by Beryl H. Haught Jr.
Company "A", 114th Regiment
I took my basic training in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. I was in the Headquarters Battery of the 899th Field Artillery Battalion in the 75th Infantry Division, therefore I had a special interest in learning everything I could about the field artillery.
I was trained on 105s and in combat we often pulled back far enough off the line to be close to the ‘155’s and the “Long Toms”, so I was fairly familiar with all of these. I had never as much as ever seen a 240 howitzer however. It was our largest artillery piece and I understand it could fire a 250 pound shell about 18 miles. They were normally emplaced well behind the front line which gave them an extra wide field of fire.
Anyway, in the late afternoon of the 17th , (December 1944) I heard the noise of roaring motors and clanking steel treads in the street outside our hospital room. Someone said it was a bunch of 240s being hauled up north toward the Ardennes. Old curious me had to have them push my cot over to the window where I could see what was going on. I can best describe them as being “awesome”. Each piece was being moved by a huge caterpillar-type tractor and each had its own shell loading crane and steam shovel to help move it in.
As I watched them go by, it suddenly dawned on me that if we had cannon that could fire a shell 18 miles, the Germans probably had one too. Not ever, ever wanting to hear again that “screaming whistle” of an incoming shell, I thought to myself “Get me the hell out of here—and get me the hell out of here quick!”
As things turned out, my “exit visa” to leave the hospital had been determined and signed by the medical staff. Regardless of what the Germans did in our sector I was going home. I’d been as they say “ZI’d.”
During the war in the ETO, there was a “medical evacuation procedure” that went on periodically that was every bit as important to a wounded solider as a “discharge” was to a regular “GI.” According to how bad they were hurt, the wounded were classified into the three following groups:
1. ZI: These were to be sent back to the States (Zone of Interior). For them the war was over.
2. UK: These were to be sent to England (United Kingdom). There was for them always a remote possibility of returning back to combat.
3. TS: (Unofficial of course). These poor “Joes” knew where they were headed. Back to their outfit or even worse to a replacement depot.
One arm or not, I literally “jumped with joy” when I heard the news that I was going home. What I did not realize at the time was there were still a lot of bridges to cross and a lot of miles to go before I finally arrived. Looking back, it seems rather silly to think I might have been classified otherwise – but there was just no way of knowing back at that particular time. After all no one knew when the war would end and it was always in the back of my mind that if the Germans could use amputee troops- might not we?
Only the “high brass” and us “doggies” up front really knew just how scarce infantry troops had become. The bottom of the barrel had already been scraped and there was still a critical shortage of replacements. If the war didn’t end when it did, I feel sure we should have been obligated to start drafting seventeen year olds. Never kid yourself, they would have made competent army soldiers, regardless of their young age. If you don’t think so ask anyone who faced one of the “Hitler youth outfits”. They’ll let you know-how well some of those young kids could fight.
Even thought the dye had been cast and I was headed home, I’ll admit have to admit that the German tank break-thru up in the Budge did speed up the process. I’m still not going to thank them – German tanks aren’t exactly my favorite “cup of tea.”
When it came time to leave, I have no recollection whatsoever of either leaving the hospital in Luneville or arriving at the one in Vittel. All I know is that I was happy to get out of there – whenever or however it happened.