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Then Mollica ordered “Fix bayonets!” We began slowly
advancing in a line with leveled bayonets.

Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry

by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr. and William L. Schaible

First Shots (excerpt)

We were not destined to remain long in the pine forest. On the third day, October 29, we get the word that we have been expecting. Tonight K Company will move up into the front line, relieving the units that are dug in on the far edge of Teveren.

Along in the short afternoon, we fold our blankets, take down the shelter-halves from over the holes and roll our packs. In a departure from the Army’s practice in the States, we do not refill the holes that we have dug. After all, we are no longer in a training area that will be used again and again. We are in Germany and if the Germans want the holes filled, let them fill them themselves! That philosophy, which means less work for us, suits us fine.

We are told that higher echelons have decided that the Jerries are not about to start using poison gas. Therefore our gas masks, which we have kept, are now officially regarded as unnecessary, a burden that we are to lay aside before moving up into the line. We are all glad to shed a few pounds, which overrides any concern we might have for the possibility of a surprise gas attack. When called, our platoon files by a point in the woods where each man drops his gas mask in a growing pile. We hear that they will be transported back to Brunssum and kept with our duffelbags, to be brought up to us if the outlook changes.

Following the old army rule for the lower echelons—“hurry up and wait”—we settle down to wait for dark, sitting and lying on the ground, dispersed among the dense growth of pines. None of the company’s officers receive any detailed information about the positions we will occupy and the nature of the enemy's positions in front of us. No map is available. We hear only that we will be in sight of the enemy and that we cannot get out of our holes in daylight. Our imaginations take over to visualize a situation in which we face the enemy lines across a narrow field — so close that one cannot stick up his head for a peep without getting a bullet through it. Some of us feel our guts tighten as we realize that after months of training and moving toward combat we are finally about to get shot at.

Along in the afternoon, someone comes by with the message that the Regiment’s protestant chaplain is nearby and invites all who wish to do so to join in a prayer meeting. On the eve of our first front-line exposure, he is visiting as many companies as he can. It appears that a lot of us feel we need all the prayers we can get: the majority of the Protestants and quite a few Catholics elect to attend, gathering around the chaplain in a small clearing. The chaplain speaks briefly of God and country and offers a few words of encouragement, after which we sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The chaplain closes with a prayer for our courage and survival. We return to our packs, feeling somewhat less tense about what may await us on the front line and glad for the chaplain’s visit.

At twilight, as the time for our departure approaches, the Platoon assembles near the edge of the forest. In a final “pep talk,” Lt. Welti talks tough, warning us against shirking our duty or even thinking about deserting in the face of the enemy. Many of the riflemen feel resentment at what we perceive as slur on our courage, whether intended or not. Anger helps to displace fear, at least for the moment.


These paragraphs open Chapter 4 of Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry. Buy this book today to read the entire first-person account of Company K’s journey from basic training, through the European Theater of Operations, and (for some, at least) home again.

Copyright © 1997, 2008 by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr.