AACHEN, GERMANY, Oct. 22, 1944 -- It was the day after this
ancient fortress city of Germany had been beaten into surrender,
and Aachen was a ghost town. There wasn't a sound in the rubble-strewn
streets. Dead horses lay where they had fallen; here and there
a German soldier or a civilian lay with arms and legs akimbo.
You could still hear the rattle of machine-guns on the outskirts
of town, but the defenders of this place had disappeared; they
were in the PW stockade behind our lines.
Only a few military policemen patrolled the deserted streets
of Aachen. A couple of main thoroughfares had been cleared for
traffic, but the rest of the city represented a chaos of piled
debris. The American First Army had passed this way. The soldiers
who were represented to a naive Wehrmacht as "greenhorns"
and "military idiots," had arrived and conquered. The
headlines of the world's news belonged to them.
You had to be proud of these guys - the GI-Joe's of America
- the guys who didn't want to fight, who rebelled against the
regimentation of Army life, who wanted to go home - and who had
beat the stuffing out of Jerry all the way across Europe.
GI-Joe is the man of the hour. In Aachen, we saw him with
black stubble on his chin, tired and dirty, with a German Luger
at his belt and an M-1 slung across his shoulders. He had just
routed the Wehrmacht's toughest troops, the SS deaths-head gang,
out of this wreck which once was a beautiful city. He'd seen
his friends killed by heavy mortar and machine-gun fire. He'd
seen shellbursts and bombs devour an entire city. In unearthly
silence, the city lay before him, blackened and gutted.
But this is the day after. Joe is still weary, but he's still
got a sense of humor. Already the happy-go-lucky, goofy, grand
spirit of America has prevailed over the utter desolation of
war and hand to hand combat.
"Them scissorbills," says GI-Joe, leaning against
a blasted Jerry half-track full of live ammunition and empty
bottles, "was told by Hitler to fight until the last bullet.
But they got the message wrong: they only fought until the last
Joe grins through his four-day growth of beard. He's wearing
an old silk top hat with the crown punctured in a number of places.
Yesterday it was bayonets against the black-garbed SS. The SS
went down for the count, and today Joe is enjoying a brief respite
before he slogs back into the line and bores into the guys of
In the armored division which is my outfit - mine forever,
because I was a cog in the machinery all the way across the hedgerows
of Normandy, the ambush towns of France and Belgium, through
the once vaunted Siegfried Line into Germany - Joe is the same
sort of guy who trudges with the infantry. Only, of course, we
claim that he's a much more important soldier, being armored
force, and chiefly because he's a member of our own outfit, the
3rd Armored "Spearhead" Division.
Pride of organization is a part of such men. A "Spearhead"
tanker will tell you that his division is the finest striking
force in the world, and he can prove it, too.
A graphic example of the American way, now being so forcefully
demonstrated to the supermen of Europe, occurred in Mons, Belgium,
where the spearheading 3rd Armored Division smashed Wehrmacht
troops who might have manned the Siegfried Line later. Sgt. Muriel
F. Lehman, of Marissa, Ill., and his platoon of tank destroyers,
in six hours of continuous fighting, destroyed 20 German vehicles
and hundreds of enemy SS, paratroop and regular Wehrmacht soldiers
as they attacked in an effort to break through the steel ring
of our armor. A German officer, wounded in the attack and taken
prisoner, complained bitterly: "You damned Americans don't
know how to fight a war - all you want to do is slaughter us!"
"You're right," grinned Lehman, "I learned
the trade from your panzers in Normandy."
War humor is something that springs from bitterness itself.
There is no fun in the all-out attack, no cause for humor of
any kind when death is so close. And yet, humor is there. After
the tracers have quit streaking around and the crumping mortars
are quiet, GI-Joe and his friends bat the breeze and find lots
to chuckle about. They tuck tragedy away in the backs of their
minds; it's always there anyhow - and they think about the funny
things that happened.
Or they dream up a wonderful yarn, like the spurious report
of a new super Jerry tank with a crew of 31.
"My gosh!" you exclaim, "that must be a monster!"
"Sure is," says GI-Joe solemnly, "One guy drives
and the others all push!"
Joe is like every other American, an intrepid souvenir hunter.
And the word is "intrepid" in this case. Souvenir hunting
is a bad habit in the frontline areas, because the most desirable
items are likely to be booby-trapped. However, Joe is no dope,
and he carefully examines each find before touching it. An engineer
captain of this division chuckles: "The soldiers in this
outfit learn more about booby traps while they're looking for
Lugers than they'd ever learn in school. We don't lose many men
to anti-personnel gadgets - the boys are too cagey for that."
Many of the frontline GI's carry a captured German Luger or
a P-38 pistol. Most of these weapons came from prisoners personally
taken during the long, swift drive from Normandy. German bayonets
and ceremonial daggers are zealously sought and often worn prominently
until orders to the contrary are given. A number of these items,
exclusive of firearms, have already found their way back to the
States in gift packages.
In the matter of nicknames, Joe can't be beat. He calls the
German airplane which drops flares over our position at night,
"Bed-check Charley," and dubs the bombs he drops, "salami's."
His own vehicle is always named with a talent for diversification.
The ANXIOUS VIRGIN is a tank destroyer. "And now she's only
anxious!" said the crew proudly, pointing to their record
of eight enemy tanks and numerous other vehicles. Joe has a lot
of fun along with his heartaches.
In fact, this is the best war that GI-Joe has ever been in
- and he hates it thoroughly. He suffers in the mud of foxholes,
and dies in the wicked crossfire of high-velocity guns. He's
scared of Jerry's artillery, and yet he knows that we can take
the Kraut any time at all in this department of ordnance.
Joe is a study in conflicting emotions - or maybe he's just
a study of true Americanism. He hates the German soldier's guts,
loves to see the enemy shot to ribbons.
He goes his way, slugging Jerry slap-happy every time they
meet, wearing a top-hat and clowning after the engagement is
over, collecting souvenirs, and cracking jokes about sudden death
and the things associated with it. The German intellect can't
understand this outlook: it's a form of weakness in their eyes.
They could never see potential conquerors in Americans who talk
loudly and laugh uproariously, who raise merry hell on Saturday
night, and who openly refer to their officers as the real German
However, the record can't be wrong. For all his want-to-go-home
attitude, GI-Joe is doing the job and he is one of the world's
crack soldiers today.
But he doesn't like the job. He likes peace ... and America
... and maybe a glass of cold beer after his work is done in