each. One soldier would be the squad leader, a corporal or sergeant who ranked just above a private and one rank below the next level, the Staff Sergeant. A platoon will have three squad leaders, three BAR men, three designated BAR assistants and three snipers. The BAR was critical for the firepower of a squad and the BAR is to be kept operational.”
“Yes, BAR man Private Torkildson,” Beryl said with a smile as he knew this was a likeable person.
“And how is your marksmanship, Private Torkildson?”
“Expert Sir,” Torkildson answered with a small grimace, knowing he hadn’t answered the question the first time it was asked.
“And how well do you handle a ten mile run, Private Torkildson?” Beryl asked.
The slight grimace on Torkildson’s face turned to an anxious look as his eyes widened slightly and the corners of his mouth turned downward.
“OK, Sir,” Torkildson knew he was lying. He had never been able to strengthen his legs to carry his large frame with ease.
Beryl turned to the rest of the platoon.
“Sergeant Dietz tells me you’ll be on light duty tomorrow in the kitchen. The day after tomorrow we’ll have a ten-mile run, no packs. We’ll be running with the second platoon. The race will be a contest to see which platoon is the fittest. “
Beryl crossed the room to the second row of bunks.
“What is your name private?”
“Private John Gault, Sir, from Michigan.”
“Did you grow up in Michigan, Private Gault?”
“Yes Sir, Detroit.”
“And what did you do in Detroit before joining?”
“I worked with my father at General Motors, Sir.”
“Were you Building Planes?”
Beryl walked to the next soldier who he recognized.
“Private Leonard Kuzinski, right?” Beryl asked.
“Yes Sir, from Brooklyn, Sir.”
Beryl continued his slow pace down the row of soldiers.
“Sir?” A voice from the soldier he had just passed.
Beryl turned, “Yes private?”
“I’ll be winning the race, Sir.” The private said with confidence.
“You’ll win the race, private…….”
“Private Leonard Forsythe, Sir, from Pittsburgh.”
“Are you a fast runner, Private Forsythe?”
“Yes Sir, I am,” Forsythe answered while inhaling to enlarge his chest.
“I’ll make it easy for you Private Forsythe. You only have to beat me, not the whole platoon.”
“Is that a wager Sir?” Forsythe asked.
Beryl smiled. He liked this kind of assertiveness. He hesitated for a moment.
“Yes it is private. We’ll discuss the terms before the race.”
“Yes Sir,” Forsythe said loudly as if he had just placed a bet on a sure winner.
Beryl walked slowly down the row toward the front door and stopped.
What’s your name private?”
Private Harold Davison, Sir, from Maine.”
Beryl walked to the next man.
“What’s your name private?”
“Private Harvey Pierce, Sir, Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn.”
“You say that with a lot of pride, Private Harvey Pierce. Is there something I should know about Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn?”
Private Harvey Pierce hesitated, not expecting a question about Flatbush Avenue.
“Yes Sir,” Pierce replied, “you learn to survive on Flatbush Avenue.”
“Good, Private Pierce,” Beryl said, “maybe you can teach us something since we are all here to survive.”
Beryl turned to the next man.
“What’s your name private?”
“Private Dennis Love, Sir.”
“You must be from the South, Private Love.”
“Yes Sir, Macon Georgia,” Love responded with pride.
Beryl noted that wherever a person was from there was a certain pride that went with their hometown. Their hometown was their identity. Pierce from Brooklyn had even narrowed his pride down to his main street, Flatbush Avenue. If there was no distinguishing town in the State, then like Davison from Maine, he would just say he was from Maine. Beryl found himself doing the same thing. He would not emphasize he was from Goodland, Kansas. He would simply say Kansas.
Beryl was now by the door looking at his platoon.
He raised his voice.
“I want you all to remember what I’m about to say.”
Beryl hesitated and said slowly.
“Ad Astra per Aspera.”
The whole platoon responded in unison.
“Ad Astra per Aspera.”
Beryl walked over to Sergeant Dietz.
“0500 a good time to start tomorrow?” he asked Dietz.
“Yes Sir, I’ll be at your barracks at 0500,” Frank answered with a slight smile on his face.
Beryl didn’t have any more to say to the men. He thought he made it clear what their purpose would be until they actually went into battle and he had given them a fair warning that their survival depended on their training. He assumed they would make the connection; more training meant more chance of survival. He turned and walked through the door, leaving Dietz to the men and the rest of their day.
The small wind up alarm on the floor next to Beryl’s cot sounded at 04:30 the following morning. Beryl reached down and switched it off as the other officers grumbled in their sleep. Beryl dressed in his running clothes; combat boots, fatigue pants and T shirt. He had made a habit of running every day since he left Goodland High School and was anxious for the exercise. Beryl walked outside to see the darkened camp and began stretching his legs for the run with Dietz. There were lone sentry guards at different intervals among the barracks and the only visible lights came from the Headquarters’ building and mess halls. He was looking forward to the run after spending five days traveling on trains and he was anticipating the run with Sergeant Dietz who would have answers to his many questions. He was new to the ‘Dandy Fifth’ and there was still so much he had to learn.
“Good Morning, Sir,” Dietz said as he came around a row of buildings.
Beryl looked up from his stretching, “Good Morning, Sergeant.” Beryl replied.
“The platoon is nicely bedded down with the KP Sergeant, since 4 am,” Frank reported casually.
“You lead,” Beryl said as he motioned his hand for the run to start. Frank nodded and started jogging with Beryl at his side. The morning run would take them to the outer perimeter of the camp and around the complex. The run also gave Beryl a chance to orient himself and locate the different facilities.
Beryl was the first one to speak.
“Frank, call me Beryl when we’re not around the men,” Beryl said with a slightly winded voice.
“It will make it easier when we go into combat. I don’t want anyone saluting me or calling me Sir or Lieutenant Edgell. All that does is put a bull’s eye on my helmet.”
Frank let out a small chuckle.
“Thanks,” Frank replied, “that’ll make it easier.”
“How long have you been in the 175th?” Beryl asked.
“I’ve been with them since last fall. I joined when I decided to leave the seminary. At first they put me in a desk job in Baltimore because I speak fluent German. After a few months of Baltimore and the army politics, I asked for a transfer to a rifle company. That’s when I joined up with the 175th.”
Beryl knew from that brief answer that Frank was not your ordinary sergeant in the army.
They jogged several miles around the compound with Frank pointing out the purposes of the various buildings. Two hours of jogging went by quickly and Frank motioned Beryl to turn into the PX complex where a small outdoor restaurant could accommodate the soldiers. They sat down, ordered coffee and Frank pulled out a package of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Where’re you from, Lieutenant?”
Beryl explained that he was the second born of Ohio parents. He had two brothers and a sister. His Grandparents had lived in Looneyville, West Virginia where his Grandfather was a country Doctor. After his death the family then migrated to Akron, Ohio.
“How did you get from Looneyville, West Virginia to Goodland, Kansas and then Camp Kilmer?”
“It is not that complicated,” Beryl answered. We were a happy and prosperous family in Ohio. My dad made good money working in the tire factory. Then the family doctor told dad his lungs were shot, probably from the rubber fibers that filled the air in the tire factory and he had only six months to live. He also instructed him to take the family to a high climate and the pure air would prolong his life for a short time. So the family moved first to Colorado, then to Goodland, Kansas.”
“I shouldn’t leave out the part of my oldest brother, Harold.”
“What about ‘Harold’?” Frank asked
Beryl took a sip of his coffee.
“Harold was left behind with Grandma Edgell in Akron when the family moved to Colorado.”
Beryl smiled to himself when telling this story.
“Grandma Edgell was as stern as she was loving and Harold certainly suffered more than one whipping from her strong West Virginia hands. Later, when the family was stable enough for Harold to come live with them, he never seemed to adjust back to his earlier role as the protecting big brother. Of course, he could smile and laugh and play games with his siblings, but there was something missing. It was as if a sense of belonging to the family had been taken away from him by being left behind and he wouldn’t expose his scar to any new injury. Later, when Harold became successful working for the Woolworth Company, Dad had insisted he send money home to help the family financially. This caused even more resentment and Harold’s distance with the family seemed to grow.
“In Goodland, the family dinners were very silent except for the occasional small talk because no one knew when Dad would die and what would happen to the family. Also, there was the emptiness of the missing brother. Mom was the strong one in the family. It was mom who refused to believe the Doctor’s diagnosis and she spent hours talking to Dad and the rest of us. She wasn’t the type to give speeches. Her method was a one-on-one style. She encouraged Dad to get on with his life, reminding him how strong he had been in the past and not to believe in the Doctors, but to believe in himself. It was her optimism and encouragement that got Dad up from his depression of dying. One day he walked down to a local trucking company and applied for a job as a long haul truck driver. That was seven years ago and he is doing fine.”
“Did you ever contact the Doctor in Ohio?” Frank asked.
“No. Mom wrote him a nice letter saying we were doing fine.”
“One day, when we were all pretty down, Mom asked me to walk with her to the local grocery store. We talked about Dad for a while, and then she stopped walking and looked at me. What she next said has effected me every since. She started by telling me we had good blood and that my Granddad was a country Doctor in Looneyville, West Virginia. He was very successful and very much a leader in the small county. She told me that her family descended from the heirs of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.”
Beryl hesitated, partly from his own nostalgia emotion and partly from choosing his next words.
“She said to me in her most serious voice, Beryl; you have the blood and brains to be a leader. Believe in yourself and let your belief touch others.”
“Mom was five feet short and weighed 90 pounds, but when she looked up at you with those serious eyes, it was as if she were giving you a divine message that would live forever in the front of your mind.”
“So the Edgell clan descended on Goodland.”
“Yes we did and in a big way. My younger brother Forest was the athlete in the family and because of my larger frame and two years older than Forest; we kind of took over the sports in Goodland. I was the captain of both the football team and the tennis team.
“And now you have a platoon instead of a football team,” Frank said.
Beryl smiled,” Yes, and now I have a platoon. What about you Frank, where are you from?”
“I come from New Ulm, Minnesota, a farming area with strong German roots. My father and mother both preferred to speak German over English. Their parents never spoke English, even though they settled in New Ulm before the turn of the century. This was the period when Minnesota was sending leaflets to the Scandinavian countries and Germany offering free land to anyone who would migrate to America and settle in Minnesota. The Swedes and Danes far outnumbered the Germans so the Germans felt comfortable settling around New Ulm.”
“Your name is German, but you look more Irish,” Beryl said
“That’s a whole other story,” Frank laughed.
“New Ulm was actually founded by Germans in 1854. There’s a German town called Ulm on the Danube River in southern Germany. New Ulm is on the Minnesota River and there are similarities as far as the rich farm soil and the surrounding plains. If you know your history, the northern German states and Prussia were Lutheran and Calvinists and the southern German states were more tied to the Holy Roman Empire and Catholicism.
“My great, great grandparents settled about 5 miles north of New Ulm on 160 acres in 1872. The farm has been in the family ever since. When my great, great grandparents settled and received their homestead grant, they first had to become citizens. In those days it was pretty easy. You had to be 21 years old, good character, a resident, and, of course, renounce any allegiance to a monarch.”
“Our family has always been very strong Catholics,” Frank’s voice trailed off as if thinking of something else while he was talking about his family.
“Around New Ulm, there was a concentration of Catholics. It was my mother who insisted I attend the seminary and she pulled every string in the Catholic Church to get me accepted. It was also her idea to start teaching me Latin when I was six years old.”
Beryl looked at Frank when he said this. It was obvious Frank was not the ordinary rifleman. Here was a very educated soldier who had chosen to be in a rifle company because his conscience would not let him have other men fight his battles.
“So, Frank,” Beryl said hesitating. “How long have you been out of the seminary?”
“About fourteen months.”
“Do you have a girlfriend back home?” Beryl asked.
“No,” Frank answered with a laugh. “I decided to wait until the war was over. Besides, I feel a little naïve when it comes to girls.”
“Have you ever dated?”
“That’s another story,” Frank said laughing.
“Is that your way of delaying an answer?” Beryl laughed. “By answering with that’s another story.”
Frank laughed again. “Yes sir.”
“How long were you in the seminary?”
“I was there seven years and just before the final vows.”
“You had doubts about the Catholic Church or doubts about yourself?” Beryl asked with a smile.
“Mainly doubts about myself and the life of a priest.” Frank answered.
“The vow of chastity would be one of them?”
“That would be one of many, but that was a big one.” Frank answered. “It’s not easy being a young pubescent and told you can’t think about girls. They do everything to rid young seminarians of their natural sex urges, but as a young man, it’s tough to drive out those strong feelings.”
“What kind of exercises?” Beryl was curious. He couldn’t imagine anyone or any treatment that could suppress a young man’s natural urges.
“Mainly the self torture type,” Frank answered, obviously not wanting to go into detail.
“What other doubts did you have?” Beryl asked because he was genuinely interested. Since his nineteenth year Beryl had been curious about other people’s idea of religion and God. Here he was partnered with a man who had spent seven years in a seminary.”
“Beryl, do you remember when you first doubted your father or mother?” Frank answered. “Do you remember the year that you decided their answers to your questions didn’t fulfill your curiosity? That perhaps they didn’t have the answers you were looking for or the truth that you needed to hear?”
Beryl was surprised at the candor of this Sergeant. He was also alerted to the similarities between the Sergeant from Minnesota and the Lieutenant from Kansas.
Beryl let the silence hang for a minute. He glanced at Frank who seemed content with the silence and was not nervous about a lull in the conversation.”
“I think I was lucky,” Beryl said slowly. “I grew up with a silent father and a mother who had the wisdom to know she didn’t have all the answers. Not that I didn’t ask. She was great though. Her normal way of answering my questions was to bring me the dictionary or one of the books from our library and tell me that the information was there and I had to find it for myself. But then I started dating the young girls around Goodland and there was no book Mom could point to for the answers I needed. My younger brother got married and was starting his family but I couldn’t decide which girl was the one. Mom kept telling me to be patient but I was bothered by my own indecision. I kept hoping for some internal mental light bulb to go on and give me the answer.”
“I don’t have experience in that field,” Frank said. “But I can imagine it would be similar to the leap of faith one needs to be a priest or be fulfilled in a religion. You can’t approach it scientifically or logically. You’re right. You need the patience and familiarity to make the leap once you feel a comfort inside you.”
“That’s about what happened,” Beryl replied. “I started dating Esther, at first taking it casually and enjoying the activities. Then one day when I was thinking about something insignificant happening at the market, this thought of Esther came to me. No, it overwhelmed me. The hair on the back of my neck actually stood out. That’s when I knew.”
“You made the leap,” Frank smiled.
“I made the leap,” Beryl laughed.
“I guess you might say that’s what I was looking for in the seminary. I knew the feeling wasn’t there. I studied it, analyzed it, and prayed for it and it never came. I’ve convinced myself that
I‘m in love with my religion, but what I would call the ‘Holy Spirit’ has never overwhelmed me to the point where I would dedicate my life to preaching to others. I think a priest needs that feeling.”
“Isn’t that a lot to ask of yourself?” Beryl asked. “Can’t you become a priest and be patient, knowing that the feeling would some day find you?”
“Not for me,” Frank answered. “I’d feel too much like a hypocrite trying to teach the Holy Spirit when I myself didn’t feel it. I respect others who have the patience and dedicate themselves, but I couldn’t do it.”
“So you can make the leap and love your religion, but you can’t make the leap and be a priest to help others?”
“Something like that,” Frank answered. “It’s similar to making the leap to marriage. You feel it. You think you know it. But you can’t read the other person’s mind so there is no scientific or logical way to know if it’s reciprocal. Without the feeling of the Holy Spirit, I didn’t have the reciprocity I needed in my relationship with God. So I joined the army.”
“Do you think you’ll go back to the Seminary after the war?” Beryl asked.
“I don’t think so,” Frank replied. “Before this episode of my life is over, I’ll have lost the purity I need to be a priest.”
“Purity of chastity or the fact you’ll be killing Germans?”
Frank smiled, “one for sure and maybe both.”
Frank remembered the many nights he had cried, thinking about the life he was giving up and what he would be missing. The fellowship of the seminary had given him a spiritual family with bonds as strong as his own family in New Ulm. At no time in his life had he felt such self-doubt. Leaving the seminary had been the biggest move of his life and he would fall asleep at night questioning his decision. He doubted his own decision as strong as he doubted his ability to be a priest when the feeling of the ‘Holy Spirit’ was lacking. He argued with himself about the value of that feeling and the virtue of patience that may someday lead to his personal revelation. The only revelation he would have in those nights of introspection would be the counter-arguments to remaining at the seminary. The feelings of doubt, hypocrisy, and his responsibility to join in the crusade against the Axis powers were strong because they were immediate and leaving the seminary would liberate him from the doubt and guilt he was feeling. Remaining at the seminary would prolong the anguish.
“Time to change out of these work clothes,” Beryl said. “Let’s meet at my quarters at 0900.”
Frank agreed and turned to walk to his barracks.
“Good morning,” Beryl said as he walked through the door and saw Keil and another Lieutenant getting ready for the day.
“Good morning,” Keil answered. He pointed to the other officer. “This is Lieutenant Jack Johnson, third platoon.”
“Glad to meet you,” Beryl said extending his hand: “Beryl Edgell, first platoon.”
The two men shook hands. Beryl noticed a little aloofness in the way Lieutenant Jack Johnson simply nodded his head and shook Beryl’s hand.
“I have a course for our run tomorrow,” Keil said to Beryl.
“Ten miles?” Beryl asked.
“Ten miles and I have charted it so the last two miles are on the outer edge. I suggest we stay in formation around the interior of the camp and when we reach this spot, which is about eight miles into our run, we let the men go and race to the end.”
Keil showed Beryl the map of Camp Kilmer. “We’ll meet at this baseball field at 0500 and start the run. We’ll run southwest to Plainfield Road and up Plainfield to road 3, here on the map, then follow this to the curve, taking us back to the ball park. I figure 4 times around this circuit will be about 8 miles. On the fourth time around, instead of heading to the curve, we’ll go straight on Cedar Lane Road. When we make this turn, the race is on. About two miles down Cedar Lane Road is a new warehouse building labeled “Commissary”. The first one to reach that building is the winner.”
“Looks good,” Beryl said. “0500 it is.”
Frank arrived at the Barracks at 9am. The rest of the day was spent walking through the Camp Kilmer complex and discussing the men in the platoon. Frank told Beryl of the strengths of each man and where he thought more work was needed. He also talked of each soldier’s personalities and some of the traits of the platoon that could get them into trouble in battle. Beryl was impressed with Frank’s ability to size up and understand each man’s psychology.
“Watch out for Private Harold Davison,” Frank warned with a smile.
“Is he a problem?”
“Not a problem, he’s just too smart. Always has his nose in a book.
“What about Private Anderson? Beryl asked. “He seems a little different.”
“He’s a little angry and I haven’t figured him out yet. In the Carolina and Fort Blanding training he just didn’t want to work as a team. Everything he did suggested he couldn’t trust anyone. Watch him when we do a fire and maneuver drill. He’ll lay down fire ok, but then when his group starts to maneuver he seems to take off in his own direction.”
“Is he sniper material?” Beryl asked.
“He’s good with a rifle, but not that good. I’ll have him straightened out before we get into combat.” Frank replied.
“How come you have Tork, the big kid on the BAR? Shouldn’t the BAR man be a little more agile, quicker on his feet?” Beryl asked.
“Normally yes, but in Tork’s case he can really handle the BAR and he can carry a lot of ammo. It’s up to us to get him more agile. Turn some of that fat into muscle.”
“I’ve already pegged Kuzinski as the platoon clown, any weaknesses there?” Beryl asked.
“No weaknesses that I can see. Pierce from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn is our platoon scrounger. If we need anything he can trade something or steal it. He also has a little chip on his shoulder.”
“Who are your squad leaders?” Beryl asked, emphasizing the “your” to let Frank know he deferred to Frank’s judgment on the position of squad leaders.
“Right now I have Anderson on the first squad, Gault on second squad and Golberg on the third squad.”
“You have Anderson on the first squad? How’s that working out?”
“He can be a little rough, but when he isn’t playing the loner he handles the squad well.”
The day passed quickly. At 5pm Beryl was tired and excused himself with Frank and started walking to his barracks. He was tired and wanted to start a letter to Esther. He had thought about the day with Frank and the information he had learned about the men in the platoon and the 29th Division. Camp Kilmer wasn’t large enough to barracks the entire Division and all the equipment so the engineers and artillery companies had gone to Fort Mead, Maryland to prepare their equipment for the trip overseas. He hoped when they got to England they would have time to train as a Regiment. He felt his own self-doubts nudge a part of his brain as he thought of going into combat with a Company or Battalion of men and the chaos of a battle. Like Forest said, he was low on the totem pole and he needed to work with the rest of the Company. This wasn’t the Goodland High School football team where he could feel in control. It wasn’t like he would take his platoon into a field where the Germans would match his platoon and they would do battle. Beryl knew they would be going into battles without complete scouting reports so the opposition was mainly unknown. The main intelligence they had was that the German army was tough and well dug in. Beryl felt anxious to get to his next station and train more with the platoon and the rest of the Regiment.
Beryl entered the officer’s barracks and felt relieved that he was the only one to return early. He wanted time to himself and time alone to start a letter to Esther. There was so much he had wanted to talk about and tell her and it seemed he never could find the right moment. Beryl took off his boots and sat at the small field desk.
I miss you. Here I am surrounded by people and I am lonely. I have never felt this way before. My life has been so fortunate with a family I love and who love me back. Before you appeared, I was very happy and content with who I was and the love I had in my life. I could not imagine or dream of a love stronger than my family.
I have never told you this story. When I was fourteen years old and seriously considered myself a man, I had an accident that made me cry for the first time I could remember. My friends and I were racing on our bicycles and I decided to take a shortcut through a hedge. The hedge was thick and I spotted a small opening which appeared large enough for me and my bike. I was peddling my bike as hard as I could and as I began to feel the limbs of the hedge scrape my arms, a fence appeared on the opposite side of the hedge. There was no time to react and the front wheel on my bike hit the fence and twisted to a sudden stop. I went head first through the rest of the hedge, over the fence, and tumbled into the yard next door. There was never a time in my life when the pain was greater. My left shoulder felt like it had been torn and shattered. My left ear had scraped the cement and stung more than when it had been hit by an ice ball. The ribs on my left side were in such pain that every breath felt like someone had kicked me. I felt the pain and I cried the pain. I cried as I tried to run home to the only sanctuary I knew. I was embarrassed at the pain and the crying. I ran through the neighborhood, avoiding any chance of being seen and only thinking of getting home. When I hit Walnut Street I realized that my cheeks were drenched in my own tears and I started to wipe them with my sleeves. In many small ways I had declared my manhood to my parents and if I ran into the house with tears, they would treat me as the little boy I had long ago abandoned. By the time I crashed through the front door, my cheeks were dry and the pain was more intense. My mother heard the front door bang and met me in the hall between the living room and the kitchen. She immediately knelt down and I ran into her arms. At that moment I have never felt so close to mom. The way she hugged me and kissed my eyelids made me feel like I had never felt before. I don’t remember if I started to cry or any words she said to me. All I can remember is the love that went through my whole being. The pain, which was so intense it had taken possession of my mind, was now subdued with my love for my mother and her love for me. Later, when my father came home and rushed to my bedroom where I was lying in my bed, I was awaken to another kind of love. The revelation of my mother’s love was still overwhelming me when my dad entered my bedroom. The room was dark and my tears were long ago dried. My dad didn’t say anything. He reached down and held my hand, looking at me for a long time and then he kissed my forehead while he whispered “I love you”. My tears flowed as I grabbed my dad around the neck and pulled as hard as I could. I didn’t respond because he eased my pain, I responded because for the first time in memory I felt an intense love for my father. In a sudden moment, his icy distance, his manly wall that kept us apart, had melted as we hugged each other.
I tell you this because it was at that point in my life that love took on a special meaning. I was able to express my love to my mother and father, and yes, even to Helen. I had gained a new confidence in my feelings and emotions. It was ok to cry or hug someone. It became easy to talk about feelings and ask someone else about their feelings. I was fortunate to learn about myself at an early age and let that knowledge guide my confidence and relationships. By the time I met you I was very confident (some I am cocky) and it was only a short time later that I knew I loved you and when you told me you loved me, I knew it. I knew it because I knew enough about my own feelings to know you were speaking from your heart.
When I first met you at Smokey River I knew I had met an exceptional person. I knew you were a person who could love and be loved. I didn’t know at that moment if I was capable of the love only a good person should find nor did I have the confidence that such a warm person as you could love me as my mother did in my fourteenth year. I know now that I underestimated your capability.
Today I still have many doubts about my role here and how to lead and be led. I wonder how a man like me can lead men into a battle when my mind is still capable of blurring the eyes and wetting my cheeks with tears of memories. When I see a couple hugging at a train station or a mother comforting her young child, my temples push inward to stop the flow of tears and my chest tightens to hold everything inside. I have learned to control these emotions around other people but it doesn’t stop the feelings. I want you to know me as the man who loves you and a man who cherishes your support and comfort. I love you. I have no doubts about your love for me. I want you to know that for the first time in my adult memory, I feel I am blessed with the closest of all human love. I only hope that I am capable of giving the type of love you have already taught me to receive.
I love you and I promise to write often.
The small alarm clock began its muted clanging at 4:30 in the morning. Beryl reached over and pushed the small lever to turn it off. He stared at the ceiling thinking of the morning run with the platoon, his new platoon and his fellow Lieutenant. After a few minutes, he grabbed his small kit and headed for the latrine. By 4:45 he had finished and was dressed in his running clothes. He made his bed army style, tight at the corners and sides so a dropped coin would bounce off the middle. Before leaving, he checked his area to make sure it was in the standards of an officer of the ‘Dandy Fifth’ and feeling satisfied; he walked outside and began a slow jog to the theater meeting area.
The camp was quiet except for the movement of lone figures who were reporting to early duty at the kitchens, guard stations and motor pool. The sun was not yet up and the darkness was quiet. Beryl jogged slowly, enjoying the morning and anticipating the morning run.
“Sergeant Dietz, “Beryl greeted as he reached the theater to see the Sergeant and the entire platoon ready for the run. Across the road were Lieutenant Jarvis and the second platoon.
“Good morning Sir,” Frank replied.
“Good morning Lieutenant Jarvis,” Beryl said loud enough for Keil to hear but not too loud to wake up half the camp.
“Good morning Lieutenant, are you ready for the run?” Keil replied with a smile that appeared like he knew something that may surprise his fellow platoon leader when the run started.
Beryl looked at Frank. “Are the men ready?”
“They’re ready Sir.”
“Do they know the route and when to pour it on?”
“Yes sir and I have Forsythe in front. He’s pretty sure about winning this race.”
Beryl walked over to Forsythe who was stretching his legs for the run.
“Private Forsythe, are you ready for the run?”
“Yes sir,” Forsythe answered confidently.
“Here’s the bet, private. If you win this race and beat me, I give you a dollar. If you don’t win the race and I beat you, you’ll volunteer every time Sergeant Dietz asks for volunteers in the next month.”
“Two dollars, sir, Forsythe answered.
“Yes sir, I need two more dollars to make it an even forty to send to my wife.”
Beryl laughed, “Ok, two dollars.”
Beryl turned and started to jog. Behind him he heard Frank shout to the men and the alarmed voice of Lieutenant Jarvis ordering his men to fall in and start. The first and second platoons began their early morning run. Beryl and Frank jogged together on the outside of the formation of the platoon with the first platoon following. After the first lap around the camp Beryl was feeling like he could go all day at this pace. He looked over at the platoon and saw Forsythe looking back at him and smiling.
“Do you think I have a chance?” Beryl said in a low voice to Frank.
“Don’t know, I haven’t seen you run, but Forsythe is pretty fast.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
They passed the theater for the beginning of the second lap.
“Do you remember what I said about Davison?” Frank asked.
“Here’s an example.” Frank said as he turned and shouted to Davison.
“Davison, why do they call this Camp Kilmer?”
“How did Camp Kilmer get its name?”
“Because of Alfy, Sarge.”
“Alfey?” Frank said as he looked over his shoulder at Davison. Davison was smiling.
“Yes, Sergeant, Alfred Joyce Kilmer.”
“And why?” Frank shouted.
“Sergeant, Joyce Kilmer was a soldier in World War one and he was also a poet. He was born less than ten miles from here in New Brunswick, New Jersey.”
Frank looked at Beryl and smiled. “See what I mean.”
“Sergeant,” Davison yelled. “Do you know what poem he wrote?”
“By heart, private,” Frank yelled. “Why don’t you tell it to the rest of the platoon?”
After a moment, Davison said in a loud voice.
“Kilmer wrote this poem as he lay dying in the trenches in WWI.”
“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
Frank looked at Beryl. “Smart stuff.”
“Davison,” Frank half-shouted.
“Joyce published ‘Trees’ in 1914. He died on the battlefield in 1918. You need to be careful about legends and facts.”
The smile left Davison’s face. He wasn’t accustomed to being mentally outdone, especially by a sergeant in the army.
The platoon continued around the course and finally arrived at the eight-mile mark. The two platoons were approaching the bend in the road where the real race would start. Lieutenant Jarvis led his platoon to the left side of the road and increased speed in order to be even with Beryl’s platoon when they reached the starting point of the race. As they reached the bend in the road both platoons began to increase their speed.
“Go,” Beryl shouted.
There was a brief hesitation before everyone broke ranks and began racing for the corner of the warehouse, two miles away. After the first hundred yards the men had been separated between the serious runners and the rest who were tired and beginning to slow. Beryl, Forsythe, Frank, Anderson, Keil and two of his men had taken the lead and were racing down the middle of the road. Anderson was in the lead and the tight muscles of his face gave notice of a determined runner. Forsythe was second and Keil’s platoon sergeant was third. Beryl and Frank seemed to be pacing each other in the back of the lead group. As they approached the half-way mark an Army 6 X 6 truck turned slowly onto the road and headed straight for the runners. This part of the road had narrowed to a single lane. As they neared the truck the lead group split with Keil and his men moving to the left side of the road and the 1st platoon group moving to the right side. The 1st platoon made a tactical error. The driver of the truck tried to avoid the men on the left side of the road and steered his truck to the edge of his right side. Anderson, in the lead, jumped into the shoulder ditch and tripped. As he fell and tumbled, the rest of the first platoon lead runners slowed their pace and maneuvered through the ditch. Frank ran to Anderson and grabbed his arm to help him up. Beryl and Forsythe were back on the road with Forsythe ahead of Beryl. Keil and his men were now leading by ten yards and Frank with Anderson was trailing by 15 yards. They were now 1,000 yards from the finish and could see the warehouse in the dim morning sunrise. Beryl was trying to figure the distance in relation to a 100 yard football field. He knew he had enough in him to give it a good run for the last 100 yards. Forsythe had started to pull ahead and was even with Keil’s platoon sergeant who was leading. Beryl kept pace with Keil and his private. The warehouse was growing larger as they neared and Beryl was patient. The sound of pounding feet on the dirt road was not audible to the runners who could only hear their own heavy breathing. The rest of the first and second platoons were over 200 yards behind the lead group. Beryl was watching Forsythe. He was feeling good about the race because Forsythe seemed to be going all out and Beryl still had his kick left. Beryl kept his eyes on the corner of the warehouse and continued his pace: now 150 yards, 125 yards. At the 100 yard distance Beryl commanded his legs to go and his pace quickened. Within 20 yards Beryl had passed Keil’s platoon sergeant and it was just him and Forsythe. Beryl felt his kick arriving at full steam as Forsythe appeared to be slowing. They were both running full out and the warehouse was getting closer and larger. Beryl was now breathing hard and expanding his rib cage beyond its limits. Beryl and Forsythe were now even with 40 yards to go and Beryl felt confident he was going to win because the last time he looked at Forsythe’s face he saw the spent look, the look that he had already given everything and was just hanging on. Beryl approached the ten yard mark and his sense of hearing piqued as he thought he heard heavy breathing and the pounding of feet. He jerked his head to the side to see what was making the noise. What he saw jolted him with a brief panic as Anderson overtook him and run full speed to the corner of the warehouse. Beryl tried to do a final kick but Anderson had slapped the corner of the warehouse and was slowing his pace. Beryl slowed and came to a rest. He and Anderson were bent over, panting hard and trying to get back their equilibrium.
“Nice race,” Beryl said quickly between breaths.
“Thanks,” Anderson responded between his breathing.
The rest of the first and second platoons were jogging slowly to the two leaders next to the warehouse. Beryl’s platoon had started celebrating minutes before when it was clear that the end game was between Beryl, Forsythe and Anderson, all from the First. Keil and his platoon were the last to arrive, having resigned at the 80-yard distance. The first platoon gathered around Anderson and was slapping him on the back and on the top of his head. He was still catching his breath and ignored the physical applause. Beryl was looking up from his crouched position at Frank who was smiling. He looked over to Forsythe who was also crouched and trying to catch his breath. Forsythe was the only soldier of the 1st platoon, besides Anderson, who wasn’t outwardly celebrating.
“Nice race, Lieutenant,” Keil said to Beryl and then turned to his platoon sergeant. “I guess we have a little work to do.”
Keil’s platoon sergeant turned to the men of the second platoon. “Listen up. We’ll march back to the bend and then form up for the run to the barracks.”
Frank waited until Keil’s platoon was at the bend before he made the first shout of victory signaling his platoon to celebrate.
The men joined Frank in shouting “victory” several times.
Beryl walked over to Anderson, patted him on the back and nodded his head to acknowledge that Anderson had performed well.
“Well Lieutenant, what do you want to do for the rest of the day?”
“I heard the CO was back and I need to look him up. Can you give the men the day off without anyone noticing, except for the second platoon of course?”
“I think we can clean the barracks today and if someone reads a book or visits the PX, we can manage that too.”
When the first platoon reached the bend in the road Frank yelled for them to form up. He surprised everyone when he yelled “double time” and began to jog. A few weak groans could be heard as the platoon began the jog back to the barracks. Beryl jogged with them until he came to the road with his barracks. As he made the turn to leave the platoon he turned and ran backwards for a few yards.
“Great performance men: congratulations Anderson on the win.”
He turned and jogged to his barracks. He entered the barracks and was looking forward to a minute of rest and a clean uniform. By the time he reached his bunk he had his shirt off and was removing his fatigue pants when he heard a shout from the latrine.
“Hey Beryl, we’ve been summoned to see the CO and the battalion commander,” Keil yelled from the showers. “His runner just left and I told him we would be right behind him.”
Beryl undressed, grabbed his towel and headed for the shower.
“Nice race, Beryl,” Keil said as he walked to his bunk. “You want to trade a couple of soldiers? I’ll give you a dead eye grenade thrower for one of your runners.”
“No thanks,” Beryl shouted from the showers.
Beryl and Keil dressed quickly and walked the short distance to the headquarters building where they were to meet with their commanders in one of the many conference rooms.
“Have you met the battalion commander yet?” Beryl asked Keil as they were entering the building.
“Yes, you’ll like them all.” Keil replied. “Watch out for the XO, he’s a little cold.”
Keil was referring to the Executive Officer of the First Battalion. Battalions are headed by a Commanding Officer, a Lieutenant Colonel, and the second in command is a Major, the Executive Officer, or also called the XO.
Beryl and Keil entered the headquarters building and were directed to a conference room. Colonel Morton had asked for this meeting to meet Company M’s officers, just as he had met with the other Companies and their officers. They entered the room and Captain Joe Connors, CO of Company M stood.
Keil introduced Beryl to Captain Connors who in turn introduced Colonel Morton, CO of the 3rd Battalion and his XO Lt. Colonel Anthony Friend.
“Sit down gentlemen,” Morton said.
“Here’s our situation. We have no equipment to train with and the base is loaded with personnel. We don’t have a timetable or destination. All we know now is that in the next few weeks, we may be relocating. I want a strict training regimen until we move out and no weekend passes. I’ll leave it up to Captain Connors to put the training program together and the platoon leaders to follow it strictly.”
Colonel Morton spent two hours with the Company M officers, asking questions about their military and training history and offering advice on how to handle the men. Colonel Morton was crisp with each sentence and talked slowly to let every word have its moment. His voice was guttural, as if speaking from his stomach and his authority was unquestionable. When he asked a question it was unequivocal and if he sensed hesitation, he would ask again with more force. When the officers of M Company left the headquarters building they were mentally spent.
The following weeks were strenuous for the platoon leaders as they put the soldiers through rigorous physical training since no equipment was available. They were relieved when their platoon was assigned to KP duty so they could vary their personal routines.
Beryl was lying on his bunk, reading a letter from Esther, when Keil walked into the officer’s barracks.
“Time to look sharp,” Keil said as he rushed to the latrine. “We’ve been summoned to a meeting of the 3rd Battalion officers.”
Beryl stood, remade his bunk, and rushed to the latrine to check out his appearance.
They entered the large conference room to find it full of brass: The CO, XO, twelve company commander captains and 48 lieutenants. This was the officer corps that would lead the 3rd Battalion of the 175th Regiment.
“Sit down gentlemen.” Lt. Col. Roger Morton invited them as he motioned to the chairs.
“We’ll be joined shortly by Lieutenant Colonel Harold Burns, Judge Advocate of the 29th Division. The reason you are here is to be briefed by the Provost Marshall and learn of our next move. In the next few days we’ll be very busy with troop movement and coordinating our efforts with the First and Second Battalions. I don’t want any foul ups so I want you all to be prepared to move at a moments notice.”
Lieutenant Colonel Morton was interrupted by the conference door opening.
“Good Morning Gentlemen,” Burns said as he entered the room. Everyone in the room stood at the same time. Lt. Col. Morton greeted Lt. Col. Burns and introduced his company commanders.
Morton turned to the group.
“As you all know, we at Battalion Headquarters know little of what’s in store for the 175th. For that matter, few people at the Battalion level know the future plans. Lieutenant Colonel Burns is here from the Judge Advocates office to hopefully shed a little light on our future.”
Morton sat down and Burns stood up and took a position at the head of the room as if he were the substitute teacher for the day.
“Gentlemen,” Burns started rather officiously, “it’s unusual for a Judge Advocate to have a briefing with Battalion personnel. As you all know, I act in a legal advisory capacity to the 29th Division and don’t really get involved with division strategy or movements. I’ve been asked to give you a briefing on the coming events of the division and you’ll be getting more details later on.”
Burns opened his leather pouch he had carried into the room and pulled out some papers that were neatly folded in a binder.
“During the course of the next few weeks,” Burns continued, “you and your men will be traveling. The decision has been made that no one below the rank of Lt. Colonel will know the destination of each leg of the journey and they will only be told 24 hours in advance when the movement will begin. It is therefore imperative that you have your men ready to move at all times.”
The officers in the room looked around at each other, exchanging glances.
“My purpose for being here is to discuss some legal matters that you will need to pass on to your units. I know in the past you have been briefed on security and your units have been briefed. I need to repeat some of the critical areas of security that need to be observed and the penalties for breaching that security. You will understand in the next few days why this is so important. Your men will be writing letters home and even making phone calls. You need to stress the danger of giving any information to relatives and friends and the penalties. In the past we have talked about the penalties for these types of security breaches as being time in the stockade and even court martial. Well, Gentlemen, the bar has been raised. The decision has come down that from here on out, security breaches of this type could, depending on the circumstances, be handed over to the Judge Advocates office for prosecution on charges of treason. I don’t think I have to tell you that if convicted of treason, one could face the firing squad.”
He paused for a few seconds.
Burns sat down as Lt. Colonel Morton stood.
“The first order for the 3rd Battalion is for M Company to be ready to load onto 6 X 6s at 0200 tomorrow. When you leave Camp Kilmer there is no returning, so make sure you have everything.”
“Sir,” Captain Jack Collins, commander of D Company said, “and the rest of the battalion?”
“No orders yet, Captain,” Burns responded. “You will know 24 hours in advance.”
“You will all need to brief your units on the security matters. I suggest you stress the part about treason so everyone understands the seriousness of our security.”
“When will the men be able to let their relatives know where they are?” asked Captain Forest Brandt, CO of C Company.
Morton looked at Judge Advocate Burns.
“You can tell them that within a month they will be able to tell their relatives where they are but no further details.”
“No details?” Captain Jack Koors asked with his voice reaching a high pitch on the last syllable.
Burns looked at Koors in a mild reproachful way and answered.
“Yes, Captain, no details and I remind you that all letters leaving a battalion will be read and censored. Any gross violation in a letter will be brought up before the Judge Advocate.”
Lt. Colonel Morton looked around for more questions. “OK men, meeting over. Joe, get your men ready to move in the morning, September 26th. You’ll be like an advance team to help prepare the arrival of the rest of the 29th Division.”
Morton walked to the door followed by the rest of the group except for the M Company personnel.
Captain Connors looked over at his platoon leaders.
“Gentlemen, I think we have just received our marching orders,” he said with a smile.
“It’s about time,” Keil said. “This PT routine is getting old.”
“Maybe you need to inspire them a little more so they don’t get bored with the routine,” Lt. Johnson said, looking at Captain Connors but addressing Keil.
“Easy Johnson,” Keil shot back. “I’m proud of my platoon.”
“What does that mean?” Johnson asked
Keil stood close to Johnson.
“Everyone knows about the problems in your platoon. You are constantly doing Sergeant Mueller’s job and demeaning him in front of the men. He is a seasoned soldier and deserves your respect. Let him do his job and you can learn from him.”
“Someone has to lead the platoon,” Johnson retorted.
“Johnson,” Captain Connors interrupted. “We all know you have a problem with Sergeant Mueller. You should know by now that without a Sergeant’s leadership, you don’t have a platoon. You have a bunch of undisciplined kids.”
“I can handle Mueller,” Johnson half-shouted. He was now on the defensive and his competitive irrationality overpowered his common sense of decorum in a room full of officers. “I am the platoon leader.”
“You think you’re the platoon leader,” Connors said in a half-whisper. “When you took over the third platoon in Carolina, Mueller was a good Sergeant and he had a good platoon. Would you like to share with us your explanation of this decrease in moral since you became the platoon leader?”
Johnson was now angry and outwardly uneasy.
“I would like to discuss this in private, Sir.”
“So would I, Lieutenant,” but you have three of your fellow platoon leaders here who are looking a little anxious to hear your answer. If we’re to fight as a unit, we all need to know how our flank is going to be protected, or if it will be protected at all. I’m adjourning this meeting Johnson. If we need to meet again on this topic I am afraid there’ll be changes. Am I clear on this?”
“Yes Sir,” Johnson replied and went silent.
“You’re excused Lieutenant.”
Johnson turned and left the room.
“Sir, “Beryl was the first to speak.
“Yes Beryl,” Connors looked at him curiously. He had not spent much time with Beryl and was interested to hear what the new platoon leader was about to say.
“Sir, I don’t have a solution but I have a suggestion. In the short time I’ve been with Sergeant Dietz I’ve noticed he is exceptional with the men.”
“Are you proposing to trade with Johnson?” Connors asked.
“No Sir,” Beryl laughed.
“OK,” Connors smiled. “See if Dietz will spend some time with Mueller. If Mueller can’t straighten out Johnson and the platoon in short order then changes will be made.”
At 01:45 in the morning the sun was still five hours from the horizon and the 6 X 6 army trucks were winding through the camp like an endless parade. The noise from the engines and the grinding of gears could be heard throughout the camp. In the M Company barracks the lights were on and 144 soldiers were scrambling to stuff all their belongings into a three foot tall, 24 inch diameter barracks bag. The officers and platoon sergeants were ready and by the door. The men had been through this exercise several times from Maryland, to Carolina, down to Florida and now at Camp Kilmer. Each time it became a little more difficult as their personal inventory seemed to grow at each stop. Beryl tugged on Frank’s sleeve and motioned him to follow outside. Frank looked down the barracks to check on the progress and turned to the door.
“What’s up,” he asked when they were outside.
Beryl began by describing the meeting in the conference room. He told Frank of the conversation and Captain Connor’s request of Frank. He failed to mention his own suggestion to Connors.
“The Captain wants me to work with Mueller?” Frank asked surprised.
“Yes, he thinks you’re capable of turning the platoon around through Mueller.”
Captain Connors was walking towards them in the dark just as the soldiers of M Company were assembling outside the barracks. Beryl and Frank saluted Connors when he was within a few yards of them and Connors returned the salute. After the conference room meeting the day before, Connors had assembled the men in the barracks and gave his version of the Provost Marshall’s lecture about security. Only the men of Johnson’s second platoon had questions and their questions were posed more as confrontations than inquiries. “Why can’t we call home”? “Why can’t you tell us where we’re going?” “Why is it a secret?” Captain Connors was patient for the first few questions and then he decided he had given the men enough repetitions in his answers.
“Don’t they trust us Sir,” was a question from one of Johnson’s privates.
“I’m going to answer that question with a question, Private,” Connors had raised his voice. I want everyone in this room to look at the person next to him. Take a good look and remember what you can about this person. Now I want you to ask yourself if this person would or could save your life at the risk of his own. How much would this person risk his own neck to save you? You ask about security? How would you like to command 14,000 recruits and have to worry constantly about the enemy learning where and when we are going? Look at the person next to you. Do you trust him with your life? Should a general trust 14,000 green recruits?”
Connors paused, hoping a little of what he said would sink in.
“If you think what we’ve been doing in Maryland, Carolina and Florida was a game, then you are now on notice that today, right now, the game is over. This company is a unit and we will win our battles and we will protect each other’s flanks. And we’ll do this by training and acting on our battle instincts. We will train until these instincts are automatic. You men may become tired of the repetition of training. You may gripe to yourself and wonder why. You may feel the need to ask your sergeant why. And just when you are really tired, look at the person next to you and ask yourself if they have had enough training. Ask yourself if they have the instincts to protect your backside in the middle of a battle. I want no more questions of your sergeants or superior officers. If you have a question, ask it of yourselves. Ask if you have the battle instincts. Ask yourself if your future foxhole buddy has the instincts. That’ll be all.”
The 6 X 6s were idling in front of the barracks, headlights beaming and drivers yawning.
“Let’s load em up,” Connors said.
At once three platoon sergeants and Lt. Johnson took charge and led their men to the back of the 6 X 6s where they climbed into the canvas covered trucks. Sergeant Mueller stood watching Johnson perform his duties.
Beryl and Frank boarded the second group of trucks. Their short drive would take them along a two-lane asphalt road to the east. It was three in the morning when they drove through a small town and to a dock area where passenger ferries were lined up. They arrived at Raritan Bay, a large bay on the southern end of Lower New York Bay. As the lead truck pulled into the parking area near the docks a sergeant began yelling to the men in the back of the trucks.
“Double time to the first Ferry, let’s go, and hustle up.”
For the next hour he would use every word in his vocabulary that meant to hurry and use it on the men in the trucks. Another Sergeant was on the dock also using every meaning of the word hurry to speed the loading of the soldiers. As soon as a truck was empty, an MP would wave his arm as if in a panic to move the truck out of the parking area to make room for more trucks. The same activity was happening on the dock. The ferries were hustled in and out of the dock area as soon as they were full of troops. A portion of the 29th Division was on the move in the middle of the night and those in charge were treating it as a critical maneuver. Like another army drill to test the moving effectiveness of the Division and its ability to disappear in the night without a trace. The local population would awake the next morning to a Camp Kilmer that had lost 15,000 of its population.
The ferries moved north through the narrows between Staten Island and Long Island, past the Statue of Liberty to the tip of Manhattan, then through the East River past Queens and the Bronx. Here the waterway widened as the Ferries entered Long Island sound. The soldiers on the first Ferry stood on the deck and watched the city lights. They didn’t talk or move about; they just stood on the deck in amazement at the city lights that never ended. Many of them had never been to New York City nor had seen a city with no end. The awesome feeling of being so near this wonder was beginning to overpower the senses of the soldiers and just when their minds began to overflow, another sight was presented that fired every nerve ending. As the Ferry made a slight turn to go in a northeast direction up the sound, the outline of a giant ship could be seen docked at the harbor. There were few lights on the ship and its dark outline made it appear as a large mountain rising from the water.
Beryl and Frank were standing next to one of the ferry sailors.
“Quite something, isn’t she,” the sailor said to Beryl.
“Quite something indeed,” Beryl responded.
“We have seen all types of ships coming and going but this one is the biggest. The Queen Mary is the largest ocean liner ever to be built when it was officially launched in 1934.”
“How do you know about this ship?” Frank asked.
“I have drinks on shore with some of the crew. Want to know more?”
“Yes we do, Beryl answered.
“During the building of the ship, it was known as Job Number 534 and in 1934, Queen Mary, wife of King George V, officially launched the liner and gave it her name. It took two years to complete the interior and fittings and the Queen Mary sailed on her maiden voyage in 1936. Her length was over three football fields, 1019 feet and she weighed 81,000 tons. Job Number 534 consisted of 12 decks and would require over 10 million rivets to hold the steel mountain together. During her initial speed trials, she reached just over 30 knots, driven by her 160,000 horsepower engines and she was capable of traveling from England to New York in just four days. For the war effort, the British government sent the Queen Mary and her sister ship, Queen Elizabeth, to Australia where they were painted gray, stripped of all the lavish furnishings and outfitted to increase their passenger capacity from 2300 to 16,000.”
“Excuse me, we are about to dock. Need to go to work.”
“That was a brief education,” Frank said with a smile and turned to the platoon.
“Let’s get assembled and make ready to depart,” he half shouted at the men.
In the background he could hear Lieutenant Johnson shouting at his men to assemble and hustle up while Sergeant Mueller stood aside remaining silent. The soldiers began walking down the gangway and following the MPs arm motion to proceed to the Queen Mary. Beryl walked beside Frank who was looking over the first platoon and making sure all thirty-six men were in line. They reached the bottom of the gangway and turned left to go north along the dock to the Queen Mary.
“This is quite a sight,” Beryl said
“Never been to New York?” Frank asked.
The soldiers reached the dock area and as they neared the gangway for the Queen Mary they all looked up in order to see the full height of the ship; resembling a group of star gazers the way their heads were angled upwards.
The dock was like a small city with activity. The stevedores were loading the Queen Mary with provisions and the 116th Infantry Regiment Engineer and Artillery Companies were loading their equipment. It was not yet four in the morning but the dock was well lit for the activity.
“I think we can assume the next leg of this journey will be across the Atlantic,” Frank said as they walked to the ship.
“We still don’t know where, but now we know how,” Beryl smiled.
As they walked with the other soldiers along the dock to the Queen Mary they passed stevedores, dock workers, more MPs, Jeeps coming and going and trucks bringing in cargo and supplies. Almost 16,000 soldiers and their equipment would be loaded onto the ship and the entire process had taken over 48 hours. The soldiers were the last to be loaded.
Beryl stopped suddenly and grabbed Frank’s arm.
“Frank,” do you remember the story about the guy in the Chicago train station?”
Frank turned to Beryl. “Yes, the man with all the questions.”
“See that dock worker over there by the large crate, the one with the shoulder bag? I think that’s him.”
“Let’s go find out,” Frank shot back.
They both dropped their barracks bags and began walking in the direction of the man by the crate. Beryl looked around for an MP but the nearest one was by the Queen Mary gangway which was still a hundred yards away. As they got within 20 yards of the man he looked up and tilted his head forward as if to see better in the half-lit dock area. When they were ten yards away Frank spoke.
The dock worker threw his cigarette on the ground and squared himself to the two soldiers walking towards him.
“Good Evening,” he replied.
Beryl looked at the man and wasn’t sure if this was the same man.
“I am having some trouble with my equipment,” Beryl said, “can you tell me who the dock manager is so I can get some help?”
“He’s around here somewhere,” the man replied, “You might ask one of the stevedores over by the Mary.”
Beryl now knew this was the same man from the tone of his voice and the way he spoke. He also had a feeling that this was not a dock worker. The man, even though he dressed in the clothing of the other dock workers, was a little too polished.
“Would you mind walking over with us and pointing him out?” Beryl asked.
The man looked at Beryl with an expression of recognition.
“Can’t do it, soldier. I am supposed to be here and help with this crate.”
“Won’t take but a few seconds,” Frank urged.
“Can’t do it.”
“Come on Frank, let’s go see if we can find him,” Beryl said to Frank.
“Thanks,” Frank said as they walked away.
They started walking to the gangway to find the dock manager.
“That’s him,” Beryl said.
“Let’s find the manager and bring him over to see if he really is a dock worker,” Frank said as they both quickened their pace.
As they were half way to the group of stevedores near the Mary, Beryl turned his head around.
“He’s gone,” Beryl said.
“Go ahead, I’ll see if I can find him,” Frank said and turned to run back to the large crate.
Beryl looked at the group of stevedores and couldn’t see anyone who looked like a foreman. He thought about Frank for a second and decided it would be better to go help him. The two of them should be able to handle the one man. Beryl turned and as he looked toward the crate he couldn’t see anyone, not the man or Frank. He started to run faster and as he reached the crate he thought he heard a noise. Without hesitating, he ran to the dark side of the crate opposite the dock and as he rounded the corner of the crate, an arm swung at him and barely scraped his shoulder.
“What,” Beryl shouted as he turned and faced the man with the questions. The man was standing near the slumped body of Frank and held a billy club in his right hand. Beryl lunged toward him and the man jumped to the side and took another swing with the club, barely missing. Beryl looked down and saw blood flowing from Frank’s temple. He lunged again at the man but this time he didn’t go head first. At the last moment he turned his body and connected with the man in a classical football cross body block. The man fell with Beryl on top of him and he swung his billy club, pounding on Beryl’s back as he fell. Beryl was quick to recover the fall and pounded the man’s face with his fist. He hit the jaw, the nose and the temple before the swinging billy club connected with Beryl’s temple. Beryl’s stunned body slumped as the man stood quickly, looked at his two victims and began running.
He ran to the street side of the dock and climbed the chain link fence that was supposed to be a barrier. Beryl shook his head to clear the stars and turned to Frank who was still unconscious.
“I need an MP over here,” Beryl shouted to anyone on the dock. He took a hanky out of his pocked and wiped the blood off Frank’s temple. There was a big lump and a small cut where the billy club had met the skin. He shouted twice more before hearing rapid footsteps coming toward the crate.
“What happened?” the MP half-shouted as he rounded the corner of the crate.
“I’ll tell you the whole story later, now I need a medic,” Beryl said to the MP and the stevedore who had come with the MP.
“Get some more MPs over here and have them look outside that fence for a man in a dock worker’s uniform.” Beryl knew this was unproductive but it was worth a try.
Frank began to gain consciousness, mumbling a few words that he himself couldn’t understand. Private Lee of the second squad arrived, looked at the wound and pulled a dressing from his kit.
Frank felt the wound and feeling the bleeding had stopped, motioned for Lee to stop with the bandage.
“Just clean it up,” Frank said.
“I need your CO,” Beryl said to the MP. “We have a serious security problem here.” Beryl looked around and saw the shoulder bag the man must have dropped. He picked it up and walked over to the lighted side of the crate.
“How’re we doing Beryl?” Frank said with a wrinkled smile.
“Just fine,” Beryl answered, “Now that you’re all right. Looks like you got blind sided Sergeant.”
“Is that what happened?” Frank replied. It was obvious Frank didn’t see it coming.
“Where is he?”
“He took off when he saw me coming; he knew he couldn’t fool an officer.”
“Funny,” Frank said as he smiled and winced at the same time. “What’s that on your face? Did he get you too?”
“I got in a few good licks. Broke rule number one though, don’t get carried away with offense and forget defense.”
Private Lee stood and helped Frank to his feet. Frank gave out a brief moan.
“You’ll make it Sarge,” Lee said to Frank.
The MP who went to look for his commander was returning. Beryl greeted them and gave a brief description of the incident and the man from Chicago with all the questions. Beryl looked down at the bag he was holding, opened it and began to lift out the contents. Inside the bag were an expensive camera and a .45 caliber pistol.
“What have you got there?” the officer asked.
“This is the bag the man was carrying,” Beryl answered and offered the bag to the officer.
“Let’s go to the ship,” the officer said. “I need to write down some details and information so we can get in touch with you later.”
The small group walked to the Queen Mary and the officer motioned to a small crate. He took out a pencil and paper and asked Frank and Beryl their names, ranks, serial numbers, units and destination. They answered all the questions except the last.
“All we know right now,” Beryl said, “is our destination is that ship. If you want to know more you’ll have to get in touch with the 29th Division Headquarters.”
The officer nodded. He knew security was extreme and he didn’t know the destination either.
“I need to leave you now and get this information to some local New York authorities.” the officer said and left.
Beryl and Frank returned to their barracks bags.
“Can I carry that for you?” Beryl asked
“No, thanks, I couldn’t let the men see me hobbling up the gangway with a small wound.”
Frank lifted his bag and winced.
“You sure you don’t need help?”
“I’ll be ok,” Frank said as he lifted his bag.
They reached the top of the gangway and looked around. Their platoon had disappeared somewhere on the ship. They hesitated at the top of the gangway and an MP told them to keep moving and to follow the group that was just boarding. Frank started to ask the MP a question when a familiar voice called.
“Sergeant Dietz……over here.” It was Anderson calling and motioning them to come to him.
“I’m not surprised to see him here,” Frank said. “He’s learning.”
Frank and Beryl followed Anderson through the ship’s interior. The ship had been stripped of all the elegant furniture and fixtures. Brass doorknobs on rich wood doors had been replaced with ordinary metal doors. Where chandeliers used to hang were now ordinary lights. None of the elegant furniture was on board, having been replaced with cots for the soldiers to sleep on. The ballrooms and elegant lounges had been stripped of their carpet and bare floors were only cushioned by the soles of the soldier’s shoes. The tables for fine dining had been removed and cots and bare wooden tables had been set up. The strangest part of the ship was the now gray exterior. As a luxury liner it had been painted white with colorful bands and bright colored smokestacks. When the British government requisitioned the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth in 1940, both ships had been sent to Australia to be refitted as troop carriers. The gray exterior paint was ordered to conform to the standard navy color and make it harder for German submarines and planes to spot from a distance. Frank and Beryl followed Anderson to the lower fifth deck where the first platoon had found rooms cramped with cots.
Anderson seemed to know his way around the ship even though this was his first time on board.
“This way, Sir,” Anderson motioned to Beryl. They rounded the corner of the wide hallway and could hear the commotion of soldiers trying to get comfortable in their rooms.
“The First Platoon is just down this hall. I couldn’t tell if there were special rooms for officers.”
“That’s OK, Anderson,” Beryl replied. “I intend to stay close so I’ll bunk with the platoon.”
“Here we are,” Anderson said, pointing to the rooms occupied by the First Platoon.
Beryl and Frank found a room with two empty cots and joined the soldiers who were opening their barracks bags.
“Hello Tork…………Davison………..Somerfield,” Frank said as they entered the room. “I guess we’ll be your bunk mates for this trip.”
Somerfield looked at Beryl.
“You too, Sir?”
“Me too, Private,” Beryl responded with a smile.
Frank and Beryl set their bags on the empty cots.
A loudspeaker crackled in the hallway and a voice with a British accent began speaking to the soldiers throughout the ship.
“Gentlemen, welcome aboard the Queen Mary. Please get settled into your quarters and remain there until we are loaded and under way. The kitchens and facilities are located throughout the ship and once we are under way, you will be instructed on where to get your meals. Please stay in your rooms until further instructed.”
The loud speaker crackled again.
“Sergeant,” Beryl said to Frank, “let’s find the CO.”
They left the room and walked down the corridor.
“We need to bring Connors up to date on the incident at the dock,” Beryl said as they walked the corridor, looking into each room.
“Are you sure the man on the dock was the same one in Chicago?” Frank asked Beryl as he touched the wound on his forehead.
“Definitely,” Beryl replied. “He recognized me also but the look on his face was a big question mark, so he probably couldn’t figure out where he had seen me before. We just had a run in with a German spy.”
“I’m glad the gun was in the bag and not in his hand,” Frank said.
As they turned the corner, Beryl bumped into an officer.
“Excuse me Sir,” Beryl said as he took a step back and recognized Captain Connors.
“Lieutenant Edgell……Sergeant Dietz, are the men loaded and settled in?”
“Yes Sir,” Beryl replied.
“Where’re you located?”
“With our Platoon down this hall,” Beryl answered.
“Ok,” Connors said. “We’ll be told more about our destination once the ship leaves the dock. As soon as I know, I’ll send for you. Also, once we are under way the men can leave their quarters. Keep them busy. This ship is 1,000 feet long so plenty of room to run.”
“Uh……..Sir, we had an incident on the docks,” Beryl said to Connors.
Connors looked at Beryl with a quizzical expression. Beryl related the story on the dock and the incident in Chicago. He included the briefing with the MP Officer and the possibility that they may be contacting him in the future.
Connors listened and then smiled,” so you couldn’t wait to get into a fight, eh Sergeant?”
Frank smiled back,” I’m afraid it wasn’t much of a fight, Sir. If Beryl hadn’t arrived I may have been your Company’s first casualty.”
“I need to get to a Battalion meeting. Beryl, I’ll send for you as soon as I learn anything.”
“Yes Sir, “Beryl replied.
Connors continued walking down the corridor.
“Let’s go back and get some sack time,” Beryl said to Frank and they both turned and walked back to their room.
Before dawn on October 4, 1942, the Queen Mary was pulled by small tugboats to the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean for her journey. The soldiers were asleep, having had little sleep the night before because of their clandestine exit from Camp Kilmer.
The Captain of the Queen Mary paced on the main bridge.
“Four days gentlemen, four days,” he said to his officers. “We will be traveling at 28 knots, zigzagging the entire journey to avoid the German subs. We can outrun them but they can position ahead of our path. We need to put our faith in our escort ships.”
The Captain nodded to his Lieutenant who was broadcasting to the crew and soldier passengers.
The loudspeaker became silent.
He then looked down at the sailors who were stationed around the ship’s railings with their binoculars.
In Beryl’s room the men were asleep before the ship left the dock. They didn’t hear or feel the ship move from her dock berth nor the slow entrance to the Atlantic. The Queens 160,000 horsepower engines began to rev up and their very slight hum gave a quieting background noise to the tired passengers. Beryl was sound asleep when the loud crash in the room woke everyone.
“What the,” Beryl said as he bolted out of his cot.
“Tork,” Frank shouted as he looked up from his cot to see the large body of Tork sprawled on the floor.
“What was that?” Tork asked as he moved his cot off his legs and tried to stand.
“You fell out of your cot, that’s what,” Frank said.
“I was pushed,” Tork insisted.
“Yes, Tork, the Ghost of the Queen Mary picked up your 250 pounds and sent you crashing to the floor,” Somerfield said.
“Really, I don’t know what happened,” Tork said in his own defense.
“Let’s get some sleep,” Beryl said to the men. “And Tork, try to stay in your cot.”
They all laid back in their cots. The little bit of adrenaline caused by the loud crash meant they would be awake for awhile before getting back to sleep. A small amount of light came through the cabin window from the pre-dawn sun.
“Tork,” Somerfield said in a low voice. “Your leg is hanging over the side of your cot and you’re not balanced. You’re going to fall out again.”
“I always sleep this way and I didn’t fall,” Tork whispered back.
“There’s an old story about this room,” Davison whispered to Tork. “Room number 555. On the maiden voyage across the Atlantic there was an old, old man and his new young bride. Of course she had married him for his fortune. He was old and wrinkled and nasty and she tolerated his creepy pawing of her young torso because in time, he would be dead and she would have his fortune. One night during the voyage they were dining in the main lounge when the old man became very sick. The ship’s doctor was fetched and the old man was taken to the infirmary where the doctor gave the old man a check up and said it appeared he had a mild heart attack. The young bride looked concerned but was thrilled by the prognosis.”
Davison paused for a second.
“Doctor,” she said, “you must keep my husband here and watch him. He is very frail and he needs your care.”
“I agree,” said the Doctor even though the old man protested.
“The old man was wary of his new bride’s propensity to infidelity and feared leaving her alone. He protested some more but the Doctor insisted he remain in the infirmary. The young bride returned to her room, put on a low cut gown and proceeded to the ship’s dancing lounge. Not long after, she could be seen returning to room 555 linked arm in arm with a young man. A young man who could satisfy her lust and immediately upon entering the room, the satisfying began. The young couple was totally engaged when all of a sudden the door crashed open.”
“Are you listening Tork?” Davison whispered.
“Yes,” Tork answered.
“The old man crashed into the room and with sudden strength he grabbed the young man and threw him to the floor. The young man fell headfirst and broke his neck, killing him instantly. The old man then lifted his wife off the bed and threw her head first to the floor. As she was falling to her death she cursed the old man, cursed his fortune and cursed this room. She fell with a loud crash to the floor and her death.”
“Crash,” Davison said slowly.
At that instant, Tork’s cot tumbled and he went sprawling to the floor just like before. The whole room seemed to move and everyone grabbed the side of their cot.
“Who’s driving this ship?” Somerfield asked.
“I told you I didn’t fall out of bed,” Tork shouted.
“What’s going on?” Frank asked.
“I’m going to find out,” Beryl said as he was dressing.
Beryl left the room as Davison decided to finish his story.
“So Tork, in this room number 555, three people died on the maiden voyage. The young bride, the young man, and the old man who had a massive coronary just as his wife’s head hit the floor, breaking her neck and sending her greedy soul to hell forever. Whenever anyone has an immoral or adulterous thought in this room number 555, the ghost of the old man appears and tosses them out of bed. So Tork, what immoral adulterous thoughts were you having when you were tossed out of bed by the ghost of room 555?”
“Good story, Davison,” Somerfield said. “And almost believable.”
Somerfield was sitting on the side of his cot when the ship leaned heavily to the side sending him to the floor.
“What the hell is going on?” Somerfield shouted.
Frank, Tork, Davison and Forsythe were laughing.
“What were you thinking just now?” Tork was barely able to shout at Somerfield because he was laughing so hard.
The door opened and Beryl walked in. He looked at the men laughing, all except Somerfield. Tork and Somerfield were on the floor with their cots overturned. He had to smile at the scene.
“So what’s going on Sir,” Davison asked.
“Well, we can’t rule out a ghost in room 555, but there might be another reason.”
“It seems we’re crossing the Atlantic without an escort. So, every eight minutes the Captain turns the ship sharply to the right or left. This is their way of avoiding German submarines.”
“How can that do any good?” Forsythe asked.
“That’s an easy one,” Davison said. The Queens, Mary and Elizabeth, can run at 28 knots. That’s pretty fast for a ship. The German subs barely crawl along at about 12 knots using their diesel engines on the surface. When they’re submerged and running on battery power, they’re about half that fast. It’s almost impossible for a German sub to hit this moving target going 28 knots and zigzagging. If we don’t have an escort, the Brits must be real confidant of this tactic.”
“Let’s get some sleep,” Beryl said. “Tork, you might want to fold up that cot and sleep on the floor.”
Three days out from New York the men had become accustomed to the zigzag pattern and the leaning of the ship every eight minutes. Typical of their time in the army, they were either very busy or very bored. Frank and Beryl kept the platoon’s leg muscles in shape by running them four times a day around the deck along with other platoons; a sea of soldiers on the high sea. When the men weren’t running they were in a chow line, in the ship’s store line or in their rooms reading or writing letters. On the fourth day out from New York, they began to see other ships coming toward them to escort the Queen to her final destination. Six destroyers surrounded the Queen Mary as a guard against German submarines and the cruiser, Curacao, was with the flotilla to provide protection against a possible attack by the German Air Force. The destroyers and the cruiser would turn with the Queen Mary along the zigzag pattern, continually patrolling around and in front of the ship for her protection.
“Looking out for German subs?” Frank said as he joined Beryl at the ship’s railing.
“No, just thinking about home.”
“Esther?” Frank asked, “I bet you miss her.”
“Yes, very much,” Beryl replied. “How about you Frank, are you looking forward to finding the right one?”
“Oh yes, very much. But those thoughts have to remain on hold for now.”
“How come you didn’t go to OCS?” Beryl asked. “You’re a natural leader.”
“Thanks,” Frank laughed. “It just didn’t seem right.”
“There is a separation between the officers and enlisted men. It’s kind of like the Priest in the pulpit. He’s up there behind a podium or a table and his flock is below him sitting on wooden pews. I think if you want to work with soldiers or people, you have to be down there with them. If you’re constantly among them you get to know their capabilities and what they need to keep them going. I knew I wasn’t the type to sit in a battalion headquarters on a field phone ordering men into a battle that I knew very little about. I knew I wasn’t the material to be an officer, just like I knew I didn’t have it to be a Priest.”
“I think you would have been good at both,” Beryl said.
“Being good and being satisfied with the results……………
Frank stopped short of his next sentence. The Queen Mary was making one of its turns, a sharp right turn that listed the ship. If you were in the dining area, you would have to grab your plate and glass to keep them from sliding off the table. Frank and Beryl both grabbed for the railing at the same time.
“That Cruiser is making a turn into our bow,” Frank shouted, as if trying to yell at the Captain of the Queen Mary.
The Cruiser Curacao had made a wrong turn just as the Queen Mary was turning. Frank and Beryl could feel the Mary list as the Captain attempted to turn and avoid a collision. Both the Mary and the Cruiser were too large for quick maneuvers and everyone on the deck of the Queen Mary could see the inevitable. The sailors on the Curacao could see it too and were scrambling to get away from the middle section where the collision would occur. Frank and Beryl held the railing tighter as the Queen Mary rammed into the side of the Cruiser. They could see the panic and running sailors on the deck as the Queen Mary, still traveling at 28 knots, sliced it into two pieces. In an instant, hundreds of sailors and the debris of the vessel fell into the Atlantic. The two pieces of the Cruiser didn’t sink immediately. The large rear section of the Curacao began floating on the right side of the Queen Mary and the forward section on the left side. Frank and Beryl could see the water rushing into the rear section of the Curacao as it began to float along their side of the ship. They could see the sailors in the water floating by, some with life jackets and others without and trying to keep afloat by swimming. Frank and Beryl both had their life jackets on because it was an order from the ship’s captain. All the men on Queen Mary were ordered to wear life jackets when not in their bunks because the ship would not be stopping for a man overboard.
Beryl was quickly taking off his life jacket. His head was moving right and left, looking at the sailors of the Cruiser floating past the Queen Mary.
Frank was a little quicker and threw his life jacket overboard. His head was jerking back and forth, looking for anything that would help the floating sailors. Without thinking, he grabbed a deck chair and threw it overboard. Beryl grabbed his arm.
“You could kill someone with that.”
“We have to do something, “Frank cried.
They looked up and down the deck and saw other soldiers throwing their life jackets overboard to the sailors in the water. The stern of the Curacao was floating by and they could see the twisted metal, pipes, wires, furniture and other debris. Some sailors were hanging on to the side of the ship as it was slowly sinking. In a matter of seconds the cruiser remains and the floating sailors were passing the stern of the Queen Mary, soon to be out of site. Beryl looked at Frank in disbelief.
“Are we just going to keep going?” he asked, as if Frank had the answer.
The jolt to the Queen Mary had been so slight that the soldiers below deck assumed that someone down the hall had slammed a door. The Queen Mary was so towering over the cruiser that the collision had only made a small dent in the bow of the ship and British sailors on the bow were signaling to the Captain in the steering room that the damage was not serious.
Just then the Captain’s voice came over the Queen Mary’s loudspeaker.
“Attention all hands and passengers, this is Captain C. Gordon Illingworth of the Queen Mary. All American and British officers are to report immediately to the ship’s theater.”
The commotion by the theater doors attested to the Captains authority.
The officers crowded into the ships theater and filled the room with loud murmurs as the officers who had been on deck were explaining to others about the collision. Beryl found a seat by the door.
Beryl stood up with the rest of the Officers when the Captain of the Queen Mary stepped into the room. He walked across the stage with an air of self importance and motioned for the officers to sit down.
“Gentlemen”, he began, “we are 150 miles from Glasgow, Scotland and we just had an incident where our Cruiser escort, the Curacao. The Curacao just crossed in front of our bow. There was a collision and the Cruiser was cut in two. I am afraid there are many casualties and others who need rescuing. We of the Queen Mary will not take part in the rescue effort. I am under strict orders to deliver you safely, without delay, to your destination. No stopping for any reason.”
There was a low murmur from the Officers who had been below deck. Even though they had heard from others about the incident, the confirmation by the Captain seemed a second surprise.
“Gentlemen,” he continued, “this incident will not be spoken about by anyone until this war is over. The enemy must not learn of anything about this incident or this ship. You need to stress this most important security precaution with your men. We have sent a distress signal to ships in the area that will arrive shortly to rescue the survivors.”
The Captain, without dismissing the Officers, simply left the room. An American Colonel in the front of the Theater yelled out, “dismissed,” and Beryl left with the others.
Beryl returned to the top deck and joined Frank. Frank was standing by the railing looking back toward the stern of the ship as if there was still something he could do to help the sailors.
Both stood there looking at the ocean. It was about 3:00 PM.
“The ship’s Captain just addressed all the officers about the accident. We need to assemble the platoon and tell them that this incident is to remain top secret. Nothing is to be said about the accident until the war is over and we can assume any leak about this will be a court marshal offense.”
“OK,” Frank replied, “Do you want to tell the men?”
“Yes, I’ll talk to them.”
The two looked out in the ocean, as if they would see a sailor or debris from the accident. Frank was still thinking about the sailors who had been without life jackets and trying to swim among the parts of the ship floating and sinking around them.
“You should have seen the authority in the Captain’s manner,” Beryl said after a long silence. “As if God had ordained him to be in charge and he knew it. He was standing in a room of American officers and telling them how it would be regarding the incident: totally confident of his authority.”
Frank smiled, “Kind of like Morton.”
“Yes, but different,” Beryl said. “I think the British have a different way of expressing their authority. When you look at their history, their leaders have always had an implied God ordained authority. Their Kings and Queens didn’t have to raise their voice to have someone’s head cut off. A simple nod of their head would signal the executioner to lower the ax. Yet, the Brits do love their monarchy. When you look at our history, we were the opposite. Americans were a bunch of mixed breed rebels. A key reason for the great migration from Europe was to get away from the European totalitarian authority. So we Americans are more prone to question authority. We don’t follow blindly. We question everything and authority has to earn their crowns.”
“Also, the Brits have had over two years of this war, so leading and following have become more ingrained,” Frank said. “Once you get into life and death situations, there is a lot of pressure to conform and listen to authority. Take a look at your platoon. They still tend to gripe out loud and have their rebel moments, but when we get closer to the cannons you’ll see all of them looking to you for answers to their survival.”
“Lieutenant Edgell,” a voice shouted from the upper deck.
Beryl turned and looked up.
“Sir,” the soldier shouted, “Captain Connors would like you to join him in the aft main lounge.”
Beryl nodded in acknowledgement and turned to Frank.
“I guess we’re going to find out where we’re going. “Go tell the men about the Curacao and the security warnings, I’ll catch up with you later. “
Frank turned to go.
“Oh, by the way,” Beryl said and Frank stopped.
“Which way is aft?”
Frank laughed and pointed.
The main lounge didn’t look much like a main lounge. The Queen Mary luxury liner would have plush carpet, colorful lighting and overstuffed furniture. Queen Mary the troop carrier had bare floors, crude lighting and old wooden tables and chairs. Beryl entered the main lounge to find Captain Connors and the other platoon leaders. Beryl greeted the officers and took a seat at the wooden table.
“First, let’s start with the cruiser accident,” Connors began. “Have you all briefed your men and stressed the seriousness of the security?”
Everyone nodded their heads except Lt. Jack Johnson.
“Johnson?” Connors asked.
“Not yet sir.”
One could tell from Connors expression he was not happy with this answer.
“See to it immediately after this meeting,” Connors said. He could have just said, ‘see to it after the meeting’, but by inserting the word ‘immediately’ he was asserting his authority over an officer who was slacking.
“We now know a little more about where we’re going,” Connors said.
“We’re heading to Glasgow, Scotland. There are army camps all over the British Islands so we still don’t know our final destination. When we reach Scotland we’ll disembark and march to the train station where we’ll board one of the many luxury trains, compliments of the British Government. That’s all we know. We don’t know how long we’ll be on the train and where it’ll be traveling. You can tell your men exactly what I’ve told you here.”
“Sir,” Beryl asked. “Can we assume that K-Rations will be the meal on the train?”
“Yes, if something else is offered then it’ll be a pleasant surprise.”
Lieutenant Keil Jarvis looked at Beryl and smiled. “Do you want backup when you have to tell Tork?” It was well known throughout the company that Tork was a big and often eater. He could go through a midnight machine gun exercise, crawling through mud and rain with machine gun tracers flying overhead and bunkers exploding around him and smile when it was over. And smile when told to do it again; but if a meal was late or not to his liking, he was quick to complain.
“No,” Beryl smiled back. “I’ll need backup when someone tries to steal my best BAR man.”
“Get your men ready,” Connors said. “I want this company to look sharp. If we have to march to the train station, I want the Scottish people to see a proud, if not quite ready Army coming to their rescue. That’ll be all.”
The Lieutenants got up to leave.
“Beryl,” Connors said. “I need a word with you.”
After the other Lieutenants had left the lounge, Connors turned to Beryl.
“Beryl, I am having problems with Jack. I told you I may be making changes. Once the shooting starts, I may need to pull him out of the action and replace him. If I can’t get a good replacement, I may put Frank in for a field commission. What are your thoughts about that?”
Beryl hesitated for a moment.
“Sir, I think I know Frank pretty well. He’s committed to remain in the noncom ranks so he can be close to the men and be more effective. He doesn’t want to be an officer. I think he’d turn it down, he’s done it before.”
“Thanks for the information, Beryl,” Connors said without offering a rebuttal or comment.
Beryl left to find Frank. He could understand Connors and the reason to replace Johnson. He was also concerned about losing Frank. Connors had a job to put together the best fighting Company and he apparently saw a need to get better leadership in the third platoon. He hoped Connors understood his comments about Frank and not press the issue.
Beryl found Frank by the railing where he had left him. He told Frank about the meeting and the need to get the men ready as they neared Glasgow.
“Frank, do you sense a bit of caution in Connors when he tells us something?”
“I assure you,” Frank answered, “Connors is anything but shy when it comes to command. What he is shy about is making too many promises to his men. It isn’t a matter of being too negative or shy from being too positive: it is part of his personality to work with good information. You will find he is not afraid to say that he doesn’t have enough information or the correct information before committing himself.”
The Queen Mary listed and they both grabbed the handrail and looked toward the bow to see if a collision was eminent. Since the Curacao accident it was automatic to look to the bow of the ship on each turn. Frank lit a cigarette. He enjoyed it much more on deck than down in the quarters where the men had to smoke after sundown. At sundown all the lights of the ship were turned off and no smoking was allowed on deck, conforming to the rule of all lights out after dark. Soldiers, who smoked, which was most of them, had to go below deck to the inner areas to light up and maintain the darkness of the ship. The British called it security so a German sub would not be able to see the Zippo lighter’s flame in the dark. The soldiers who smoked called it paranoia. If they could go four times the speed of a surfaced German sub, surely a Zippo flame would make little strategic difference.
“Do you have any pictures of your family?” Beryl asked Frank.
Frank pulled out his wallet, letting the cigarette dangle in his lips.
“Here’s a picture of my parents.”
Beryl took the picture and looked at it closely.
“These look like blue-eyed Germans to me.”
“That’s another story,“ Frank said smiling.
“You sure look like an Irishman,” Beryl jested.
“Speaking of blue-eyed Germans, I’m going to go get Tork for a run around the deck. Can you fill in the men on our destination and get them ready?”
“Yes Sir,” Frank answered. “What is it about Tork?”
“I like the kid and he needs help staying in shape. Also, he needs more confidence in himself. He tends to take authority a little too serious.”
“That is a strange outlook coming from an officer.”
“I want him to think a little more on the tactics of a battle and less on the strategy. He’ll definitely follow the chain of command but I want him to have the confidence to take action in the middle of the battle. OCS stressed the need to lead by authority and force to insure that everyone followed orders and the unit operated as a team.”
“That appears to be a sound approach to leadership,” Frank said.
“Yes, but I learned on the football field that sometimes it is the improvised play which prevents you from a big loss of yards or gets you a big gain. Certainly, the majority of the game was played by the coach’s playbook; however, since you can’t always depend on the other team to do what you planned, it was sometimes necessary to improvise. We can’t always anticipate what the German soldiers will do so we need some independent thinking in the ranks. I hope to develop some of that in our BAR man. I know this is contrary to OCS training. But like Connors, who has the job of building the best fighting Company, I have the job of training this platoon to fight and survive.”
“Don’t forget,” Frank said.
“There is a reason for the training and coordinated drills: it is called ‘casualties.’
“Once in battle, you will be losing men you have trained. These casualties would be replaced by soldiers with unknown skills and weaknesses. Once we take the battle to the continent, in a matter of weeks we can expect half of this platoon to be dead or wounded and replaced by men we know nothing about. You won’t have time to get to know the replacements. That is why train and drill is the curriculum.”
Beryl nodded his head.
“I know Frank, and that is the hard part about all this. At least I can try to minimize the casualties.”
Beryl said goodbye and retreated to go to the enlisted men’s deck.
“Hello Tork,” Beryl said when he reached the third deck.
Private Torkildson stood and replied, “Good afternoon Sir.”
Beryl liked Tork, a big kid from Iowa who volunteered before his draft number was up. Basic training had been tough on Tork. He grew up on a farm with plenty to eat and the typical farm chores. His upper body was strong but his legs had a hard time carrying his large frame. He was overweight and the farm chores did little to strengthen his legs. During basic and advanced training, Tork had a rough time with the hikes and running exercises. His specialty was the BAR because of his marksmanship and ability to carry the heavy machine gun and the ammunition. Now the task was to strengthen his legs and turn some of his fat to muscle.
“Are you ready for your run,” Beryl asked.
Tork began putting on his sack and picked up his BAR. This was not any sort of punishment for Tork. It was Beryl’s way of helping him gain strength in his legs. The two climbed the stairs to the upper deck.
“Do you want to walk a lap first or shall we run?” Beryl asked.
“Let’s run Sir.”
After several laps, Beryl slowed to a walk. Tork slowed in pace with his Lieutenant.
“How do you feel Tork?”
“Fine Sir, “Tork replied, breathing heavier than his Lieutenant.
“Frank has a lot of good things to say about your marksmanship Tork.”
Beryl walked to the railing and stood looking out into the North Atlantic. Tork joined him. After a few minutes of silence, both started talking at once.
“Sir......,” Tork said.
“Tork.....,” Beryl said at the same time.
“No need for sorry Tork. In fact, with your ability, you’ll probably never need to say sorry.”
“Yes sir,” Tork replied.
Beryl turned to face Tork. The sun was setting behind the ship.
“Tork, you’re from Iowa, right?” Beryl asked.
“My folks have a farm in Iowa where we raise corn and some livestock. I’ve spent my whole life there. The first time I left Iowa was in the Army. My folks are hard working farmers, we get by.”
”Tell me about your family.”
“Well Sir, there’s my mom and dad, four sisters and a brother. We have two Labradors, a bunch of chickens, eight cows and two horses. We still have the old tractor that came with the farm in 1930 and five years ago my dad bought a used John Deere.”
Beryl was always amused when he asked that question about family. Usually the soldier would say he had one or more dogs and then mention his parents and last would be his siblings, if mentioned at all.
“It takes a lot of discipline to work a farm,” Beryl said.
“Yes sir, it does.”
“Get up every morning at dawn and work until sundown?” Beryl asked with a smile.
“Actually, sir, before dawn,” Tork replied with pride.
“Yes sir, before dawn.”
“How did you do it?”
“My dad taught me early to set my mental alarm clock. So, every morning I would wake at 4:00 AM. It just became a habit.”
“Is your family religious?” Beryl asked.
“Oh yes Sir, our family is Lutheran. Every Sunday afternoon we take turns reading the Bible. Mom said it was important for us to learn how good men think so we can always be good Christians. “
“I think our mothers are a lot alike,” Beryl said. “We didn’t read the Bible as regularly as you did, but Mom was always talking to us about the Gospels and Christian work.”
“I still read the Bible every Sunday for at least an hour,” Tork said. It’s like setting my mental clock to get up at four in the morning. I set my Sunday clock to take time to read the Bible.”
“Let’s run,” said Beryl, “I believe you could do anything you set your mind to.”
The Queen Mary sailed into the Firth of Clyde late in the afternoon on the fourth day out of New York. The Firth of Clyde is on the Northwest coast of Scotland, an inlet surrounded by small islands. The military and politicians had decided on this location because of the narrow inlets and the ease of securing the area from German submarines and the German Luftwaffe. The ship slowed to a crawl to maneuver through the narrows, past islands named Arran and Bute and through a narrow inlet with small towns on either side. The Queen Mary slowed even more as it entered the narrowest part of the channel with the village of Gourock on the right and Dunoon on the left. She then made a slow turn to the small port town of Greenock where barrage balloons flew overhead to prevent air attacks by the Luftwaffe. The Queen Mary would anchor off shore and ferries would take the soldiers and equipment to the Greenock dock.
As the Queen Mary slowed, the soldier activity on the ship increased. The Queen Mary became a shouting gallery as captains, lieutenants and sergeants directed the soldiers on their packing and where to wait for disembarking. The soldiers were scurrying, trying to fit 200 pounds of gear in a 50 pound bag. They would be in the British Isles for a long stay and had to take all their equipment with them.
Beryl and Frank were trying to supervise the commotion in their own platoon. The adage of the weakest link was true with a platoon. Beryl and Frank were both searching out the soldiers having the most trouble with their packs and barracks bags and helped them catch up with the tempo of the rest of the platoon. Company M had been lucky. They had been assigned to the lower cabins, six to a room and had more time while waiting for the upper decks to depart the ship. Frank and Beryl were going from room to room checking out the packing.
“How’re you doing?” Beryl asked Tork.
“Fine sir, I’m almost ready.”
Beryl could hear Frank arguing with a Private and stood listening for a minute.
“You can’t pack it and you sure as hell won’t be able to carry it, “Frank was saying forcefully to Private Bell.
“I can do both, “Bell replied with a little more force than even he expected.
“This cost me good money and I won’t leave it behind.”
Frank reached over and took the small phonograph from Private Bell. Bell had bought it from one of the Queen Mary’s crewman. Some of the crewmen would sell items to the American soldiers, knowing they would have to leave it behind. After the soldiers departed, they would scrounge through the soldier’s quarters looking for anything that was left. The bigger the item, the more likely a sergeant would order the soldier to leave it.
“Do you think we’re going to England for a site seeing tour? Forget it and finish packing.”
“Sarge,” Bell said, “I won’t leave it behind.”
Frank was done with the discussion. He threw the small, wind-up phonograph on the floor and the wooden frame splintered.
Bell grabbed Frank by the arm and his face contorted in anger.
Frank stared into Bell’s angry eyes and whispered. “I gave you one chance to listen to reason. You’re lucky you got one chance because next time there’ll be no reasoning. You’re a soldier and you obey: no questions and no second chances. Do you understand?”
Bell’s hand slowly left Frank’s arm. His face was still contorted with anger.
Frank glanced over to Beryl who was watching silently.
Beryl then addressed the rest of the soldiers.
“You’d better pack lightly. We may be marching a long way with this gear and I don’t want anyone holding us up.” This was Beryl’s way of supporting Frank without interfering.
Other platoons were moving and Beryl estimated they had only a few minutes before they joined the queue to disembark the Queen Mary. He surveyed the platoon and except for Bell and another private, the platoon seemed ready.
“Tork,” Beryl said, “can you help Forsythe with his barrack bag?” Forsythe hadn’t rolled his clothes tight enough and was having a hard time getting the last of his belongings into the bag.
Tork didn’t reply. He walked over to Forsythe and with his farm-raised strength, crushed the contents of the barrack bag.
Captain Connors stood in the hallway and yelled over the commotion.
“Company M,” he shouted, “stand ready.” All the doors of the cabins were open and each room had been instructed on the order they would file into the hall. Everyone was standing and ready.
“Company M, fall in.” At this command, each soldier lifted the heavy barrack bag and put it on their soldier.
In the order of their closeness to the gangway, the soldiers came out of their rooms, into the hallway and followed the soldiers that had departed ahead of them.
The daily exercise regimen of Beryl’s platoon had readied them for what lay ahead. By the time the platoon had climbed the multiple stairs and crossed to the gangplank, they were breathing harder than usual. The line of soldiers slowed as they reached the open air. The hills surrounding the Firth of Clyde were green and rolling and the villages around the Port of Glasgow were out of another world. They could see the tops of the buildings with their unusual shapes and tiles. In the distance was the tall spire of the Glasgow University, established in 1451 and rebuilt at its present site in 1870. They could see the 13th Century Cathedral Tower in the distance. The land around the Cathedral had been consecrated in the 5th Century when Glasgow had been part of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Bishop’s Castle, unseen by the soldiers because it had since been removed, was the focal point of the battle between William Wallace and the English knights. Wallace, with 300 men, defeated the 900 English Knights who occupied the Castle. This led eventually to the independence of Scotland from England and the crowning of Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland.
The soldiers marched off the ferries and were greeted by a British Band, sounding a welcome note for the soldiers who had come to live or die for their cause. The soldiers marching to the main street were not aware of the eyes of the current Bruce who descended from Robert the Bruce.
The Earl of Elgine and Kincardine, Anthony Bruce, was aware of them. He was watching from a distance at the spectacle of American soldiers departing from the ferries and forming up on the dock. He watched with Scottish pride as the soldiers began to fill the streets of Glasgow. He was proud of the Scottish traditions and history and proud that the Queen Mary was bringing the American Army to his land. The Earl of Elgine and Kincardine was proud to display his capital city to the arriving Army. If only they knew the rich history of this country and this land. He wondered if they appreciated the local ancestors who had fought for independence from the English and began to accumulate wealth in the shipping business and more wealth later when trade began to flourish in the Americas and West Indies in the 17th century. The Glasgow merchants had taken advantage of their western port and became wealthy by importing rum, sugar, tobacco and other goods from the new lands. Later, the merchants began to take advantage of the rich deposits of iron ore and coal in the region and this led to the Glasgow region becoming a major shipbuilding center. The Earl of Elgine and Kincardine watched the parade of American soldiers march through Glasgow and the tears forming in the corner of his eyes were tears of pride and relief.
Beryl was in as much awe of the surroundings as everyone who departed the ship. The Great Western Way was lined with the citizens of Glasgow. The adults waved small American flags as the children walked alongside the column of soldiers on their way to the train station. The children were acting like it was a circus coming to town and they ran along side the soldiers, waving and yelling cheerful ‘hallo Yanks’ at the soldiers.
“Hi kid,” Beryl returned the greeting to a small, freckled Scottish boy. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stick of gum and handed it to the boy. The big grin Beryl got in return was all the thanks he needed.
“Hey Yank, got any gum?” Beryl could hear in the distance. The soldiers by now were walking less smartly as the weight of their barracks bags began to take their strength. “Hey Yank, got any gum?” was like a rally cry. The soldiers picked up their pace, realizing they were a parade and bringing the pride of America to this Kingdom of Strathclyde. The shouts of the children picked up their spirits and gave them new energy. The column of soldiers stood taller and marched more precisely as they fumbled in their pockets to find gum to throw to the children. They would later write home and mention the warm welcome they had received when landing in the British Isles.
Beryl looked over to Tork who was marching with a big smile and long strides. The large barrack bag on his shoulder appeared as weightless as a bath towel flung over his shoulder. Tork’s free hand was searching in his pockets for anything he could throw to the children. Beryl smiled to himself and glanced over to where Anderson was marching. Anderson ignored the children and looked straight ahead as if heading for an angry fight. Beryl’s smile turned to a frown as he thought about Anderson in the role of a squad leader. It was the only question he had of Frank’s leadership and he hoped Frank had made the right decision in choosing Anderson for the squad leader position. Beryl’s football coach had told him that a player had one of two problems. The player either lacked skill, which better training might resolve. Or, the player had an attitude problem. Most coaches worked on the fundamentals with training. The great coaches knew how to work with attitude and the fundamentals.
Beryl looked over to Anderson who presented another problem. Beryl had tried to talk to him on several occasions and only got shrugs and short answers. The only thing he and Frank knew about Anderson was his home state, New York. Frank had made Anderson a squad leader, seeing the potential and trusting that Anderson, as the leader, would be forced to work with the men. In small ways the strategy seemed to be working but Anderson was still the loner.
The march to the Glasgow train station was short in length compared to the 25 mile hikes they were accustomed to in training. The soldiers marched as if they were walking down the graduation isle. Heads were high, smiles were broad and the soldiers marched through the ancient streets as if they were entering an ancient Kingdom, which it was. The old buildings, strange shop signs that hawked tobacco and other common goods, and the general architecture were like walking into another world. The strange double deck buses that augmented the underground rail system dating from 1896 were parked on side streets to make way for the parade through town. In the distance the soldiers could get a glimpse of some of the mansions built by the tobacco barons of the 19th century. The cobblestone streets resounded with the steps of American soldiers.
“Quite a reception”, Beryl whispered to Frank.
“I think they’re glad to see us”, Frank whispered back.
Beryl thought to himself. So this is the land of the orphan King James. He guessed that they would be taking a train to England, the second home of the orphan King.
The assembly at the rail station was orderly as each platoon settled on the location assigned them. The soldiers set their barracks bags on the ground and either sat on them or lay on the ground, using the bag as a large pillow. Beryl and Frank sat on their bags and watched the activity at the train station.
“You know Sarge,” Beryl said when they were settled. “I can’t wait for our next mail call.”
“Expecting news from home?”
“I’m hoping for news from a wife who may be pregnant,” Beryl answered.
Beryl looked around, thinking of Esther’s last words on the train station.
“How long is this wait?” complained Private John Bell. “First we’re cramped into a steamer for four days and now I suppose they’ll have cattle cars for our next ride.”
Anderson glanced at Bell with contempt.
Frank looked at Anderson and nodded his head in the direction of Bell.
Anderson stood and walked over to Bell, said something to Bell in a low voice, stared into Bell’s eyes, and waited.
Bell sat down on his barracks bag.
Private Joseph Kuzinski looked over to Bell and Frank.
“Hey, maybe someone left a Cow in our cattle car and we can have some fresh milk,” Kuzinski said.
This was typical of Kuzinski. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Kuzinski was the youngest of eight children: four boys and four girls. The conflict in the family started with the parents, whose normal method of communicating was to shout at each other. They would have divorced years ago accept for the eight children. Now with all the children out of the nest, they stayed together because of fear. Fear that they would be alone. The conflict in the family had always flowed downhill to the children and it seemed that everyone was shouting. Even a simple request, like, ‘how long are you going to be in the bathroom,’ was a reason to shout. Kuzinski was the peacemaker. No matter how heated the argument, he was the one to try and lighten the atmosphere with a quip or antic, turning the attention on himself and away from the argument. One day during the parent’s normal arguing, his father got so angry he left the house, swearing he wouldn’t be back. The next day Kuzinski was caught shoplifting candy from the corner store and the police took Kuzinski home where his mother expressed shock at the incident. The Priest came by and talked to Kuzinski and his mother and later in the day, Kuzinski’s father came home, having heard about his youngest son stealing candy. Kuzinski was sent to his room and the parents talked for hours in the kitchen. They talked for a long time about their youngest and why he would do such a thing, and then they talked about everything.
Bell shot a hard look at Kuzinski.
Frank looked at Kuzinski and smiled.
“Hey Sarge,” Tork said loudly, “are they going to feed us some hot chow on the train?”
The rest of the platoon heard Tork and they laughed together at the big kid who was always hungry.
The train to take them to their next destination was slowly pulling in front of the station. On the side of each car was printed in colorful letters: London, Midland & Scottish Railway. They were lucky to be on the first train and would not have to wait long.
The clouds that had been threatening all morning began their ritual shower on Glasgow. Thousands of soldiers at once began to retrieve their rain gear that consisted of a simple waterproof poncho. Beryl felt relieved when he heard Captain Connors shout through the rain.
“Company M, fall in.”
Each platoon Lieutenant yelled for his Sergeant who in turn yelled at the men.
The squad leaders yelled, giving the men in the squads a point to assemble. Everything happened fast. Company M had done this hundreds of times at Fort Meade, AP Hill Carolina, Fort Blanding Florida and Camp Kilmer. The entire Company was assembled and ready in less than a minute.
Captain Connors said to his First Sergeant Henry Drews in a normal voice once the men were assembled, “Load em up First Sergeant.”
The loading of the train was orderly. A few men stumbled on the steps to the train car, not anticipating their large barracks bag banging against the railings and tipping them over. Company M settled into the three cars assigned to them and began the wait for the rest of the soldiers who would be riding this train.
Beryl and Frank settled into the forward car.
“I would guess this is vintage 19th Century,” Frank said as they took their seats.
“They probably pulled a lot of stuff out of mothballs to accommodate the visiting Yanks,” Beryl replied.
“I’m looking forward to our time here,” Frank said. “I’m sure we’re going to get some real English hospitality.”
“Are you speaking of the shopkeepers or the lonely English girls?”
The train started to move slowly away from the Glasgow station. The soldiers were still trying to settle in and make room for themselves and their bags. Beryl stood up and walked to the front of the car.
“Men, listen up, there’s a lister bag at the back of the car with fresh Scottish water, no ice, no Scotch, just good Scottish water. K Rations will be passed out soon. I’m told this’ll be a long journey, so get comfortable. The curtains on the windows are for security so leave them in place after dark. When the Queen Mary entered the Atlantic we entered a war zone. Now we’re in the middle of it. Remember, our host has been at war for over two years and they are very serious about security. Every shopkeeper, farmer, schoolboy and housewife here is a sentry and a watchdog. Remember, we’re guests here, not a conquering Army. So conduct yourselves accordingly.”
Beryl turned to see an old Scotsman in a train uniform.
“Halo Yank,” said the trainman with a thick Scottish brogue.
“Hello,” Beryl replied with a smile. He was smiling to be friendly but also because he was amused at the sight of the old man and his accent.
“Whar ye bin?” the old Scotsman asked.
“Whar ye bin?” repeated the trainman.
“Uh, where?” Beryl asked, still not understanding.
“I osked ye, whar ye bin Yank?” the trainman repeated.
“I don’t understand the question,” Beryl replied.
“We’ve bin getting clobbered fer threy years, Yank. It’s aboot time ye showed up.”
“Oh, you mean where has the American Army been?” Beryl said with a laugh.
“Exoctly,” said the trainman.
Beryl looked at the trainman and smiled, not knowing if the trainman was serious or jesting. He thought it best to treat it seriously until he knew for sure.
“We’ve been waiting for Roosevelt to make a decision. I guess the Japs made the decision for him so here we are,” Beryl said in a serious tone.
“So here ye be,” said the trainman, “a little late but weer glad ta see ya.”
“Has it been bad?” Beryl asked, wanting to show concern but also wanting to learn more about the local frame of mind.
“Bod?” It was a rhetorical question. “The last time ye Yanks knew this type of devastation was when yur North and South wur beatin up on each other. Devastation like when Sherman marched through yor South. Only for us it isn’t a marching army. Now tis the uncertainty of Hitler and what he’s preparing to throw at us. You should’ve been here in 1940, before our flyboys got control of the air. Bombs were droppin every night. Every mon, woman and chile knew how to handle a fire hose and work a bucket line
“I’m sorry we couldn’t have been here sooner.”
“Well, yur here now and we’re glod to see ya. What’s yur name son?”
“Edgell, ye don’t say.” The trainman beamed.
“Why do you say that?” Beryl asked.
“It souns like an English name ta me,” the trainman replied. “Did yur oncestors come over from our Islands?”
“We haven’t traced our ancestors back that far.”
“Wall, tis likely yur ancestors came from a region in England call Edgehill. There wos a famous battle there between the rebels and one of the King’s sons, Prince Rupart. Except for that battle, I cannet tell ya else about Edgehill. Yur ancestors wur probly chicken thieves who got caught and had ta flee the area to avoid bein hanged,” the trainman said with a laugh.
“So my ancestors took the name of Edgell?” Beryl asked laughing.
“Ye, probly chicken thieves,” the old trainman repeated, still laughing. “Or more likely they wur poachers in the King’s forest.”
“No, probably chicken thieves. My family has always been great cooks when it comes to chickens. And you know, a stolen chicken always tastes better.”
The trainman laughed.
“Wall, I guess we haf ta thank the Japs,” the trainman said in a more serious tone.
“Yes, it was a terrible thing, but it got us here.”
“How do yur German folk feel aboot helpin us?” the trainman asked.
“I think they’re for it,” Beryl replied, “many of them from my small town joined right after Pearl Harbor. In my platoon there are several German names.”
“Thot’s good,” said the trainman.
There was a pause in the conversation.
“We wur afraid yur ambassador to England would have too much influence on Roosevelt. God knows Churchill had little influence on that Nazi lover.”
“You mean Joseph Kennedy?” Beryl asked.
“Ye, Joseph the Irishman,” the trainman said. “Do ya know he gives speeches here and in America to German groups and tells em that the English shouldn’t resist Hitler cause he is a fellow German. He likes to point out that our Monarchy is really German. Durin the first Great War, anything German was pretty moch hated so our King decided to change the name of the Royal fomily from Saxe-Gothe-Coburg to Windsor so it’d be more British. Thot Kennedy likes to tell this story and osks why should we resist or fight the Nazis.”
“No, I didn’t know that,” Beryl answered. “We don’t read much in the newspapers about the ambassador to England. Why did they choose the name Windsor?” Beryl said wanting to change the subject.
“Wall,” the Scotsman said, thinking. “It must com from the name of Windsor Castle.”
“And how did Windsor Castle get its name?” Beryl asked, now smiling.
“Cause the main gate opens to the small village of Windsor, thot’s why. So it must ov been named after the village.”
“And how did the village get its name?” Beryl laughed.
“Thot’s a mystery to me Yank. My but yur full of questions. I hope yur action is as lively as yur askin. We’ll win this war in a fort night.”
The old Scotsman and Beryl were now laughing.
“Wall, glad yur here Yank Edgell,” he smiled. “If I see ya in a pub I’ll buy ya a pint. Now must be off ta my duties.”
“It was good meeting you, Sir,” Beryl said.
The trainman walked to the next car. Beryl decided to find his seat and try to get some sleep even though he wasn’t tired. He moved through the train car and found his empty seat next to Frank. Frank had been talking to Private Stephen Gault. Gault was from Michigan and his father worked at General Motors.
“My dad’s working eighteen hour days, seven days a week,” Gault was saying as Beryl sat down. “When I get tired and depressed about some of the things the Army has me doing, I just think of him and feel a lot better. If I were home in Detroit, he’d have me on the same schedule building airplanes for the war.”
“Does your dad work on the assembly line?” Beryl asked as he sat down.
“No, he’s the Vice President of Production,” Gault answered.
Just then Private Leonard Forsythe approached Beryl and Frank.
“Sergeant, Lieutenant,” Forsythe said.
“No thanks,” Beryl and Frank said to Forsythe at the same time.
Private Leonard Forsythe was from Pennsylvania and got married after basic training. His father was a steel worker and provided well for his family. Leonard had spent a summer doing flunky work at the steel mill, working in the Executive offices doing odd chores and it was there he met young Catherine, daughter of a Vice President at the mill. Since love knows no class lines, the two became infatuated with each other and dated secretly through their senior year in High School. After High School, Leonard joined the military and when he came home on leave from basic training, the young couple announced their intention to marry. Leonard’s parents were happy for him, but it was a cautious happiness. Catherine’s parents reacted as if their daughter had announced plans to become a missionary in another part of the world. Catherine’s father was too caught up in steel product problems to give much concern to his daughter’s future but Catherine’s mother reacted with a great deal of ire. She had looked forward to the day when her daughter would return from Vassar and announce her engagement to a handsome Ivy League student. She secretly enjoyeD-Daydreaming about how she would prepare for her daughter’s wedding and figuring ways to persuade her husband to spend the enormous sum of money the wedding would cost. The announcement came as a shock. Not a shock of concern for her daughter and her future, but a shock of all her plans crumbling. The big wedding at the country club, the large guest list, and the elaborate reception would now be canceled. She wasn’t going to embarrass herself now after years of telling her friends how she looked forward to her daughter’s future. Leonard and Catherine had been insistent on getting married during his time home. The wedding and reception, instead of being a major Pennsylvania event, became a simple church wedding and a home reception. Instead of hundreds of guests, the list was less than fifty friends and close relatives. Catherine’s mother had insisted on keeping the list small. She reasoned to herself that a large list would make it appear as if this was a normal wedding with parental consent. By keeping the list small, it was a show to her friends in society that her daughter planned this wedding. She wanted her friends to know of her disapproval and the simple wedding with the small guest list was her messenger.
“Only twenty-five cents for a pair,” Leonard said to Frank and Beryl.
“Private Forsythe,” Frank said rather officiously, “how much do you earn with your private enterprise?”
Leonard smiled, “Last month I sent my wife $42 from my private enterprise.”
“That’s a lot of shoe shining,” Beryl said laughing.
“It comes out to a buck an hour, a lot more than the Army pays.”
“No thanks, Leonard,” Frank said. “Or maybe you’ve forgotten, we don’t pay for services, we ask for volunteers.”
Leonard could see he wasn’t going to make a sale here and walked to the front of the car where the pickings might be easier.
Leonard moved to the front of the car. As he approached he saw Private Harvey Pierce in a verbal spar with Private Gerald Somerfield.
“So what’s so special about Flatbush Avenue?” Somerfield was asking Private Harvey Pierce.
“Have you ever been to a small village?” Pierce asked.
“We have lots of small villages in Minnesota,” Somerfield answered.
“Well, Flatbush is a small village surrounded by six million New Yorkers, Pierce said. “Everyone’s friendly and we survive together.”
“You sure it’s not just another New York ghetto?” Somerfield asked.
“What’s your problem, Jerry, you have something against New Yorkers?” Pierce asked, emphasizing the name Jerry.
“Anyone need their shoes shined?” Forsythe asked the group at the front of the car: “only 25 cents a pair.”
“Ask the Jerry,” Pierce answered, “he has lots of Minnesota egg money to throw around.”
Pierce had stepped over the line with this comment. Everyone knew Somerfield was sensitive to his first name ever since the public had nicknamed the Germans, Jerries. When anyone called him by his first name he would immediately correct them and say, “Call me Somerfield.” Pierce had more than stepped over the line because he had said ‘the Jerry’ instead of just ‘Jerry’.
Somerfield, who was sitting in the aisle seat, stood up, took one step, and grabbed Pierce by the shirt collar. Pierce reacted quickly, standing and grabbing Somerfield by his collar.
“The name is Somerfield,” Somerfield said in a low determined voice.
“Watch it farm boy.”
Somerfield gave Pierce a hard shove that sent Pierce back into his seat. Pierce tried to hang onto Somerfield’s shirtfront and tore it open as he fell backward. Pierce tried to get up but Somerfield was over him, still standing in the aisle but towering over Pierce who was sprawled on his aisle seat.
“Somerfield to you,” Somerfield said with one hand grasping Pierce’s shirt front and the other hand raised, ready to strike Pierce. Before he could strike, a hand clasped around Somerfield’s wrist.
“Are you teaching lessons in manners Private Somerfield?” Beryl asked in a normal tone of voice.
Somerfield looked back at Beryl who was still holding his wrist.
“He was just showing me some hand to hand combat tricks,” Pierce said in a voice pitched higher than normal.
“Let’s leave the training for the field,” Beryl said and turned and walked back to his aisle seat next to Frank. He didn’t bother to turn to see if the fight had ended. He was sure it was over for now.
In the back of the train car the sound of a smooth soft voice was singing. Private Dennis Love was always crooning. His hero was Bing Crosby and Bing’s latest hit had been released in the spring of 1942.
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.
Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies.
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hovels and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in.
Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in
Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.
Ba boo ba ba boo.
I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences
Don’t fence me in.
Poppa, don’t you fence me in.
Private Dennis Love finished the Bing Crosby song. Love was a blue-eyed blonde from Atlanta and he liked to think of himself as the second coming of Bing Crosby. His was in love with himself and his last name. He used his last name in any situation.
“Trouble with that M1 soldier? Let Love fix the problem.”
“I tell the ladies. If you want a recipe for happiness, add Love and mix.”
“The eleventh commandment, Love can fix all.”
Private Leonard Forsythe was walking to the back of the train car, having made no ‘sales’, as Love finished his song.
“Hey Dennis, just what is a Cayuse anyway?” Leonard asked.
Dennis Love looked up, “It’s a small pony. You could’ve figured out that for yourself. What else would he have been on with a saddle?”
“Why don’t you just say he was riding his pony?”
“I didn’t write the song.”
Next came a familiar cry from the center of the train car.
“Does anyone know when we eat on this train?” It was Tork.
Frank felt it was time to stand and make some announcements.
“Listen up!” He shouted to be heard over the many conversations on the train.
“You all know there’s a lister bag at the back of this car. Pretty soon they’ll be handing out K rations on every car.”
The mention of K rations brought a brief chorus of groans from the soldiers.
“I’m told we won’t be stopping along the way except for short stops to change engines and crew. Don’t get any hopes up for strolls through English villages. We’re going to be on this train at least tonight and most of the day tomorrow, so get comfortable. Also, I’m told there is a chow car on this train. Private Torkildson, you just volunteered to scout the train and find out if there’s a chow car and how we go about assaulting it.”
Frank sat down just as Tork, eager to volunteer for the mission, stood up and walked to the gangway to the next train car.
The military had different categories of food to feed the tens of thousands of troops in the field. When a large army moves, as the saying goes, it moves on its stomach. This has been true ever since man left their village to conquer another. In early tribal wars, the soldiers were able to live off the land. This practice continued through the ages and as armies increased in size, a quartermaster group attached to the army was responsible for foraging into the countryside to find livestock and grain to feed the soldiers. In World War I, the practice of foraging gave way to feeding the men as many hot meals as possible and providing ‘emergency’ rations between the hot meal opportunities. Trench warfare signaled a new era in feeding the army that moves on its stomach. What if the army wasn’t moving? Or if it moved, how to provide the calories and nutrition that a soldier needed to keep up his strength and moral? The soldiers in the trenches in France were given emergency “Iron” rations. These were food packages that consisted of dried beef, wheat and a dash of chocolate. The taste was very unpleasant but it provided the daily calories a soldier needed. The unpleasant taste, by military accounts, was intentional to discourage the soldiers from relying too much on the emergency ration. In truth, the industry supplying the military with the ‘Iron’ ration was not capable of making a good tasting, high calorie, preserved food supply that the soldier could carry in the field for days or weeks. Instead of pressuring industry to make something ‘tasty’, the military took a flaw and made it a feature. The poor taste would discourage soldiers from relying on the ‘Iron’ ration for long periods.
After World War I, little attention was paid to the problem of feeding the soldiers in the field. It was, after all, the war to end all wars. This military attitude began to change in 1935 when it became apparent that all wars were not ended and the possibility of another major conflict was eminent. The military began to look at the rations of the soldiers. By then the ‘Iron’ ration had given way to the C ration. Typical of military, classifications were given each type of meal and grants were given to private industry to study and recommend how to feed the troops. The most desirable rations were the A and B classifications. The A ration was fresh meat and vegetables and the mainstay when troops were garrisoned for any length of time. The B ration was canned goods that could be heated in the field and still provide the calories and nutrition for a soldier who was active 8-12 hours a day.
The most attention was paid to the ‘emergency ration’. This was a packaged meal that the soldier would have in the field to sustain him over a long period of time when the A and B rations were not available. These rations were designated K rations. The K ration was pre-packaged foods the soldiers could carry to the field. They were small boxes containing three packages of preserved food, cigarettes and a small amount of coffee grinds.
The military manuals stressed that the K rations should only be used as emergency food supply and soldiers should not be sustained on the emergency ration for longer than ten days. This was of course the military’s way of stating in a manual the ideal battle campaign conditions. In truth, most battle campaigns do not follow the manual. The soldiers of the 175th Regiment, like their brothers in other outfits, would rely on the emergency rations and their own foraging skills during the campaign.
“Hey Tork, this is a scouting mission, not a one-man assault,” shouted Private Kuzinski from the other end of the train car. “Save some for us.”
Everyone on the car who was not sleeping laughed.
“Hey everyone, look at this.” Private Harold Davison had pulled back the security blind on the window and was looking at the countryside.
There was a small scurry as everyone sitting next to the windows pulled back the blind to see.
“It’s just a bunch of sheep,” Forsythe said in a half groan.
“Yeh, but look at ’em. They look miserable.”
In the large Scottish plain were several hundred sheep grazing. The miserable look was from the mud that caked most of their bodies.
The men looking out the window lost interest after a few seconds and returned to their slumber.
Davison was still holding his security blind aside as if fascinated by the scene.
“Hey Davison,” Kuzinski half-shouted, “do you know how ranchers count a large herd of sheep?” He waited a few seconds and answered his own question.
“You count the legs and divide by four,” he laughed along with a few others.
“Actually Ski,” Davison answered, “when you have several thousand sheep all you need to do is count the number of black sheep. There are about 100 sheep for every black sheep in the flock. Count the black sheep and multiply by 100.”
Kuzinski sat a little lower in his seat. He had again been bested by Davison.
Bell looked over to Davison with a belligerent expression.
“You’re a real pedant, aren’t you?” he asked. It was more of a challenge than a question.
Frank looked at Beryl and smiled.
“Actually,” Davison answered. “It is a natural byproduct of a quintessential brain.”
Beryl looked at Frank.
Davison was the mystery man in the platoon. He was always coming up with little facts and figures for the platoon but never gave a fact or figure about himself. He was from somewhere in New England but no one knew anything about him. Speculation about his background ranged from Davison being a Professor’s son to Davison being a nephew of a U.S. Senator. Davison didn’t talk about himself because he was a bastard son of a single mother. He never knew his father who had left the small town of Bangor, Maine when he learned that Davison’s mom was pregnant. His mom had scandalized the small town and received little support from the village except for the meager assistance she received from her own scandalized parents. She worked hard in the only laundromat in downtown Bangor and she and Davison lived in a small apartment above the store. Davison had compensated for his bastard status by staying in the apartment and reading everything possible. His playground was the Bangor Public Library and his athletic activity consisted of turning pages.
Tork returned from his mission.
“Sir,” Tork said to a half sleeping Lt. Edgell.
“Yes Tork,” Beryl answered.
“Sir, there’s a chow car on the train but I couldn’t get close to it. The men are crowded in line three cars deep from it.”
“Thanks Tork, mission accomplished. We’ll have to live off K Rations until we get to where we’re going.”
Tork walked back to his seat, mildly depressed at his failed mission, more depressed at having to eat K Rations.
Privates Gault and Davison were talking as Tork sat in his seat. The rest of the platoon was either sleeping or in slumber.
“No luck Tork?” Gault asked as Tork sat down across the narrow train car aisle.
“That’s OK Tork,” Davison said. “An army may move on its stomach, but it gets its motivation from hunger and fear. That’s how we learn to obey orders so well. Fear of the non-coms, officers and the enemy and hungry to get it over with so we can return to normal. A little hunger is a good thing.”
“Do you really think we are motivated by fear,” Gault asked Davison. “Or is it respect for our superiors and us that make us want to do well?”
“Fear is a lot more primordial than respect for ourselves or superiors, “Davison replied with the assertion of an authority on the issue. When you were going through boot camp, were you thinking of how much you wanted to please the top sergeant or were you hustling to do it well enough so he wouldn’t yell in your face? I would guess the latter.”
“That’s boot camp, Gault said. I’ll admit it always starts with fear but at some point the fear turns to respect for yourself and the authority. Primordial instincts have a way of being replaced by a higher instinct. Higher meaning a more refined and civilized motivation. Fear can be transcended to pride just as basic hunger instincts transcend to a desire for well-prepared food. Lust can change to love. Fear to pride. Hunger can turn from grunting in a field for turnip roots to taking the time to earn and prepare a beef stroganoff.”
“Yes, but it was fear and hunger that got you there.”
Private Anderson opened his eyes, looked at Davison and Gault in disgust and tried to adjust himself in his seat to be more comfortable.
Tork listened, wondering why anyone would have such a conversation.
“You’re both crazy,” Tork finally said. “Fear is fear and food is food. Who cares about motivation? Who cares why we do anything? Just do it and stay out of trouble. And if you’re hungry, eat what’s available.”
Both Gault and Davison laughed.
The train was now rolling through the night covered Scottish countryside. The only light on the train was the strong beacon on the front engine showing the endless pair of steel rails. The soldiers of the 175th Infantry, Company M were asleep except for the lone guard on each train car, standing near the rear of the car by the lister bag. The countryside was dark and as the train rolled through the Scottish villages only the bare outline of buildings could be seen. The British Isles were still in a blackout for fear of the German Luftwaffe.
The population of the British Isles was sleeping better in this year of 1942. It had been almost three years since the Luftwaffe came almost every night to bomb the cities and terrorize the population. Three years since the population could not sleep and three years since they went to bed every night knowing they could not sleep. Every sound in the night would waken them to a wide-awake, wide eyed start and was followed by the fitful and usually unsuccessful attempt to return to sleep. This lack of sleep and knowing that the following night would be more of the same was a tremendous war burden on the population. The ones injured in the actual bomb destruction were only a portion of the injured as the psychological toll of the war permeated through the entire population. Adults would sleep in a light slumber, sometimes awakened by the crying of the young children who went to bed in fear. A child’s bed was normally a haven at night, a place where they could go to escape their small stressful world and sleep, knowing the parents were nearby guarding them from all evils and intruders. But in the year of 1940 the parents could not guard them from the evil and the intruders that were falling from the sky at random. The evil was in the minds of the Germans who were ordering the bombings and the pilots who were flying the planes. The evil was faceless. The children heard and read about the Germans and the Nazis but they had never seen one. They couldn’t put a face to the evil and the evil wasn’t something your parents could protect you against. Most children slept like their parents, half asleep and half awake, with every sound in the night bringing their small slumbering body’s upright in bed.
The train rolled through villages that were black and lifeless from the outside. The dark outline of buildings and homes shaped the landscape with the appearance of total peace and slumber. But as the train neared the villages, bringing the soldiers who would help in their fight against the evil intruders, the sound of the rumbling engine and the vibration of metal wheels on the iron rails would only alert the small village of an approaching noise, a noise not unlike in the days of the Luftwaffe raids. The population of the small village would awake in a start. Even though the trains rolled through every night and it had been almost three years, the villages would still wake with fear. No lights would appear in the village outline. Inside the homes the parents were upright in bed and sometimes going to the darkened windows to see if there were explosions in the distance. They would only be able to return to bed once they had confirmed the noise to be the nightly train.
During the Luftwaffe raids in 1940, the villagers could not distinguish a rail noise and vibration from a bomb dropped from the sky. Some nights they would look in the distance and see the fires of a nearby city and hear the noise of explosions. On these nights there was no returning to sleep. On these nights they would gather the children and find shelter. It was several years later that the rumble and vibration of the train could be ignored and a full sleep was possible. In 1942 the population was returning to some sense of normal in that the adults and children were able to sleep at night, awake briefly to the passing train, and return to a sleep that would help them maintain a daily schedule. Not normal was the energy and long hours the adults spent during the day rebuilding from rubble and performing what task they had chosen to help build their island kingdom defenses and armies. The fear was still in them; the fear of the faceless German intruder and the fear of losing a relative or friend to the enemy bombs. The fear of defeat and what comes with defeat in a war. The fear was accompanied by anger. An anger that was so great it had to be locked away because if it were left to be free and wander, then all reason and normalcy would be destroyed. The anger was like a fire. If uncontrolled it would destroy everything as it wandered. The population contained the burning fire as in a wood stove. Contained and let burn, it provided the energy needed for the long days of building and rebuilding. They let the fire burn slowly. They used the energy from the fire to stand twelve and sixteen hour days for their defense and war effort.
The sun was rising over the Kingdom as the soldiers began to wake and visit the lister bag and the cars single small bathroom. Many of the soldiers, upon waking, pulled back the blackout curtain to look out on the English terrain. As if a glance to the world outside the train would help them out of their disorientation. All they saw was the English countryside going by slowly and the different shades of green, orange and red on the trees and natures signal of coming winter with the fallen leaves.
Beryl and Frank were awake, sitting upright in their seats with their eyes closed. Each had their own thoughts of the past, present and future events strolling through their minds. Beryl’s thoughts were mixed and aimless. It was if his mind was playing ‘king of the hill’ and his thoughts were having a game of who could be on top. His memories of home would be on top and then the journey across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary would win and they would swirl around on top of the mountain until toppled by questions of where they were going on this slow English train. Any game of ‘king of the hill’ always had one or two stronger players. Beryl’s mental king of the hill game had Goodland and Esther as the strongest forces, followed by his current job as Second Lieutenant in the ‘Dandy Fifth.’ When Esther and Goodland were on top, Beryl’s mind would display images of his family: Esther, Mom Sylvia, Dad Yale, Brother Forest, Sister Helen and his nephews Lynn and Steve. He sometimes allowed himself to wonder what his new son would be like. Would he be like Lynn or Steve? If Esther was really pregnant, the baby would be due in April of next year, 1943. What if it was a girl? His mind was settled on that issue because a girl would be like his sister Helen who he often thought was the most beautiful girl in all of Kansas.
A hand on his shoulder ended the mental game of ‘king of the hill’.
“Lieutenant Edgell,” a voice was saying in almost a whisper.
Beryl opened his eyes and his mind raced to the moment.
Beryl looked up, “Yes Sergeant.” He recognized Captain Connors’ First Sergeant.
“Sir, the Captain is holding a meeting of the platoon leaders in his train car in 15 minutes.”
“Thank you Sergeant.”
Frank opened his eyes. “Do you think they’ll tell us now where this train is heading?”
“I hope so,” Beryl said as he stood up. He walked to the back of the car and washed his face with water from the lister bag. He filled his canteen with water and stepped into the small bathroom where he fumbled in his pockets for his shaving razor wrapped in a wash cloth. From another pocket his pulled out his tooth brush and small tube of paste and brushed his teeth. Since becoming an officer he was more conscience of his appearance. Beryl finished and walked through the two cars to where Captain Connors was holding court at the rear of the third car. Beryl approached with a walk of confidence and feeling good about himself. He noticed the other platoon leaders looked half asleep and unshaven. Before greeting the Captain he glanced down to make sure his gig line, the line that extended from his shirt buttons, down through the belt buckle and his fly, was straight.
“Good morning, Captain, Sir,” Beryl said
“Good morning Beryl, please have a seat.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“How’re your men doing, Beryl?” Captain Connors asked.
“They’re fine sir, except for Torkildson. His first attempt to assault the chow car failed but I think today he may be desperate enough to accomplish his mission.”
The Captain laughed and shook his head.
“I met with Battalion HQ this morning and here’s what we can tell the men. We’ll be arriving in an industrial town called Birmingham this morning. All the men will depart the train and make a marching formation. Leave all barrack’s bags and equipment on the train. Battalion will be responsible for guarding the train and our equipment. This will be a six hour layover at least. We’ll march about two miles to some large industrial buildings that have been temporarily arranged for our arrival. The men will first be given shots. Just like basic, if the man in front of you or behind you faints, it’s up to you and the other man to carry him through the line. The men will march to an adjacent building which has been set up like a theater. Here the men will be given a legal lecture by the Provost Marshall who will instruct the men on local customs and English laws. At the end of his talk, a British officer will try to explain the British money system. The men will remain seated after the talk. Then the good part, each platoon will be called out. When your platoon is called, you’ll file out to the next building where you’ll be given your pay in British currency. If anyone has American money there’ll be an officer who’ll exchange it for British money. Once you’ve been paid, march the men back to the train station. I expect a lot of locals to be hanging around the station trying to sell their wares. Give the men a break and let them wander the station for a while before loading them on the train.”
“Yes Sir,” spoke Lieutenant Keil Jarvis from the second platoon. “Do we know our destination yet?”
“Yes we do, but for security reasons, only Battalion and Company COs are to know until we arrive.”
Captain Connors paused for a moment, waiting for another question.
“OK men, get your platoons ready. I want Company M to look sharp. Our British hosts have a thing about appearance and punctuality.”
Beryl stood with the other platoon leaders, nodded at the Captain and left the car to return to his men.
Beryl walked through the two train cars to his own platoon car. He had heard the Captain’s message and was formulating his own message to his platoon. He was also evaluating the Captain and the way he handled himself at the meeting. Beryl was constantly evaluating. When he wasn’t analyzing his own men he would be thinking about his superior officers and how they handled themselves and their authority. Ever since his mother had told him to be a leader he found himself watching people and their behavior. He watched the manager of Horns grocery store and the way he handled clerks and stock boys. He watched the barber and how he treated the shoeshine boy who worked after school shining shoes. He was most intent watching his High School coaches and how they managed their authority. He watched and tried to understand their behavior. Were they doing it right? What effect did their style have on the person they ‘managed’? He was also trying to figure out his own style of leadership. What makes a good leader he would continually ask himself? What leaders have the qualities he would want in his own leadership style?
He enjoyed pondering the world figures and seeing them in the Goodland theater newsreels. General George C. Marshall was the one leader he thought about the most. As Chief of Staff of the military, Marshall had the look and walk of a true leader. He was always composed when he talked to the Press and his direct answers assured all who watched that he was in command. Beryl tried to imagine Marshall in the trenches. How would he handle all the different situations of a more mundane position like platoon leader? It was one thing to be a General in the army, always being in the newsreels. It was another to be a platoon leader, trying to lead and mold 36 men into a fighting unit. Every day mundane situations would arise, like the incident on board the Queen Mary with Private Bell and Frank. It was a small incident but still it was an assault on authority. Frank had to assert his authority and his command. He had handled it directly because the situation required an immediate result. There was no time to mold Bell into a person who follows authority immediately and blindly. The situation was a here and now impasse and Bell had put Frank in a dilemma. The dilemma was to either let Bell take the phonograph or use all his force to have his orders followed. How would Marshall have handled the situation? How would Captain Connors have reacted to Bell’s small rebellion? At some point in his pondering, Beryl decided that with authority comes a different set of tools. Marshall had an array of tools which were different than Frank’s. Marshall could relocate the rebel, bust him, discharge him, or throw him in the stockade. Frank could do the same thing but it would require going through long processes and red tape. Marshall could be more direct since he was the process. Frank, like all sergeants in the army, was constantly dealing with questions of authority from the men in an immediate situation. He had to deal with it directly and conclude it in the moment. Beryl had observed this in boot camp. The sergeants were always shouting and threatening the men to do the task and do it right. He had understood this part of authority and decided that the word ‘asserting’ was a key element of authority. What tools did a person have in using their authority and how would that person assert the authority entrusted to them? A sergeant would assert with shouts and threats. The sergeants were directly responsible for getting the men to behave or act in all situations and it was always a moment-to-moment crisis. Fall out for inspection. Run the obstacle course. Make that bed so a quarter will bounce off the top blanket. Straighten that gig line. Shine those boots. Salute smartly. Charge that hill. Fire that weapon straight. Kill that gunny sack full of hay with your bayonet.
Beryl felt himself lucky to be an officer. All the way up through the chain of command, an officer at times may have to use a sergeant’s methods. Beryl knew he could do it. He could also imagine Marshall doing it. But for the most part an officer would use a different set of tools. And the strength of his tools was determined by the amount of respect he had earned from his subordinates and the reputation he had built through past decisions and actions. Beryl, the platoon strategist, had to rely on the strength of his sergeant to get things done. His main tool was delegation and the way Frank succeeded in tactical situations. This would change in battle. He anticipated the confusion of battle and knew it would take both he and Frank to keep order in the ranks. How the men reacted to his orders in battle depended on the strength of his bars and the confidence the men felt in his decisions. In the end, he saw the sergeants in the Army as the real workhorses and the officers holding the reins. The sergeants got things done.
Beryl walked through the two train cars putting his thoughts together and rehearsing the short speech he was about to make to the men: knowledge and authority. He knew the information he would be giving and the way he would deliver it. He also knew the importance of how to handle questions on what he didn’t know. A leader doesn’t stumble over his words when he doesn’t have the information. Answers to questions without answers needed to be brief and direct, with a knowledgeable explanation of why there is no answer to the question.
Beryl sat down next to Frank.
“How did it go?” Frank asked.
Beryl explained the meeting and the coming events in Birmingham as explained by the Captain. Everything would go as planned except for the return to the train station and letting the men mingle with the locals and the vendors. He stressed that he wanted no incidents at the station that would embarrass or reflect badly on the platoon. They talked for a while about the stop over in Birmingham and then Beryl stood up.
“Listen up,” Beryl shouted at the train car full of soldiers.
He waited a few seconds.
“Listen up; I have a few words for you.”
Beryl then explained to the men the main points of the meeting with Captain Connors.
“This will be our first real meeting with the locals,” he explained. “I want this platoon to look and act with the same pride you have always shown the other platoons. From what I’ve seen, you are the best. Before we leave this train, everyone take a moment to shave and straighten your uniforms. Look each other over and help each other. I know you are all a little tired, but don’t look it. When we arrive, I want a formation on the station platform. Sergeant Dietz will lead you through the different stages of our stay in Birmingham.
“Sir?” Torkildson had shouted from the back of the train car.
“One other thing,” Beryl said as he smiled. “We have no information on a chow hall here in Birmingham so I suggest you take this opportunity to fill up on K rations. Did you have a question Tork?”
“No Sir,” Tork answered as he slumped back in his seat.
Private Davison stood up.
“Sir, will we have time to go into Birmingham? I would like to see the Jewelry center and some of the Victorian buildings.”
“No Davison, there’ll be no time. The only sites you see will be at the train station when you’ll have a few moments with the locals. Sergeant Dietz has a few words.”
Frank stood up and gave his usual brief talk about appearance and behavior. He also included an oblique threat if there were any incidences with the locals on the train station and finished with instructions to the men to use the train car’s lavatory and freshen up.
The exit from the train, the formation and the march to the center went better than planned. Beryl was especially proud of his platoon, which looked and acted better than all the other platoons on the platform. When he passed Captain Connors he got a nod, which he knew meant the Captain more than approved of how he had prepared his platoon.
The day in Birmingham was long. Some estimated it would require less than six hours for all the required activities. Although everything was organized to an extreme, every stage took longer than planned. The process of giving each soldier a series of shots took longer. The speech by the Provost Marshall and a member of the English constable office seemed to drone forever. Beryl thought it could have been faster if they had just said to follow the Ten Commandments. The Englishman went into great detail on subjects that were common sense to the men and had a few suggestions regarding the safety of the men that Beryl thought was very useful. He talked to the men about the air raids and the shelters to use if they were visiting London. He also cautioned them about crossing streets. Since the cars drive on the opposite sides of the street than in America, a lot of Americans step off the curb looking in the wrong direction. He also noted that most Americans who have been injured in England in the past have been injured as pedestrians walking into the path of a car or truck. On every subject he went into great detail and Beryl would find this to be a trait among all Englishmen he met. If you asked an Englishman a question there was never a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. There were always details.
The soldiers went through the planned itinerary in shifts. After the shots a group would go to the theater for the talk by the Provost Marshall. It was planned this way so the men could sit for a while and the queasy ones could gather their strength. After the Provost Marshall, the men would proceed to another building for a brief explanation of the English money system. They would then file to another building where they could receive their pay in British Pounds and exchange any Dollars they had with them. By the end of the day, the men were anxious to march back to the train where more K Rations were promised. They were also anxious to see what vendors were on the train station in the hopes of getting some decent food.
The short march back to the train station seemed to take forever. Time has a way of slowing when you are anxious for something. The men of the First Platoon definitely had a faster pace in their march. When they arrived, locals who were just as anxious as the soldiers for their arrival greeted them and began hawking their wares. A group of young girls were standing around a large table that was filled with pies.
Most of the soldiers stood for a few minutes, not quite knowing how to proceed. Tork was the first one to walk to a vendor selling pastries. He bought a handful and downed them before the next soldier in line could decide on a choice. Tork then proceeded to the young girls with the table full of pies.
Private Dennis Love walked slowly over to an elderly lady with a bag of toiletries for sale.
“Hello,” Dennis said. “What have you got for shaving soap?”
“Gooday Love,” she replied as she opened her bag wide for him to see.
“How did you know my name?” Love responded with surprise.
“I don’t know your name.”
“But you just said gooday love,” Dennis said with a small amount of facial animation.
“Oh,” she started, “is your name gooday?”
“No,” Dennis laughed, “my name is Love, Dennis Love.”
The elderly woman laughed. “What a beautiful name you have. And my, what a beautiful Yank you are. Well Mr. Love, would you like some shaving soap?”
Dennis was still smiling and nodded. “Yes I would, what have you got?”
Further down the platform Tork was buying three pies and trying to sort out the English money he had just received from the paymaster. The girls selling the pies wore a uniform with an emblem of the Order of St. Johns, the English version of the American Red Cross.
“So, you have pennies, shillings and pounds,” Tork was saying, “How much for three pies?”
One of the young girls who had a constant smile on her face replied.
“Each pie is two shillings, so it would be six shillings. If you give us a pound note, you’ll get back fourteen shillings. Twenty shillings make a pound. Or, if you have a ten shilling note, we’ll give you back four shillings.”
The girls were enjoying this big Yank and wanted to keep him around so they started asking him questions about where he was born and did he have a girlfriend back home.
Tork was more interested in the pies, but he answered their questions with a shy politeness.
Private Pierce entered the group.
“What have you got there?” He asked.
“Pies,” replied three of the girls in a chorus.
Pierce opened his eyes a little wider and saw an opportunity.
“How many do you have left?” he asked as he was reaching for his wallet.
The girls looked surprised and one started counting.
“We have thirty-two left,” she said after counting.
“How much are they?” he asked.
“Two shillings a pie.”
“That’s sixty-four shillings,” Pierce calculated quickly.
“I’ll give you two pounds for all of them.”
“Two pounds is only forty shillings,” the oldest girl replied.
“Yes, but I’ll be selling them to the other Yanks later tonight when they get hungry. I need to make a small profit.”
“That is quite the profit indeed,” exclaimed the oldest girl. “You can have the lot for three pounds.” She then folded her arms as if to signal the negotiations were over.
Private Pierce from Flatbush Avenue was about to proceed with the negotiations. He had just started his money haggling tactics and he knew he could get a better price. Just then another platoon arrived and he could see his opportunity disappearing as the soldiers of the new platoon began to check out the vendors on the platform. Pierce decided it was time to act and besides, he could mark them up easily once the train started rolling.
“OK,” he said in a brief panic. “Here’s your three pounds.”
He gathered all the pies he could and rushed to the platoon’s train car. After five trips he had all the pies stashed under his seat.
Private Anderson wandered through the train station, not talking or responding to anyone.
Private Davison was looking up, down and around. He was interested in everything, especially architecture and old buildings. He went over to a news stand and bought a newspaper.
“Let’s board the train,” Beryl said to Frank.
“First Platoon,” Frank shouted, “board the train.” He repeated the message again and watched as the men began walking the platform to their car.
Private Love was having fun with the pie girls who were folding their table to leave, having sold out all their pies to Private Pierce. He was joking about his name and the girls were laughing with him and enjoying this blonde, handsome Yank. Most of the girls were in their mid-teens, having fun with the Yank, and the oldest who was nineteen was looking more romantically serious at Private Love.
“When you grow up with a name like Love,” Dennis was saying with his low Bing Crosby voice imitation, “Love becomes your existence. It surrounds you and fills your heart.”
The oldest girl who had heard most lines from the English boys was amused by this new approach from a Yank and was anxious to spar.
“Your heart may be full of it,” Mr. Love. “But I suspect your brain may also be full of it. If this were a tennis match, the score would be Anna 15, Love love.”
“But this is not a tennis match,” Dennis answered.
“I doubt that it is a love match either, Mr. Love.”
“Private Love, on board,” Frank had shouted from the first platoon train car.
Dennis turned around as if to acknowledge the order and then looked once again at the oldest girl.
“Match suspended on account of train,” Dennis said. “Maybe next time,” he said as he turned and walked quickly to the train.
The sun had gone down by the time the train pulled out of the station. The soldiers were settling into their seats for the next leg of the journey that was still unknown to them. Tork had been sitting in his seat with the pie on his lap, waiting for his appetite to build so the pie would taste even better. The brown crust on the top looked like the best crust he had ever seen. He closed his eyes as if to nap; unaware that Private Pierce was watching him.
Pierce knew the best price for the pies would be when Tork bit into his pie and let out a moan of joy. The other soldiers would then start to wish they had bought some pies and at that point Pierce would produce his thirty-two little gold mines. He knew they all had money in their pockets. Most likely they would have one Pound notes and he decided that would be the price.
The train rolled south from Birmingham. The interior lights on the train were dimmed to observe the blackout order. From the back of the car was a low, melodic voice.
“Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above, don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love, don’t fence me in.”
The men near Tork would glance over occasionally to see if he was eating his pie.
Frank and Beryl were talking in a low voice.
“Do we still have any idea where we are going?” Frank asked.
“No, but I think I have an idea, “Beryl replied.
At the rear of the car the men were settling in for the long journey. Davison had pulled back the black out curtain and was trying to see the countryside through the dark of the night. Sorenson was sitting with his eyes closed and Gault was playing with a deck of cards.
“Hey Davison,” Kuzinski said,” Do you know where the English got the idea of how far to separate the rails for the rail cars?”
Before Davison could answer, Gault replied. “Because that was the distance between the Roman chariot wheels. Since the ruts in the road were that distance, they decided to make the rails the same width.”
“Right,” said Kuzinski.
Davison looked up from his window gazing. “Kuzinski, do you know how the Romans determined the distance between the chariot wheels?”
There was silence as each man thought of the answer and shook their heads.
Davison smiled. “Because, when they put two war horses side by side, the width of their butts determined the width for the wheels on the chariot.”
Just then several of the men stood and walked toward Tork who had opened his eyes and was looking more intently at the pie. Pierce stood up, remaining near his gold mines. Tork lifted the pie and turned it in his hands as if to make a ceremony of the meal. He raised it to his open mouth, held it there for a second and returned it to his lap.
“Will you take a bite already?” Kuzinski exclaimed.
He and the others were curious at the contents of the pie and they knew Private Pierce had some hidden that might be for sale. Tork was enjoying this. His appetite was more than ready and he would have begun eating had it not been for the attention he was getting.
“Gentlemen, be patient,” Tork said in a ritualistic voice. “We need to savor this moment.”
“At least tell us what it is,” Kuzinski implored. “Is it apple? Cherry?”
Tork, as if on impulse, lifted the pie and took a bite. The men around him moved in closer.
“Aw jeeez,” he shouted as pieces of crust and cold white lard flew from his mouth.
Everyone jumped back as if Tork was vomiting and they didn’t want any to land on them.
“What is it?” Kuzinski half shouted.
“I don’t know, but it tastes awful.”
Tork broke the pie in half to look inside. The men moved in closer. Pierce was on the outer ring of men looking intently, imagining his 32 gold mines turning to dust.
Inside the pie was a great deal of cold, hardened lard and chunks of meat.
“What is that stuff?” asked Private Somerfield.
Tork’s face had contorted to a combination of disgust and anger. Pierce looked as if someone had hit him in the nose. The men who were seated and watching began to laugh. Tork raised the two halves of the pie to the crowd around him.
“Here, taste it,” he said with a face that looked like he had just had a dose of Cod Liver Oil.
Private Davison took a half of the pie and brought it close to his face so he could examine it and smell it.
“This looks like the English version of a quick lunch. With this pie and a pint of ale you could make it through the afternoon work: lots of protein and fat.” Davison laughed and handed the pie back to Tork.
Tork reached over to the window, opened it, and threw the two halves of the pie into the darkness.
Somerfield looked at Pierce and smiled.
Somerfield didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. His smile was his message to let Pierce know he was happy for Pierce’s misfortune.
Pierce gave Somerfield a brief nod of the head, letting Somerfield know that their issues weren’t over.
Frank and Beryl had laughed with the rest of the men.
“Where?” Frank asked when the men had returned to their seats and the only sound in the car was the constant rhythm of the metal wheels clicking on the iron rails.
“Tidworth in Southern England,” Beryl replied quietly.
Frank didn’t reply or continue the conversation. He sat back in his seat and let his mind wander over the journey.
Later in the night when most of the men were asleep, a lone figure quietly opened the window and one by one, decorated the English countryside with small, golden brown disks filled with mutton and lard.
Beryl had guessed right. The train was moving slowly through middle England toward the town of Salisbury. Beryl had read all he could about England during his brief time in Goodland because he wanted to know more than his men about the places and customs. The Goodland library was sparse on material, however, he did find information from the time the ‘dough boys’ were in England for World War One, the war to end all wars. The events he read about were similar to the future he was about to experience. The ‘dough boys’ had been loaded onto transport ships in New York and journeyed across the Atlantic to England. When they arrived in England, they were marched to Tidworth Barracks near Salisbury to train for trench warfare and the various types of chemicals and gases the Germans would be throwing at them. Beryl assumed the barracks would still be standing and it was to be their destination.
Tidworth Barracks is located in Southern England, ten miles north of the old town of Salisbury. The area was chosen because of a large open plain that extended 20 miles to the west and was aptly called, the Salisbury Plain. This large open area was ideal for all types of training exercises where a large numbers of troops could practice maneuvers. In 1904 the government of England had taken over this vast tract of open plain in order to convert it to army barracks and training grounds. A village called Shipton Bellinger is to the south of Tidworth and near the army post.
This small village was established some time in the dark ages and had been originally called Sceap Tun, which meant sheep farm in the Old Saxon language. A sheep farm would have thrived well in the area because of the large Salisbury Plain for grazing sheep and the 12 inches of annual rain. Toward the end of the 13th Century, an English Lord had taken over the small village and the village name evolved to the 20th century as Shipton Bellinger. Before the first Great War, the village was small and consisted of only a small pub, a village store, a butcher’s shop and a church. The few homes in the village were made up of chalk walls and thatched roofs. The materials for the homes were gathered locally: the chalk from the village chalk pit was mixed with a supply of local clay to make the dried bricks for the walls and the thatch roofs were constructed from local supplies of hay. The architecture looks odd to a foreign visitor who has never seen a thatched roof. The roof drapes the cottage as if someone had thrown a wooly blanket over the top. The thatching droops around the sides of the building, making the building appear to have a sad expression. It’s as if the buildings are sad to be waiting on a narrow winding road for a bus that never comes. Occasional travelers stop in the village on their way to Salisbury or Stonehenge. Salisbury, with its grand cathedral, is the nearest city located ten miles to the southwest. Stonehenge is eight miles to the southwest of Salisbury Plain. London is located 60 miles to the east.
The English Army began the intrusion on this small village in 1903 and changed its character forever. The government began its large building projects, bringing in load after load of red brick to construct the buildings and the barracks. Similar to many small towns which had experienced a military buildup nearby; Shipton Bellinger began to expand with new shops, laundries, homes and factories. Parkhouse Road and High Street in Shipton Bellinger were the main roads and the construction of new buildings was rapid. A mile north of the village, the construction crews were hastily erecting corrugated iron buildings for temporary military quarters. The building of red brick quarters began and a ‘tent village’ was hastily established for the recruits who would be arriving before the permanent buildings could be erected.
Shipton Bellinger, which existed as a small intimate village, lost its innocence and never recovered. Before 1903 every family was acquainted and considered friends. A visit to a local shop was a social event and the purchase was as if by after-thought. The village was on a first name basis; everyone, even the children, were greeted by their first names. A person’s own business was not private because the village needed conversation and what better topics than the local happenings. On Mondays when the London Times newspaper was delivered to the local pub, the men would gather and discuss the events of the world. Few strangers would travel through Shipton Bellinger and when they did, it would always bring out the curious and add a new conversation piece to the table or pub. By 1905, the strangers in Shipton Bellinger outnumbered the village population. Visits to the local shops for purchases were less social as the shops became more crowded with customers and the owners had no time to chat. Shop owners were too busy with a new inventory schedule that meant getting more deliveries in larger quantities and their small-scale economy of ordering once a month would no longer satisfy the demand. The village began to lose touch with itself and lose touch with each other as the conversations were now focused on Tidworth, the activity at the barracks, the new strangers in town, the buildings going up, the new factory for beer and lemon drinks, the new laundry, and all the gossip accompanying these activities. The children of the village also changed and instead of a day exploring and disturbing the pheasants and rabbits in Croft Woods, they would spend the day in the village watching the workmen build.
By 1914 when England joined France to fight the German army, Tidworth was a large barracks complex. On the east side of Salisbury Road was Tidworth with a large field and building complexes and on the west side of the road was Tidworth camps with row after row of barracks and buildings. Thousands of recruits were interned at Tidworth to train for the war in France. When the recruits were not marching and drilling, they were digging long, eight-foot deep trenches in order to train for the trench warfare. When they were not drilling or trenching, the men were learning about gas and becoming intimate with their gas masks. They were taught how to wear the mask and how to change it for the different types of gas the Germans would be using against them. They learned to fear the deadly silent fog more than the enemy riflemen.
After the war the village became a stable small town. Tidworth Barracks was no longer a garrison for thousands of soldiers, but home to a Company of the regular British army. Shipton Bellinger returned to a village existence but not as a small intimate village, but as a small commerce village. The soldiers at Tidworth were continually rotating so new faces could always be seen in the streets and shops. The children returned to their exploring of the woods and streams in the area. The shopkeepers reduced their deliveries and inventory to meet the lesser demand. Two of the village men had returned from France with their evidence of the war, a missing hand and a missing leg. They returned with stories of the war and the horrors of the gas and trenches.
Beryl had guessed right. By morning the train was pulling into the Tidworth Military complex.
“Listen up, men,” Frank shouted to the men in the train car. “It looks like we’ve arrived. I want you to hit the latrine and make yourselves presentable. Start with the back row; Love, you first.”
Frank sat down and pulled on the chain around his neck that held his dog tags. He looked at the tags for a long time and said a silent prayer, giving thanks for their safe journey and asking for strength and guidance in the coming months.
Beryl reached across Frank and pulled back the black out curtain. The sun was up and they could see the English countryside of soft rolling hills interrupted by large plains. Small stands of forest dotted the landscape. They were only a few miles from the Tidworth rail station and the speeding train was beginning to slow. The men of the 29th Division were about to experience another unknown event; the unknown of Tidworth barracks and the training they would receive. They had experienced this anxiety of the unknown many times and each time the symptoms of anxiety had been reduced by their faith in the military system of always having a plan. Someone in charge would have a plan and a way of discharging the plan through the chain of command. These planners had a way of anticipating all contingencies, or foul ups as the foot soldiers called them. It would be no different at Tidworth Barracks.
“Beryl,” a soft voice said
Beryl looked up. It was Captain Connors.
“Beryl, find Keil and come to my train car.”
“Yes Sir,” Beryl answered.
Connors turned and walked to his car. Beryl stood, straightened his uniform and walked forward to find Keil. He walked to the next forward car where Lt. Johnson’s platoon was riding. As he was walking through the car he saw men who were half asleep, disheveled, and not too happy. As he passed Lt. Johnson and Sergeant Mueller he said Good Morning and continued to the next car where he would find Keil.
“Keil, Connors wants to see us,” Beryl said as he greeted Keil. Keil had already prepared his men for the arrival and they looked sharp and alert, as if eager for the next journey.
“Here we go,” Keil said to his platoon Sergeant Guy Sager. Keil stood and walked with Beryl towards Captain Connors’ train car.
“Did Connors say what he wanted,” Keil asked Beryl as they were walking through the train car with Johnson’s platoon.
At that moment Johnson stood and addressed Keil. “Are we having a meeting?”
Keil stopped and looked at Johnson. “No Johnson, he just asked to see me and Beryl.”
“Don’t know,” Keil said as he moved around Johnson and continued walking. Beryl nodded to Johnson and followed Keil. Johnson glared at the backs of his two fellow officers and sat down.
Captain Connors stood as they approached.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” he said, “please have a seat. We have some more information about our destination. We’ll stop at Tidworth Barracks where the 29th will be staying for awhile. The reason I asked you here was for a special assignment.”
Keil and Beryl exchanged glances at the mention of a special assignment.
“Don’t worry; I think you’ll like this assignment. It seems that the Big Red One, the 1st Division has been at Tidworth and they just moved out to North Africa to join the British. They left a few soldiers behind so Tidworth can’t accommodate all of us. I’ve been asked to volunteer two platoons to set up temporary quarters in one of three villages: Oxford, Oxfordshire and Andover. The locals have volunteered their church and homes to quarter your men. I want you and your platoon Sergeants to volunteer for the private homes in Andover. Your men will be taken to the church and from there the locals will take some of them in. If any of your men feel uncomfortable with this, they can stay at the Church.”
Connors paused, waiting for a response. Beryl was the first to speak.
“Is this the special assignment?” he smiled.
“This is it. Do you volunteer?”
“Yes Sir,” Beryl and Keil answered together.
“I want you to know I was asked to meet with you two specifically. It seems someone at Battalion has noticed your platoons. This isn’t the soft assignment it may seem. The Brits are still not accustomed to the Yanks way of doing things. Remember, their boys are in North Africa fighting and their homeland is being invaded by a bunch of arrogant Yanks, so you can see why there may be a little resentment. Tell your men that they are like American Ambassadors and their job is to allay any fears of our crudeness and help them to like us.
“Will we be training in Andover?” Keil smiled.
Connors laughed. “No Keil, you won’t be training in Andover. That’s the tough part of the assignment. Every morning at 0430 the 6X6s will be at the church to pick up your platoons. Your men will be outside the church in formation ready to load up. For now, you’ll be ready every day, seven days a week.”
Beryl and Keil looked at each other and shook their heads.
“OK, get your men ready. When the train stops you’ll locate the 6X6s that’ll take your men to Andover.”
Beryl and Keil stood and started walking to their train cars. Neither spoke because they were thinking about their upcoming talks with their men. Beryl was thinking about his platoon and each man. He saw no problems with his soldiers and the way the locals would accept them: except for Anderson and maybe Pierce and Bell.
“Listen up men,” Beryl said in a loud voice. “We just got our next assignment.”
The men sat up in their seats. They had been waiting for some word on their next destination and the train car became very silent. The only sound was the slow clacking of the iron wheels on the rails. Beryl let the silence hang for a moment, as if teasing them.
“We’ve been chosen for a special assignment. The 29th Division will be stationed at Tidworth Barracks for the next few months. During our stay here, we hope to get the chance to visit local attractions like Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral and maybe get a chance to visit London…….and now for the special assignment. It seems the Big Red One has been here training for North Africa. Last week they pulled out but left some soldiers behind. That means there is not enough room at the Inn for all of the 29th. You men, because of your superior behavior and demonstration of great diplomacy, have been chosen to be quartered at the local village of Andover.”
Beryl stopped talking and let the men absorb this information. Tork looked at Somerfield and smiled. Pierce looked up at the ceiling of the train car. Frank smiled. Anderson stared directly ahead.
Beryl then explained the details of the 6X6s taking them to the Andover church and the early morning formations that would take them to Tidworth every day. He also cautioned them about the locals and the need to make friends.
“They don’t assume all Yanks to be friendly and courteous,” Beryl continued. “I would expect them to be cordial in the beginning and it’s up to each man to make friends. If any of you feel uncomfortable about this arrangement, you’re welcome to stay at the church. Cots will be provided and I’m sure you’ll be comfortable; any questions?”
Each man had his own thoughts and it was their turn to let the silence unnerve the young Lieutenant.
“OK, that’s that,” Beryl said after a moment of silence. “When we get to the church you can make your decision about staying with a local family.”
Beryl sat down next to Frank.
“I’m looking forward to this,” Frank said as Beryl sat down. “Maybe we can have some home cooking.”
“What do you think Anderson will do?” Beryl asked.
“I think he’ll stay in the church.”
“Maybe that’s best for now.”
Beryl told Frank what he knew about Tidworth and the surrounding area. Frank listened and then filled in details about Stonehenge and the Salisbury Cathedral.
“I’m particularly interested in Stonehenge,” Frank said. “It shows what you can do with the right amount of manpower and ingenuity. The inner stones weighed over four ton. Did you know they brought them from over 200 miles away? The 50 ton outer stones were transported from 30 miles away; must have taken years to build it.”
“Considering we can move two tons of earth in less than an hour, it doesn’t seem like such a hard task.”
“Two tons?” Frank asked.
“Sure,” Beryl smiled. “A division of riflemen digging foxholes under fire can move a lot of dirt.”
As the train rolled to a stop, Frank stood and addressed the soldiers of the first platoon.
“Get your gear and form up on the platform. As soon as we locate our six by sixes we can move out.”
Frank turned to Beryl and said in a low voice.
“I can look for the trucks if you want to stay with the platoon.”
Frank had volunteered because he was still sensitive about his Lieutenant doing errand jobs. Some 90 day wonders tended to do things themselves without thinking of their chain of command and their need to delegate.
“Thanks Sergeant,” Beryl replied.
The soldiers of the First Platoon gathered their heavy barracks bags and left the train car to assemble on the platform. Beryl told the men to form up and remain at ease. He looked over to the formation of Keil and the second platoon. The men looked sharp. He looked further to Johnson’s third platoon and saw men with their shirttails not fully tucked in, five o’clock shadows, and the grumpy look on their faces. As he was standing there he noticed Captain Connors approach Johnson with a definite glare in his eyes. Beryl couldn’t understand what was being said but he could tell that Connors was not happy and was being very forceful in his manner with Johnson and his Sergeant. Beryl was embarrassed for Johnson and turned to his own men. He saw Anderson next to his squad just looking around at the new sites.
“Anderson,” Beryl said in a voice loud enough for Anderson to hear.
Anderson looked up and walked over to Beryl.
“How does your squad feel about staying with the locals?” Beryl asked in as friendly a voice as he could manage.
Anderson looked at Beryl with a blank look before speaking.
“I’m not sure Sir.”
“Why don’t you talk to them so we know how many cots are needed in the Church.”
“Yes Sir,” Anderson responded.
Anderson returned to his squad slowly. He was wondering why the Lieutenant had singled him out and not talked to the other squad leaders.
“This way Sirs,” Frank shouted to Beryl and Keil as he rounded the corner of the train station.
“Form up,” Beryl shouted and as if an echo, Keil shouted at his men.
The trip to the small village of Andover was only a few miles from Tidworth but it seemed like a long journey to the men of the First and Second Platoons. They were busy looking at the surrounding countryside with small hills and scattered pockets of forests. To the right they could see the vast openness of the Salisbury plain that hosted soldier training in the first Great War and recently had felt the pounding of the Big Red One in their training exercises. It would soon feel the shoe leather of the 29th Division. The trucks moved slowly along the narrow, winding road. The men sat silently in the back of the trucks, enjoying the scenery and letting the anxiety of the next army unknown inhibit their tongues. The men were happy to be here. Happy to be off the Queen with her sharp turns and happy to be off the train with its stiff backed seats and the constant noise of the rails. Now in England they would at least be able to see some new countryside, new sights and experience a new culture. They hoped their stay at Tidworth would be a long one. Long enough to enjoy writing and receiving letters from home and long enough to empty the contents of the barracks bags and feel planted somewhere. The only anxiety they felt now was the unknown of the British and the type of welcome they would receive in the family homes.
The trucks rolled into Andover and slowed to less than five miles an hour. The truck drivers had been instructed to be extremely cautious in villages and towns so as not to disturb the locals and avoid any kind of an accident. The English children often played in the streets and if a truck were to hit a child it would be a major reversal to whatever good will had been achieved. The truck drivers appreciated these orders because as much as they practiced, it was hard to get used to driving on the left side of the road.
“It looks like we have a reception committee,” Beryl said to Keil.
Beryl and Keil were riding in the cab of the lead truck and they were slowly approaching the church. A small crowd was gathered outside the church and stared at the oncoming caravan.
“I bet we’re about to see some more British punctuality and planning,” Keil responded.
“Watch the man in the suit. He seems to be the leader,” Beryl said.
As the lead truck came to a halt, Beryl and Keil jumped out of the cab. Keil rushed into the crowd and greeted the man in the suit.
“GooD-Day Sir, Lieutenant Keil Jarvis, Second Platoon, Company M, 175th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division.”
“Welcome Leftenant Jarvis,” the man responded. “I’m Robert Bracton, Mayor of Andover. We’ve been expecting you. This group of citizens has been so kind as to open their homes to your men. We have also prepared the church and the Pastor wants you to know you are very welcome to stay here.”
“Hello Mayor Bracton,” Beryl introduced himself. “I’m Lieutenant Beryl Edgell of the First Platoon.”
The two men shook hands and the Mayor introduced the Pastor of the church.
“How would you like to organize this, Sir?” Keil asked the Mayor. Keil was using his diplomacy and was deferring to the Mayor to lead the way on this expedition. He was anxious to make a good impression and ingratiate himself to the Village. During the ocean voyage, Keil had learned from the ship hands on the Queen Mary that the British loved the word ‘organize’. If you asked a ship hand for help, he would ‘organize’ the solution for you. Keil learned quickly and applied his new cultural information to the current situation.
“Well, Leftenant. Jarvis,” the Mayor responded with his chest puffed out, “I suggest you unload your men and we can sort out who goes where.”
“Mr. Bracton,” Beryl said, “personally my sergeant and I would like to live with one of the families.”
Keil turned to talk to Sergeants Dietz and Sager who were standing by the lead truck. Frank and Sager understood and began instructing the men to unload and fall in.
“That should be no problem, Leftenant. Edgell,” the Mayor responded.
“Leftenant Edgell,” a voice from the crowd said softly, “we would be happy to have you in our home.” The voice was from a small man who was standing next to his wife in the crowd.
“And we would be happy to have your Platoon Sergeant, we’re neighbors,” another voice said.
Beryl walked over and introduced himself to the couple.
“Hello Leftenant,” the man said. “My name is Lloyd Biggerstaff and this is my wife Marge. Once you get your men organized we can walk to our home, it’s just a short distance.”
“Thank you Sir, I’ll just be a few minutes.”
Beryl walked over to where the men had assembled. The Pastor was talking with Keil, Frank and Sager.
“Let’s see what we need,” Keil was saying to the Pastor.
“Squad Leaders,” Keil said.
The town was organized but the platoons were not prepared for this kind of quick reception. Beryl and Keil assumed they would have time at the church to sort out the bunk assignments. Beryl smiled at the confusion and decided he would let the sergeants ‘organize’ with the locals. He walked over to the Biggerstaffs.
“Leftenant Edgell,” Marge said as he approached, “I have prepared a small dinner if you can join us.”
“I would love to Mrs. Biggerstaff.”
“Please call me Marge Leftenant.”
“If you promise to call me Beryl.”
“And you can call me Lloyd.”
“Settled then, its Lloyd, Marge and Beryl,” Beryl said smiling broadly.
“It’ll be nice to have a young man around the house,” Marge said, “our son is with the British Army.”
Beryl directed the conversation at Marge and asked her about her son.
Some of the men were greeting families and others being led by the Pastor to meet the local families who would be their host for the next few weeks.
Frank turned one last time to the group.
“Remember, 0430 in front of the church, in formation, full packs.”
The only soldier not moving was Anderson. He remained standing in front of the church.
“What’s with Anderson,” Beryl asked Frank as Frank approached.
“He wants to stay in the church,” Frank replied.
Beryl nudged Frank’s arm and led him to the couple that had volunteered to be Frank’s host.
“This is Frank Dietz,” Beryl said.
“Glad to meet you,” the man said. “My name is Glyde Brown and this is my wife, Alecia.”
They shook hands.
By now the Biggerstaffs had merged with Beryl, Frank and the Browns.
“Why don’t we walk home and once you’re settled, we can have a little afternoon tea,” Mrs. Biggerstaff suggested.
The two couples and their charges walked the short distance through the village to the neighboring homes of the Biggerstaffs and Browns. They walked past the bakery, the laundry, the dry goods store, a curio store with items relating to Salisbury and Stonehenge, a market, the local Pub and a restaurant. The short walk turned out to be over a mile and the elderly couples in front of Beryl and Frank were walking with a lively gait. They would later learn that before the war, both couples would take their annual holidays by walking across England. Lloyd, Marge, Glyde and Alecia would put on their knapsacks and set out for a direction they felt would be of interest. At the end of each day of walking, they would find a bed and breakfast for a good meal and a good night’s sleep. In the morning they would put on their sacks and continue the journey. Beryl and Frank were both thinking, ‘short walk indeed’, as they walked the mile with their heavy barracks bags and their full packs.
The sitting room of the Biggerstaffs was small and filled with furniture. The fireplace was small and the mantle had family pictures, a war decoration from Lloyd’s time in the war to end all wars, a picture of a young man in British military uniform, a small glass slipper and a rack that held smoking pipes and a tin of tobacco. In front of the fireplace were a sofa and two arm chairs facing each other, separated by a small table. This arrangement made for easy conversation during the afternoon British tea ceremony. The sofa was small, just big enough for two adults to sit in comfort. In the corner of the room was a small glass hutch that held memorabilia from the Biggerstaffs ancestry. Another corner of the room was adorned by an old bookshelf with works by classic British authors. The room was small, no larger than fifteen by fifteen feet. On the wall facing the street was a glass window with six panes and since the beginning of the war the glass panes had been decorated with large strips of tape in an X pattern. Underneath the window was a small table with a radio that received all the attention during the BBC news broadcast in the evening.
Beryl followed the Biggerstaffs into the small home. He looked around quickly as they walked through the front door and immediately felt comfortable. It was a small house with the odor of old furniture and books.
“Lloyd,” Marge said, “why don’t you take Beryl upstairs and show him his room. I’ll get some tea brewing.”
“This way Beryl,” Lloyd said pointing to the stairway.
“We certainly appreciate what you’re doing,” Beryl said as they started up the flight of stairs.
“Never you mind the thanks,” Lloyd responded. “We’re the ones who should be appreciating you boys coming here to help us fight.”
Lloyd led Beryl to a small bedroom with a single bed, small dresser and a small table with a lamp.
“This is our boy’s room,” Lloyd pointed out. “I’m sure he would be proud to have you share it with him. You get settled in and join us downstairs. The bath is at the end of the hall if you want to freshen up.”
“Thanks,” Beryl replied as he set down his barracks bag and pack.
Lloyd left the small room and Beryl opened his bag. As he unpacked he noticed a photograph on the small table. It was in an old wooden frame and the picture was of a very pretty girl. Beryl could tell it was a recent picture and assumed it must have been the son’s girlfriend. On the wall was a poster board with an assortment of medals pinned to it. Beryl looked closely and read the small print on the medals. They were all soccer medals the son had won in his middle school. Beryl finished his unpacking and went down the hall to the bathroom.
“He seems like a nice young man,” Marge said to Lloyd as he entered the small kitchen.
“Yes he does,” Lloyd responded. “It’ll be nice to have him around, even if it’s only for a few days.”
Marge hesitated, “I sure do miss Sonny.”
Lloyd put his arm around his wife of 27 years. “I know dear, so do I.”
“I wish he would write more often,” she almost sobbed.
“Now dear, he writes regularly to Kate and she keeps us up to date. A young soldier has only so much time to write letters and don’t we want him to keep her happy. He knows we love him so let him use his energy on Kate.”
Beryl’s footsteps on the stairs alerted them and Marge returned to her tea preparation.
“Marge,” Beryl said as he entered the kitchen. I have some coffee packages here and some cookies from our K Rations. I’m afraid the cookies aren’t very tasty but they’ll do for a snack.”
“Thanks, Beryl,” Marge answered. “We do enjoy a bit of coffee in the morning. Here, have some of our Thypoo tea. Most everything is rationed here but we do seem to get enough of this tea.”
“C’mon into the living room,” Lloyd said to Beryl.
“Now Lloyd,” Marge said, “don’t be boring him with all that ancestry stuff.”
Beryl and Lloyd entered the small living room.
“Actually,” Beryl said, “I would like to hear about your ancestry.”
“Another time Beryl, I see Glyde and Alecia are here.”
Lloyd went to the front door and opened it to greet the Browns and Frank.
“Frank, you and Beryl sit here on the sofa. The girls can sit here,” Lloyd said, pointing to the two armchairs.
Frank looked up at the photograph on the mantle.
“Is that your son?”
“Yes, that’s our boy, Sonny,” Lloyd answered. “He is a long way from here now, somewhere in Africa.”
“Was he part of the Dunkirk evacuation?” Frank asked. Wondering how long their son had been in the military.
“Yes,” Lloyd answered. “He joined a few months before and was sent to France. It was a perilous time for us. We knew he didn’t have a chance fighting the whole German Army. The Germans could have slaughtered all 300,000 of our boys and the French soldiers that were with them, but Hitler hesitated. That hesitation gave us time to bring them all home. Yes, perilous time indeed.”
“It was an amazing rescue,” Frank said, “from what we read about it.”
“Sonny was picked up by a banker from London in his eighteen foot pleasure boat,” Marge said.
“It was the damndest thing,” Lloyd said. “The banker and a thousand others took their pleasure boats and yachts across the channel and picked up 300,000 soldiers.”
“Except this banker hadn’t filled up his petrol tank,” Marge laughed, “and they ran out on the way back. Had to throw a line to another boat and get towed to the Thames.” She laughed.
“Where’s your son now?” Beryl asked.
“He’s been fighting Rommel in Libya and Egypt for two years now.” Lloyd answered. “Two years ago we drove the Italians out of Egypt. Then Hitler sent Rommel in to take over the campaign. He landed in Libya and started his campaign against our boys and the French. He took Tobruk and just kept driving his tanks to Egypt. But now Monty is in charge and he just attacked El Alamein. If anyone can route the Germans, it’s Monty.”
“Oh, there’s Kate,” Marge said.
Kate didn’t bother knocking; she walked through the front door and into the living room.
“I heard you’d been invaded by the Yanks,” Kate said as she entered the living room.
Beryl and Frank stood and smiled. Kate was pretty and laughing.
“Yes, and now we’re captivated,” Beryl said as he extended his hand for a shake.
Kate extended her hand and then went around the room shaking the men’s hands and kissing Marge and Alecia on the cheek. Beryl and Frank introduced themselves.
“I just got a post from Sonny,” Kate said, pulling a letter from her dress pocket.
“He’s OK and very encouraged that Monty is now in charge. He said everyone has regained their fighting spirit and they plan to drive Rommel into the Mediterranean. He said to say ‘hi’ to everyone and give mum a kiss.” She leaned over and kissed Marge who was trying not to cry.
“I’ve heard good things about Montgomery,” Beryl said to the group. “Some say he is too cautious, but he values his men’s lives more than deadlines set by the politicians.”
“Here, here on that one,” Lloyd said.
“Well, he’s got my Sonny so he’d better be good,” Marge said almost crying.
“Oh, and another thing, he said to send more cookies and if not too much trouble, wrap them in a pair of new socks,” Kate laughed.
“I’ll bring some from the base,” Frank volunteered.
“So you’ll be training at Tidworth?” Kate asked.
“Yes,” Frank answered, “but right now there is no room.”
“Your First Division just moved out and headed to Egypt,” Glyde said.
“And they left a few behind,” Alecia said. The tone in her voice had a sound of bitterness or anger.
“Now Alecia, that’s behind us,” Glyde said
“Did you have some trouble with the First Division?” Beryl asked.
“Isolated little problem,” Glyde answered.
“Isolated indeed,” Alecia responded. “They tore up my garden in the middle of the night.”
“Really, it was just a few Yanks with a little too much spirits.” Glyde said. “For the most part, they were all good boys, good manners and such.”
“Is there a problem with food,” Frank asked?
Lloyd answered. “Yes, quite a problem. Fresh vegetables are hard to come by unless you like Brussels sprouts. We Brits can feed the world on Brussels sprouts.”
“Every home has a garden with Brussels sprouts and your boys planted lots of potatoes before going to North Africa,” Alecia said. “Course, now someone has to go out and dig them up.”
“Sounds like a good job for Johnson’s platoon,” Frank said smiling at Beryl.
“So Yanks,” Kate said looking at Beryl and Frank. “Where are you from in the States?”
“Kansas,” Beryl answered.
“Minnesota,” Frank answered.
“Ah, the shy Americans,” Kate said looking at Marge.
“Shy?” Frank asked.
“Yes shy,” Kate answered as she chuckled with Marge.
“It’s a little thing Kate and I have discovered,” Marge answered. We’ve labeled you Yanks by where you come from.”
“If you’re from the middle we call you shy,” Kate continued. The Easterners are forward, the South has the manners and the West has fun.”
“I can’t speak for Kansas,” Frank smiled. “But in Minnesota we also have a few manners and sometimes a little fun.”
“You don’t seem too shy.” Kate said.
“Maybe shy like a fox,” Marge laughed.
“Well, we best be going,” Glyde said to Alecia.
“Yes, thank you for the tea and the company,” Alecia said to Marge.
“I’ll walk with you,” Kate said. “I need to get back to the shop.”
“I’ll go with you,” Frank said. “I still need to unpack my bag.”
The four left the small house and walked toward the Brown’s home a hundred feet away. Beryl looked out the window to see Frank and Kate in a lively conversation. They both seemed comfortable with each other as if they were old friends. Kate reminded him of Esther in the way she was able to engage a stranger in a conversation and make it seem as if they had been friends for a long time.
“Beryl,” Lloyd interrupted Beryl’s thoughts. “We’re having a Yank dinner tonight if you would care to join us.”
Beryl turned from the window. “Yes, that would be great. What is a Yank dinner?”
“A Yank dinner,” Marge said, “is meat and potatoes. What makes it a Yank dinner is the meat. We’ll be having your Yankee Spam.”
“Spam?” Beryl asked.
“Spam,” Lloyd laughed. “Not all that bad if you fry it and add a little spice.”
“Thanks to your Roosevelt,” Marge continued, “Spam has helped us get by our food shortage here. It’s really not bad at all.”
“Actually pretty tasty,” Lloyd laughed. “It’s just pork shoulder.”
“I thought it was brains and entrails,” Beryl laughed with them.
“What say we walk down to the Pub and have a pint before dinner?” Lloyd invited.
“That sounds good, my buy.” Beryl replied. He felt he could use a beer after the long train ride.
“You go on,” Marge said. “I need to sit awhile.”
Beryl and Lloyd walked back through the village. Beryl told Lloyd of his conversation on the train with the conductor and asked Lloyd if it had been bad in Andover. The buildings in the village seemed untouched by war, but Beryl knew the psychology of the town would have changed since 1940. Everyone had new activity; war chores that were required to protect the town and prevent the enemy from bringing harm. Conversations in the village would have expanded to daily interest in the war and the war effort at home. Local gossip that could have consumed an afternoon in a parlor would be quickly passed and then the conversation would turn to speculation about the war and any news about the local men who were fighting on foreign soil. The local gossip just didn’t seem important any more. Families would receive letters from their sons and husbands and any news would be circulated through the village in the chain of personal contacts. Since the chain included everyone in the village, the news would travel quickly and only require a few hours to reach the outer edges. Beryl and Lloyd walked past the church where Private Anderson would be spending the night and continued in silence to the Pub. Lloyd’s thoughts were on his Sonny and the letter Kate had received. Beryl’s thoughts had jumped around from Kate to Esther, back to Kate, quickly lighting on the Spam dinner and then to the church. He was thinking about Private Anderson and what must have been troubling him. When a young soldier was showing signs of bitterness or anger, the problem was usually with a girl back home. Beryl dismissed this as too simplistic because Anderson seemed more complex and a girl back home, no matter what she had done, could not have had the effect on Anderson that was revealed in his isolation.
“So Beryl,” Lloyd said as if waking. “You got a wife back home?”
“Yes, her name is Esther and we’ll have our first child next spring.”
“It must be hard leaving her home and coming here.”
“Yes, but we need to be here and I have to admit, it’s exciting to be a part of all this. You don’t get much excitement in a Kansas farm community. I would rather it be an excitement of a different kind though.”
“I agree, exciting it is. War has a way of bringing out the beast in a man and that beast surely has a way of enjoying it. That is, until he’s wounded and then the pain replaces the excitement. The rush of adrenalin that makes war exciting can go away quickly when you are lying in the mud and trying to stop your own bleeding. The excitement can quickly become disbelief. Disbelief that you have become a casualty and you might die. Yes, exciting it is until you see your only son put on a uniform and board a train. I could see the excitement in his eyes and it reminded me of myself in 1917. I felt the same excitement in my uniform and no one could have dissuaded me from believing it was to be a great adventure. You can’t tell a young man that he is about to experience a horror. He wouldn’t believe you anyway.
“Is that what you told Sonny when he left for France?”
“No, I knew better.” He was like most of the others. Feeling strong in his uniform and looking forward to the adventure.”
“And when he came back from Dunkirk?” Beryl asked.
“Oh, he had changed all right,” Lloyd replied. It was like his mind had grown 20 years. All of a sudden he was no longer the boy in an adventure. He was a man with serious duties and adult responsibilities. Yes, he had a quick passage into manhood and you could see it in his personality. There was something missing and I think it was his boyhood that he had to bury in order to live up to his new responsibilities.”
“How was he different? I have read about the minds of some of the men returning from the first War and their inability to cope with a normal life.”
“Oh no, not that extreme. He was still able to laugh and fall for Kate. It was more in the little things. Where he used to ignore small problems and laugh at them, he came back and took on the smallest problem as a mission. I believe he was both healthy and strong in that he could enjoy himself and yet take on a small crisis with his adult zeal.”
“We have a bartender like that back at the Goodland Vets club,” Beryl said. “He’s a great bartender and all the Veterans like him. He’s full of humor. But let the smallest thing go wrong, like a keg running out of beer, and he takes it on like a mission. It’s like he is two different people.”
“Yes, two different people. Here we are Beryl, the Great Pub of Andover.”
The sign on the Pub was old and Beryl couldn’t make out the name. The name had been etched into the wood and colored, but the seasons and time had disfigured it so it was not readable. The late afternoon gathering at the town Pub had already begun with villagers and soldiers of Beryl’s platoon. Lloyd greeted the many villagers who were there and when asked of Sonny, he cheerfully answered that he was doing fine now that Monty was in charge. Lloyd greeted the bartender and asked for two pints; one for him and one for his Yank guest. When one of the villagers looked at Beryl, he would smile and nod his head as a greeting. Beryl felt a mixture of tension, curiosity, and friendliness in the Pub. He felt both welcomed and resented as he and Lloyd moved to the bar.
Lloyd ordered two pints and the bartender set them on the bar.
“Cheers Yank and welcome,” Lloyd said as he raised his glass.
“Cheers,” Beryl answered with a raised glass. “I’m grateful for your hospitality.”
Beryl looked around the Pub and saw Frank, Tork and Forsythe at a table with Glyde Brown and some of the local men. He nodded at Frank in greeting. Frank nodded back and jerked his head sideways as if pointing with his gesture. Beryl returned with a quizzical look. Frank jerked his head slightly in the direction at the end of the bar. Beryl nodded in acknowledgement and looked to the end of the bar where Anderson was sitting alone with his beer, not talking or mingling with the villagers who were around him. He was sitting with both hands around his beer glass and looking straight ahead, like staring into a void.
“Beryl, this is Arthur, the best bartender in Andover,” Lloyd said with a spirited voice.
“Glad to meet you Arthur,” Beryl said as he reached out his hand to shake. “My name is Beryl.”
Arthur quickly grabbed a towel and dried his right hand for the handshake.
“Glad to meet you Yank Beryl and glad to see you here,” Arthur said. His greeting was genuine for he loved all Yanks with their good manners and eagerness to spend their money at his Pub. He had served thousands of Yanks since the arrival of the First Division and now he had the 29th Division to greet and serve.
“Beryl will be staying with me and Marge for awhile,” Lloyd reported to Arthur. “It seems they ran out of bunks at Tidworth so we’ll have him as a house guest.”
“You’re lucky, Beryl,” Arthur laughed. “Marge is the best cook around.”
Beryl just smiled to acknowledge the compliment to Marge.
“Hello Lloyd,” Frank greeted as he approached the bar.
“Beryl, could I talk to you for a minute,” Frank said as he motioned to the door.
“Sure Frank. Lloyd, could you order us two more.” Beryl took out a one pound note from his pocket and laid it on the bar.
Beryl and Frank walked outside in the October air that was chilled by the breeze coming in from the coast of England. The village street was a busy scene of locals walking home from work and stopping in the shops to make a purchase.
“What’s up Frank?”
“Did you see Anderson sitting at the bar?”
“I think Anderson will be a great soldier but first he needs to be a person,” Frank said. “I want to try something tonight and I would like for you to be there.”
“What do you have in mind?” Beryl asked.
“Can you meet me at the church about 8?”
“Yes,” Beryl answered.
“I have a bottle of Scotch and I want to corner him in the atmosphere of the church and talk to him. I haven’t been able to get him to open up and I’m hoping the two of us can accomplish something. If we can just get him talking then we might be able to discover what’s eating him. I have a theory about him but I need you there to observe and help with the conversation. Your role will be the sympathetic authority. I’ve met loners and rebels and their problem usually stems from early problems with parents or authority. If I can get him to open up in front of you, he can start seeing authority as a friend and not an enemy.”
“I’m not too good at this psychology thing,” Beryl replied.
“You don’t need to be, just be a friend and listen.”
“OK,” Beryl replied and the two walked back into the Pub.
“Beryl,” Lloyd shouted and motioned Beryl to the bar. Frank joined the group at his table.
“Beryl, come over and have a drink with our Mayor.”
The Mayor lifted his glass and gave a greeting speech to Beryl that included gratitude for the Yanks supporting them and visiting their small town of Andover. Beryl listened with only a part of his mind. He was mainly thinking about Anderson and the meeting at the church and he was feeling uneasy because he was unsure of his role in this psychological experiment. He was also curious about the outcome of the experiment; whether it would fail or succeed.
“Leftenant Beryl,” the Mayor was saying. “May I call you Beryl?”
“Oh yes,” Beryl responded, waking from his other thoughts. “Please do.”
“As I was saying, you Yanks have been a tremendous help to our little part of England. Oh, not just in the money and food, but your First Division were real troopers. Why they did work around here that had nothing to do with training. Yes, we really appreciate it and look forward to you 29ers staying awhile.”
“I think you’ll find most of the Yanks are happy to be here,” Beryl replied.
“Well, Beryl,” Lloyd said as he tilted his glass to finish. “We best be getting home to supper.”
Beryl and Lloyd said their goodbyes and left the Pub. The sun was just going down and the twilight was making dark shadows around the buildings and trees. Lloyd talked the entire journey. He described each shop along the walk, what they sold and how they came to be in Andover. Included in the shop description was a side note on the owners and how they contributed to the town and the war effort. Beryl noted that Lloyd, unlike most gossipers, had nothing bad or dark to say about the villagers. He wasn’t sure if that was just Lloyd’s personality or if the villagers were the angels he described.
They arrived at the Biggerstaff home to the aroma of the dinner prepared by Marge. As they entered you could hear her singing in the kitchen. Lloyd led Beryl to the living room where he invited Beryl to sit and then walked to the small table and turned on the radio.
“Must have the nightly news,” Lloyd said as he reached to a shelf under the radio and picked up three small glasses and a small bottle. The BBC broadcaster was telling the listeners about some mundane events that were happening in London.
“You can’t tell if these things really happened,” Lloyd said as he set the glasses and bottle on the small coffee table between the sofas. “A portion of the broadcast is in French. We suspect the BBC is sending messages to the Free French. Mainly we want to hear the war news.”
1942: Rommel goes on the run at El Alamein
The German army in North Africa is in full retreat, after suffering a comprehensive defeat in Egypt at the hands of the 8th Army under General Bernard Montgomery.
News of the victory came in a special joint war report from British Headquarters in Cairo this evening.
It described the retreating columns of German soldiers as "disordered" and said they were being "relentlessly attacked by our land forces, and by the Allied air force, by day and night."