The Four Seasons
Chapter 1: Spring
CopyrightÂ© 2008 by Autumn Writer -- All rights reserved
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
The tongue of the wise useth truth aright: but the mouth of fools pour out foolishness.
The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.
Proverbs 15: 1-3
The jeep struggled through the muck that the tanks had churned up a few hours before. It was an early spring day—closer to March than to May. The lead-gray sky threatened rain, which promised to further liquefy the mud that was everywhere. It wasn't cold enough to be called cold; too much of a chill to be called warm.
Soldiers with rifles and packs made their way in opposite directions on each side of the beaten-up road. They reminded Hal of ants, marching in slow progression to an assigned destination, one after the other. Those moving away from the frontlines were dirty and needed a shave. On their faces they wore disciplined, gray non-expression. They trudged with great effort, lifting one tired foot and setting it down in front of the other.
The men making their way toward the Front were clean and fresh-shaven; uniforms were creased. There were also creases on the faces of the men—or perhaps the boys—moving up to take the place of the Company marching away from them. They were lines of worry and fear—of the unknown and other things. Whatever their thoughts might have been, no words were traded between the replacements and those being replaced, or even eye contact made.
Riding in the jeep, Hal noticed how the new men still tried to keep their fatigues clean as the vehicles splashed up the mire at them. It told him that they were being sent up from a Replacement Depot. The Repple Depples sent nervous young boys to the Front to become expressionless old men. Hal shook his head. If they were lucky, it would all end soon. Most thought it would. The Germans seemed to be spent after the great expenditure of men and materiel in The Bulge. Hal was clean-shaven and wore new fatigues, too, but he hadn't come from a Repple Depple.
The caravan of trucks and jeeps crept forward. As they moved further the lines of men moving away from the Front thinned and those moving toward it were directed by MP's in various directions. Hal noticed a sentry. He looked again and saw a man he knew hiding beneath layers of grime and several days' growth.
Sammy!" he exclaimed to himself. He knew he was getting close. He'd catch up with his old comrade later.
"End of the road, Sarge," the driver said a little while later as he pulled the jeep to a dry area at the side of the road. "The CP's about a hundred yards over that way."
Hal grabbed his gear from the back of the jeep. He hoisted his pack onto his back and slung the Thompson onto a shoulder. There were a lot of faces he didn't know, stealing furtive glances at him and the chevrons and rockers on his sleeve.
Although the voice came from a distance, Hal would always recognize Frank Collins. So far, aside from Sammy, the forlorn sentry, it was the only familiar thing so far in a Company that Hal had left only three months ago.
"Hey, Frank," he called back and waved. Everyone called Hal 'Pappy' because he was older than most of them. He was twenty-three when he enlisted in '42.
"How come you're not on a ship back to the states?" Frank asked when he came up beside him.
"Because I'm here," Hal answered.
"C'mon, Hal—don't double-talk me. You had to have enough points to rotate back. What in hell are you doing here? The Captain told everyone that you were comin' back to be Top Sergeant. I didn't believe him."
"A couple officers from Regiment came to see me in the hospital—a major and a lieutenant. You know, laid it on thick. There was a re-up bonus and an extra rocker in it. I could ask you the same question."
"More or less the same answer," Frank replied. "I'm Platoon Sergeant for First Platoon. C'mon, I'll walk you to the CP. They made Lt. Graves a Captain. He's the CO now."
"How's he doing?" Hal asked.
"Fine, fine; not much goin' on. We've been encamped in this town for eight days. It's not bad, except for the mud. Most of the men are replacements—some of the officers, too. Nearly all the original guys that made it are rotated states-side."
"That's what they told me back in England. They were complaining that they don't have enough non-coms with experience."
"Well, they told you right," Frank said as they trudged through a muddy field. "Most of these guys have never seen a German."
"Well, the news in England is that the Nazis can't hold out until June. Maybe these guys won't ever get to see a German—at least one aiming at them. I saw Sammy on sentry duty. What gives?"
"Busted! He told off a shavetail lieutenant and the Captain yanked his stripes and half his points."
"Shame," Hal said. "He deserves better. Landed on Utah with you and me. But, I know Sammy. Trouble and him go together—can't stand prosperity."
Frank shrugged. "That's it for the ten-cent tour. The CP's across the street in what used to be the Town Hall. The Captain should be inside. I've got to get back to my platoon."
"Take it easy, Frank. I'll see ya 'round later."
Hal stepped through the door of the CP and took a look around. Things had changed since he was wounded in The Bulge. To Hal, the CP looked like the insurance agency office back home. He reminded himself that there were Germans three miles down the road. He approached a corporal trying to load two sheets of paper with a carbon in-between into a typewriter. A cigarette burned in an ashtray on the side.
"Corporal, I'm Sgt. Weaver. I've got to report to Capt. Graves."
The Corporal looked up for a moment, perturbed at having been interrupted. "He's back there," he said as he took a drag on the butt and then returned to loading the paper.
"Take me to him," Hal commanded in a loud and almost angry voice. "And put out that butt!"
The corporal looked up again, wearing a look of surprise. He crushed out the smoke, rose from his chair and ventured out from behind his desk. "This way, Sergeant."
"This Company has got to start lookin' more GI," Hal thought as he followed the Corporal to the Captain's office. The Corporal knocked on the door.
"Sgt. Weaver to see you, sir," the Corporal announced as he opened the Captain's door.
Hal snapped a salute at the officer. "MSgt. Harold Weaver reporting for duty, sir."
The Captain returned the salute and Hal handed him his orders. "Stand at ease," the Captain ordered. "Glad you're back, Sergeant. What took you so long?"
"I was just ready to leave the hospital and then my leg developed an infection, sir."
The Captain nodded. "Anyway, you're here now and that's what counts. We've got a tough job to do. About three quarters of the men are replacements—never seen action. That goes for the officers, too. Everyone thinks the war's gonna' end tomorrow. It's hard to be GI."
"There's still plenty of Germans, sir," Hal replied, "plenty of opportunity to get it. That's just what happens when a unit stops bein' GI."
"You're right—that's why I need you. We'll probably go to Japan after this. On top of that, they took my XO yesterday to take over Company B. I'm gonna lean heavy on you."
"Yes, sir," Hal answered.
"For right now," the Captain continued, the Corporal, here, will show you to your quarters. Then report to Lt. Lamont in Second Platoon. They're going out tonight to reconnoiter a village a few miles east of here. Luben-something. Here it is on the map."
Hal bent over the Captain's desk.
"Not a very big place. Excuse me, sir—why don't they just flatten it with artillery."
"Don't know," Capt. Graves answered. "They could, but this is the way the Colonel wants it. Anyway, when you go out, stick with Lamont. He already has a Platoon Sergeant. Your job is to be there if he needs you. He just got in a few days ago—no experience whatsoever."
"I understand, sir. Can we take Cimino?"
"Cimino?" the Captain asked. "No, he's on Company Punishment."
"He's the best scout in the Company, sir—especially at night."
"He's lucky I didn't send him up the chain to Regiment," the Captain said.
"He's the best," Hal repeated. "Perhaps, sir, if he apologized to the lieutenant involved..."
"Okay—okay. Tell Cimino he's off punishment—but it better be the last time. Once more and it'll be up to Regiment.
"And listen up; don't let Lamont get carried away. We don't know how many Germans are there—if there are any. If you find any in force, just hold a position outside the town and call us in for support. Otherwise, go in and secure the town—but no farther. These shavetails think they're the next Patton."
"I understand, sir."
"And another thing; everyone knows the end's coming any time. If there are any Germans there, they'll be scared and desperate. Who knows what they'll do. So, don't take any chances. This town's not important enough to take casualties over. I don't even know why we're bothering with it, but that's what the Colonel wants. Shove off at 0300 so you'll be in position outside the town just at daybreak."
"Yes, sir—understood," Hal repeated.
"So, am I supposed to salute?"
Hal wheeled around and saw the dirty, unshaven face of Salvatore Cimino. "You know better than that, Sammy."
"Well, it's nice to see ya, Hal—even if you're nearly an officer."
"Good old Sammy," Hal said as he slapped him on the shoulder, "always got a bad word for everybody."
Formerly Sgt., and now PFC, Salvatore Cimino came from Staten Island. He was short and the war had made him skinny. He had black curly hair and under it a long narrow face with sunken eyes. He hoped to get a cab medallion after the war. He shared all his opinions without ever being asked—and he had many of them. Hal had spent many a night huddled in a foxhole with him. Sammy knew how to get serious when he had to.
"It's good to see you, Hal. But I know you didn't send for me to talk about old times."
"I got you off guard duty," Hal pled.
"I was beginning to like it."
"Maybe we can do something about getting back your stripes."
"Keep 'em," Sammy retorted. "I got no use for 'em anymore."
"Then, of course, there's your rotation points," Hal pointed out.
"Now you're talkin'! What've I gotta volunteer for?"
"Lt. Lamont's taking his platoon out tonight to reconnoiter a small town three miles east of here. I'm goin' along to help him and you're going, too, as the scout."
"Lamont! He's the shavetail I told to kiss off. I think guard duty's lookin' better 'n' better, Hal."
"C'mon, Sammy! Knock it off. This is important. We're goin' out no matter what, and I'd rather not go bare-assed. I need someone who knows the score."
"So, you're orderin' me t' volunteer?"
"I'd like it better if you did it on your own, but I haven't got a lot of choices."
"What can I say?" Sammy sighed. "This sounds like almost as much fun as watching a VD film. Just work on gettin' me back those points, Hal."
The Platoon started out on time. The village, Hal never really got the name, was about three miles east of the Company encampment. If all went well they would cover the distance and be in position at 0:500. There was a wood with a creek running through it that came to within about a half-mile of the village. Beyond the woods lay an open field—probably a farmer's field in better days—that extended from the woods to the narrow lanes of small houses. The terrain crested about midpoint in the field, rising up from the woods and then flattening out.
The plan was to position the men in three squads, unseen in the woods. A small scouting party would set up an OP at the top of the rise and try to see if there were any German units stationed in the village. If there were any, they could radio the Company for reinforcements, as ordered, while the Platoon remained hidden in the woods. Otherwise, they could advance from the tree line to the crest, and then into the town. One squad was to be held in reserve for cover—just in case.
It was a simple plan; Hal knew that simple always worked best. It worried him that Lt. Lamont was so slow to accept it when Hal met with him to go over it that afternoon.
"There might be Germans in the woods," he protested.
"Sir, if there are they're sure to be on the road, too. Anyway, if they've got enough men to put lookouts that far away from the village, we'll already know that they're too strong to attack and we'll have to call for Company support."
The Lieutenant suggested something more strategic. "We could maneuver around this tree line and attack from the rear."
Hal shook his head. "We could get cut off from the Company, Lieutenant, if the enemy is there. It's too big a risk to take."
"We could get air support if that happens," Lamont countered.
"Lieutenant, they didn't even want to lob a few mortar rounds in there," Hal reminded him. "What chance do we have for an air strike?" Hal paused for a second to see if the logic sunk into the young officer. "The Captain would never approve that plan," he added. Lamont nodded his head to show he agreed.
And so the plan to take a village, with a name no one could remember, came to be. It wasn't much of a plan, but it wasn't much of a village, either.
Hal reported to Capt. Graves to let him know they were set to go.
"Did Lamont give you a hard time about tagging along?" Graves asked.
"A little, but not too much, sir. I told him it was your orders and he didn't say anything more about it after that."
"That's the first smart thing that shavetail's done since he got here."
"What about Cimino? Did he complain about going out with his platoon?"
"I didn't tell him about Cimino yet, sir," Hal replied.
"Just as well," the Captain said. "Get some chow and some shuteye if you can. Good luck."
Lamont didn't complain when Hal showed up with Sammy. "Lieutenant, I suggest we send Pvt. Cimino out ahead of the platoon as a scout. He can take a runner with him. We can use the road if he can clear it ahead of us."
Hal showed Sammy the map and the objective. "Just get us lined up at the edge of the woods," Hal told him.
Sammy left and the Platoon moved out ten minutes later. It was an uneventful walk down the road. For most of the men, including the Lieutenant, it was their first venture away from safety. Hal knew they were tense; he would have been, too. When they were nearly at the edge of the woods Sammy met them and motioned them off the road and into position in the trees. Soon the Platoon Sgt. found Lamont and reported that all the men were where they were supposed to be.
"Sammy, take your runner to the top of that knoll and wait until sunrise. Get a good look at the village," Hal whispered. "See if you can spot any Germans or heavy equipment. That is, if it's alright with you, Lieutenant."
"I was just about to say that," Lamont croaked in a hoarse voice.
"Just don't let these jamokes shoot me by accident," Sammy warned.
"No problem," Lamont promised. "We're under control."
"Yeah, right," Sammy replied. Hal gave him a scowl. "I meant yeah, right, sir," Sammy corrected. "Tell them to shoot him instead," he said, pointing to his runner. "C'mon kid. We'll crawl out there on our bellies. Stick close to me."
The two men left the safety of the woods and crawled toward the knoll. Hal watched them for a few minutes, and then turned to Lamont. "Lieutenant, you might want to get OP's set up on both flanks and one to the rear, just to be on the safe side."
"I was just about to give that order," he said, and turned to the Platoon Sergeant.
Hal tried to find Sammy crawling through the grass with his field glasses. He could only see shadowy figures in the darkness. It was 0:445. It would be at least fifteen minutes until Sammy was in position and forty-five before there would be enough light to get any information about whatever was in the village.
"We won't have anything to do for a while, Lieutenant," Hal said, as he put his field glasses away. "We might as well relax while we can. I'll pass the word to the men."
"Right, right," Lamont replied as he knelt beside him. Hal noticed the young officer was shivering. It was odd, he thought, because it wasn't very cold.
"You alright, Lieutenant?" he asked. "I can hear you shivering."
"Yeah, I'm okay. It's just this chilly air and the ground's wet. I'll be okay."
Hal nodded and leaned back against a tree. He felt like a smoke, but it was out of the question.
"Maybe I should go out and check out the OP's," Lamont said. "I hate sitting here doing nothing."
"No, I don't think so," Hal answered. "It's dark and the men are all nervous. Someone might fire their weapon, and that's all we'd need."
So they waited. Hal didn't speak to Lamont again, but kept an eye on him shivering and fidgeting as he sat on the ground beside him. The Lieutenant wrapped his arms around himself, but it didn't appear to help him. Hal wondered if Lamont was coming down with flu.
Just as he was about to say something to him, Hal spied Sammy's runner making his way down the slope toward them.
"Sammy says you and the Lieutenant should go up there with him right away," the young private whispered.
"Ready, Lieutenant?" Hal asked.
"Maybe you should go by yourself. Someone has to stay with the men."
Hal shook his head. "I know Sammy and he doesn't 'cry wolf'. Just tell the Platoon Sgt. where you're going. Of course, it's up to you, Lieutenant."
"Okay, okay. Give me a minute." Lamont went back into the woods to find the Sergeant. He returned in a few minutes and crouched next to Hal. "I'm ready," he stammered.
"We'll go on our hands and knees, now that Sammy already cleared the way," Hal said. The three men left the safety of the woods. When they finally came up along Cimino they could see the first traces of daylight washing over the town. It made the village look dirty and gray. It wasn't really sunlight; the sky threatened rain. It was just an absence of darkness.
"You guys took your sweet time gettin' here," Sammy complained as they settled in on either side of him. "I thought you'd want to see what's goin' on."
Hal lifted his field glasses and scanned a street near the edge of the village. In plain sight, a group of German soldiers was standing around an armored vehicle. There were about thirty of them. In the center was a young man wearing an officer's uniform. An older, larger man stood beside him in an enlisted man's uniform. Hal figured he was the Sergeant.