Avranches, 1944

Dear Mom.

I just wanted to write and wish you a happy birthday.  I’ve arrived in a little town just outside of Avranches.  It's called Marcey-les-Grèves.  Boy, the names of some of these places are so hard to pronounce!  I hope you don't worry too, too much about me over here.  I'm fine, I promise you.

The other guys on the squad are all wishing you the same thing.  Actually, they’re all a little too busy to think about much else than going out on patrol tonight.  But personally, I can't help thinking that, maybe, they all believe that a mother's birthday is just as important to them as it is to her.  Even though I am in France, far away from you, I think that you are still the most important person in my life.  You gave birth to me, you fed me, you raised me, and you scolded me when I did some foolish things like bathing Titus, our gerbil, when I was nine, but I guess you had to think about Titus, too.

Thank you for all of the gifts you sent me, Mom.  I really needed the nail clippers and the candles that light when they are wet and all of that stuff.  Mostly, I want to thank you for the foot powder, because some of the guys around here sort of use it too.  One of them doesn’t even ask me if I want to give him some before he does.  But that's another story.

We walk an awful lot here.  Being in the infantry means that we don't get trucks or jeeps.  We just walk around with our rifles in our hands and our packs on our backs.  Don't worry too much about it, though, Mom.  We mostly go out on patrols that end up quite boring.  We go out in the rain.  We come back all wet in the rain.  And in between, we usually see nothing but darkness, water dripping off our helmets, the back of a buddy walking in front of us, more darkness, and no Germans. 

I promise you, Mom.  It really is quiet most times.  Most times.

Mom, I have to stop writing now, because Sgt. Saunders just walked in, and he looks pretty worried about something.  He said we have to get our gear stashed away and make sure our rifles are clean and ready to use.  So I’ll get back to this letter as soon as I can.  Bye, Mom.  Hugs and kisses.

***

Well, we just came back in from patrol, and now I can pick up this pencil and paper and start telling you about all of this again.  The mission wasn't as quiet as usual this time.  We sort of ran into some trouble along the way.  But I’m fine.  Please believe me, I’m fine.

We had a new replacement that came in two days ago.  His name was Brown.  He was shot in the arm when we started back to camp.  Some Germans (we call them Krauts, I am not sure why, Mom) were hiding in a farmhouse that we passed.  They fired at us and we all hid behind some trees.  Some, like Brown, didn't have enough time to make it; they weren’t as lucky as the rest of us.  Brown fell down, and I saw that his arm was full of blood and hung to the side.  But his legs just kept on moving like he thought that he was running some more.  Sergeant Saunders, (remember I told you about him before, Mom) ran out from his hiding place and grabbed him to get him back behind a tree trunk right before a Kraut machine gun sprayed the ground in front of them.  They made it to cover just in time.  They would have been dead, I'm sure of it.  I know that the tree trunk looked like it had been through a woodcutter.

Well, we're all back now.  Brown is off to Battalion Aid, and all is normal again (whatever that means) around here.  There was a big mail call today.  Many of the guys are pretty frisky about getting their mother's letters.  Littlejohn sent his mom a bottle of perfume that he spent a month's salary on.  Kirby sent his mom some nylons.  Saunders sent his mom a book that he found in the last village we were in.  Nobody but Caje can read it, but Sarge said that doesn't matter.  It comes from France and it's a souvenir, and that's all that counts.  I hope you'll like what I sent you.

The guys are all washing their undershirts and their shorts this morning, and oh, that reminds me, Mom.  I kind of need for you to send me some socks, because I borrowed some of Kirby's last week, and now they have big holes in the toes, and I'm little afraid to give them back to him this way.  Please do it.  I love you Mom.

Boy, I’ll tell you.  Things sure are different in France than they are back home.  Completely.  I mean look at what happened today.  I don't want to upset you about anything, but I just can't say it any other way.  The French people are not like anyone I have ever seen in my life.  I don't know how else to explain it.  

When we were almost back to camp, we had to rendezvous with a young Frenchman who would help Sgt. Saunders find another farmhouse and meet with its owners.  Only the Frenchman had his sister with him.  This lady.  I call her that, but Mom, you have to know that she had a little baby with her.  It was a boy, and it must have been a couple of months old.  I'm not sure.  We brought them all back to camp with us.  Well, when we stopped in the forest for a break, she just sat down and fed her baby right there!  I mean, she just opened up her blouse and everything right in front of all of us. Littlejohn laughed at me because I looked away.  He said what she did was only natural, just like the cows and goats feeding their young on his farm, and there wasn't anything to be ashamed of.  Littlejohn just went over and watched her.  You know, I wonder if you ever did that with me when I was a baby?  

Mom, I’m going to have to stop writing now, because Lieutenant Hanley just walked in.
 

***
 

It's been two days since I last picked up this letter and continued to write to you, but a lot has happened in that time.  I'll try to explain all of it as best I can.  We had to go on another patrol, and it was during daylight this time. 

Lieutenant Hanley talked to Sergeant Saunders and told him that we had to go back to that farmhouse where Brown got it (he lost his arm, Mom, so he’s going back stateside).  Sarge almost blew his stack when the young Frenchman, whose name is Thiery, told him that his sister was coming along on the mission.  Sarge said it was too dangerous for a woman, and on top of it, she was insisting on bringing her baby along, too.  Sarge said no.  Lorraine came anyway.  He sent her back when he found her out.  She pretended to obey Sarge, but really, she just followed behind us a ways.  Pretty soon it was too late, and nobody could do anything but let her come along.

I am not sure what exactly the mission was, but Sergeant Saunders never looked so scared to me.  He hated having a woman and her baby tagging along while we were on a mission.  The young Frenchman led us to the farmhouse, and he took Sergeant Saunders and Kirby around to the rear of it while Littlejohn, Doc and I stayed in a nearby ditch to cover them.  We watched the windows and the barn like the Sarge told us to do.  We figured the Krauts were gone from there.  I mean, the place looked so empty and quiet.  The shingle roof and the stone walls looked so dirty and sad and poor, but the young woman (her name is Lorraine or sounds like that, anyway) looked at that house like it was a palace.

Well, the farmhouse wasn't empty like we’d first thought.  I learned later that there were some bodies in there.  They were Thiery and Lorraine's aunt and uncle.  They’d been murdered by the Krauts before we got to them; put up against the wall of their dining room and shot.  Then, the Krauts had drunk the rest of the wine that the poor dead people had left in the glasses on their table.  Kirby said he shrank away from the other wine bottles in the cabinets after he saw that.  And he never passes up any chance to get some.  Never.

Thiery was mad when he saw his folks all dead.  Saunders really had his hands full getting the boy to calm down and remember something about where some maps might be hidden in his uncle's farm.  Those maps were important to S2.  They searched the whole house, but I guess the Krauts had already found them when they had been there before.  We had nothing to show for our trouble.  But, just as they were coming back out to join us again, the real big, awful trouble started.

Darn it, it's lights out, and so I’ll have to finish this tomorrow.  Bye.  I love you, Mom.
 

***
 

Mom.  I don't want to worry you too much about this.  I love you too much.  I'm going to try and keep all of it simple.  Maybe this letter is going to be censored by the brass, and the story won’t to reach you, but I have to write it down the way that it happened.

Littlejohn, Doc and I stayed behind the main house to cover the other guys.  I was supposed to watch out for the young woman too; Sarge had ordered me to.  But I couldn't keep my eyes on both her and the house at once, and pretty soon, she was just gone!  I didn't know what to do then.  Littlejohn told me it would be all right if I just went a little further along the ditch and get closer to the house.  I’d get a better view of the countryside from there and maybe get a sight of the woman to see where she was headed.  I mean, she should have been pretty easy to spot, but she wasn't.  She was so small, and her black hair hung down below her shoulders.  Her drab grey dress hid her from view.  She could blend into the forests and the rocks and crevices just like a doe.

Our squad had only just gotten to that region for the first time ever; it was totally new to us.  But this place had been her family's since forever.  She could find her way around there, no problem.  All at once, I spotted her heading towards a steep tree-covered hillside.  I followed her into some forest, and pretty soon, I was lost.  Not only that, but I slipped down a steep incline.  I pitched downwards, rolling and slipping, and I banged my knee on a rock at the bottom.  Oh my!  I knew I was going to get it for sure.  I’ve lost C-packs and K rations before and, well, Littlejohn won't even let me carry grenades anymore, since I lost some the other day.  And now this.  My rifle was nowhere and I mean nowhere, to be found, Mom.

As I was searching for it, shots rang out from where the farmhouse stood.  That gave me a bead on where to turn to get back.  I tried to climb up the hill again, and that's when my leg got caught in a big metal bear trap.

I thought that Krauts were scary, Mom.  I've seen a mess of them.  But those farmers know about something else that can prey on people in those parts.  They raise goats and sheep on those meadowlands.  They lose some to wolves every now and again.  I had a bit of time to think about that while I tried to pry those metal jaws open and get my ankle out of them.

At first, my boot buckle kept the teeth of the trap from biting too deeply into my ankle.  I sliced all of my fingers though, when I tried to spread the metal apart.  There was a lot of blood on my pant leg and on my hands and on my clothes and, well, maybe I shouldn't talk about it so much.

After a long while, the buckle on my boot split.  The trap's teeth went further into my ankle.  I was so scared and I hurt so badly then.  I have to tell you, Mom, that I cried your name.

A long time after that, I don't know how much, it became dark.  I remember Doc and Lorraine shaking me awake; I saw that I wasn't alone anymore.  They’d found me somehow.  But Doc looked like he needed a doc himself instead of being one.  He’d been shot in the shoulder, and so he simply couldn't do anything to help me out of the metal trap that was eating my ankle.  Doc explained that Sarge and his men had been caught unawares coming out of the farmhouse.  The Krauts had been hiding in the ditches and woods nearby, just waiting for Americans to show up.  Sarge had told Thiery to keep out of sight when the firing had begun.  Littlejohn had tried his best to cover them and crawl around the German positions in the back of the sheep pasture.  There were four Krauts in all; two in the back of the first ridge of timber, one in a runoff ditch behind the house, and another covering the rest from a nearby hill.

Saunders ordered Kirby to go in back of the house with Thiery to get him safely out of view, and to cover the rear and left side of the house.  There were only two from our squad in the house to fight off the German ambush.  Anyway, that's how Doc explained it to me, Mom.  At one point, Sarge sprang out of the front door and ducked behind an animal trough a few yards away, firing bursts from his Thomson all the time.  A spray of bullets put a dent in his Camo helmet as he ran, and it flew off his head just as he rolled to the ground.

Kirby, still in the back of the farmhouse, kept on firing his BAR, chopping up all of the trees in front of the Krauts.  One of them caught it in the forehead.  Doc saw him fall to the side, still firing away into the branches.  Another German jumped out from his hiding place behind a willow to try and help him, but Kirby's BAR cut him down after three steps.  He fell on top of his Kraut buddy.

I'm explaining all of this to you, Mom, because I wanted you to get a clear idea of what happened and why all the guys didn't come to rescue me right away.  They were all busy fighting Krauts.  Doc says that the fourth German, who was positioned on the hill, took off when he saw what happened to his buddies.  He ran right into Doc, who had been lying down in the same spot since the beginning of all of the mess.  Doc said the Kraut came up behind him while he was looking at the house and shoved his Schmeisser into his back.

The Kraut ordered him to move out and serve as his shield in case of any American attacks.  Doc had no choice but to go with him, and he never had a chance to warn Sarge or Kirby or Littlejohn.  Doc doesn't carry a rifle, Mom, only a medical bag.  The Kraut tied up Doc's hands with the strap and threw away all the stuff that was in the bag.  Then, he shoved Doc away from Sarge's position and got him further distanced from the guys in the squad.

At one point, Doc tried to push the German down a slope that they were walking along. 

The guy saw him a mile away; he was too smart to be fooled that way.  He hit Doc in the shoulder with his rifle.  Then, he put the barrel right up against his chest and told him that he was going to kill him if he tried anything else like that again.  The red cross on his helmet wasn’t going to make any difference.  Can you believe it?  Doc tried the same trick again a half hour later when they stopped to drink from their canteens.  He pushed his kidnapper down one more time and bolted away towards a slope leading in my direction.  That Kraut took the time to swallow his mouthful of water and wiped his mouth on his sleeve.  Then, he raised his Schmeisser and, well, simply shot Doc as he ran.  Just like that.  Maybe he didn't need Doc as a shield anymore.  

You know, I would have been too scared to do something like that, but not Doc.  He's so brave, Mom.  I’ve never seen anyone as brave as him except, maybe, the Sarge.  I'll tell you about Doc in aother letter.

It was Lorraine, watching over me, who heard Doc going by.  She called his attention over to me, and both of them tried their best to get me out of the trap.  But like I said, nobody was strong enough.  I’d lost a lot of blood by then.  My uniform was covered with it.  Doc was wounded too, and I knew he needed to rest.  His face was white, and he hadn't bandaged his shoulder or anything.

Mom, I'm going to write as fast as I can now, because mail is moving out in a short while and I want to get this finished first.

Doc couldn't get the metal off my ankle and it was pretty much all mangled up by that time.  I mean, my leg had been stuck in it for hours.  That thing was solid and just wouldn't open up.  I really, really hurt, and it was too bad that the German had thrown away all of Doc's medical stuff.  I could have used some morphine and, maybe, some bandages for my hands.

I cried for you then, Mom.  I thought that I would never see your beautiful face again.

It was dark and Sarge was nowhere around.  Doc wanted to move out and try to find help, but Lorraine said no.  Her babe was hidden somewhere nearby (and yet, still, she had stayed by my side all of that time).  Now she wanted to go back to him because he was going to get hungry soon.

So Doc stayed with me.  He talked to me and smiled at me and kept my spirits up.  He did have some water left and gave me just about all of it.  He rubbed my foot because I couldn't feel much of anything down below the metal teeth lodged in my ankle.  He helped wipe off the blood that came down my trousers.  He wiped blood from my face and hands, too.  The whole time, he never showed that he was in pain just as bad as I was.

When I was asleep, the young mother came back.  I know she would rather have been a long way away from there, but she stayed and kept watch over us.  She had found some matches in my web belt and built a fire.  I don't know where her baby boy was; she didn't say.  I kept zonking in and out of it, right along with Doc.  We sure made a pair, the two of us, covered with blood and unable to get up.  There was so much blood on us.  So much of it.

I was awakened all of a sudden by a loud howl just off to the side.  I looked around me.  My heart was pounding like thunder; Doc never even budged.  I got worried for him and put my hand on his shoulder, to see if he still breathed.  Now, a whole series of loud growls rang out just at the edge of the firelight.  There were some really dangerous-looking animals crouching in the shadows, looking at us with glowing eyes.

Lorraine stood up in front of me, holding out a branch.  I saw a lot of those glowing animal eyes, staring hungrily at us, just at the rim of blackness.  Well, maybe there were two or three pairs of eyes.  But to me, it looked like a hundred, I swear!

"La louve," the young woman explained.  That means a she-wolf, Mom.  An alpha female with two young cubs to feed.  She was covered with silvery brown fur.  Her jaw was filled with foot long teeth dripping with saliva.  Lorraine waved her branch in front of the animal to signify her defiance.  The she-wolf glared at us.  Lorraine stared at the female animal and kept telling it to go away.   

I could see that wolf drooling even more when her glowing eyes set on my leg.  The scent of our blood must have drawn her to Doc and me.  I know that, normally, wolves are shy and stay away from humans.  But Lorraine told me that warring in the region had made this female bolder, that wild game had gone, and that she couldn’t prey on livestock any more, since the Germans (she called them "boches") had taken away all of the farmers' goats and sheep.  We were its game, now.  That she-wolf wanted to eat us.  Doc and I were helpless, and so we made perfect prey for it.  You know, the thought of being eaten up by animals is the scariest ever, Mom.  I’d never thought of myself as food before.  Never.  That is, up until this she-wolf brought her cubs to feast on my wounded leg.

"Vas-t-en" cried Lorraine, and she lit the branch to frighten the animal even more.  The wolves all growled and circled the perimeter, hunting in a pack.  The young woman faced them with her fiery weapon at every turn and never gave up on us.  When her branch consumed itself, she picked up another one, and then another.  Once, the cubs tried to outflank us and approach from the other side of Doc's head.  That almost made me think they were using Kraut tactics themselves.  The hungry wolves just kept on after us, two wounded G.I.’s lying helpless in the dark forest night.

Then, I thought I heard a miracle; the sound of a Thompson firing into the air, very close to us.  The bright wolf eyes all vanished into the night.  I heard footsteps and looked up to see the Sarge coming towards me, and I could see that he held his Tommy gun up like he usually does.  Sarge knelt between Doc and me, and he called out to Kirby and Littlejohn.  Littlejohn!  My best buddy of all!  The big guy came over and took my face in his hands for a second.  Then he ripped that trap wide open like it was a wishbone.  I saw him fling it away towards where I had last seen those creatures.  I hope I never see them again.

Kirby walked up to me, holding a small piece of brownish pelt in his hand.  He waved it at me and grinned.  "Hey!" he asked. "Is this the puny little thing that's been bothering you, kiddo?  Shucks.  It ain't nuthin’!"

I hate it when Kirby treats me like a child.  Just because he's older than me doesn't make it okay for him to do that.  But all the same, I was glad that he showed me that dead animal.  Don't go and tell me all of that anti-hunting stuff, Mom.  I was just glad, that's all.

Sarge turned Doc over to check on him.  He looked worried when he saw how badly his shoulder was wounded.  I heard Doc mumble something, so I figured he was coming out of it.  Sarge patted him and told Littlejohn to keep my leg elevated.  He radioed for stretchers for both of us and walked over to Lorraine.  He looked at her like he might hug, kiss and thank her for saving us, or maybe bring his mighty temper to bear and really, really let her have it good for disobeying him.  I didn't know which.

Finally, Sarge just signalled to Kirby to go out and bring him something.  Kirby left and came back just a minute later, carrying a small grey wool bundle.  Sarge shouldered his Thompson and took it.  He sort of opened it up a bit as he handed it to Lorraine.  I saw then that it was her baby boy, crying and kicking to get free of the blankets.  Now I know, by the way that she took the baby and cried, that she'd certainly been eating herself up inside with worry all during the wolf attacks.  But Mom, if that young lady had gone away to try to reach her baby son instead of staying with us like she did, well, I don't know.  Sarge said, "No sweat."  He would have found us and saved us.  I don't dare tell him he's wrong, but I just don't know.

Anyway, that's what happened, Mother. 

I hope you have a nice celebration.  Say hello to all of the ladies in your church social.  Don't worry about me.  Doc and I will get out of this Evac hospital next week.  I can walk to the bathroom by myself now.  I don't even need a cane to do it, either.  As soon as I get out, I get KP duty because Sarge reported me to the Lieutenant and told on me about how I left my post without permission (Littlejohn’s doesn't count) and screwed up the mission and all that.

Shees!  You'd think I’d been punished enough after what happened.  Wrong!  It's never ever enough for Sarge.  

Love, hugs and kisses, Mom.


Your Billy.
 
 

Lyne Tremblay

May 2000