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© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Published in 3AD Association Newsletter - October, 1971


Once, as Kipling might have written, there was a second lieutenant who was exceedingly stupid. Such things happened in every battalion and regiment of the 3rd Armored Division, so I am not going to name any individual or unit. It's the hard scrape of war - the winnowing out of the misfits. If it's a cruel procedure, remember that war demands fine leaders - else the rank and file must die.

He was out of the Deep South, no castigation intended, because many of our finest junior and senior officers were Rebels. Indeed he came to grief by challenging another Rebel, an armorer who was both intelligent and efficient - although possessed of stripes instead of bars. You will remember the old saw: "The mills of the Gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine."

Our lieutenant was a 90-day-wonder, nothing unusual since lots of jumped-up officers proved highly competent. This one, unfortunately, had an exaggerated idea of his own importance. On a morning when the front was quiet, he sought to impose his will upon a subordinate.

The whole affair was ridiculous beyond belief. A half-dozen GI's had gathered in the armorer's shack to discuss important things - like local girls, booze, the possibilities of leave and the supply of ammunition - in about that order. The stupid second looey drifted in and added his tuppence. So far, so good.

But then, because men are men, the non-com armorer disagreed with something the shavetail said. It had nothing to do with war or the supplies we so desperately needed; it was just a difference of opinion.
The lieutenant pulled rank. When he was bested in argument he fell back upon that holiest of holies, the direct order. It didn't work.

The armorer said, and I quote accurately, albeit with beeps for words which might offend the pink ears of civilians: "You're out of your beep-beep mind, and you can blow that beep-beep idea right out of your beep-beep barracks bag."

"I give you a direct order," the lieutenant said, "to shut your mouth!"

And the sergeant, now furious, told the shavetail - in no uncertain terms - where he could shove his direct order.

This might have been all - and would have been all - with a line officer who knew his troops. Unfortunately, as I have said, the lieutenant was stupid. He hurried to the company commander and, receiving no support there, insisted upon going through channels to the Colonel.

That harried individual eventually jeeped down to hear both sides of the question. He talked to the disturbed shavetail and he talked to the armorer. A direct order had been given - and disregarded. In those days there was a code.

"You," he said to the armorer, "are busted back to private. In a month you'll get your stripes back."

The lieutenant was very thoroughly chewed out (in private) and within a week was transferred into an armored reconnaissance company away out front. He didn't know anything about reconnaissance (and he was a stupid type anyway) and within a week he was dead. That's why I use no names. It happened. In that war we needed the best of leaders, and we weren't very gentle about transferring misfits.

So far as I know, the armorer is still living very happily in West Virginia. He was a good soldier all the way and he helped to insure our victory in Europe. He meant no harm and the lethal chain of events was none of his doing.

Nobody mentioned the incident, although the Colonel used to drop in from time to time - to discuss company supply and drink a cup of coffee brewed on a Coleman stove perched on crates of HE shells.
The sergeant got his stripes back, as promised, and he rather liked the Colonel, because that character was a smart West Pointer who appreciated good soldiers and never gave a direct order unless it was necessary. Both survived the war, and both were well decorated. The fact remains: one man died because he was stupid, and one had to give orders which were logical under the circumstances.

The rest of us were given an object lesson: the efficient officer leads, cares for, and sets a good example for his troops. He makes no unfair demands, else he courts disaster. We are not playing parlor games when we go to war.

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