From the Woolner Family
© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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A Little Help from the 82nd Airborne
Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Post-war year of writing unknown

  When the Battle Of The Bulge got under way, nobody really believed that it was anything but just that - a little bulge, soon to be forgotten. But after two days nobody underestimated the threat and our Third Armored Division began to move. As a roving correspondent for Headquarters, G-2, I went along with my old outfit, Company A of the 703rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and we went to a town called Sourbrot.

At the time I was just another dogface, and I'm damned if I know which German elements were pressing. We were into it all right, and wondering if we'd ever get out!

Sourbrot was just another whistle-stop town, nothing extraordinary - except that it was nighttime and a German flakwagon was down at the end of the street and he was shooting the hell out of anything that moved.

Those shells came pouring out like Roman candles. Remember how they used to initiate at eye-level and then, thank the Lord, seemed to zoom up and go right over your head? Perspective, I suppose, but we weren't very happy with that guy banging away at the slightest movement.

Naturally, somebody in 703rd moved a tank destroyer into position. By that time the flakwagon boys had wisely quit shooting, so the TD sat there while its crew scanned the mark. They had no target, but the tank commander perched half-in, half-out of his turret, waiting for something to shoot at.

We were working, at that time, with elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, the free-jump paratroopers who had a reputation for daring. As a matter of fact, we'd worked with them before and we loved every man in that crazy, highly trained outfit. In our considered opinion they were equal to the Big Red One and the Ninth Infantry. When you had 82nd with the armor you had ground security. Tanks are great on the point, and great in a free-for-all breakthrough - but they're sitting ducks in a static position. Nobody wins wars without infantry.

So, as I say, we were waiting for the kraut to make a move, and we weren't very happy about it - because we knew this bastard was sitting down there, just waiting to ram shells down our throat. Nobody moved: it seemed suicide to do so.

And then a private soldier of the 82nd came along to ask why we hadn't silenced that damned flakwagon, and we told him - hell, we don't know where the damned thing is!

"Why'nt you say so?" the paratrooper replied quietly. "Load a shell in that Gahdamned stovepipe and I'll show you a target."

Forthwith he repaired to the center of the road and began jumping up and down, waving his arms. The rest of us took cover.

Immediately our kraut friends got the flakwagon perking, and a half-dozen Roman candles arrowed out of the murk to pass over the head of our suddenly recumbent paratrooper. Not many - just enough to permit the tank destroyer to zero in. The crash of that big 90mm gun was climactic, and final. A gout of flame outlined the wrecked flakwagon. Silhouetted figures were leaping for safety, and ammunition exploded like a Fourth Of July grand finale. There was a flurry of machinegun fire, and then dead silence - broken only by the sound of flames and the pop of burning ammunition.

The paratrooper was back on his feet, whistling off-key. "Once in a while," he said scornfully, "you Gahdamned tankers earn your pay. Let me know when you want another target."

Is it any wonder that we were happy to work with the 82nd Airborne?

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