Beyond Normandy


Uncommon valor

August 20, 1944. Chambois, France

Private Jack "Nickels" Nicholas sat inside what remained of bombed out house in a section of courtyard that looked out onto the French country side. Currently, hundreds of murderous German soldiers were pouring out of that country side toward the American positions. Nickels, Salvatore Guzzo, and Leroy Huxley all crouched inside the house as gunshots ricochet all around them.

"What the Hell's going on out there!" Guzzo shouted over the din.

"I can't see shit; they could be overrunning us for all I know" Nickels shouted back to his commander (the private first class was pretty much acting commander now that Dixon was dead).

A sudden explosion rocked the unstable structure, causing the three close friends to grasp their helmets and cringe.

"What the Hell was that?" Huxley screamed over the ringing that was reverberating in all three men's ears.

"The Gerry's brought in a goddamn tank!" one of the soldiers shouted from the upper floor.

"A tank! Great, that'll tear us to pieces" Salvatore said in despair.

Nickels managed to peek outside through one of the house windows. He saw that MG fire from the tank was indeed chewing up the few Americans left defending the line of sandbags that stood between the massive German onslaught and the city; the last hole in the Gap. However, his spirits lifted when he caught sight of a Pak 43 anti-tank gun sitting off to the far left of the line. Without really thinking about it, Nickels stood up and bolted out the house door into the onslaught of fire that was crisscrossing the courtyard. He could here Guzzo calling his name, but he stayed on target.

It was bad. Three armored cars had take up position on a hill just past the small wall that separated the German line from the American one, and their machine guns were peppering the line. This was intermingled with the fire that came from the German soldiers who were hiding behind walls and trees and other forms of cover. They were shooting with everything from bolt-action rifles and semi-automatic Gewehrs 43s, to fully automatic MP40s and StG 44s. A Tiger Tank had taken position at the top of a small knoll, and was drilling the area with its MG. Bullets from all of these dangers pounded all around Nickels as he ran across the courtyard to the Pak. Trying not to be unsettled by the enormous amount of fire, the soldier kept his head down and stared at the ground; although this was obviously ineffective due to his view of all the bullets hitting the ground in front of him giving him a pretty good idea of how many people were shooting at him.

It was probably only thirty seconds later, although to Nickels it seemed like thirty years, that he reached the Pak 43 and set down his M1 Garand before taking up a position behind it. Some of the Germans had obviously noticed him, since several shots pinged off the metal flap that stuck up from the top of the ant-tank gun. The aiming system was a little awkward, but the iron sights were easy enough to align, and Nickels began attempting to aim at one of the armored cars. This seemed fruitless however, as the gun was extremely heavy. Suddenly, to Nickels great surprise, Huxley appeared and grasped the other leg of the gun.

"Looked like you could use some help Nickels" he observed in an almost cheerful tone.

The latter nodded to his comrade gratefully before pulling with all his might. This time the gun moved, albeit slowly, and, with a little effort, they managed to align the sights with their target: the first armored car. With not a moment to lose Nickels grasped the firing cord in his hand and pulled as hard as he could.

"KAVOOOM!" the shell shot forth from the gun and slammed mercilessly into the first armored car, causing the vehicle to burst into flames. Huxley and Nickels gave a cheer before preparing to load another round. Nickels pulled back the hatch to the gun chamber, allowing the old shell to fall out. Huxley turned and was surprised to see Guzzo standing behind him with a new 88mm shell in hand.

"Can't let you guys work a German AT gun all on your own, can I?" he shouted over the din before handing the shell to Huxley.

Leroy nodded to Guzzo appreciatively before handing the shell off to Nickels, who loaded it into the gun quickly. He and Huxley then aimed the gun at the second armored car and fired. The same process was repeated for the third armored car. They were just preparing another shell when Huxley caught sight of a group of Germans hopping over the low wall and charging toward the AT gun position. To his horror, the southerner realized that all other U.S. soldiers in the courtyard had been killed or had retreated to the surrounding houses and were providing a thin and ill aimed covering fire.

"Guzzo, they're comin right at us!" he shouted.

Nickels caught sight of the group and picked up his M1 Garand which was still sitting on the ground next him. Without hesitation (he had a lot of practice at it) he aimed and fried on the group of four Germans advancing toward them. The soldier fired every last shot until a ping was heard, and the old clip was ejected from the top of his rifle. All four Germans fell dead. Once more without hesitating, Nickels dropped his rifle and went back to aiming the Pak 43 at their next target: the Tiger Tank.

"KAVOOOM!" a shell struck the front of the tank, but it did not burst into flame like the armored cars, but instead only shook a little. The tanks turret suddenly changed position from aiming at a house in front of it to the AT position the three friends were occupying.

"He's gonna get us!" shouted Huxley.

"Hand me another goddamn shell" Nickels shouted to Guzzo who, despite the circumstances, complied.

With a speed that was enviable by any AT gun crew, Jack loaded in the shell and fired at the tank once more. This time a great explosion burst from the vehicle, throwing its turret up into the air, which then crashed onto the ground next to its flaming body.

"Yeaaaaah!" both Guzzo and Huxley shouted as they watched the remains of the Tiger Tank burn.

Unfortunately, a number of German soldiers were, at this point, hopping the wall and dashing toward the group, murder in their eyes. Nickels saw this and picked up his rifle, only to remember that it was out of ammo. The three men braced themselves for the attack when BAR shots suddenly rang out. Several Germans fell dead, and the three temporary AT crewmen looked over to their right and saw a group of U.S. soldiers making their way out of one of the houses and firing on the enemy.

With a triumphant cry of their own, the no longer pinned down U.S. soldiers began pushing back the Krauts. Nickels was digging around in his satchel and at last found his extra clip, which he quickly jammed into his Garand. He looked up, and his heart sank. Two Panzer IVs had taken up positions on either side of the destroyed Tiger.

"Where did they come from" he thought, but what he said was "how many shells we got left?"

"Only two left" Guzzo called back.

"Shit" Nickels thought desperately, for not only was that not enough shells to take down both Panzer IVs, one of the tanks was taking aim at their position.

"Brace yourselves" Guzzo shouted to his men, seeing the tank as well.

There was indeed an explosion, but not from a tank shell. A Thunderbolt dive-bomber had suddenly flown in and destroyed one of the Panzers. More followed, peppering the entire area in machine gun fire and bombs. Every soldier in the courtyard gave a mighty yell as the barrage continued for several minutes. Then, all went quite. The sounds of moaning from wounded soldier, both German and American could be heard, but no sounds of gun fire. A thick haze of smoke shrouded the countryside just beyond the wall. As this screen began to fade, Nickels could make out movement. He immediately raised his rifle into firing position. One of the figures moved into view.

"Hold your fire" a solder shouted.

The reason for this was clear. The German soldier who had moved into view was not armed and was holding his hands in the air. This soldier was followed by others, all of whom were holding their hands in the air in surrender.

"We did it, they're surrendering" Nickels shouted in amazement, "They give up!"

August 22, 1944. Chambois, France.

Nickels sat on a pile of boxes looking down, as best he could, at his new stripes. It really felt no different, being a Corporal. Still, it gave him a sense of pride.

"Still getting used to the new stripe?" asked Guzzo as he approached his friend, a wide smile on his face.

"Yes sir, sergeant" the latter replied with a smile of his own.

They laughed, the kind of laugh you have after surviving a massive battle. The kind of laugh that you get from the realization that you were living to breath another day.

"Hey you two, c'mon we're moving out" shouted a sergeant who was standing near a truck that was parked just outside the camp.

Huxley was already waiting in the covered truck when they two got in. "Well if it ain't my commanding officers" he greeted them sardonically, though in good humor.

"I wouldn't complain if I were you hayseed. After all, you turned down the promotion from what I hear" Guzzo pointed out.

"Some of us don't mind not having to worry about looking after a bunch of Privates that are probably gonna die anyway" the southerner replied with a chuckle.

No sooner were these words out of his mouth, then a group of new arrivals climbed onto the truck. Nickels and Huxley exchanged glances as, once all the Privates were onboard; Guzzo got up on the back and at first only looked around at the new arrivals.

"I'm Guzzo" he began "one rule: you're no good to me dead" and without another word, he stepped off the truck and headed up to the front of the truck.

"What kind of pep talk was that?" one of the Privates said incredulously.

"You want inspiration Private? Read a poem" Huxley shot back.

Nickels grinned at the angry look on the man's face who didn't say anything to Huxley.

"This is the part where you tell em about the donuts" Nickels whispered to Leroy, who grinned widely.

August 22, 1944. Near Les Ormes, France

Sergeant James Doyle watched as his commanding officer, Major Gerald Ingram, was talking with an American Major who had arrived in the town with a battalion of U.S. soldiers only a few days ago. The word had come down that the remaining Germans in Northern France had either surrendered or retreated. Now, he and Corporal Collin Keith were watching the two officers discuss what to do next.

"You will be moving on soon I imagine" observed Pierre LaRoche, French Resistance fighter who had been helping the British SAS men over the last few weeks.

"Aye, it looks that way" Keith agreed with a nod.

"What will 'appen to Miss DuFontaine?" Doyle inquired.

"She will be taken home, to be given a proper burial" the voice of Marcel broke in. He was a tall gruff man with a stubble of a beard forming around his mouth.

"I 'ope she finds peace" Keith whispered. This was a little unlike the Corporal. He had been rather biased toward the French resistance fighters, but since Isabelle's death, he had softened toward them considerably.

Suddenly, Major Ingram nodded to the American Major before heading toward his squad. "Well lads, looks like we're done here. We have orders to head to Cherbourg and then back to Britain" he announced to his squad, "we're moving out in two hours".

Ingram headed off, presumably to arrange transportation for his squad. Keith said nothing, but got up and walked toward one of the American soldiers who were handling a cot on which Isabelle's body had been placed. Doyle watched him as he offered to assist the soldiers who seemed happy to receive his aid. He then turned to Pierre who still stood behind him.

"Well, I guess this is goodbye then" said the British soldier.

"It was an honor Sergeant" the French men replied, saluting his comrade in arms.

Meanwhile, Keith was helping load Isabelle's body onto a jeep. He had just finished when he saw Marcel watching the process. When they finished, Keith approached the Frenchman.

"I'd be there if I could" said the Scotsman.

"Her spirit shall live on in the hearts of the free French people" Marcel replied quietly.

"Aye, that it will Marcel, that it will".