From "Memoirs of a WWII GI" ©Copyright 1998, Dan Shine
Freedom. We cherish and abuse it. As Americans, we all enjoy our freedom, but relatively few of us have been called upon to defend it with our bodies and our lives. Seldom do we stop to think about the contributions and sacrifices of those Americans who have fought in past wars. This, then, is intended to remind us of those unwarlike warriors who have fought under our nation's flag in the name of freedom. Further, it asks us to recall the contributions of those gentle infantrymen among them. Men like my dad. -Dan Shine
January 16, 1945
Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine stared up at the snow-covered ridge in disbelief. This would surely be the end for him. The lieutenant's words rang in his ears, "When we charge the ridge, you three run straight for that big foxhole and knock it out."
Sheltered within the high foxhole were three German soldiers firing Schmeisser machine pistols down at the Americans. As the rifle company's first wave advanced up that ridge, it would fall upon these three young GIs to eliminate that threat.
The three Germans seemed to have every advantage: They were elevated, they had adequate cover, and they all had rapid-firing weapons. Shine could hear the Schmeissers distinctly now. They fired so fast that it sounded like cloth tearing. To charge straight toward that foxhole seemed practically suicidal.
Shine thought of his parents and his girl, Muriel, back at home; how he wished he could see them all just one more time. Well, things at home would just have to go on without him, he guessed.
Shine took a moment to say a prayer for his survival in this assault. If he was to be hit, he hoped that the wound would be enough to send him home. If it was his fate to die on this day, he hoped the end would be quick and clean, and not a lingering death like so many he had seen. He couldn't help but wonder if God was listening to American or German prayers this day.
Before they had attacked the village of Salmchateau, the soldiers in Shine's squad had traded in their M-1 rifles for M-3 "grease gun" submachine guns which were useful for house-to-house fighting. The grease gun was capable of putting a lot of lead in the air, which was also good in times like this. Shine hated the grease guns, however, because they had a deadly design flaw. The magazine release stuck out in a bad spot where the soldier often bumped it against his body, ropping the ammunition magazine on the ground at his feet. This left the GI with an empty gun, usually at the worst possible moment. Like right now.
At the signal, the three riflemen, along with the rest of the first wave, were up and running at top speed, dodging left and right to evade enemy fire. Spaced just six feet apart, they made excellent targets for the Germans above them. Up the steeply sloping ridge ran the three, consumed by the noise and fury of war, and firing their weapons in short bursts as they ran. To the left and right, running soldiers suddenly fell, turning the snow bright red beneath them. At any moment, Shine expected to feel the sting of a bullet.
By the time the Americans had reached the foxhole, all three Germans had been hit. They lay in the snow, writhing and bleeding from ugly wounds, and making the strange noises that dying men make. A wounded German, however, could still shoot you in the back as you passed him. So, the three Americans, themselves miraculously unhit, finished the Germans off and continued their charge. On either side of them, other surviving members of the first wave advanced, some firing, some falling, as they closed in on their objective.
The Germans were driven from the ridge above Salmchateau that day, but the cost was dear. Many of Shine's friends in the company were killed, and many more were wounded. They'd all watched helplessly as their sergeant, Roberts, had bled to death after receiving a shrapnel wound in the back. The medical corpsmen and the riflemen in Roberts' squad had tried to reach him, but were pinned down under heavy fire. So Roberts had died, alone in the bloody snow. They dug in on the ridge for another frozen night in the field. Salmchateau and "Bloody Ridge," as it would become known, were now in American hands.
Shine crouched in his foxhole and peered off through the darkness toward where the enemy must be. Somehow today, his number hadn't come up. The three Germans in that foxhole had been very young and inexperienced "Volkssturm" troopers, and not combat-hardened veterans. This stroke of luck alone had saved the three Americans, and had cost the three young Germans their lives.
But what of tomorrow, and the next day? Today he'd lost his sergeant. Yesterday, they'd evacuated his lieutenant, Durante, to a rear area hospital after he was shot in the hip by a sniper. Just how long would Shine's own luck hold? There were -- and there would be -- no medals for the three Americans who charged that foxhole; today had simply been business as usual. Nor would there be elation, nor remorse; just the weary realization that they'd survived another day, and were one day closer to the end of the war. As the blackness of sleep met the blackness of the Belgian winter night, Shine, filthy, hungry, exhausted and frozen, prayed for his luck to hold just a little bit longer -- and for the war to end before that luck ran out.
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