"Where Have All the People Gone? ''
by Hurland Leo Clark, Hq. Co, 2nd Bat, 114th Reg
"Gaildorf was a little village of 30 or 40 houses nestled on the banks of a deep placid canal. The stone lined waterway ran north and south on the east side of the village before bending to the west. The village had grown on the thumb like strip of flatland at the tip of the thumb. A mountain on the north and west provided some protection from the cold winter winds. After washing the villages on the east and south sides, the canal turned south again to eventually connect up with the Danube River.
We entered Gaildorf with little resistance. The only threat coming from sniper fire at was we believed the German Youth Werewolves in the area so we gave them credit for the sniper fire.
Crossing the only surviving bridge into town we were met by silence. Searching every house in town gave us a weird feeling. There was no one home. Remains of breakfast still on the table, teakettles still warm, just as if the people had just stepped outside for a moment. The population had vanished. Like an ancient, uninhabited ruin or graveyard. It was eerie. Its passive resistance, a threat, making us keep looking back to see if anyone was following.
Suddenly at suppertime you could see smoke coming from a chimney of a house thought to be empty. Upon investigation, we found a family sitting in their kitchen occupied with the everyday tasks of living. Soon the village streets had people walking, dogs could be seen scratching their perpetual itch. Even cows had a way of appearing where none stood before. Very strange.
As there was no military value to the village, we prepared to move out. First, we had to refuel man and vehicle. We were smoking our after dinner cigarettes when Major Bull (replacing Col. Fetterly) said, "Lets go, wind them up." We had just settled in our seats when the radio came to life, sending out Morse Code. The message, ciphered, ordered us back to Gaildorf to repulse an expected enemy armored attack heading for Gaildorf. We were still in our trucks when we heard a great explosion. Our first thought was Kraut Artillery fire that normally precedes an attack. That was no artillery shell explosion but a land mine. The only bridge out of town had been mined and exploded remotely. There could be no retreat now, we had to say and fight off the counter attack.
As we were standing around talking of our situation, we heard three shots in rapid succession. Each shot struck home, puncturing a tire on Majorís jeep, the fourth and final tire was out of line of fire for the sniper or he would have gotten it too. It was an act of defiance by the sniper, he could have fired into the crowd of soldiers just as easily. It was his way of telling us that he could pick us off at his discretion, our lives were in his hands.
At the sound of the first shot, everyone responded by grabbing a weapon to return the fire. The noise was deafening, everyone firing into the apartments across the canal. Pelfree was firing the big fifty on the back of the jeep. Brown was behind the thirty, and Harper found someone to load the Bazooka while he put a round through the windows facing us. I quit shooting my little carbine to watch the shells and bullets devastate the apartments. We had no way of knowing if we got the sniper, we just knew that he did not return our fire.
When the danger from the sniper was neutralized, Major Bull wanted me to set up an observation post in the church steeple to watch for the armored column coming to attack us. It shook him when I suggested that we use a Chateau across the street and down a block from the church, until he realized, as I did, that the first thing shelled by either side was a church steeple.
I felt a lot safer as we set up on the tower of the chateau behind the thick walls with slotted openings, openings made for archers. It was there that we found case after case, the size of coffins, filled with surveyor and draftsmen tools packed in felt-lined boxes. Stored there for safekeeping by a large store in Stuttgart. We were upset over the destruction of another find in town. The entire stock of the largest sporting goods store in Stuttgart was destroyed by fire in the Town Square. Guns, knives, fishing equipment and sport clothes all destroyed under the guise of disarming Germany.
Over a fiery pail of and, soaked in gasoline we made our first cup of instant coffee, after setting up our O.P. in the tower, when we heard the scream of an incoming shell. Exploding in the bell loft of the church. It sent out shock waves that we felt a block away. If I had agreed to set up in the church, as the Major wanted, we would all be dead by now. Round after round was fired into the church until it was a blazing hulk, For the felt hour they kept our heads down with sporadic firing. Not once did we see evidence of an enemy armored column. Toward evening we were surprised by a radio message telling us the threat of a counter attack no longer existed, we were to continue to our next objective.
We had a problem, though; we could not get out of town without pontoons because of the destroyed bridge. Checking our maps, we found a faint trail leading over the mountain west of us. The civilians told us it was a track used by a two-wheeled cart bringing hay down out of the mountain meadows. We had no choice but to try it. A jeep from the Pioneer Platoon was sent to search out the best way. It was nearly dark when it returned bringing good news. Yes, the track was passable, and best of a!!, it joined an all weather road on the other side of the mountain.
Plans were made to start at first light. The trucks were lined up and the driver instructed. What we didn't know was that the pass was under direct observation by the enemy gunners on the other side of the canal. They could pick their target as the trucks crawled in low gear up the steep mountain. Each shell that landed on the path made another obstacle to go around; some of the shell holes were deep enough to drop a jeep into. Most of the troops dismounted, choosing to walk under cover of the trees instead of riding, leaving the drivers to make it alone. When our turn came, I rode along with Pelfree, putting my faith in his driving ability.
He dropped into four-wheel drive, put it in third gear, and putting the pedal to the metal, we skirted burning trucks and shell holes until we reached the top. As we pulled off in a wide spot in the road, he turned to me and with a grin asked, "You weren't scared, were you Sarge?" I told him I always carried plenty of toilet paper.
Loading the troops into the remaining trucks, we followed the road around the mountain to find ourselves in full view of the canal again. This time they were waiting for us. The road was downhill, smoother, therefore faster, but it was longer and more exposed. With no cover the troops had to ride it down. They threw everything at us from machine guns to 88's. It was like a shooting gallery and we were the clay pigeons. There was only one way to go, all out. It was like running a gauntlet. Some would make it, some would not see tomorrow.
Pvt. Brown was on the big 50, filling the floor of the jeep with empty cartridges as he fired at the gunners far below. We watched the tracers drifting up, arching towards us. We knew that between each tracer we could see, there were four shells we could not see. A truck in front of us half way down the mountain took a direct hit. There was no stopping; we couldn't hold up the column behind us. As we went around the burning wreck, we took some shrapnel from a shell burst, which tore into my pack tied to the right front
fender. The contents were destroyed, cameras, watches, shaving cream, tooth paste, clothes, all smashed beyond repair.
It looked like the Fourth of July as the fiery streaks filled the air. The strangest part was that we could look down into the valley and see where the shells were coming from. We could even see the tiny soldiers scurrying around the pieces in their never ending job of swab, load, fire, swab, load, fire, then bring up more ammo.
We could only grin and bear it until we were out of range. We lost fewer trucks and people than you would imagine and I don't think it was because the Germans were bad gunners; it's just that shooting up hill is not the same as shooting on the level. As we pulled over out of range and safe for the moment, I turned to Peifree and asked, "You weren't scared, were you Private?" He answered, "Got any more of that toilet paper, Sarge?"