Lyne Tremblay
Copyright 2001
 
 

Saint-Calixte-Le-Prieur, 1944

Hi, Dad.

Gosh, it's been so long since I wrote you last.  I promised you that you'd get a letter every week, and I really, really tried to keep that promise the best I could, but you know, sometimes it's just hard to keep writing letters with all that goes on over here.  It's even hard to keep track of all my field equipment, let alone my pencils and paper.

Please keep up your letters, though.  I get a lot of the ones that you send me.  They make my whole week when mail call arrives.  Man!  I don't know how it is that the Army can keep track of us over here.  I mean, they can find us even when we're right up at the front.  Sometimes, there are German outposts right in front of us only a few hundred yards away.  When the wind is right, we can smell the lunch they're cooking, even.  I guess they probably know that we're out there just like we know that they're dug in nearby, too.  I wonder if their own mail service keeps sending them letters right up at the front just like ours do?

Oh, Dad, before I forget.  I've got to send you good wishes from Littlejohn and from Caje (he's a Cajun and his name is really Lemay.  I told you about him before.)  He can speak French with the people that we come across.  Some of those poor folks can be pretty lost and hurt sometimes.  Their towns are all destroyed, they've lost family members, they have nothing left, and so we try and do our best for them.

Oh, and Doc asked me to say hello to Mom.  You remember, I wrote about him a little while back after he took care of my ankle in the woods.  I don't know if she got that letter.

I love you all very, very much.  I hope you get the pocket-sized picture of me that I put in with this one.  I know it's a little worn around the edges and, maybe, a bit stained.  Maybe I ought to explain to you how it was that we took it.

We have to walk everywhere, in all kinds of weather.  Us infantrymen are loaded with stuff.   What with the rifles in our hands and those heavy packs on our backs and everything else that we have to carry along.  Like it was for you I guess, Dad.  I still remember you telling me about that when I was little.  I guess you can tell by that picture of me.  On it, you can see my rifle, Dad.  It's an M1 Garand and it's probably not as heavy as the one you had, but I clean it every day, just like I'm supposed to.  Maybe you shouldn't tell Mom, but since I came over at Normandy, I've had to use it a lot on some Germans.  The pack that you see is so full of equipment, I can barely stuff my rations in them.

Something we learned real quick over here is to use those shovels to dig foxholes so Krauts won't see us in the field.  Those things become like a little home to us, Dad, but it can get cold at night in them.   So, good boots and socks especially are precious to us if we don't want to get frozen feet.  All my new ones get used up really fast.

I have a helmet, too, Dad, don't worry, but I took it off just for that picture so that you can see how my hair looks cut Army short.  I didn't want Mom to see me with it on.  It gets muddy and, well, I don't care WHAT Littlejohn says, I don't want to show her a picture of me with it on my head, that's all.

Oh.  Sarge Saunders just came in, and he's got some new orders for us. I guess it must be important from the face he's making right now.  I'll write again as soon as I can.
 

***
 

I have some free time now try to explain what happened yesterday.  There was a little bit of trouble in an empty town called Saint-Calixte-Le-Prieur.  (Littlejohn almost swallowed his tongue when he tried to say that four times fast.)  105s had torn that place up good.  We had to go in there early in the morning and start digging out Krauts.  You know, sometimes there are stragglers hiding in the houses, waiting to snipe at us.  They can give us a lot of trouble if we're not careful.  I mean, it's dangerous job.  If we don't have enough men to do it, it gets pretty scary, believe me.

But don't you worry, Dad, we're always trying to be careful.

Littlejohn and I went up the main street called "Rue de l'Eglise".  It was the emptiest, most broken down place I'd ever seen.  A small village church stood at our left, empty and ruined, and my skin just about crawled when I saw a man standing in the darkness of the doorframe.  He had something in his hands and looked at us like he'd just seen scarecrows or something.  I called out to him that we were Americans but I guess he hadn't heard me.  He just turned around and went back in without even answering.   Littlejohn looked at me with a "What's up with him?" look on his face.

We joined Sarge in the next street called "Rue de La Paix", (that means Street of Peace, Dad), checking every door and window.  Trouble started just as we found ourselves at the end of it.

A hail of bullets came at us out of nowhere.  Two guys at the front of our squad (they were advance men from Love Company that were with us for the day) got it in front of a big, brown house.  We ducked behind anything we could find for cover, but the two dead guys just stayed out in the street.  We dug in as best we could and started to return fire at the snipers.

Well, there were a bunch of Germans dug in there, and we wound up getting into a big fight with them.  It took us all morning long, those Krauts had machine guns and wouldn't give up for anything.  There must have been two dozen soldiers, all shooting at us from the windows and the doors.   Well, I sure thought there were that many!

I got nicked in the upper arm as I followed Sarge around to the back door, but I promise you that I'm fine, Dad.  Sarge threw himself down underneath that shower just in time and pulled me out of the way behind an old cart that was lying on its side near the barbershop.  Bullets flew off the spokes on that cart right next to us.  Anyway, they took care of my arm right on the spot afterwards, so, don't let Mom worry about me.  It was just a scratch.  I'm fine, now.

We found nothing left inside that big house when we flushed it out afterwards because the Krauts had already taken away everything they could.

I have to add this though, Dad.  There were five dead people in one of the back rooms.  All men and boys, really.  Executed by bullets in the back of the head.  Two had gray hair, like they were grand-fathers, and two others were maybe fathers or uncles, and lastly, there was a boy who looked even younger than I am.  When I got into the room where they were lying, I saw that the young one had a big, bloody hole in the back of his skull.  His eyes were still open wide though, and they were as blue as Little Petey's.  I have to tell you that I looked away then, and I almost got sick.  Later, I cried, but don't tell Mom, though, okay?

You know, The Krauts hadn't stolen everything like we first thought.

Littlejohn and I found a camera in the pocket of a dead Kraut lying next to a heavy armoire (that's a wood closet that you can put anywhere in a room because they don't have closets in France, just these big armoires) in a front room.  Littlejohn snapped the shutter a few times to try it out, and it worked!  There was even some film left in it.  Anyway, that was the camera he used to take a picture of me.

Well, I gotta go.  Sarge just walked in and it looks like we're going to have to move out again, Dad.  That's the infantry for you.  I'll have to put this down and start again later.  I'll get right back to it, I promise.  Say hi to Mom and tell her that I love her.
 

***
 

Well, Dad, we didn't have to head out like I thought we might.  The Sarge just explained that the Krauts might come back and try to recapture that house.  "Strategic Area" was the word he used.  So, Littlejohn and I had to take our rifles and go out on guard duty for a couple of hours.  We had first watch.

Let me explain that that place was a big manor house.  Its owners had to have been pretty rich before the war, I guess.  The 105s hadn't touched it as much as they had the rest of the town.  It had a big, fenced-in courtyard at the back, all surrounded by a neat iron fence.  The village church stood a street away.  Its steeple rose above all the damaged roofs.  A crabapple tree spread its branches in the corner at the Eastern side, right next to a little garden shed that was all painted white.  Other buildings could be seen on the other side of it.  They had been neighbors' houses once, but they'd been destroyed.

We took turns guarding the grounds at the back of the place and making sure that no Krauts came from that direction.  You never know, Dad.  Germans can hide even in the smallest of crags or notches and be watching you.  You might run into some enemies when you least expect it.  So, even when we're dead bushed, we're always watching out.  Always.

We patrolled along a cement path that wound all around that courtyard.  At one point, it came next to a round cement pond that had statues of little naked boys with streams of water coming out of their... well, this IS France, Dad.  I couldn't believe it when Littlejohn stopped by and splashed some of that water on his face, but he just scoffed at me and said that water wasn't any dirtier than what we had in our canteens.

Our patrol took us out of sight of each other sometimes.

I gave Littlejohn the "All Clear" signal each time we crossed each other near the pond.  I saw that his knuckles were white on his rifle when he signalled back.  I could hear the big guy panting as he walked in the other direction.  It was like he had a premonition that something was about to happen.  He looks out for me like a big brother over here.  I don't like it when he's looking worried like that, Dad.

I especially got nervous when I came up to the the far edge of the grounds, next to a six-foot-tall iron fence that was so far away from Littlejohn that I was way out of his hearing.  I kept my finger tight on the trigger just in case I'd need to fire off a shot to call him back my way.  I almost did just that when the sound of a voice coming from the shed stopped me all of a sudden.  It had been quiet up until then but now, somebody was hiding inside there.

When I listened more closely, I heard some French words.  I couldn't understand what the person said or see who he was talking to.  I clutched my M1 tighter than anything to go check out who it was.

Just before I took a step near that person, Caje came up behind me out of nowhere and grabbed my shoulder to signal me to be quiet.  Man!  Can he ever be fast!  I almost dropped from a heart attack.  Maybe he'd come out here to spell us.  All that time, I'd though he was still guarding the front of the house with Kirby.  Both of us got close to the shed,  and Caje pushed the door open with the barrel of of M1.

Inside we saw a skinny French boy cowering in a corner next to some hoes.  A ray of light fell right on him.  He was a skeleton-thin little guy with a dark jacket, short pants and rubber boots.  He looked so scared and alone.  Nice little war to be doing that sort of thing to kids, huh, Dad?  He held something in his hands, but we couldn't see what it was.

Maybe that boy had a gun, the thing looked about the right size.  I've seen kids carry weapons over here, Dad.  I nudged Caje in the shoulder to tell him so, but Caje was way ahead of me.  He raised his rifle up towards the boy, just in case.

He called him "Petit", and it got the boy's attention.  He took a step closer to the door and used a calm, quiet voice to tell him in French not to be afraid, that we were "Americains".  The kid still looked pretty scared.  Caje asked him what he was doing there like that and how long he'd been in the shed.

The kid shot a look at Caje's rifle like someone about to jump out of his skin and shouted something.  "Roux."  Caje didn't translate, and so I didn't know what it meant, Dad.

Caje just kept talking, saying things like "Amis.  Américains.  Comment t'appelles-tu?"  He lowered his rifle a little to calm the boy and came right up to the shed door, friendly-like.  Well, it was a mistake.  He and I both froze when some kind of animal came up behind us.  We could hear it panting fast.  I guess it must have been the boy's dog, I wasn't sure.  Just as I sneaked a look behind me to see what it was, a huge German Shepherd flew throught the air and sprang at Caje's shoulders real quick without so much as a bark.  Caje dropped his rifle and strained to turn around and wrestle the animal off.  He couldn't.  The thing stood as tall as he was and weighed about as much.

I hadn't seen it come up on us before, and I had no time to react before it toppled Caje to the ground and grabbed his right arm in its jaw.  It happened in a second, I swear!  I heard the fabric of his jacket rip, and I saw a lot of blood and dog drool on Caje's arm as the animal almost wrenched it out of his shoulder.

I yelled for help and clubbed the animal's head with my rifle butt.  I used all my strength, but it ignored me and kept after Caje.

We must have made a lot of noise because Saunders came up beside me and fired his Thompson into the air.  Then, he lowered his weapon at the dog's head.  I worried about Caje getting it by mistake if the Sarge fired that weapon.  I mean, I've seen what it can do to Krauts.  It's powerful, let me tell you.

Littlejohn and Kirby arrived a second later.  Kirby pointed his BAR at the animal, too.  All of us had rifles aimed at it, but we were scared of hitting Caje.  His arm had gotten covered with blood by then, and I saw the Sarge just about ready to pull the trigger on the darn thing anyway.  It was all happening so fast, Dad.

The boy stood and yelled at it.  "Roux!  Arrête!"

I guess that meant stop because the animal dropped Caje's arm and bounded over to the kid.  It plopped down at his feet and stared at us with shiny eyes.  The boy grabbed it by the neck and said something in its ear.   Maybe the big dog was that family's guardian.  Well, I didn't care about that.  I aimed my rifle at that lousy thing and thought that if it made just one, single move towards the Sarge, it was going to get it.

Right away, Kirby and Saunders knelt down besides Caje and turned him over to check the damage.

Caje isn't one to show much pain usually, but when he stared down at his sleeve right along with them, he made a grimace.  In only a few seconds, that dog had really done a job with its teeth.  Only torn-out pieces of the sleeve remained below the elbow, and his arm was all smeared with blood.  Caje had trouble even moving his arm.

Sarge pulled back what was left of the cloth and checked underneath it.  I heard him tell Caje to take it easy, then curse, which he does sometimes, and I saw him reach into his web belt for a Sulfa pack.

I don't remember what Kirby said then, but he took out a pack, too.

Those dog jaws had made pretty deep wounds.  Caje was gonna be out of it for a while, Dad.  He was going to need stitches for sure.

I wasn't hurt, but my own arm ached from looking at Caje, like it had been ME bitten by the dog almost.  It must have been the nick in my shoulder throbbing, I guess.  Dad, remember when the neighbor's Tabby got rabies last summer?  How it almost bit little Petey on the leg and we scared it off just in time?  I watched the Sarge sprinkle the Sulfa, and I sure got scared for Caje when I thought about that time, Dad.  I guess he was going to need shots after what happened, too.

The boy started to talk again, and it startled me.  "C'est pas sa faute!  Ne lui faites pas de mal!  Il voulait me protéger, c'est tout!"  Uh....  Let me see.  Caje translated that the kid had said it wasn't the dog's fault and was asking us not to hurt it.  And he said some others things, too.

Sarge just told Caje to save his strength and take it easy.

Kirby started wrapping a bandage around Caje's arm.  He told Sarge that the wound was going to get infected, that Caje wasn't gonna be carrying his rifle anytime soon, that he was gonna have to go to the aid station.

Well, turns out that the rest of the squad had just gotten orders to head south and join Lieutenant Hanley.  They were going to search for German outposts.  You see, that was where Doc was, with the lieutenant.  So, Sarge thought about it for a couple of seconds and decided Caje couldn't go along.  That was when he ordered me to stay in town with Caje and wait for Item Company.  They were on our left flank and about to come in there, anyway.  They had their own Doc with them, and we would both get medical attention and some help going back to the aid station.

After Sarge and the others had gone, Caje started talking to the kid.  He managed to get that his name was Didier, and that he was ten years old.  The boy came up to Caje and showed him what it was that he held in his hands.

It was a little wind-up toy soldier, just like the all the ones that I used to keep on my bedroom dresser.

Didier explained that the manor house had been his uncle's, and that he lived there with him.  All of the dead men had been his relatives.  I asked Didier to stay outside, away from that awful room, but he cried and said he'd already seen the bodies.  That he'd gone hiding in the back shed when the Krauts got in there.  He'd stayed put for a long time, listening to gunfire, not knowing what was going on around him.  And anyway, that house belonged to the boy's own family.  Where could we have sent him?  I couldn't follow him around and check on where he went, I had to stay near Caje.

I'll continue this tomorrow, Dad because I'm going to have to go out for water to fill my canteen.  It's empty now, I had to clean Caje's wounds again.  I've been getting worried about that arm of his and, well, I wish Item Company would get here, that's all.  Love you, Dad.  Later.
 

***
 

I'm having a hard time writing this, Dad.  I saw someone today that isn't like you.  I mean, you never, ever touched us except to tap our bottoms when we did some stupid things like leave some nails lying in the driveway once and cause two flat tires on the Chrysler.  Well, I'll try to explain all that happened in Saint-Calixte as best I can.  You know, thinking about the examples you set for us has helped me come through some bad spells over here.  I think about how you told us that being a hero isn't always about winning, but about staying strong.

Since I didn't know what else to do, I helped Caje to get up and told him we'd better go inside.  As I looked across the courtyard, I saw that big shepherd called "Roux" near the shed, watching our every move.  Shees!  I think my legs turned to rubber!  That thing was sneakier than Krauts!  I would have shot it, except I was helping Caje, my rifle hung on my shoulders, it wasn't in my hands like it should have.

At first, Caje told me he felt fine and so, we waited there for Item Company to make it into town.  Well, half a day later, they hadn't arrived yet and  Caje was shivering, his face was really drenched.  His forehead felt burning hot, and I told him he had better lie down and rest because I worried that the medics wouldn't come in soon enough.  Item Company was taking too long to get there, I didn't know what was keeping 'em.  I should maybe head out alone to find them.  Caje looked pretty sick in spite of all the aspirins he took.  When I checked out his bandage, I saw that his arm had swollen up under it.  I couldn't just leave Caje like that so, I decided to say there with him.

Later on, I saw big drops of rain start to hit the cement walk.  In a few seconds, a steady downpour began to really drench all the rooftops around there.  The whole village changed to gray in a few minutes as a curtain of water came down on it.

When I looked out the window, I saw that big shepherd called "Roux" still in the courtyard near the shed.   It stayed there, ignoring the rain.  It didn't move a muscle, it just kept watching the house.  Thank Goodness it was out there!  I felt a lot happier inside that room, away from it.

As I crouched at the window, watching the animal, I heard the French boy's voice again, and he came up to us.  Somehow, I wasn't surprised to see him again!  His face was full of tears, and he said that was alone now and had no place else to go.  He asked Caje why we stayed behind instead of moving out with the others.  We explained about help coming soon, and that they'd take care of Caje's arm.

Caje and I crossed the house and sat on the ground in a front room.  There, I had an idea.  That kid looked like he hadn't eaten in a spell, so I gave him my rations box.

That made him stop crying.  He ripped the box open and sniffed inside like he was pretty hungry.  The stick of gum in there interested him a lot.  I don't know if he'd ever seen any.  He chewed it and swallowed it down before we could tell him he wasn't supposed to.  We laughed at him because most kids do that, I guess.  He really liked the ham and cheese, and he gulped them down right away.

Then Caje took off his beret to show to him.  He put it on the kid's head, soldier-like, and Didier's eyes just beamed.  With the brightest smile I ever saw, he saluted Caje and me and started parading around the room.  When you're only ten, you think being a soldier is the greatest thing, don't you, Dad?  I was curious and asked him to let me have a look at his toy.  It was a little wind-up G.I. in battle fatigues.

Didier sat next to Caje and, pretty soon, his head had drooped back and his eyes were closed.  He never even opened them when Caje eased him down on the floor and sat next to him.  I remember his quiet face, his soft breathing and the way his eyes opened wide when there suddenly came a loud banging noise in the house.

The front door blew open like a big gust had pushed it.  A Frenchman in a long raincoat stood on the porch, water coming off his shoulders.

He came inside, dropped down on his knees and started shaking his hands at us.  I saw him better then.  It was the villager standing in the Church doorway that morning.  He might have been fifty or so.  His wet hair clung to his head, all grey and dirty.   His eyes were wild, he spoke in very fast French, but still, I kept my rifle on him.  His words meant nothing to me, except for "boche".  That's their word for Krauts, Dad.

My voice almost cracked when I asked Caje if Krauts were heading our way.  My heart sank when he answered "yes".  He and I looked at each other.  Dad, his face was so flushed and covered with sweat, I didn't know what to do.  Sarge had been gone for hours.  Item Company hadn't arrived in town like they'd been supposed to, we had no radio to call for reinforcements, Caje was sick with fever and now, Krauts were coming.

Just how many were out there wasn't too clear.  Maybe half a dozen, the Frenchman said.  Lord only knows how he could have guessed;  I didn't ask him.  He said his name was Matthias and kept repeating for us to get out of that house.  Just get out fast, that we somehow needed to get away from there and find safer shelter from the Krauts.  I don't know what he meant by that.  The house looked solid enough to me, Dad.  The windows in it were all covered with fancy, wrought-iron bars.  For a test, I grabbed a bar and shook it.  They were solid.

We couldn't figure out why this man was so anxious for us to leave.  Caje put his helmet back on and grabbed his rifle, but I could see how hard it was for him.  I looked out the window towards the "Street of Peace" with my rifle balanced on the frame.  The rain fell in a constant curtain onto Saint-Calixte, but I remembered the church spire rising up behind the house, barely visible above the dark wine-colored roofs.  Maybe we'd be safer going there.  It might even make a good observation point.  Over my shoulder, I asked Caje whether he thought he could make it, but he was out of my view, and he didn't answer.

God!  I could imagine a dozen Germans popping up in spots all around there!  We were two wounded G.I.s, a small kid and an old man.  When I checked outside again, I saw one of the Krauts.  His dark figure dashed out of a nearby corner.  He ran through the drizzle into the street.  I cried out a warning to Caje and fired at the Kraut.  He went down, I know that much.  His helmet rolled onto the cobblestones.  But I never had time to see anything else because when I turned to check on Caje, the Frenchman stood right in front of me with a pistol on my chest.  In his other hand, he held an M1.  Caje's.  How had he gotten it?  What was he was doing with it?   It started to dawn on me.  I turned my rifle on him to....  Well, I don't know what, exactly, I tried to accomplish by turning a heavy rifle around, when the other guy already aimed his own weapon right at me.

Sarge or Caje would have a good chance of getting the guy.  I got a bullet in the side.

I think I screamed, but only inside, without any voice.  My breath had rushed out of me in a split-second.  All I could think was that Matthias would shoot again, at my chest that time.  That I was going to get it.  I crumpled under the window, my left side burned.  Dad, it hurt bad!  The whole left side was searing me right down to my bootsoles.  I looked down and saw a big hole in my jacket above the left hip.  Blood was starting to come out if it pretty fast.  My hands shook and got covered with red as I grabbed hold of that hole and pressed down to stop the bleeding.  It's a scary feeling to watch your own blood coming out of your body.  Especially that fast.  I didn't want to take my hands away to take out a Sulfa pack.

The Frenchman wouldn't let me do even that.  He came close, hit me across the side of the head with the rifle butt and told me, in plain English, to take my web belt off and throw it away.  My ears rang, the room went dim for a few seconds.  When I managed to get a little of my senses back again, I looked across the room to try and find where Caje was.

He sat in a corner looking so dark and angry like I've only seen him a few times.  He's sharp, and he doesn't get suckered often, Dad.  I saw that he was hurt.  A red trickle flowed down the side of his face.  I guessed he'd been slugged by something hard.   He kept Didier behind him, covering the kid with his own body.

Don't be mad at me, Dad, but that Frenchman scared me.  The idea that Caje and the boy would get shot too made me hurry up and obey the order.  I really had to concentrate to work the hook on the web belt, but I finally dropped it on the floor next to me.  It weighed a ton right then because my hands shook so much.

I had to let go of the entry wound while I was handling my belt, and the bleeding had started up more so I pressed down again, harder that time.   My leg kept spasming, and it sent flashes right through me every time a muscle moved.  In back of my mind, I knew I couldn't put a tourniquet on the wound.  I kept my hands on it, but I couldn't feel any exit point in my back, nothing.  That bullet had to still be in there somewhere.  That scared me bad.

Caje talked to the Frenchman in his language, trying to calm him.  Matthias just answered him with shouts.  He looked pretty angry, pointing at the room with the bodies in it.

The two of them went at in French so fast, I fought to stay focused on their words.  I thought that the Frenchman blamed us for those murders.  Maybe he was a relative or a friend of theirs.  I knew he spoke English, so I told him that we weren't his enemies.  The Krauts were responsible.  That he was mad at us for nothing.  My voice barely came out.

Caje's face kept going dim on me, but I knew he talked with the guy.  I heard words like "Laissez-le" and "caméra".  After a few minutes, Caje explained that the Frenchman wasn't there avenging some dead relatives.  He had been the one who'd betrayed them in the first place.  The five men in the other room lay dead because they'd fought with the Resistance.  Matthias was a collaborator, waiting for his Kraut buddies to come and get us in a few minutes.  Us and some other things in the house that hadn't been found yet.

Dad, the whole time, I'd thought all the French fought on our side!  I'd forgotten that there were traitors among them, too.

We're Americans and not to get involved in their affairs, ever.  It's not our business.  My left side was burning, talking was awfully hard, but I asked him anyway, Dad.  What did Matthias want with us?  We came over there to help liberate them.  I almost fainted from another spasm in my leg, and then I asked him.  "Why?"

The man turned around.  His eyes bore right through me, wild and furious.  In English, he screamed that his own son had died.  That's all.  He stood there a second, his eyes shooting darts, something really raw about the anger in his face.  Hard sounding words came pouring out of him afterwards.  The villagers had cut off his wife's hair and made her carry signs on her back all across town while they kicked and punched her.  He told how they had jeered while they'd driven her out and killed her too, and so they all deserved to burn in Hell.  I guess that's their punishment against collaborators over here.  If he was a monster, he said, it was one of the villagers' own making.

There was a bad fight going on between rival factions in Saint-Calixte.  They waged their own private war between themselves.  And this guy had chosen his side.

Caje told him that we had nothing to do with that.  The man ignored him and threw our equipment out the window, through the iron bars.  Then, he planted himself next to Caje, with the other rifle pointed at his chest.  Caje can hide it pretty good when he's scared, but I could see that his jaw was tensed and his face was covered with sweat.  Matthias looked so crazy, so furious.  He made a motion towards the boy, like he wanted to grab his skinny arm.  Maybe he wanted to finish off the last of the family he hated so much, I didn't know.  Instead, he shouted how the kid was going to help him search through the house, and do it quickly because there was no time left.

Caje didn't back down.  He stayed in front of Didier and wouldn't let Matthias reach the kid.  Even when the Frenchman aimed his rifle upwards and shot a round right over Caje's head.  The noise of the shot made me wince.  Chunks of wood and plaster rained down on him.  Caje is braver than me, Dad.  He didn't flinch even though I knew it must had to sting his eyes and arms.  He ignored it all and kept his attention on the gunman.

It was when Matthias cocked that rifle in Caje's face and almost pulled the trigger that the boy stood up from behind him.  I saw a lot of tears coming down Didier's cheeks as he stepped out and went to the mad Frenchman.  He still had Caje's beret on his head.  He was the bravest kid I'd ever seen, Dad.  Without saying a word, the Frenchman took him into the other room right away, and he bolted the door behind him.

We were locked in and all alone.

Caje crawled over to me.  He looked so sick and feverish, it was scary.  His face looked thinner than ever, he hadn't shaved in days and he wiped his forehead with one hand as he checked the wound in my side.  There was so much blood that it pooled on the floor underneath me.  Since he didn't have any bandages on him, he took his jacket off and ripped out the remaining sleeve.

My leg was killing me.  That frightened me real bad, but still I asked him what he'd talked about with the Frenchman.

He folded the sleeve and pressed it down onto the wound while he answered me.  It seems that Matthias wanted a camera hidden in there, or at least the film in it.  Caje didn't know why it was important to him or the Krauts.

I couldn't believe it!   I'd given the thing to Sarge right away after Littlejohn and I had found it.  Maybe the picture of me that he took wasn't all there was on it, then.  It could even have been important to S2.  Five men had died pretty brutally for something so small, it could fit in the palm of my hands.

I imagined the Frenchman coming back soon and taking it out on us because I knew he wasn't going to find his film.  When I told him, Caje just said that I think too much, and he tried to help me up.

Dad, I can't tell you how much that leg of mine hurt at the movement.  Another spasm shot through me and the room went black.  I tried to control the pain and keep quiet, but anyway, nothing came up past my throat.  Caje told me to lie still because the bullet might be near my spine deep inside.  That was what caused all the spasms to start up.  Caje pressed down on the wound.  I closed my eyes and tried to think about getting up from there and being able to go back home and dance with Evelyn again.  I wanted that so much.  And I wanted to make the bleeding stop.

Caje stayed beside me, shaking his head and pressing down on the bullet hole, saying it was useless for me to try to escape.  I did like he ordered and lay there, staying very still, but it was hard.  Morphine would have helped me right then.  I had no way to control it.  Spasms kept racking me all the time, and each one caused a new gush of bleeding.

Already, I felt very cold and sick to my stomach.  The room started swaying behind Caje and then got fuzzy.  From having bled so much, I knew the trouble I was in.  It was bad.  I was losing it, Dad.  I thought about you while I was down, about how you always had ways of taking care of all our troubles.  It was Caje who sort of took your place then, but it wasn't easy for him either.

I thought I saw double at one point.  I closed my eyes and blinked hard to make out why Caje's face had turned into two, but then I recognized Matthias.  The Frenchman stood right behind him, holding the M1 at his head.  Matthias prodded Caje with the rifle, shouting at him to stand.

Caje refused.  I could see him nod at the wound and explaining that the bullet was lodged near the spine and that he couldn't let go.  Caje always kept his eyes glued on my face instead of turning towards the other man.

Somehow, I knew that made the Frenchman even madder.  I shuddered and told Caje it was all right, that he should get up, I'd be fine.

Caje said no.

Matthias swung the rifle and hit him hard across the side of the head.  It knocked him down.  He was stunned, I could tell, but he lunged at the Frenchman and brought him down right next to me.  The two of them started fighting for the rifle and rolling on the floor.  Caje is pretty good at hand-to-hand usually.  He's quick and agile and gets the business done.  But today, he was real sick and drenched with sweat.  The other man was hitting him over and over.  I shouted at him to stop, but I couldn't do much else to stop it.

I grabbed my side and kept up the pressure by myself.  But I couldn't stop watching the two of them fighting as I did.  Didier's face came up next to me, all wet under Caje's beret.  Poor kid cried and put his small hands on the wound.  I saw a swollen, purple mark on the side of his cheek, and I knew that Matthias had hit the kid.  He took over what Caje had been doing.  His hands got all red as he tried real hard to help me.

I winced when the crack of Schmeisser fire rang out in the street right next to the house.  A whole bunch of them followed right after.  Bullets went through all the windows, I could hear smashing glass along the side facing the street.  Krauts were out there!  Just like the Frenchman had told us!  One bullet crashed through the window over me and passed next to Caje.  It just missed his head.  I got a cold feeling down my back and just knew we'd get taken prisoner, or be dead, very soon.

I've been in this man's Army for a while, Dad.  I've gotten to know all the sounds that the G.I. weapons make.  When I heard reports of M1s and BARs answering the Schmeissers from a little ways off, I just knew Item Company was finally here in town!  No mistaking their noise, Dad!  I wanted to shout to Caje and tell him so.

He was still fighting for the rifle, just trying to pry it loose from the Frenchman, but he was very weak.  Matthias hit him across the face.

Caje isn't the kind of guy who backs down, Dad.   In spite of everything, he kept his hands on the M1 and fought the Frenchman for it, just like he did before.  But then, somehow, it came up in the Frenchman's hands, and Caje lost his footing.  Like in a slow motion movie, I saw Matthias turn the M1 on Caje.  The man was right beside me when he did it, and I made a stupid, instinctive move to try and stop him from shooting.

A flash went through my leg.  I think I croaked Caje's name as I pressed down on my side again.

I remember thinking that I heard a shot in the room.  A second ago, the Frenchman had a gun right on Caje and was about to pull the trigger, so what happened?  I looked up, but I was scared of what I'd see.

Matthias held the rifle straight up at the ceiling.  Smoke wafted out of it.  Didier had his skinny arms around the madman's neck, trying to strangle him, I guess.  He kept shouting at him in French.  The man shook the boy off and sent the kid onto the floor like a sack.  I saw Caje get up slowly, holding his wounded arm across his chest and grimacing.  I thought he was shot, but I didn't see any more blood on him.

Dad, right at that point, not much else registered with me.  The wound in my side bled very badly.  I just wanted it to stop.  I never had First Aid training other than in Basic, Dad.  My heart was drumming fast, I felt cold, and I tried to stop the flow of blood.  But I couldn't feel the left leg anymore.

Caje managed to pull himself up next to me and help press down on the wound.  He stayed between us and Matthias, covering the two of us with his body.  I heard the rifle being cocked just behind him.  The Frenchman came close to us.

What happened next is a blur.

A short, dark shadow appeared in the doorway.  We all turned to see what had cast it.  It moved a little bit, it didn't look human.  A low growl coming from there made me shiver and my heart stop.  The Shepherd, again.  Somehow, it had managed to get inside.   God knows, enough windows had been smashed in there for it to finally find a way, Dad.

Caje knelt in front of us, protecting us.  He looked down at his wounded arm for a second.  I looked at it too, just reliving that dog attack in my mind, like it only happened minutes ago.  Caje must have too.  He was bushed, I knew, but I saw him slowly take the rest of his jacket and start to wind it around his wounded arm.  Probably to pad it in order to face the big shepherd again.  Quietly, he whispered not to stare in its eyes, ever, and he turned around very slowly.

The dog's large, brown-colored figure appeared in the doorframe.  It looked like it sat on its haunches.  Instead, it lunged for Matthias in a single bound and knocked the Frenchman down underneath it.  A couple of shots rang out while the man still clung to the rifle, then I heard it clattering to the floor.  The bullets must have missed the dog because it kept on attacking.  Between the man's screams and the dog's loud barks, I heard the boy shouting.  Over and over, the kid tried to make the animal stop attacking.

It wouldn't.  Not this time.  Something had made that thing go real mad inside its head.  The horror of what it did almost hypnotised us.  The dog was right on top of Matthias, going for his neck and shoulders, mad growls coming out of its throat.

Caje hurried over to get the M1 that had fallen right underneath the window.  I remember him picking it up and telling the boy to go away, run out of there fast.  Didier stayed put, not listening to Caje.  He watched everything that was happening.  I held the wound in my side and watched too.

Caje shot three rounds at the animal, then the clip was empty.  All at once, I heard a dog's cry and saw the shepherd's head snap backwards.  It fell onto its side next to the Frenchman.  Then, it was over.  Blood was oozing out of its neck behind an ear, and its tongue hung from its jaw, all slack on the floor.  I tried to turn to see where the boy was, hoping he hadn't seen this, but a new spasm went through me.  I had to grab hold of my side again, and the room got darker.  I think I cried out for Caje, then.

Matthias didn't move any more.  I saw his body lying there, his whole head covered with blood, wondering if he was going to get up and make a move on Caje, or maybe take off, but he just stayed put.

Caje's face appeared next to mine, I felt him pressing down on the wound.  He had no sulfa on him.  He repeated "Easy, easy... He got it."  I figured that meant Matthias was dead.  Or the dog, I couldn't be sure.

Everything went silent inside the room.  But far away, I still heard the the noise of the G.I.s and the Krauts fighting in the town.  The chatter from their weapons got dimmer and dimmer all the time.

I felt so tired, I just wanted to sleep.  Caje's face got all blurry and grayish, and I heard his voice snapping at me to stay awake.  If I fell asleep, then I'd stay there forever with that bullet lodged inside me.  That would be the end of any hope of seeing you or Mom again.  I realized that I kind of miss you guys.  When this war is over, and I hope it's soon, I really want to get back home to you and to Evelyn.  I prayed hard for that.

I remember that he told Didier to go fetch the web belts that had been thrown out the window.  We could at least have the bandages in them.  That made me peek down at the wound in my side.  It looked pretty red, again.  I have to tell you Dad, that I closed my eyes, then.  I just didn't want to see all the blood.  When Caje ordered me to open them, I saw him staring up towards the window with a worried look on his face.  He turned to me and told me to hang on and to keep very still.  That was important, he said.  He even held me down every time a fresh spasm racked me.

I wondered about something.  Wasn't Item Company coming to get us?  I mean, I could only make out the fighting sounds very, very dimly, now.  It had moved so far away.  I thought they'd been right outside there just a little while ago.  I asked him about that.

Caje didn't answer.  He rolled up the rest of his jacket, and he put it down onto the wound like a bandage.  He wiped my forehead and said that we'd have to wait for Item Company to come back after chasing the Krauts out of town.  Surely, they'd come back.  We just had to pray that they finished what they were doing and reached us quickly.  But I told him that this town was supposed to be all deserted.  If they believed it was dead, then why would they hurry back here?  They were pretty far away by the sound of it, and I asked him to leave me and try to get to them.  He mustn't have heard me because he stayed put and held the jacket over my wound.  He used his good hand to wipe the side of my face.  I used to hate it when you did that, Dad.  But right then, it felt comforting.

I got a little confused.  I was trying to remember if the noise of gunfighting had stopped a long time before or not.  I wasn't sure just when I'd heard it last.  Caje told me to forget it.  I knew he was worried because of that bullet.  For a long time, he stayed by me, talking about all kinds of things.  He kept helping me, even though he, himself wasn't well.  He told me how they'd have to test the dog for disease just in case, and he asked me questions about you and Mom and little Petey.  When I almost dozed off later, he threatened to sing me some French baby songs.

Everything was very quiet in there while he kept pressing down on the jacket.  It was soaked through after a while, and Caje muttered angrily about where the heck Didier had gone to.  It was taking the kid so long to come back with the web belts.  He should have found them and been back by now.

Then, I heard something that made a lump in my throat just swell up.  Caje heard it too.  He turned and stared at the window.  The dark frown that he had cleared off, and the tiniest little bit of a smile came across his face.  He said  "Well, that's our choirboy, Billy!  Do you hear that?"

The church bells were ringing and ringing.  The loud clamor they made went on without stopping for even a second.  Those things sent out their loud call across the whole town and even further away, I'm pretty sure.  They clanged fast and loud.  The men from Item Company would all have to be deaf not to hear the din going on up there in the steeple.  Caje's smile got a little wider, but not by much.  Right then, that non-stop racket out there was such a sweet sounding music to my ears, I could have got up and danced.  Well almost.
 

***
 

Anyway, that's pretty much it, Dad.  All of that happened a couple of days ago.  You don't have to worry about me.  I'm in hospital now, and Caje brought me the letter I'd started for you, so I'm taking some time to finish it.

I guess I have to thank Caje for not letting me move much all during the time I lay hurt in that room in Saint-Calixte.  The bullet was taken out in plenty of time.  The doctors said it entered the lower left side, bore right through me, just missed the kidney and lodged itself very close to the spine around L4 or 5.   Anyway, they told me I might have never gotten up from there if it hadn't been for Caje.  But not to sweat, though.  I've been making my way just fine up and down the hospital, trying to get away from all those nurses chasing me.  (That's just a joke, Dad.)

You know, Caje came to visit me this afternoon and brought Didier with him.  I sure was glad to see Caje again!  He wears a wrap around his whole left arm, by the way.  They fixed it up pretty good.  The tests on the big shepherd came up negative, he told me.  That's a real piece of luck because Didier said he hadn't ever made his dog take shots or anything.  Caje says he's going to try and get the boy another dog as soon as he finds a suitable one.  I asked him what he meant, and he said one that's about a foot tall, fluffy-haired, maybe white and with a little bow on its head, if possible.

They take such good care of me here at 25th Evac hospital.  Actually, it used to be a schoolhouse before the war.  I eat everything they give me up here because it sure beats those field rations the Army hands out!  I've been sleeping outside on the cold ground for so long now, I kind of find that they have pretty nice beds in here, if you don't look at the tractions on them.

Do you like the picture?  I know it's stained, but you can see my face on it, at least.  Let me explain.  Sargeant Saunders was the one who gave it to Littlejohn.  The whole squad came in to visit today, and they showed it to me.  Sarge said Lieutenant Hanley got it from his CO, who got it in a de-briefing that he went to, and well,  it kind of came down through channels somehow.  I was eating lunch at the time, and well, when Littlejohn and I were having a laugh over it all, the picture dropped in my soup.

The doctors tell me I'll be ready to get back to duty as soon as I'm all healed, so you see I'm fine, and in one piece, and I sure look forward to getting your next letter.  Say hi to the rest of the family and to all the guys from your Saturday morning foursome.  And if you could, would you do me this favor?

You can tell Evelyn that when I get back, I'm going to be ready for the very first dance with her.

Love you all,
From your soldier of a son,
Billy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Copyright  Feb. 2001
Lyne Tremblay