“Until Tomorrow" by Hurland Leo Clark— HQ Company—2nd Btn. 114th Regiment
Time: February—March 1945 Location: Vicinity of Obergailbach France
The wind came out of the northwest like a monster on the prowl, searching out gaps and openings in our uniforms. The dark clouds were ominous, spitting sleet and snow abrasing our exposed skin. With its march across the land, the temperature was dropping down to a promised “in the 20s.” Our clothes, wet from water seeping into the foxholes, were no protection against the chilling cold. We were on a hill overlooking a small village nestled in a valley. The church steeple, like a finger of God pointing to heaven, was the only part of the village visible to our front lines. From our location, we could look down into the village itself. The business district consisted of a bakery, tobacco shop a small restaurant and a large warehouse-type building displaying a huge Red Cross. Attached to the hospital was a one-story addition of unfinished wood that looked empty. We looked into the village for an answer to the question, “Where is the Nebelwerfer?”
The Nebelwerfer is a six-barreled rocket gun usually mounted on the back of a truck for mobility. The accepted practice was to drive it to a firing position, fire the six barrels and return to a hidden base for reloading and selection of a new target. The rocket’s impact would devastate an area about the size of a city block. Though not very accurate, the havoc it created was damaging to morale as well as equipment. The friction of air across the tail fins as the rocket passed through the air made a shrill sound giving it the name of “Screaming Meemies.” We could hear them coming but could not outrun them. The concussion alone was enough to kill, while a near miss could cause ruptured eardrums and bloody noses. The best defense was to curl up in your foxhole and pray. This lone enemy had been a thorn in our side for some weeks. As long as the front remained static, they could pick their target and fire at will. Numerous patrols sent out to find its lair had failed. An alert forward observer had seen the flash from the firing and had taken a compass reading. Our job was to find it. Four of us had crawled into ‘no man’s land’ about 1000 yards during the night, taking advantage of the darkness to dig our foxholes. It was necessary to remain in the foxholes during the daylight hours keeping out of sight of the enemy gunners. This hill was under direct observation by the enemy artillery, firing from behind another series of hills further beyond the village. Although there was a shortage of ammunition in the German Army and 10% of their shells were duds, they had gained our respect for accurate shooting. Our prime suspect for the location of the rocket bearing truck was a grove of pine trees on the edge of the village for we could see tracks entering the area. As a result, we almost missed the rocket truck as it left the empty building attached to the hospital. It drove out of the village in front of us until it reached an open area. The crew quickly positioned the six-barrel gun and fired it remotely from about 50 feet away. With the firing completed, the crew leapt onto the truck to drive it back to the empty building. From its exit of the building to its re-entrance was less than five minutes. As they closed the large door in front of the building, peace returned to the town. Our problem was two-fold: How to destroy the Nebelwerfer without destroying the hospital and how to keep it in its lair until we could do so.
Throughout the rest of the day, we watched the Nebelwerfer leave its den and repeat the performance four more times, each time less than five minutes elapsed from going and coming. Waiting until deep dark, we made our way back to the safety of our front lines to report. Happy to have found the beast, were at a loss on how to destroy it. The brass got their heads together and decided a Bazooka team would not be able to get close enough and artillery would not have the target in sight long enough to destroy it. The call then went out for an Air Force Ground Support Team. A pair of P-51 Mustang fighters were to be made available during the times most likely for the target to be in the open. They were to fly a pattern keeping out of sight yet in the area ready to respond to a radio message. After some rest and food we returned to the foxholes that night. This time with more blankets and shelter-halves. Even with the extra blankets, it was along cold night as we waited for morning and the coming of the sun. With the dawn came clear skies but a pale weak sun, a sun with very little warmth. Yet we welcomed it for it meant that we had a chance to get our job done. Wrapped in blankets we waited for the emergence of the truck. It was late afternoon before we got another glimpse of our quarry. A quick radio call to Air Force proved futile, the planes were on another mission. “Try again” said the Air Force Liaison Officer. This time it was early evening, with the shadows lengthening before the truck left the garage. Another call to the Air Force. This time it paid off. “On the way.’ the main said. The truck drove down the road, overconfident for its safety. The crew jumped off the truck, laughing, lighting up cigarettes, relieving themselves against the tires, unaware of the danger threatening them. The whine of the diving planes alerted the crew, galvanizing them to action. The driver tried to move the vehicle but it was too late. The rapid firing canon on the planes quickly found the moving target. The resulting explosion put an end to the Screaming Meemies threat for a while. As the planes circled back to gun down the fleeing crewmembers, the pilot of one of the planes saw us “cheering on” the victors. Thinking we were the enemy, he pulled off on a strafing run directly toward us. Curled tight in our holes, tensing against the expected blow we asked why? We realized then we’re out in front of our air marketers and in enemy territory. The pilot mistook us as an enemy observation post to be destroyed. He thought he was doing us a favor. As our radioman fumbled with the radio to warn off the plane, he came around for another pass. Hearing again the scream of the engine on that terrible death machine, we tightened our sphincter muscles lest we shame ourselves. We felt the shutter of the ground as heavy caliber slugs hammered the earth. Mud covered, hearts pounding, we waited for the radio operator to get through to the pilot. “Please God, make it in time.” Finally, he acknowledged with a “Roger” and with a dip of his wings, flew off to wherever planes go after completing a mission. We looked to ourselves, all safe, the shells had landed on the other side of us sparing our lives but shredding our blankets and shelter halves. It is times like this that I wonder, “Was I lucky or was the Good Lord protecting me,” or maybe it just was not my time. In any case, I was given another tomorrow to live.”