My Longest Day

by Harold Eby
Ozark Notes, 1994

My longest day was 50 years ago this past November. l was in the first squad of the first platoon of Co. A-406th regiment.

On the morning of November 20th, 1944 the word came down that the ist battalion with flame throwing tanks was to lead the assault on the village ol Geronsweiler, starting from Apweiler a distance of about one-half mile. There was a hay field between the two villages. My squad was the first squad on the left of the battalion formation and the left flank was exposed to the enemy.

The attack started around noon. The squad leader led the column. l was the assistant squad leader, bringing up the rear. When the column got close to the village l saw what l thought was the squad leader drop. l ran up to get the column moving. ‘When l got there l saw that it wasn‘t the leader. He had made it into the village. tt was Allen, the second man of the column. He had been hit with machine gun fire in the chest and blood was coming from his nose as he was breathing.
l yelled back to Thomas for the column to get moving. l saw a hole appear in his helmet. His head drooped, shot through the brain. I knew now a sniper had a good field of tire. l was laying on my stomach. l quickly put my weight on my left elbow and looked back as he pulled the trigger. Instead ol getting me in the brain the bullet went through my left eye and the bridge of my nose. The bone and tissue flew into my right eye. l was blinded. l knew my left eye was gone but l didn‘t know about the other one.

Down in training we had a medic attached to our platoon named Bess. He was very slight in build and when we would go out on marches he would always look overloaded with medical supplies. One of the things l use to say to him was. “Bess, do you ‘want me to carry some of your supplies? . I may need you sometime.” He would always have something smart to say back to me.

As l lay there beside Allen my thoughts were “What will Bess have to say?” The battalion moved on into the village and no
Bess. l lay a good while before l heard footsteps and someone say lie was the medic and would give me first aid. l knew by the voice it was not Bess. tasked “Where’s Bess?” He said Bess got hit with schrapnel and he was taking his place. He put a bandage around my head. He asked me it l wanted a shot of morphine. I said no, l didn‘t want to get too relaxed. I wanted as clear a mind as possible.

He said “l don’t think l can do anything for your buddy. There’s quite a few wounded laying out here and there will be an ambulance come out and pick you up.”

I lay there in the mud. it was getting colder all the time. About the only thing I heard was Allen fighting for every breath he took. l lost all track ol time but l knew by the feel of dampness and how much colder it was getting that it had to be night. I had come to the conclusion that if the ambulance didn‘t come out that afternoon, and l stayed there all night, l didn‘t think they would come out the next day. Allen took his last breath and I was so cold. I decided l was going to get back to Apweiler one way or another.

The British fought right on our left. They used search lights behind the lines and would shine the lights on the clouds above the lines to create artificial moonlight. If l couldn‘t see l was going to crawl over in the field and find tank tracks and follow them back. l took a fingernail file out of my pocket and worked a hole in the bandage over my eye. I could make out the search light. l used that as a reference point and started crawling back. l would stop and listen every once in a while. l wanted to hear Someone before they heard or saw me and let them know l was a friend.

l hadn’t gone very far when t head footsteps and some talking in low tones over to my right. I yelled “Hey, fellows. l need some help over here. “I then heard them running toward the German lines. l sure wasn’t expecting to be calling for help from the enemy. It must have been some German soldiers who had hidden in Apweiler when it was taken and they were trying to get back to their lines.

Soon after that I heard someone over in the field yeti “Who are you?” l said, “Eby, who are you?” He said, “Smitty, and I’ll come over. Say something once in a while so l can find you.” When he got to me he said he was hit in the leg and he asked me what I was doing. “l’m going Back and try to get some help and some heat.” He said, “You can’t do that. You may get shot.” Again l told Smitty that I was cold and l was going back and if he wanted to come along l‘d help him walk and he could help me see. He agreed and l asked him which ieg was hit. I figured his teg was broken or torn up reai bad or he would have gone back on his own long before it got dark.

l got on the side of his wounded leg and every time he would take a step with that leg l would try to carry most of his weight and we would get tangled up and fall down. After about the third time of failing down he said, “Eby, l can walk better without your help.” He walked with hardly a limp.

We got to the first building in Apweifer and we heard some soldiers talking up the street. We called out and two medics from the first battalion came out and took us to their station. They took my bandage off and said, “They sure made a 4-F out of you” and put a fresh bandage on. Then they looked at Smitty and I heard them say “We’ll have you fixed up in no time.”

l was too miserable to carry on any kind of unnecessary conversation but Smitty sure was not. He told them he found me out there. l was yelling, out of my head, and he brought me in and he though he should receive a medal. l’m sitting there thinking he should receive a swift kick for not walking in before dark and letting someone know there were wounded men laying out there.

l had a question in the back of my mind then and l still have it today. Why didn‘t the medics come out and pick us up? lt could be that it Allen had gotten to a doctor in a reasonable time he could have had a light.

The two medics put us in an ambulance to take us to afield hospital. i guess they were driving without tights. Before we got there they went off the road, down an embankment, and the ambulance landed on its side. We hadn’t been strapped in and we got a few bumps.

They got us out and up on the road. They stopped a flatbed truck and we got to the hospital sitting on the back of that truck.

After falling so many times, rolling around in an ambulance when it went off the road, bouncing around on the back of a flatbed truck, the most gentle thing l had done to me was when two orderlies gently set me up to take my wet, dirty clothes off. A doctor came over and exploded, “You aldes know better than that. Lay- that man back down and cut his clothes oft. He could have a fractured skull.” l felt sorry for the orderlies and if that doctor had only known how l had gotten there, he could have saved his breath.

Every time l heard someone close to my bed. I would ask for another blanket. l found out you can‘t put enough blankets on to warm an icicle. Boy, what l wouldn’t have given for an electric blanket!

When the doctor worked on me he pulled my eyelids open and saw that l had a hemorrhage in that eye. lt must have looked bad, but l saw his face right away and there was a nurse looking over his shoulder. At that moment my spirits became so high I had to come out with a little humor. He held his fingers up in front of me and asked how many fingers l could see.

l said “Three, and there’s something else l see.” He said “What’s that?” l said, “There’s a pretty girl looking over your shoulder!” “Soldier, there‘s nothing wrong with that eye.”

There was another ten months of my army life spent in the hospital. And of ail the ones in service. I thought the nurses were the most devoted and the hardest workers. When this country has Veteran’s Day, i think there should be special recognition for the nurses.

And as the years have gone by and i think of that longest day, there’s a veteran whom l would like to meet. it‘s that nurse looking over the doctor’s shoulder just to ask “Do you remember that night?”