It is, they say, business of a war correspondent to record
history without fear or favor, to present the truth and let those
proverbial chips fall where they may. This, I say to you is utter
nonsense. My disillusionment began in the city called Stolberg
and I will let you judge for yourself.
Initially, since I am a writer by trade, Hq. 3rd Armored Division
yanked me out of a line company of tank destroyers on the day
we punctured the Siegfried Line. Therefore, I was designated
a "Public Relations Specialist G-2", which really meant
combat correspondent, writing stuff for rear echelon newsmen.
For me it was a new lease on life. I had to be up front, but
never on the point. I became a junior grade historian, an observer
and a scribbler of things world shaking.
At that time we were engaged in a lot of house-to-house combat
in Stolberg. I seem to recall that General Terry Allen's "Timberwolf"
Division was in there, plus elements of the Spearhead -- and
particularly the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment. Since I am an
avowed coward, I never wanted to go into that cauldron of flame
and destruction, but this was 1944 and an order was an order.
So I went up when things were reasonably quiet and the dogfaces
told me a story that should have been clarioned all over the
world. I wrote it and got my wrist slapped but good.
The dogfaces of the 36th told me the story and remember I
was not there. They had been involved in a hell of a fight right
in the center of industrial Stolberg. You know how it was, burp
guns clattering so rapidly they sounded like sheets of canvas
tearing, mortars crumping, the steady beat of light machine guns
and the heavy stutter of the 50's. Casualties were considerable
on both sides and the medics had their work cut out.
It was, as I mentioned, house to house fighting, the grim
close quarter combat that always falls to infantrymen, those
heroic warriors who die in windows and are never given their
rightful due in the annals of warfare.
There was a street that served as no-mans land, rimmed by
shell-pocked and bullet-spattered of a city in torment. The fire
was intense and our dogfaces attempted a rush, which was defeated.
Curiously, in view of the tremendous torrent of steel pouring
down, over and across the horrible thoroughfare, only one American
was cut down before his colleagues scurried back to the safety
of stone walls.
The stricken soldier was wounded and he writhed on the pavement
calling for help in full view of the embattled German and Spearhead
troops. A gale of fire blistered over his head. It would have
been suicide for one of our medics to go out there; indeed, the
fire was so intense that all movement was stymied. The opposing
forces hammered away -- while a man screamed in agony. So suddenly,
that all combatants were caught by surprise, a German soldier
ran out of cover. He was unarmed. He pounded out into the street,
lifted the wounded American in his arms, and continued right
across that bitterly contested boulevard into the rumbled position
of the 36th Armored Infantry Regiment.
And, miracle in hell, the guns halted there, in feral clatter,
for a blessed few minutes the Krauts stilled their weapons and
we, opened mouthed, did likewise. The battlefield observed a
few moments of armistice. No guns fired.
He came staggering in, bowed by the weight of a wounded American
dogface, a lean, muscular German infantryman smelling, as they
all did, of sweat and cologne. He dropped his burden and, without
a word, scuttled back across the road while no man offered ill.
For one moment in time and space, we were all human beings again,
hating our business, wanting to preserve life. That Kraut deserved
the Knight Cross, the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Victoria
Cross all lumped together. He was, when you come to think about
it, quite a man.
I wrote the story and Major Haynes Dugan, Division's Public
Relations Officer, shook his head while he read it. "Hell
of a good thing," he muttered, "But we can't use it."
Dugan knew and very shortly I learned, that truth is a casualty
of war. You warp the facts to make a case, and you never admit
a spark of humanity or chivalry in the enemy. Perhaps that's