Sometimes a darned good soldier gets himself all psyched up
in combat and then, for a little while, he is a menace to himself
and his companions. Usually, some little thing triggers unreasoning
fear. I've had it happen to me, and I saw a sterling example
in a buddy.
This is the first time the story has been told, primarily
because I can't remember the name of the town. It was somewhere
up beyond the Siegfried Line when we were punching away in the
mud of that first winter. (I do remember Colonel Walter Richardson
with tears running down his weathered cheeks as he saw kraut
gunners flame his bogged tanks.)
Anyhow, Miller and I went up for some reason or another. He
was driving the Jeep (oops - the Peep!) and I was there to make
notes for posterity and the civilian correspondents on their
duffs back at Army Press Center. We were both buck sergeants
and we'd soldiered together for a long time. In fact, we'd saved
each other's lives often enough to trust one another.
Frank Miller, out of Hurley, New York, was a tank commander
among other things. He had already collected one medal for valor
when this happened, so he wasn't any shrinking violet. Most of
the gang at Company A, 703rd TD called him "Bugs,"
or "Bugs Bunny" because - well, hell, because he had
buck teeth! Frank made a joke of it, and he still calls himself
"Bugs," and his home is labeled "The Bughouse."
Everything was fine. We bumped up over those impossible muddy
roads and the gutters were piled high with teller mines. There
was some incoming mail, but nothing very ferocious until we got
to Richardson's CP, a former German dwelling. Then they threw
in a lot of mortar and the stuff seemed to miss us by inches.
There's too little chance to duck a mortar shell because the
damned things crumps before it whistles.
Miller broke up and got scared. It seems that, in this house,
there was a door that looked like a mahogany coffin lid and on
it there was a sterling silver plate with the name "Miller"
Frank never bugged out or neglected his job, but I noted that
his scrubby mustache was quivering long before we concluded our
business and boarded the Peep to go back.
Then, forgetting that you can drive into a shellburst, as
I well as miss one by slowing down, he took that confounded vehicle
out at suicidal speed. We bounded over pot-holes and slowed around
corners, missing tanks and Red Ball trucks by inches. Somehow
Miller had an idea that every kraut shell had his name on it.
I just cussed and yelled and hung on to my helmet.
Finally, we seemed to outdistance the worst of the ranging
artillery, and Frank began to slow down. After awhile we halted,
because there was a traffic jam - a column of 155's moving up.
It wasn't the nicest of landscapes: mud and piles of teller mines
and trees splintered during the attack.
But Miller was still mesmerized by that "coffin lid"
and the plaque attached. I never saw him so scared in my life,
and I had been in situations with him where only luck kept us
from the inevitable mattress cover and a few words of grace.
A dud mortar shell was lying at the side of the road. As in
a seance, and before I could grab his arm or yell a warning,
he picked that damned thing up and pitched it into a pile of
teller mines at the side of the road!
Thank God, it was a true dud.
Miller got himself shot up a little before the war ended,
and he earned some more gallant fruit salad, and he was a good
soldier - but I often wonder if he remembers the day when he
got all discombobulated by a silver plaque on a door that looked
like a coffin lid.