The men of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, came from different backgrounds, different parts of the country. They were farmers and coal miners, mountain men and sons of the Deep South. Some were desperately poor, others from the middle class. One came from Harvard, one from Yale, a couple from UCLA. Only one was from the Old Army, only a few came from the National Guard or Reserves. They were citizen soldiers.
They came together in the summer of 1942, by which time the Europeans had been at war for three years. By the late spring of 1944, they had become an elite company of airborne light infantry. Early on the morning of D-Day, in its first combat action, Easy captured and put out of action a German battery of four 105 mm cannon that were looking down on Utah Beach. The company led the way into Carentan, fought in Holland, held the perimeter at Bastogne, led the counteroffensive in the Battle of the Bulge, fought in the Rhineland campaign, and took Hitler's Eagle's Nest at Berchtesgaden. It had taken almost 150 percent casualties. At the peak of its effectiveness, in Holland in October 1944 and in the Ardennes in January 1945, it was as good a rifle company as there was in the world. The job completed, the company disbanded, the men went home.
Each of the 140 men and seven officers who formed the original company followed a different route to its birthplace, Camp Toccoa, Georgia, but they had some things in common. They were young, born since the Great War.
They were white, because the U.S. Army in World War II was segregated. With three exceptions, they were unmarried.
Most had been hunters and athletes in high school.
They were special in their values. They put a premium on physical well being, hierarchical authority, and being
part of an elite unit. They were idealists, eager to merge themselves into a group fighting for a cause, actively seeking an outfit with which they could identify, join, be a part of, relate to as a family.
They volunteered for the paratroopers, they said, for the thrill, the honor, and the $50 (for enlisted men) or $100 (for officers) monthly bonus paratroopers received. But they really volunteered to jump out of airplanes for two profound, personal reasons. First, in Robert Rader's words, "The desire to be better than the other guy took hold." Each man in his own way had gone through what Richard Winters experienced: a realization that doing his best was a better way of getting through the Army than hanging around with the sad excuses for soldiers they met in the recruiting depots or basic training.
They wanted to make their Army time positive, a learning and maturing and challenging experience.
Second, they knew they were going into combat, and they did not want to go in with poorly trained, poorly conditioned, poorly motivated draftees on either side of them. As to choosing between being a paratrooper spearheading the offensive and an ordinary infantryman who could not trust the guy next to him, they decided the greater risk was with the infantry. When the shooting started, they wanted to look up to the guy beside them, not down.
They had been kicked around by the Depression, had the scars to show for it. They had grown up, many of them, without enough to eat, with holes in the soles of their shoes, with ragged sweaters and no car and often not a radio. Their educations had been cut short, either by the Depression or by the war.
"Yet, with this background, I had and still have a great love for my country," Harry Welsh declared forty-eight
Whatever their legitimate complaints about how life had treated them, they had not soured on it or on their country.
They came out of the Depression with many other positive features. They were self-reliant, accustomed to hard work and to taking orders. Through sports or hunting or both, they had gained a sense of self-worth and self-confidence.
They knew they were going into great danger. They knew they would be doing more than their part. They resented having to sacrifice years of their youth to a war they never made. They wanted to throw baseballs, not grenades, shoot a .22 rifle, not an M-l. But having been caught up in the war, they decided to be as positive as possible in their Army careers.
Not that they knew much about airborne, except that it was new and all volunteer. They had been told that the physical training was tougher than anything they had ever seen, or that any other unit in the Army would undergo, but these young lions were eager for that. They expected that, when they were finished with their training, they would be bigger, stronger, tougher than when they started, and they would have gone through the training with the guys who would be fighting beside them.
"The Depression was over," Carwood Lipton recalled of that summer of 1942, "and I was beginning a new life that would change me profoundly." It would all of them.
First Lt. Herbert Sobel of Chicago was the initial member of E Company, and its C.O. His executive officer (X.O.) was 2nd Lt. Clarence Hester from northern California. Sobel was Jewish, urban, with a commission from the National Guard. Hester had started as a private, then earned his commission from Officer Candidate's School (OCS). Most of the platoon and assistant platoon leaders were newly commissioned graduates of OCS, including 2nd Lts. Dick Winters from Pennsylvania, Walter Moore from California's race tracks, and Lewis Nixon from New York City and Yale. S. L. Matheson was an ROTC graduate from UCLA. At twenty-eight years of age, Sobel was the old man in the group; the others were twenty-four or younger.
The company, along with Dog, Fox, and Battalion HQ Companies, made up the 2nd Battalion of the 506th PIR.
The battalion commander was Maj. Robert Strayer, a thirty-year-old reserve officer. The regimental commander was Col. Robert Sink, a 1927 West Point graduate. The 506th was an experimental outfit, the first parachute infantry regiment in which the men would take their basic training and their jump training together, as a unit. It would be a year before it was attached to the 101st Airborne, the Screaming Eagles. The officers were as new to this paratrooping business as the men; they were teachers who sometimes were not much more than one day ahead of the class.
The original NCOs were Old Army. "We looked up to them," Pvt. Walter Gordon of Mississippi remembered, "as almost like gods because they had their wings, they were qualified jumpers. But, hell, if they knew how to do an aboutface, they were ahead of us, we were raw recruits. Later, looking back, we regarded them with scorn. They couldn't measure up to our own people who moved up to corporals and sergeants."
The first privates in Easy were Frank Perconte, Herman Hansen, Wayne Sisk, and Carwood Lipton. Within a few days of its formation, Easy had a full complement of 132 men and eight officers. It was divided into three platoons and a headquarters section. There were three twelve-man rifle squads plus a six-man mortar team squad to a platoon. A light infantry outfit, Easy had one machine-gun to each of the rifle squads, and a 60 mm mortar in each mortar team.
Few of the original members of Easy made it through Toccoa. "Officers would come and go," Winters remarked. "You would take one look at them and know they wouldn't make it. Some of those guys were just a bowl of butter. They were so awkward they didn't know how to fall." This was typical of the men trying for the 506th PIR; it took 500 officer volunteers to produce the 148 who made it through Toccoa, and 5,300 enlisted volunteers to get 1,800 graduates.
As the statistics show, Toccoa was a challenge. Colonel Sink's task was to put the men through basic training, harden them, teach them the rudiments of infantry tactics, prepare them for jump school, and build a regiment that he would lead into combat. "We were sorting men," Lieutenant Hester recalled, "sorting the fat to the thin and sorting out the no guts."
Pvt. Ed Tipper said of his first day in Easy, "I looked up at nearby Mount Currahee and told someone, I’ll bet that when we finish the training program here, the last thing they'll make us do will be to climb to the top of that mountain.' [Currahee was more a hill than a mountain, but it rose 1,000 feet above the parade ground and dominated the landscape.] A few minutes later, someone blew a whistle. We fell in, were ordered to change to boots and athletic trunks, did so, fell in again—and then ran most of the three miles to the top and back down again." They lost some men that first day. Within a week, they were running—or at least double-timing—all the way up and back.
At the end of the second week, Tipper went on, "We were told, 'Relax. No runs today.' We were taken to the mess hall for a tremendous meal of spaghetti at lunchtime. When we came out of the mess hall, a whistle blew, and we were told, 'The orders are changed. We run.' We went to the top of Currahee and back with a couple of ambulances following, and men vomiting spaghetti everywhere along the way. Those who dropped out and accepted the medics' invitation to ride back in the ambulances found themselves shipped out that same day."
The men were told that Currahee was an Indian word that meant "We stand alone," which was the way these
paratroopers expected to fight. It became the battle cry of the 506th.
The officers and men ran up and down Currahee three or four times a week. They got so they could do the sixplus-mile round trip in fifty minutes. In addition, they went through a grueling obstacle course daily, and did pushups and pull-ups, deep-knee bends and other calisthenics.
When the men were not exercising, they were learning the basics of soldiering. They began with close order drill, then started making night marches with full field equipment. The first night march was eleven miles; on each march that followed a mile or two was added on. These marches were made without a break, without a cigarette, without water. "We were miserable, exhausted, and thought that if we did not get a drink of water we were certain to collapse," Pvt. Burton "Pat" Christenson recalled. At the end of a march Sobel would check each man's canteen to see that it was still full.
Those who made it got through because of an intense private determination and because of their desire for public recognition that they were special. Like all elite units around the world, the Airborne had its unique badges and symbols. Once through jump school, they would receive silver wings to wear on the left pocket of their jackets, a patch for their left shoulder, a patch for their hats, and the right to wear paratrooper boots and "blouse" their trousers (tuck the trousers into their boots). Gordon said that "it doesn't make much sense now , but at the time we were all ready to trade our lives in order to wear these accoutrements of the Airborne."
The only rest came when they got lectures, on weapons, map and compass reading, infantry tactics, codes, signaling, field telephones, radio equipment, switchboard and wire stringing, demolitions. For unarmed combat and bayonet drills, it was back to using those trembling muscles.
When they were issued their rifles, they were told to treat the weapon as they would treat a wife, gently. It was
theirs to have and to hold, to sleep with in the field, to know intimately. They got to where they could take it apart and put it back together blindfolded.
To prepare the men for jump school, Toccoa had a mock-up tower some 35 feet high. A man was strapped into a parachute harness that was connected to 15-foot risers, which in turn were attached to a pulley that rode a cable. Jumping from the tower in the harness, sliding down the cable to the landing, gave the feeling of a real parachute jump and landing.
All these activities were accompanied by shouting in unison, chanting, singing together, or bitching. The language was foul. These nineteen- and twenty-year-old enlisted men, free from the restraints of home and culture, thrown together into an all-male society, coming from all over America, used words as one form of bonding. The one most commonly used, by far, was the f-word. It substituted for adjectives, nouns, and verbs. It was used, for example, to describe the cooks: "those fuckers," or "fucking cooks"; what they did: "fucked it up again"; and what they produced. David Kenyon Webster, a Harvard English major, confessed that he found it difficult to adjust to the "vile, monotonous, and unimaginative language." The language made these boys turning into men feel tough and, more important, insiders, members of a group. Even Webster got used to it, although never to like it.
The men were learning to do more than swear, more than how to fire a rifle, more than that the limits of their physical endurance were much greater than they had ever imagined. They were learning instant, unquestioning obedience. Minor infractions were punished on the spot, usually by requiring the man to do twenty push-ups. More serious infractions cost a man his weekend pass, or several hours marching in full field pack on the parade ground. The Army had a saying, Gordon related: "We can't make you do anything, but we can make you wish you had." Brought together by their misery, held together by their cadence counts, singing, and common experiences, they were becoming a family.
The company learned to act as a unit. Within days of the formation of Easy, the 140 men could make a one-
quarter or one-half turn, or an about-face, as if one. Or set off at double-time, or on a full run. Or drop to the ground to do push-ups. Or shout "Yes, Sir!" or "No, Sir!" in unison.
All this was part of the initiation rites common to all armies. So was learning to drink. Beer, almost exclusively, at the post PX, there being no nearby towns. Lots of beer. They sang soldiers' songs. Toward the end of the evening, invariably someone would insult someone else with a slurring reference to his mother, his sweetheart, his home town, or his region. Then they would fight, as soldier boys do, inflicting bloody noses and blackened eyes, before staggering back to their barracks, yelling war chants, supporting each other, becoming comrades.
The result of these shared experiences was a closeness unknown to all outsiders. Comrades are closer than friends,
closer than brothers. Their relationship is different from that of lovers. Their trust in, and knowledge of, each other is total. They got to know each other's life stories, what they did before they came into the Army, where and why they volunteered, what they liked to eat and drink, what their capabilities were. On a night march they would hear a cough and know who it was; on a night maneuver they would see someone sneaking through the woods and know who it was from his silhouette.
Their identification worked downward, from the Army to the Airborne to the 506th to 2nd Battalion to Easy
Company to platoon to squad. Pvt. Kurt Gabel of the 513th PIR described his experience in words that any member of E Company could have used: "The three of us, Jake, Joe, and I, became ... an entity. There were many entities in our closeknit organizations. Groups of threes and fours, usually from the same squads or sections, core elements within the families that were the small units, were readily recognized as entities. . . . This sharing . . . evolved never to be relinquished, never to be repeated. Often three such entities would make up a squad, with incredible results in combat. They would literally insist on going hungry for one another, freezing for one another, dying for one another. And the squad would try to protect them or bail them out without the slightest regard to consequences, cussing them all the way for making it necessary. Such a rifle squad, machine gun section, scout-observer section, pathfinder section was a mystical concoction."(1)
Philosopher J. Glen Gray, in his classic work The Warriors, got it exactly right: "Organization for a common and concrete goal in peacetime organizations does not evoke anything like the degree of comradeship commonly known in war. ... At its height, this sense of comradeship is an ecstasy. . . . Men are true comrades only when each is ready to give up his life for the other, without reflection and without thought of personal loss."(2)
(1. Kurt Gabel, The Making of a Paratrooper: Airborne Training and Combat in World War II. (Lawrence, Kan.:
University Press of Kansas, 1990), 142.
2. J. Glenn Gray, The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle (New York: Harper & Row, 1959), 43, 45, 46.)
The comradeship formed in training and reinforced in combat lasted a lifetime. Forty-nine years after Toccoa, Pvt. Don Malarkey of Oregon wrote of the summer of 1942, "So this was the beginning of the most momentous experience of my life, as a member of E Company. There is not a day that has passed since that I do not thank Adolf Hitler for allowing me to be associated with the most talented and inspiring group of men that I have ever known." Every member of Easy interviewed by this author for this book said something similar.
The NCOs came up from the ranks, gradually replacing the Old Army cadre types who quit as the training grew more intense. Within a year, all thirteen sergeants in Easy were from the original group of privates, including 1st Sgt. William Evans, S. Sgts. James Diel, Salty Harris, and Myron Ranney, and Sgts. Leo Boyle, Bill Guarnere, Carwood Lipton, John Martin, Robert Rader, and Amos Taylor. "These were men," as one private said, "who were leaders that we respected and would follow anywhere."
The officers were also special and, except for Company Commander Sobel, universally respected. "We couldn't believe that people like Winters, Matheson, Nixon, and the others existed," Private Rader remembered. "These were firstclass people, and to think these men would care and share their time and efforts with us seemed a miracle. They taught us to trust." Winters, Rader went on, "turned our lives around. He was openly friendly, genuinely interested in us and our physical training. He was almost shy—he wouldn't say 'shit' if he stepped in it." Gordon said that if a man called out, "Hey, Lieutenant, you got a date tonight?" Winters would turn beet red.
Matheson, who was soon moved up to battalion staff as adjutant and who eventually became a regular Army major general, was the most military minded of the young officers. Hester was "fatherly," Nixon flamboyant. Winters was none of these, nor was he humorous or obstinate. "Nor at any time did Dick Winters pretend to be God, nor at any time did he act other than a man!", according to Rader. He was an officer who got the men to perform because he expected nothing but the best, and "you liked him so much you just hated to let him down." He was, and is, all but worshipped by the men of E Company.
Second Lieutenant Winters had one major, continuing problem, 1st Lieutenant (soon promoted to captain) Sobel.
The C.O. was fairly tall, slim in build, with a full head of black hair. His eyes were slits, his nose large and hooked. His face was long and his chin receded. He had been a clothing salesman and knew nothing of the out-of-doors. He was ungainly, uncoordinated, in no way an athlete. Every man in the company was in better physical condition. His mannerisms were "funny," he "talked different." He exuded arrogance.
Sobel was a petty tyrant put into a position in which he had absolute power. If he did not like a man, for whatever reason, he would flunk him out for the least infraction, real or imagined.
There was a cruelty to the man. On Saturday morning inspections, he would go down the line, stop in front of a man who had displeased him in some way, and mark him down for "dirty ears." After denying three or four men their weekend passes on those grounds, he would shift to "dirty stacking swivels" and keep another half-dozen or so in barracks for that reason. When someone was late returning on Sunday night, the next evening, after a full day's training, Sobel would order him to dig a 6 x 6 x 6-foot pit with his entrenching tools. When the pit was finished, Sobel would tell him to "fill it up."
Sobel was determined that his company would be the best in the regiment. His method of insuring this result was to demand more of Easy's men. They drilled longer, ran faster, trained harder. Running up Currahee, Sobel was at the head of the company, head bobbing, arms flapping, looking back over his shoulder to see if anyone was dropping out. With his big flat feet, he ran like a duck in distress. He would shout, "The Japs are going to get you!" or "Hi-ho Silver!"
"I remember many times finishing a long run," Tipper said. "Everyone at the point of exhaustion and waiting in formation for the command, 'Fall out!' Sobel would be running back and forth in front of his men shouting, 'Stand still, STAND STILL!' He would not dismiss us until he was satisfied that we had the discipline to impersonate statues at his command. Impossible, of course. But we did what he wanted when he wanted. We wanted those wings."
Gordon developed a lifelong hatred of Sobel. "Until I landed in France in the very early hours of D-Day," Gordon said in 1990, "my war was with this man." Along with other enlisted, Gordon swore that Sobel would not survive five minutes in combat, not when his men had live ammunition. If the enemy did not get him, there were a dozen and more men in Easy who swore that they would. Behind his back the men cursed him, "f——ing Jew" being the most common epithet.
Sobel was as hard on his officers as on the enlisted men. Their physical training was the same, but when the men
heard the final "fall out" of the day, they were free to go to their bunks, while the officers had to study the field manuals, then take a test on the assignment Sobel had given them. When he held officers' meetings, Winters recalled, "He was very domineering. There was no give-and-take. His tone of voice was high-pitched, rasplike. He shouted instead of speaking in a normal way. It would just irritate you." The officers' nickname for their captain was "The Black Swan."
Sobel had no friends. Officers would avoid him in the officers' club. None went on a pass with him, none sought out his company. No one in Easy knew anything about his previous life and no one cared. He did have his favorites, of whom No. 1 was company 1st Sgt. William Evans. Together, Sobel and Evans played men off against one another, granting a privilege here, denying one there.
Anyone who has ever been in the Army knows the type. Sobel was the classic chickenshit. He generated maximum anxiety over matters of minimum significance. Paul Fussell, in his book Wartime, has the best definition: "Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige, - sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline,- a constant 'paying off of old scores'; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickenshit is so called—instead of horse- or bull- or elephant shit—because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously."(3)
Sobel had the authority over the men. Lieutenant Winters had their respect. The two men were bound to clash. No one ever said so directly, and not everyone in Easy recognized what was happening, and Winters did not want it that way, but they were in competition to be the leader.
Sobel's resentment of Winters began during the first week at Toccoa. Winters was leading the company in calisthenics. He was up on a stand, demonstrating, "helping the fellows get through the exercise. These boys, they were sharp. And I had their complete attention." Colonel Sink walked past. He stopped to watch. When Winters finished, Sink walked up to him. "Lieutenant," he asked, "how many times has this company had calisthenics?" "Three times, sir," Winters replied.
"Thank you very much," Sink said. A few days later, without consulting Sobel, he promoted Winters to 1st lieutenant. For Sobel, Winters was a marked man from that day. The C.O. gave the platoon leader every dirty job that he could find, such as latrine inspection or serving as mess officer.
Paul Fussell wrote, "Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the
3. Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 80.
Winters disagreed. He believed that at least some of what Sobel was doing—if not the way he was doing it—was
necessary. If Easy ran farther and faster than the other companies, if it stayed on the parade ground longer, if its bayonet drills were punctuated by "The Japs are going to get you!" and other exhortations, why, then, it would be a better company than the others.
What Winters objected to, beyond the pettiness and arbitrary methods, was Sobel's lack of judgment. The man had neither common sense nor military experience. He could not read a map. On field exercises, he would turn to his X.O. and ask, "Hester, where are we?" Hester would try to locate the position for him without embarrassing him, "but all the men knew what was going on."
Sobel made up his mind without reflection and without consultation, and his snap decisions were usually wrong. One night at Toccoa the company was out in the woods on an exercise. It was supposed to be on the defensive, stay in position and be quiet and let the enemy come into the killing zone. "No problem," as Winters recalled, "just an easy job. Just spread the men out, get them in position, 'everyone be quiet.' We're waiting, waiting, waiting. Suddenly a breeze starts to pick up into the woods, and the leaves start to rustle, and Sobel jumps up. 'Here they come! Here they come!' God Almighty! If we were in combat, the whole damn company would be wiped out. And I thought, 'I can't go into combat with this man! He has no damn sense at all!' "
Winters recognized that Sobel was "a disciplinarian and he was producing a hell of a company. Anytime you saw Easy, by God, the men were sharp. Anything we did, we were out in front." Private Rader said of Sobel, "He stripped away your civilian way of doing things and your dignity, but you became one of the best soldiers in the Army." In Winters' opinion the trouble was Sobel could not see "the unrest and the contempt that was breeding in the troops. You lead by fear or you lead by example. We were being led by fear."
I asked every member of Easy that I interviewed for this book if the extraordinary closeness, the outstanding unit cohesion, the remarkable staying power of the identification with Easy came about because of or in spite of Sobel. Those who did not reply "Both," said it was because of Sobel. Rod Strohl looked me in the eye and said flatly, "Herbert Sobel made E Company." Others said something similar. But they nearly all hated him.
That feeling helped bring the company together. "No doubt about it," Winters said. "It was a feeling everybody shared. Junior officers, noncoms, enlisted men, we all felt exactly the same way." But, he added, "It brought us together.
We had to survive Sobel."
They hated him so much that even when he should have earned their respect, he failed. While at Toccoa everyone, enlisted and officer, had to pass a qualifying physical test. By then they were in such good shape that no one was really worried about it. Almost all of them could do thirty-five or forty push-ups, for example, and the requirement was only thirty. But there was great excitement, Tipper said, because "we knew Sobel could barely do twenty push-ups. He always stopped at that point when leading the company in calisthenics. If this test were fair, Sobel would fail and wash out.
"Sobel's test was public and fair. I was part of a not-so-casual audience perhaps fifty feet away. At twenty pushups he was noticeably bushed, but kept going. At twenty-four or twenty-five his arms were trembling, and he was turning red, but slowly continuing. How he managed to complete the thirty push-ups I don't know, but he did. We were silent, shook our heads, but did not smile. Sobel did not lack determination. We comforted ourselves with the idea that he was still a joke, no matter what."
The paratroopers were volunteers. Any man or officer was free at any time to take a walk. Many did. Sobel did not. He could have walked away from the challenge of being an Airborne officer and walked into a staff job with a supply company, but his determination to make it was as great as that of any member of the company.
Pushing Easy harder than Dog and Fox was difficult, because 2nd Battalion commander Major Strayer was almost as fanatic as Sobel. On Thanksgiving Day, Sink let his regiment feast and relax, but Major Strayer decided it was time for a two-day field exercise for the 2nd Battalion. It included long marches, an attack against a defended position, a gas alarm in the middle of the night, and an introduction to K rations (tins containing a sort of stew, crackers, candy, and powdered fruit juice).
Strayer made that Thanksgiving even more memorable by laying on the Hawg Innards Problem. He stretched wires across a field, at about 18 inches off the ground. Machine-gunners fired over the top of the wire. Beneath it, Strayer spread the ground with the intestines of freshly slaughtered hogs—hearts, lungs, guts, livers, the works. The men crawled through the vile mess. Lipton recalled that "the army distinction between 'creep' and 'crawl' is that a baby creeps, and a snake crawls. We crawled." No one ever forgot the experience.
By the end of November, basic training had been completed. Every man in the company had mastered his own specialty, be it mortars, machine-guns, rifles, communications, field dressings, and the rest. Each man was capable of handling any job in the platoon, at least in a rudimentary fashion. Each private knew the duties of a corporal and sergeant and was prepared to take over if necessary. Each one who made it through Toccoa had been harassed almost to the point of rebellion. "We all thought," Christenson said, "after this, I can take anything they can throw at me."
A day or so before leaving Toccoa, Colonel Sink read an article in the Reader's Digest that said a Japanese Army battalion had set a world record for marching endurance by covering 100 miles down the Malayan Peninsula in seventytwo hours. "My men can do better than that," Sink declared. As Strayer's 2nd Battalion had trained the hardest, Sink picked it to prove his point. The 1st Battalion took the train to Fort Benning, the 3rd took the train to Atlanta, but the 2nd marched.
At 0700, December 1, Dog, Easy, Fox, and battalion HQ companies set out, each man wearing all his gear and carrying his weapon. That was bad enough for the riflemen, terrible for those like Malarkey in the mortar squad or Gordon, who carried a machine-gun. The route Strayer chose was 118 miles long, 100 miles of that on back-country, unpaved roads. The weather was miserable, with freezing rain, some snow, and thus slippery, muddy roads. As Webster recalled it, "The first day we sloshed and fell in the red mud and cursed and damned and counted the minutes before the next break." They marched through the day, through twilight, into the dark. The rain and snow stopped. A cold, biting wind came up.
By 2300 hours the battalion had covered 40 miles. Strayer picked the campsite, a bare, windswept hill devoid of trees or bushes or windbreaks of any kind. The temperature dipped into the low 20s. The men were issued bread smeared with butter and jam, as they couldn't get the field stoves started. When they woke at 0600, everything was covered with a thick layer of frost. Boots and socks were frozen solid. The officers and men had to take the shoestrings out of the boots to get them onto their swollen feet. Rifles, mortars, and machine-guns were frozen to the ground. The shelter halves crackled like peanut brittle.
The second day it took some miles for stiff, aching muscles to warm up, but the third day was the worst. With 80 miles covered, there were still 38 to go, the last 20 or so on the highway leading into Atlanta. Marching in mud had been
bad, but the cement was much worse on the feet. The battalion camped that night on the grounds of Oglethorpe University, on the outskirts of Atlanta.
Malarkey and his buddy Warren "Skip" Muck put up their pup tent and lay down to rest. Word came that chow was ready. Malarkey could not stand up. He crawled on his hands and knees to the chow line. His platoon leader, Winters, took one look and told him to ride in an ambulance the next morning to the final destination, Five Points in downtown Atlanta.
Malarkey decided he could make it. So did nearly all the others. By this time the march had generated publicity throughout Georgia, on the radio and in the newspapers. Cheering crowds lined the route of march. Strayer had arranged for a band. It met them a mile from Five Points. Malarkey, who had struggled along in terrible pain, had "a strange thing happen to me when that band began to play. I straightened up, the pain disappeared, and I finished the march as if we were passing in review at Toccoa."
They had covered 118 miles in 75 hours. Actual marching time was 33 hours, 30 minutes, or about 4 miles an hour. Of the 586 men and officers in the battalion, only twelve failed to complete the march, although some had to be supported by comrades the last day. Colonel Sink was appropriately proud. "Not a man fell out," he told the press, "but when they fell, they fell face forward." Lieutenant Moore's 3rd platoon of Easy was the only one in the battalion in which every man walked every step of the way on his own. As a reward, it led the parade through Atlanta.
Merci pour la lecture!
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