Silent as Stone
It was around July 4th in France. I remember cause over a thousand US guns fired in salute of independence day. We were at the german lines in Normandy. Even with the gunfire it was quite a peaceful day and I had figured the Krauts would attack while we were celebrating. But it wasnt so. There had been some drizzling rain goin' on for a while and it was a little chilly. Nothin' we couldnt handle. Not after D-Day. My regiment the 8th was the first one on the beach. Let me tell you that ain't nothin' to be proud of. I watched my buddy go down almost immediately. He had taken a mortar head on. The blast had thrown me back into the blood red water. No sir. Not nothin' to be proud of at all.
Sergeant Bell! the CO yelled.
Yessir I said.
Get your squad together. I want you boys to check out the enemy's radio chatter. We found a place for you, he said pointing at a dirty map. It's an open field but there is a small hut near the edge of the clearing. I want you boys in there and relaying anything you hear to us. We'll be sending a translator with you, speaks French and German. Upham! He yelled.
A young rookie with an unhardened face and big childish doe eyes bumbled toward us. He dragged his typewriter with him and his helmet was cockeyed. He stood at an awkward attention with his lanky arm cupping the typewriter.
Drop that typewriter boy.
I could tell by his accent that he was from the Northeast. Them boys up there loved their typewriters.
Private Upham, meet your new CO Sergeant Ed Tom Bell. You'll be joinin' his squad for some recon and radio watch. I want you to write down anything them Kraut bastards say, even a little whisper, even if they're talkin' bout the weather, I want you to have it down.
Yessir. Sir? Permission to speak?
Can I bring my typewriter, sir?
Your call, Sergeant.
I looked long and hard at the kid. He was sweatin' nervous like. Most likely drafted, I thought.
Boy if you can carry it and be on pace with the squad when we're marchin' through enemy territory be my guest. Just don't get shot cause I don't get a lick of German.
On second thought sir I'll leave it behind.
We were headed to mess to meet up with the rest of my squad when they bumped into us. Cpl Aldo Raine was at the head of the group, he joined up right away when he heard the States were gonna be goin' after the Nazis. He was the type to wear me down, a little too excited to get a shot at some Krauts. Always had a dumb smile on his face under his thick mustache. He was a year younger'n I was and from Tennessee.
'Tention! Cpl Raine called.
At ease, fellas, I said. Lieutenant Taylor got us an assignment. We'll be heading out at 0500.
We gon' have a go at dem Nat-zis, Sarge? Raine asked.
I hope to God not I said.
It was a long trek to the clearing and the sky seemed to not want us to go. There was unending darkness ahead and we were pummeled with chilly rain. Took us till about 0930 or something to finally reach the farmhouse. It was only two rooms, and the most uncomfortable stone to sleep on. Upham did a good job monitoring the signals and translating and Aldo never did stop talking about scalping them Nazis. I liked to take watch just to peer into the nothing and listen to the rain. It sounded very soothing as it hit the gray stone of the farmhouse and this stone trough just outside. I squatted by it one time and just looked at it and thought about how long it had been there. I wondered if the man who chiseled it thought it might be here today. This trough kept standin despite the test of time and the wear of the rain and the fightin of the war. Sometimes I wonder why I couldnt do what the trough did. But that dont matter now. I sat out there thinkin about the stone trough for a piece. Then Upham called me in.
I did. I didn't hear nothin boy what is it? I said.
What the hell are you talkin about, nothing? What did you hear?
I mean you cant hear nothing. Listen.
And he was right.
Last thing I heard was the pitter patter of the rain on the stone roof. When I woke up I saw there was no roof anymore. A round had come through the wall and just blowed it to hell. I was numb almost all over and couldnt hear nothin. Aldo was dead and bleedin over Pfc Wallace's .30 caliber. Upham was blown to bits. I set up the .30 caliber and waited for the Krauts to get closer to avoid another shell. After two feet of belt I stopped firin. One of 'em survived and ran off into the woods. The rest of my squad were all injured and layin there, groanin and I damn sure didnt know what I was gonna do when it turned dark. When it did turn dark I acted on instinct. I cut and run. My men laid there in the broken stone groanin soon to be silent. As I ran I looked back at that stone trough again. I wondered how something like that could stay strong and standin. I sure as hell couldnt. I ran and ran and got to Taylor's position near 0200 the next night. Before I had reached base I had stayed and slept or at least tried to sleep in the woods. What a woods it was. Only tree trunks left. I told Taylor what happened and he seemed mighty disappointed in me and the next day he said he'd told Major McAllister. McAllister sent for me and told me I was to get the Bronze Star. I couldnt believe it and told him the exact way it all happened and he threatened me not to tell it thataway again. The next few weeks I just kept wishin I died there with my men cause it's a blood oath to go with your men till the end but I hadnt fulfilled my oath. I had left my boys there lyin in the mud and I ran like I had somethin to live for. Sometimes I think I dont. The rest of my tour was not nearly so bad as that night. I got that medal but did not bear it proudly and I couldnt bear to go visit my squad's families. I knew that they would be there thinkin why? Why their boys? Why did they die and you live? Sometimes even I wonder that. Not a night goes by where I dont think about Upham, Aldo, Wallace, or the rest. It's bound to stay with me for the rest of my natural life. I know so far that it has. My men are dead and Im still here still standin. Standin here like the trough. But I cant weather it forever. Even with my job as Sheriff keepin me busy I still think about them. Now all they can do is lay there quieter than the stone.