7

Holland

The next two months passed quickly as Easy Company refitted and absorbed a number of replacements. While many of the wounded veterans convalesced from their wounds suffered in Normandy, I concentrated my efforts on reorganizing our company and platoon headquarters. Lieutenants Harry Welsh and Buck Compton were promoted to first lieutenant, with Welsh now serving as my executive officer and Compton as second platoon leader. New officers assigned to the company included T. A. Peacock, Robert B. Brewer, and John Pisanchin. Lieutenant Charles Hudson, an officer from A Company, received a battlefield commission and joined Easy as an assistant platoon leader. So did Lieutenant Edward Shames, a former operations sergeant, who had built the sand tables we used in planning our airdrop into Normandy. Shames was the first noncommissioned officer to receive a battlefield commission from 3d Battalion.

Because the regiment was in desperate need of officers, I had the opportunity to recommend one man from E Company for a battlefield commission. I immediately recommended 1st Sergeant James Diel, who had served as my company 1st sergeant during the campaign in Normandy. As his platoon leader, I had worked closely with Diel in the States and during our stint in England prior to the invasion. Diel was by no means the biggest, strongest, toughest guy in the outfit. He was not an athlete, but he possessed a command voice, a command attitude, and he took no backtalk or guff from any soldier. He was what I called a “can-do” man. Give him an order and you could forget about it; he got the job done. He was the kind of soldier who made any outfit look good, and he made a platoon leader’s job easy. Diel was also a self-starter, highly motivated, entirely dependable, and he had a no-nonsense, low-key leadership style that commanded the respect of the men. Diel performed commendably in Normandy and I was confident that he was ready for the next step. While I knew that Easy Company would be losing a first-class leader and that I would be losing a good friend, recommending 1st Sergeant Diel for a battlefield commission was the highest honor I could bestow on him for a job well done. As it was customary that noncommissioned officers who received battlefield commissions were reassigned within the regiment, Diel transferred from Easy Company to Able Company, where he served with distinction until he was killed in action in Holland at the bridge in Zon on September 19.

Selecting noncommissioned officers for promotion was an easy task. The chief strength of Easy Company had always been its core of NCOs. These enlisted men had been thoroughly tested at Toccoa, had been tested again during jump school at Fort Benning, had been hardened during further training in the States and in England, and then had proven their mettle in actual combat. Consequently we were able to restaff E Company with no discernible loss of leadership or morale, despite the fact that we had lost our entire company headquarters plus many other men in Normandy. To fill the hole left by Diel’s promotion, I selected Staff Sergeant Carwood Lipton as the company’s new first sergeant. Lipton looked like a first sergeant should look. He acted like a senior noncom—he was smart, mature, self-disciplined, and dedicated to Easy Company. Moreover he led by example—exactly what I expected from my first sergeant. In addition, he commanded the respect of the men. After I announced my decision, I received a letter from Ed Tipper, who was still in a hospital back in the States. He told me that in his opinion, “Lipton was the best noncommissioned officer in the whole army.” To fill the hole made by Lipton’s transfer to company headquarters, I assigned Sergeant Talbert as platoon sergeant of 1st Platoon. Again it was an easy choice, particularly after his performance in Normandy.

Promotions were also in line for several of the other Toccoa men. Leo D. Boyle was advanced from sergeant to staff sergeant and served as my right-hand man in company headquarters, where his principal responsibility was to help train the new replacements we would be receiving. Boyle was a couple years older than the average company noncommissioned officer. He was many years older as far as maturity was concerned. Perhaps his marriage to a local Aldbourne girl a month before D-Day had something to do with his maturity and fatherly instincts. As his platoon leader at the time, I had given Sergeant Boyle permission to marry his girlfriend. First Sergeant Evans served as his best man. Also promoted to staff sergeant were Bill Guarnere, the second platoon sergeant, and Robert T. Smith. I had been Guarnere’s platoon leader in Toccoa. I had recommended him for promotion to corporal and later I had recommended him for promotion to sergeant as a squad leader. Guarnere was a natural leader and one of most respected noncommissioned officers in Easy Company. At Brecourt, he had done a magnificent job and I had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. (The recommendation was subsequently downgraded to a Silver Star by higher headquarters as division seemed reluctant to approve too many recommendations for high awards for enlisted soldiers.) As it worked out, Guarnere and Lieutenant Compton were the only two men from Easy Company to receive Silver Stars dur-

ing the entire war. Smith had also performed well as squad leader in Normandy. Due to his demonstrated leadership and self-discipline, I assigned him to be company supply sergeant to fill the shoes of Staff Sergeant Murray Roberts, who had been killed in action. Also promoted to sergeant were Kenneth Mercier, Bull Randleman, Arthur Youman, Don Malarkey, Warren Muck, Paul Rogers, and Myron Ranney. Ranney had been a sergeant and had been busted to private first class for his role in the Sobel mutiny. Joining the NCO ranks were Pat Christenson, Walter Gordon, John Plesha, Darrell Powers, and Lavon Reese.

The next task was to train the replacements who had recently arrived to bring the company back up to its authorized strength. The first thing we did was fire our new weapons to ensure that all rifles were properly zeroed before the next operation. With Staff Sergeant Boyle’s help, we developed a rigorous training schedule that included some field exercises for the benefit of the replacements. The older survivors of Normandy were generally given the easier jobs on these exercises. Many who were still recovering from wounds were given lighter duty. Before our next mission Private First Class “Popeye” Wynn and Private Rod Strohl rejoined the company although both still suffered from wounds incurred in Normandy. After Wynn had been evacuated from Utah Beach following our fight at Brecourt, he recovered in a field hospital in England. When informed that if he stayed away from Easy Company for ninety days, they would send him to another company in the 101st Airborne Division, he became edgy to return. He persuaded a sergeant who released the patients to send him back to Aldbourne with papers authorizing light duty. He returned to Easy Company around September 1 and tossed the papers when the company was alerted for another air drop on the Continent.

Popeye and the other veterans of D-Day were particularly tough on the replacements, cutting them no slack during the two weeks we trained for our next mission. Noncommissioned officers like Johnny Martin, Bull Randleman, and Bill Guarnere refused to get too close to the replacements, some of whom were no more than mere boys. As for the newly arrived troopers joining the regiment, they were justifiably in awe of the Normandy veterans, who formed a nuclear family of their own. Somehow they stood apart from the newer members of the company. To this day, those who made Easy Company’s initial combat jump into Normandy sit at separate tables during the company reunions.

On August 10, the 101st Airborne Division conducted a general review for General Eisenhower at Hungerford. Ike expressed his tremendous satisfaction for the 101st Airborne Division and told us that he expected we would soon return to the fight. Meanwhile we took care of more mundane matters. In Normandy we ate K rations, which contained a little packet of lemonade for the lunch ration. The stuff was terrible; everybody threw the packet away. What we did not know was that the packet of lemonade contained all the vitamin C requirements. After going for a month in Normandy without any vitamin C in our diet, just about every trooper suddenly developed cavities. I went to see the regimental dentist, “Shifty” Feiler. He drilled out the cavities and slapped in the fillings. His drill was a foot-pedal-driven apparatus. My teeth were killing me. The next night I was rolling in pain. I couldn’t think straight, nor could I go on sick call with a combat jump coming up anyday and run the risk of not leading the company. I had no intention of being marked L.O.B. (Left Out of Battle) because of dental work. On the other hand, I was wondering how I could function in combat with that pain. Fortunately the scheduled jump near Paris was called off, so it was back to Aldbourne and a real dentist. It so happened that the dentist hailed from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, not far from my home in Lancaster. He drilled out the fillings and announced, “This is bad. Feiler has cut the nerves in both of these molars. They are perfectly good teeth, and if we were back in Harrisburg, I could save them. But under the circumstances, when you might be going into combat any day, the only thing I can do is pull them.” I never went back to “Shifty” Feiler and have sworn never to visit any doctor nicknamed “Shifty” again.

Over the course of the next thirty days, we continually were on alert for redeployment to the Continent. On August 17, Easy was notified and briefed for a drop near Chartres to cut off the retreat of the Germans who had escaped the Falaise-Argentan pocket, but D-Day (August 19) came and went. On August 31, we returned to the marshalling area, this time to jump into Belgium behind the Maginot Line. That operation was scrubbed on September 4. In the interim between the two missions, I quietly celebrated my third anniversary in the army. As I looked back, it seemed like a lifetime in some respects and as if I had aged way beyond three years. In other respects it hadn’t felt that long and I had been pretty lucky up to that point. There were not many men in Easy Company who had done as much in the same period of time. I figured that if I stuck in the paratroopers for another two or three years, put my money away at about the same rate as I had been, I would have a pretty darn good haul when the war was over. What I most wanted to do was to get back in action. Letting some other guy do the fighting for me just did not feel right.

On September 10, we were back in the marshalling area, this time for Operation Market-Garden, General Bernard L. Montgomery’s strategy to bridge the lower Rhine River and to establish a lodgment area within Germany itself. The airborne component of the operation was code-named “Market” and was the largest airborne drop of the war, far exceeding D-Day in the number of troops and aircraft. If the operation succeeded, my friend Captain Lewis Nixon, now serving on battalion staff, expected that the war would be over by Christmas. At our briefing we were told that the 101st and the 82d Airborne Divisions would be attached to the British 2d Army, a prospect that did not sit well with the men. The 101st Airborne Division was assigned four bridges to secure in Eindhoven and one over the Wilhelmina Canal at Zon. The mission of 2d Battalion was to assemble on the eastern edge of the drop zone and to proceed directly to Eindhoven to seize three vital bridges with the support of the balance of the regiment. If we could seize our bridges and the 82d could capture their bridges over the Maas River at Grave and the Waal River at Nijmegen, a British armored column from XXX Corps would advance up “Hell’s Highway” to join the British 1st Airborne Division at Arnhem. Hell’s Highway was a two-lane, hard-surfaced road than ran approximately fifty-five miles between Eindhoven and Arnhem.

Compared to Normandy, the jump on September 17 was relatively easy. Regimental headquarters company, 1st and 2d Battalions closed at Membury Airfield by September 15. Unlike D-Day, Easy Company and the entire 506th jumped in broad daylight several miles north of Eindhoven. Approximately five minutes from the drop zone, the regiment encountered heavy flak from German antiaircraft batteries on the ground. Regimental headquarters’ planes were the heaviest hit. Colonel Sink and his executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Chase, nearly suffered the same fate as Easy Company’s commander on D-Day when both of their aircraft were struck by enemy antiaircraft fire as they approached the drop zone. As Sink saw a part of the wing dangle, he turned to his men and said, “Well, there goes the wing,” but nobody seemed to think much about it. Both Sink and Chase landed safely and promptly organized the regiment to advance on their objectives. The only danger I personally felt was the need to get off the drop zone as quickly as possible in order to prevent getting hit with falling equipment. Since the drop zone was so concentrated—the entire 506th used a single DZ—it was literally raining equipment: helmets, guns, and other bundles. The march off the drop zone was long, hot, and dusty. We took far too long to get to the objective. I couldn’t help but think,

Next time, drop us on the objective.

As our battalion moved down the main road toward Zon, we encountered little resistance. The order of march was D Company leading, followed by E Company, battalion headquarters, and F Company. Battalion had a column of men on each side of the road, when suddenly a German 88 artillery piece fired down the road and we heard German machine guns open up. We sustained no casualties as D Company covered the right side of the road, while E Company took the left side. We

pushed forward and were about twenty-five to thirty yards from our first bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal when it blew. For the second time that afternoon, we were caught in a hail of debris, this time of wood and stone. I remember hitting the ground with Nixon on my left. As the stone and timber came down, I thought, What a hell of a way to die in combat! Had we been dropped closer to the objective, we could have secured the bridge before German engineers had prepared it for demolition.

In any event, we were up in an instant and Easy Company provided covering fire as 1stBattalion crossed the canal. In the front of that battalion was the commanding officer, Major James La Prade, tiptoeing from rock to rock, trying to make his way across the canal without getting wet. He had his .45-caliber pistol in one hand as he tried to maintain his balance. It struck me as funny. I thought to myself, For God’s sake, man, carry an M-1 rifle if you’re expecting trouble. Give yourself a little firepower. Furthermore, carrying an M-1 makes you look like another soldier, not an officer. Snipers like to look for officers. Three months later La Prade, now a lieutenant colonel, was killed at Bastogne. As for E Company, we crossed the canal by dark, and I slept in a wood shed that night to keep out of the rain. Later, the Royal Engineers of the 14th Field Company laid a 110-foot long Bailey-bridge over the Wilhelmina Canal for the tanks to cross once Hell’s Highway was secured.

The following day, the 506th renewed its advance toward Eindhoven, a city of 100,000 residents. As we approached Eindhoven, Colonel Sink ordered 2d Battalion, with F Company leading, to the left flank of the regiment. F Company was stopped cold, and E Company was sent to the left flank of its sister company. During the subsequent attack Lieutenant Bob Brewer, Easy Company’s 3d Platoon leader, was hit. I had sent Brewer to lead E Company in the attack. The field in front of Eindhoven was flat, with absolutely no cover. There was a slight rise in elevation as we approached the town. Brewer had dispersed his platoon in perfect formation: scouts forward, no bunching up. The formation was perfect except for one thing. Brewer was way out front with the scouts. Being a tall man, about six-foot-three, waving his arms and hollering, he looked like an officer. Brewer was a perfect target. I could see it coming; everyone could see it coming. I hollered over the radio, “Get back. Drop back. Drop back!” No radio contact. He just kept going ahead. Suddenly, a single shot rang out and down he went down like a tree that had been felled by an expert lumberjack. The bullet passed through his throat just below the jawline. I was sure he was dead. At that moment, I didn’t have time for pity. Without a pause, I kept driving the company across that field as fast as we could go. I never looked back. We reached Eindhoven without further resistance. As for Brewer, he miraculously recovered and later joined Easy Company at the end of the war.

After Normandy, I wondered if I would ever find any elation in war. When we entered Eindhoven, however, our biggest problem was pushing the troops through the crowds of people that greeted our men. Having suffered over four years of occupation by the Nazis, the reception by the Dutch population of the first Allied soldiers they had seen since April 1940 was unrestrained. It must have been similar to the outpouring of emotion that greeted our troops when they liberated Paris in late August. The streets of Eindhoven were literally engulfed with civilians, smiling, waving, and offering the men drinks and food. Many residents brought chairs from their homes and encouraged our soldiers to sit down and rest for a while. This reception contrasted sharply with what we had encountered in Normandy, where we had been suspicious of snipers posing as French civilians. I was still afraid of snipers after just seeing Brewer get hit, so I put my map case under my pants belt. I next pulled my fatigue jacket over the map case and the binoculars, to conceal both. I then turned the collar of my jacket up to conceal my rank. I tried as much as possible to look like just another GI, which was why I always carried an M-1 rifle. It just felt good knowing that I could take care of myself in all situations.

Easy Company soon pushed through the crowd and secured the

bridges over the Dommel River. I figured the party could wait until later. Not getting to that first bridge before it was destroyed on September 17 had left us feeling that we had failed to do our part in accomplishing the assigned mission. However, the guilt didn’t last long, since the forward elements of the British armored column did not arrive until the afternoon of September 18. Then they promptly halted in the center of town, set up housekeeping, and proceeded to make tea. This lack of urgency for the need to push on to the 82d at Nijmegen and their comrades at Arnhem left us feeling a bit bewildered. By 1830, the main body of the British Guards Armored Division started passing through Eindhoven from the south. This completed the mission assigned to the 506th at the start of the operation. That night, I set up outposts as Colonel Strayer established his battalion headquarters in the center of Tongelre, a suburb on the east side of Eindhoven.

While we consolidated our forces, the enemy remained active. The First Allied Airborne Army had dropped into a hornet’s nest. German troops prepared for an immediate counterattack to sever the lone road that ran from Eindhoven to Arnhem. On September 19, two days into the operation, Easy Company, with a platoon of tanks attached for support, was given the mission of advancing toward Helmond, eight miles east of Eindhoven to make contact with the enemy. As we departed Eindhoven, the Dutch were out again, cheering, waving flags, offering food and drink. We crossed the line of departure and passed through Nuenen, a small village whose chief claim to fame was being the birthplace of Vincent van Gogh. No sooner had we departed Nuenen, than we encountered heavy fire from enemy tanks. The Germans destroyed several of our tanks and pinned down the company so quickly and tightly that we found it impossible to advance. Most of the men took cover in ditches adjacent to the road since we only had a few buildings that we could use as cover to set up and return fire. All we could do was to maintain fire until night. Then we broke off the fight and crawled back through the ditches until we could consolidate the company and return to Eindhoven. Nixon arrived late in the afternoon with enough trucks to haul the company back to town. The Germans had administered a tremendous beating to American paratroopers who had started the day fully confident.

As soon as we returned to Eindhoven, the German air force gave the center of the city a terrific pounding. The image of that aerial and artillery bombardment remains seared in my mind to this day. The Dutch, who just that morning had been so happy to be liberated, and who had cheered us as we marched out toward Helmond, were now inside, closing their shutters, taking down their flags, looking dejected. It was a sad sight. They obviously felt that we were deserting them in the face of a determined enemy advance. Large fires continued burning in the town, and it wasn’t until the morning before Eindhoven’s residents brought the fires under control. To the population of this city, their world seemed to be coming to an end. We, too, felt badly, limping back to town. For the first time, Easy Company had been forced to retreat. Without sufficient armor support, our position was tactically impossible. Besides, we had ascertained the enemy location and determined their intention. I immediately settled the men down for the night and made my way to battalion headquarters to report. As I walked in, everybody seemed to be in a jovial mood and enjoying a scrumptious dinner. Lieutenant Colonel Strayer saw me, turned, and with a big smile asked, “How did it go today, Winters?”

“Sir, I had fifteen casualties today and took a hell of a licking.”

I wasn’t smiling either. Needless to say the mood of the party changed abruptly. The only good news concerning our recent engagement was the return of “Bull” Randleman the next morning. Randleman had been reported as missing in action. Wounded and cut off from the rest of Easy Company, he took refuge in a vacant barn and waited until nightfall. Before long, a German soldier entered the barn to scout it out. “Bull” bayoneted him and concealed the body with hay. Then he covered himself and hid until the following morning when he was rescued by soldiers from A and D Companies.

Randleman was typical of the NCOs in Easy Company, and the fact that he had stood on his own two feet, behind enemy lines, and had not lost his composure said a lot about the company’s ability to function in combat. Private Tony Garcia, one of his squad members, described Randleman as “big and tough: tough not only against the Germans, but also in a milder way with his squad.” “Bull” talked slowly, but he had a commanding presence. If you needed to get the company up in the morning, you did not need a bugle. You just put Randleman in the middle of a field and told him to have everybody fall out. That was all you needed. No matter what kind of job you gave him, he got it done. He was extremely dependable. And the men loved him.

After two days in defense, Easy Company received orders to mount its men on trucks and move toward Uden on “Hell’s Highway” in anticipation of a German attack. We were part of a two battalion–size force under command of Lieutenant Colonel Chase, the regimental executive officer. Easy Company only had sufficient trucks to carry half of the company, so I commanded the first serial. Captain Nixon and Lieutenant Welsh accompanied me as we approached Vechel. No sooner had we passed through Vechel en route to Uden, a scant four miles away, than the Germans severed the road in two places. Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, commanding the British XXX Corps whose mission it was to secure Hell’s Highway, later referred to the German attack as his “Black Friday.” The German assault also left us isolated. I turned to the men and said, “Men, there’s nothing to get excited about. The situation is normal. We are surrounded!” Together with three British tanks that were caught in town with us, we remained surrounded for the remainder of September 22 and for the next two days. I reported our dispositions to Colonel Chase, who immediately directed me to establish a defense in Uden. Roadblocks were set up on all roads entering Uden. To coordinate the defense, Nixon and I climbed the church tower. We climbed as high as we could go, to where the church bell was suspended. From here we could observe the battle taking place in the vicinity of Vechel.

It was not long before we noticed a German patrol of platoon strength moving through an orchard on the southeast side of Uden. We ran down the tower and I grabbed a couple of rifle squads and sped off to intercept the patrol. We hit them hard and they withdrew. I returned to the tower to enjoy my catbird seat, watching enemy tanks approach Vechel under tactical air support from the Luftwaffe. I couldn’t believe that with all this action going on, no one was coming toward us at Uden, just a few miles away. The bliss of this front row seat did not last. A German patrol must have spotted Nixon and me, or, at least suspected that somebody was in that tower. They sent a long shot our way and it literally “rang our bell,” which was right over our heads. We came down the stairs of that tower so fast that our feet did not touch the steps more than two or three times. After we hit the ground, we enjoyed a good laugh just thinking about how we must have looked coming down.

At the road junction on the south end of Uden, I established a company strongpoint in a store adjacent to the road. The plan was simple: In case of attack, we would make a stand. If they brought tanks against us, we would drop composition C charges and Molotov cocktails on the tanks from the second-floor window as they passed the strongpoint. There was no talk of retreat or withdrawal and certainly nobody thought of surrender. That evening, around 2200, I decided to check all my roadblocks one last time before settling down for the night. Lieutenant Welsh was in charge of the roadblock on the northwest side of the town. On the left-hand side of the road junction, there was a large home that sat well back from the road. This would make a good command post (CP) for the roadblock, and that was where I had wanted the CP to be located. On the right-hand side of the road junction, there was a tavern. When I reached the road junction, I found a British Sherman tank in place, as we had agreed. However, I could not find a single Easy Company trooper in position. Damn mad, I went to the house where I had wanted the CP, figuring that everyone was inside. I knocked on the door, and a maid answered. I couldn’t speak Dutch; she couldn’t speak English. Somehow, she got the message that I wanted to see “a soldier.” She escorted me down a hallway and opened the door to a large, lavishly furnished living room. The sight that greeted my eyes left me speechless. Sitting on the floor, in front of a large, blazing fire in a fireplace, was a beautiful Dutch girl, sharing a dinner of eggs with a British lieutenant. She smiled, he turned, and over his shoulder asked me, “Are my tanks still outside?” My reply to that question did not improve Anglo-American relations.

I returned to the road junction, went across the street, and found Welsh and his men sacked out on top of the bar at the tavern. Lieutenant Welsh and I sometimes had different priorities when it came to combat. Harry and I talked this whole situation over and I left, satisfied that we would have a roadblock set up to my specifications and that I could get a good night’s sleep without worrying about a breakthrough. We remained in defensive positions until the afternoon of September 24, when the rest of the 506th arrived in Uden. That afternoon, however, the Germans cut the road again, this time south of Vechel, just north of the village of Koevering.

At 0300 the regiment was ordered to return from Uden back to Vechel in order to open the road again. In a heavy rain, the regiment launched an attack five hours later south of Vechel. Our battalion was initially in reserve, but by early afternoon Strayer committed 2d Battalion on a flanking action to the left. We had half a squadron of British tanks in support. Even with Easy Company in the lead, our advance was slow. Captain Nixon accompanied me as we scouted the terrain, planned, and executed each move of the flanking action. The pathway we selected was solid and firm, good traction for the tanks. On our right was a stand of woodland. The woodland cover ran out about 350 yards from the highway. To reach that highway, we had to cover 350 yards of open ground with absolutely no cover or concealment.

I dispersed the company in the same formation I had used on entering Eindhoven: scouts out, two columns of men spread out, no bunching up. About halfway across the field, we suddenly encountered machine gun fire from German Royal Tiger tanks and troops from the 6th German Parachute Regiment. Everybody immediately hit the ground. I turned to my left rear where Staff Sergeant Guarnere was located and ordered mortar fire on those machine guns. Guarnere already was giving the range and direction to Sergeant Malarkey, who was in the process of setting up his 60mm mortar. Malarkey was the only man on that field at that point who was not flat on his stomach. Next, I ordered the machine guns to establish a base of fire on that roadway and also on the enemy tank that by now, we could all see, was dug in hull-defilade on the side of the road.

While this action was occurring, I turned to check out Nixon, who was on my left side. He had a big smile on his face as he examined his helmet. A machine gun bullet from that initial burst had gone through the front of his helmet and grazed his forehead leaving only a brown mark on his forehead before exiting through the side of his helmet. The bullet never broke the skin. This stroke of luck meant that Nixon was one of the very few men of 2d Battalion who jumped in Normandy and went through the entire war without receiving at least one Purple Heart.

From a personal standpoint, I would have been devastated had Nixon been killed. As a leader you do not stop and calculate your losses during combat. You cannot stop a fight and ask yourself how many casualties you have sustained. You calculate losses only when the fight is over. Ever since the second week of the invasion, casualties had been my greatest concern. Victory would eventually be ours, but the casualties that had to be paid were the price that hurt. In that regard Nixon seemed a special case.

As different in temperament as Nixon and I were, he was the one man to whom I could talk. He provided an outlet that allowed me to unburden myself as a combat leader. “Nix” and I completely understood each other. We possessed a common understanding about leadership, of how troops should be employed, and how battles should be fought. On reflection, Nixon always seemed to be around. We had known each other from our days in Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning and at Toccoa, but our friendship was not cemented until Normandy. After the fight at Brecourt, I had requested additional ammunition for my men. When none arrived, I went to battalion headquarters myself, where I saw Colonel Strayer and his staff studying the map that I had found on one of the guns. I blew my top, which was totally inappropriate considering my rank. Nixon, however, was instrumental in obtaining that ammunition. Later, when we were aboard the LST returning from France, he approached me and asked that I deliver a lecture on leadership to the rest of the officers at battalion. That caught my attention. We remained good friends for the remainder of the war.

My job now was to maintain that base of fire while we pulled the company back off that field. We did it by extracting the riflemen first. They then set up a base of fire while the machine gunners pulled back. I next went to the edge of the woods and climbed one of our tanks to talk nose to nose with the commander. I told him there was a Tiger tank, dug in hull-defilade, across the highway. I then suggested, “If you pull up behind the bank on the edge of the woods, you can be hull-defilade and you can get a shot at the Tiger.” I got off the tank, and the next thing that happened amazed everybody. The first tank, along with another tank to its left, plowed straight through the stand of trees, making a terrific roar on their way to the edge of the field. As the commander hit the edge of the field, he wheeled his tank to the left to line up for a shot on the Tiger. Wham! The Tiger laid a shot that left a crease in the Sherman’s cannon barrel and glanced off the hull. The British commander threw his tank in full reverse, just as the Tiger sent a second round dead center through the turret. The Sherman tank exploded, throwing out the commander. The Tiger made one more shot, dead center, and knocked out the second British tank. Several paratroopers rushed to the aid of the tankers, pulling wounded British soldiers from their vehicles. One of the tankers was missing his arm; another’s body was on fire. Such was the intensity of the fight.

I now withdrew the company back into the edge of the woods. We continued to exchange machine-gun fire with the Germans along the road. Nixon brought up the 81mm mortars from battalion headquarters company and we raked the roadway until dark. The two British tanks continued to burn and ammunition continued to explode most of the night. During the night, I could hear the German tanks start their motors and move about. I was hoping they were pulling out. Nixon, somehow, found a bottle of schnapps and drank it all by himself.

The next morning, September 26, Easy Company moved out. Without any resistance, we covered that same 350 yards to the highway. Either Malarkey’s 60mm or the battalion’s 81mm mortar fire had made a direct hit on one of the machine gun nests. One of the dead German troopers lying in the gun position had on a beautiful, brand-new pair of paratrooper-style boots. I needed a new pair of boots by now, so I sat down and put the sole of my boot against the sole of his to compare sizes. Too bad—they were not big enough. We then marched back to Uden in the rain, not reaching the city until after dark. By now we were exhausted. The last ten days had been mighty tough. In the span of a week and a half, Easy Company had been in continuous combat and had sustained twenty-two casualties.

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