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An historical novel based on the combat experiences of

RL Goodson

The Way Home


They shall beat their swords into plowshares,

And their spears into pruning hooks:
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
Neither shall they learn war any more.


“What I am telling is only the tip of the iceberg. This war goes on day and

night. . . . Someone said I should have the names of the places where these

things happen, but this trip was no vacation. I didn’t speak French or

German. We did not stay in the best hotels and most of the towns were so torn

up they were only piles of rubbish. The best cellars was [sic] all that was left

and we didn’t get to use many of them.”

[R L Goodson. Flashbacks. 1995.]

All photographs are taken from United States Army. "Album: 359th Infantry - 90th Division"
(1945).World War Regimental Histories”.
Accessed 20 December 2017. All photographs are believed to be in the common domain.

Copyright 2019 Adam Parish Hartley

RL and Sue Goodson

When the blood, sweat, and dirt of war
become memories, who will remember
the "little things" that GI Joe did, to
make war just "a memory"? We will, of
course. The 90th Division through its
battles and conquests will go down in
the annals of history as one of the
finest and bravest Division of World
War II.
After our return to civilian life it will
give us great satisfaction to look back
at ourselves as we were in combat, and
to see ourselves as the heroes of the
359th, one of the great regimental
combat teams of the war. We have
collected many pictures; all but a few
taken by GI Joe himself on the
battlefield. Insofar as photography is
concerned, some photos could be better, but that doesn't really matter. They show us things as
they were, and as they actually happened with no dressing and special poses. They show us as
we were at the time we helped make history.
We have no pictures of D-Day. Men are not in the mood to take pictures while all Hell is
breaking loose around them. Storming the "Heinies" well-fortified positions was work enough
for that day. Landing on Utah Beach amidst the heavy fire of the enemy was a remarkable
achievement. There were a few pictures taken by those few men who can do their job plus under
any conditions; but their pictures were unable to be located. However, those men who were on
the landing need no pictures to remind them of it. Nor will those men of the 2nd Battalion who
were on the transport, "Susan B. Anthony", when it struck a mine and sank on June 7th ever
forget. The transport stayed afloat just long enough to enable rescue of all the men. These men
were loaded swiftly into small boats amidst gun and shell fire. By the night of D plus 1, the bulk
of the regiment was assembled on the beach. The supporting units were ashore D plus 4. Those
of you who remember this incident have a picture that is printed indelibly in your memory.
"Album: 359th Infantry - 90th Division" (1945). World War Regimental Histories.

Prelude to War in Europe
The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words
were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords. (Psalm 55:21)

This little book is not concerned with an all-encompassing presentation of the enormous

tragedy known as The Second World War. Its immense themes and colossal backstories have

been presented in much larger works and in documentaries readily available to the public. To

these volumes the author of this work commends those seeking such treatments. On the contrary

wise, this is the story of an ordinary man thrust into the defining event of the twentieth century.

This little book does not wish to indulge those enamored with the idea of combat and the

glorification of war.

Home and its importance lay at the center of this telling. War comes because

governments fail their people; war

results from nations surrendering to

their baser instincts; war kills, steals,

and destroys; war, though at times

necessary and just, always results

from a failure of love, generosity, and

compassion. Of all the tragedy

produced by the war nothing equals the loss and pain suffered by the civilian populace during

and after the winds of war sweep through. Separation, disease, and death visited upon families of

Europe during the war continued for decades afterwards.

“The War” left an indelible impression on the social, political and cultural fabric of the

world. It continues to inform and influence the world in the 21st century. Ken Burns wrote, “The

Second World War reverberates and echoes down the corridors of

history, its lessons as fresh today – in our difficult situation – as they

were for those soldiers who struggled daily just to survive that horrible

event” (Ward, xvii). More than this, it changed the lives of the men who

fought and the families who waited at home. An entire generation felt the

searing heat and rushing power of this singular event and adjusted their

lives according to its dictates before, during, and after.


A brief introduction lends itself to clarity and historicity. The Second World War erupted

in Europe from ancient rivalries, unsettled territorial disputes, economic and political upheavals

in Europe; it arose from the national policies of non-intervention and isolationism forwarded by

strong voices in the United States of America and England. The bitter seeds of the second war

were sown in the aftermath of the defeat of Germany in the first war in November of 1918 and

the resulting Treaty of Versailles. For the German troops this represented a betrayal. The German

soldiers in the trenches refused to accept anything less than victory.

In the wake of the war, the world powers formed leagues and signed

pacts, yet the German people continued to believe a myth that the

politicians – weak and corrupted – betrayed them. The dismantling of Austro-Hungarian Empire

and the imposition of enormous war reparations embittered the German populace. No one

despised these bitter pills more than a young, former German soldier named Adolf Hitler. He

lacked any real giftedness politically or militarily. He rose through the political ranks and gained

popularity through his demagogic speeches to become the leader of the National-Socialist

German Workers' Party (Nazi Party). In 1924 he was imprisoned for trying to overthrow the

government. While serving his nine month prison sentence he dictated Mine Kampf (My

Struggle or My Battle) which laid out his hatred for the Jewish people and designs to regain the

territories and prestige lost in the wake of World War I. It was published in 1925.

Appointed Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and as head of the Nazi political party Hitler

set about to exact his revenge. He used themes such as anti-Versailles Treaty, national

expansionism, anti-Semitism, and anti-communism to foment the Germanic people. In August of

1934 President Hindenburg died. Hitler, seizing upon the opportunity, combining the Chancellor

and President into one office. He declared himself the Füehrer (supreme leader) of Germany and

obligated the military to pledge complete allegiance to him. .

The British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, a peacemaker and pacifist, flew to meet

Hitler. The Nazi dictator manipulated and used Chamberlain at every turn. In Munich on

September the 29th, 1938, with the Italian dictator Mussolini acting as mediator, France and

Britain agreed to certain concessions with the understanding that Germany would not try to seize

more land. The weak and vacillating Chamberlin flew back to Britain with a document that he

declared assured peace. In short order Hitler dismissed Chamberlain’s document and began

taking non-German speaking territories. The British warned that if he did not stop these

provocations, a declaration of war would be forthcoming. Hitler dismissed this as well. He

invaded and overran the Polish defenses. Some 20 years after Versailles, in the year 1939,

Germany commenced an aggressive military campaign to acquire Lebensraum (living space) for

the German people. Along with this, they began the systematic elimination of the undesirable

races such as Jews and gypsies.

For Americans in the 1920s the German political and social upheavals seemed far away

and irrelevant. During the post-World War I years the United States flourished. The musical

styling called Jazz, the expansion of the stock exchange, the struggle for women’s suffrage, the

manufacturing boon and other themes captured America’s attention. In fact, many Americans

wanted nothing more to do with European disputes. The American government greatly reduced

the standing army. Peace within its own borders and a seemingly endless prosperity lulled the

United States into a state of euphoria.

In the year 1929 all that changed. The so called “Great Depression” gripped America’s

cities and vast fortunes evaporated overnight. One quarter of the U.S. population lost their jobs

and tens of thousands were made homeless.

Mississippi, still suffering under the effects of post-Civil War Reconstructionism, felt

little of this. Before, during and after the depression years Mississippians possessed very little.

King Cotton still reigned. The bartering system accounted for much of the commerce. The

locally owned banks did not close during the Depression; they continued to serve the small

Southern communities. The dark stain of racism continued to despoil the fabric of Southern

society; violence against “colored” people often went unreported and unpunished. In those years

the South celebrated its confederate heroes and the churches stood at the centers of the


RL Goodson, born April 9, 1920, came of age in the heart of Dixie. Standing 5 foot 9

inches and weighing 130 pounds, his diminutive frame was compact and hardened by physical

labor. His facial features were small with dark piercing eyes – a family trait – and skin darkened

by the sun. He spent his days working on the family farm. In these fields of Mississippi he

learned to work hard and to do it without expecting pay. This work ethic, learned from his father,

served him well throughout his life. The family grew what they ate and wore what they had.

Most days for breakfast the family ate cornbread with fatback and eggs. Molasses, muscadines

jelly or honey sweetened almost any meal. The pantry always held sweet pickles, fig preserves

and pickled pigs’ feet. Grits and hominy, both corn products, provided much of the calories

through the winter months. For meat the family ate salted pork and drank water drawn from a

cistern. They drank whole milk and from this same milk churned butter and made buttermilk.

Sundays the family enjoyed biscuits made from store bought flour – this was a delicacy. They eat

deer, rabbit, and quale. Mississippians, except for the few with money, lived off the land.

In the spring tornadoes tore swathes through the landscape. Many nights the family

huddled in storm shelters listened as the lighting flash and thunder rolled across the dark

Mississippi sky. The rhythms of life moved according to the seasons of planting and harvesting.

Everything depended on the weather – too much rain and the crops drown; not enough rain at the

right time and the crops failed. The unbearable humidity and heat of the Mississippi summers

collided with the equally cold, dreary winters. In those years snow covered the ground for weeks

at a time and the ponds froze over. Life was hard, but nothing that he experienced prepared him

for what would be the defining period of his young life. This period became known to him as “a

part of his life that would not go away.”


Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me: for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the
shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. (Psalm 57:1)

The ship rose up from the water as the explosion and subsequent shock wave violently

shook it. The steel hull creaked and moaned as the ship shuttered and felling back into the ocean.

The racks in the berthing area all fell with a crash. Personal items and equipment flew in every

direction. Men, plunged into complete darkness, yelled, cried, and prayed.

The troop transport Susan B. Anthony, launched as the Santa Clara in 1930 by New York

Shipbuilding Co., boasted a length of 504 feet and a gross tonnage of 8101. On the 7th of June,

she carried 2,689 soldiers all heavy laden with the accouchements of war and sailors preparing to

off load them into landing craft. RL Goodson

was counted among them. Off shore at Utah

Beach in Normandy the ship struck a German

mine and began taking on water. In only 2

hours she would sink.

To the soldiers aboard, she seemed

equal to the Queen Mary in size. Like

Goodson, many came from small towns of less

than 500 people and others from rural farming communities. Never had they seen so many

people in one place. Men who had never been on a body of water larger than a five or six acre

pond, found themselves in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during the crossing and abandoning

ship in the English Channel.

Anthony’s hulking size could not save her from the cold clasp of the oceans icy fingers.

The ship lost all power. The men below decks were told to drop and leave all their gear. Many of

the men took off their boots! The water soaked men from the lower deck scrambled out first.

Afterwards the men in the upper decks scrambled up the ship’s ladders to escape. The ship began

to list to starboard. In an effort to save his ship, the commanding officer, Commander TL Gray,

ordered the embarked soldiers to move to the port side. “Everyone be quiet!” he barked. “Now I

mean what I say. This ship is going down. We need a little time. The barges are coming after us

in a few minutes. I want everyone to move one half-step to the left,” he directed. “Too much,” he

continued, “now a half-step to the left.”

This human ballast soon brought the ship

back to an even keel and gave the men

the time they needed. They abandoned

ship without the loss of a single life. The

last Goodson saw of the Anthony her

rudder and massive propellers were in the

air. She stayed that way until the end of war as far as he knew.

On shore the entrenched

German army under the command

of Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel

lay wait behind Hitler’s Atlantic

Wall. In his first days as commander, concerned over the slow progress of the work and the

precarious position in the face of the imminent invasion, he quickened the pace of construction.

Its purpose was to repel the advance of any invading force. Hitler boasted that no force on earth

could drive the German army from this region against their will. Under Rommel’s direct

supervision the Germans laid millions of mines and thousands of anti-tank traps. In addition, he

ordered the construction or the reinforcement of pill boxes and the placement of obstacles on the

beaches and fields to slow the advance of tanks and vehicles. All this and more lay a mere 2600

yards in front of the weaponless and bootless troops of the 359th infantry.

War correspondent Ernie Pyle described one beach head:

Ashore, facing us, were more enemy troops than we had in our assault waves. The
advantages were all theirs, the disadvantages all ours. The Germans were dug into positions that
they had been working on for months, although these were not yet all complete. A one-hundred-
foot bluff a couple of hundred yards back from the beach had great concrete gun emplacements
built right into the hilltop. These opened to the sides instead of to the front, thus making it very
hard for naval fire from the sea to reach them. They could shoot parallel with the beach and
cover every foot of it for miles with artillery fire.

Then they had hidden machine-gun nests on the forward slopes, with crossfire taking in
every inch of the beach. These nests were connected by networks of trenches, so that the German
gunners could move about without exposing themselves.

Throughout the length of the beach, running zigzag a couple of hundred yards back from
the shoreline, was an immense V-shaped ditch fifteen feet deep. Nothing could cross it, not even
men on foot, until fills had been made. And in other places at the far end of the beach, where the
ground is flatter, they had great concrete walls. These were blasted by our naval gunfire or by
explosives set by hand after we got ashore.

Our only exits from the beach were several swales or valleys, each about one hundred
yards wide. The Germans made the most of these funnel-like traps, sowing them with buried
mines. They contained, also, barbed-wire entanglements with mines attached, hidden ditches,
and machine guns firing from the slopes.

This is what was on the shore. But our men had to go through a maze nearly as deadly as
this before they even got ashore. Underwater obstacles were terrific. The Germans had whole
fields of evil devices under the water to catch our boats. Even now, several days after the
landing, we have cleared only channels through them and cannot yet approach the whole length
of the beach with our ships. Even now some ship or boat hits one of these mines every day and is
knocked out of commission.

The Germans had masses of those great six-pronged spiders, made of railroad iron and
standing shoulder-high, just beneath the surface of the water for our landing craft to run into.
They also had huge logs buried in the sand, pointing upward and outward, their tops just below
the water. Attached to these logs were mines.

In addition to these obstacles they had floating mines offshore, land mines buried in the
sand of the beach, and more mines in checkerboard rows in the tall grass beyond the sand. And
the enemy had four men on shore for every three men we had approaching the shore. And yet we
got on.

Under the shadow of Airforce bombers and the scream of shells the barges moved

forward. The main force of the Germans, pushed back by the first waves, now lightly defended

the Utah beach head.

“Okay! This is it! Just like in training when the gate drops hit the water,” barked the

sergeant over the roar of the landing craft and splash of waves. Every man wanted to be brave

and do his duty. Thoughts of wives, girlfriends, and home intermingled with fear, dread, and sea

sickness. At first some men stood and looked indifferently ahead; some men had the countenance

of someone enjoying a Sunday boating excursion; the majority braced themselves against the

jolts of the waves against the boats and stood nervously with their heads slightly bowed.

Goodson peaked over the edge of the landing craft. On the still distant sand he could

make out beached landing craft and exposed German obstacles. As the landing craft approached

they passed half submerged tanks and saw all manner of debris floating in the water.

He looked back at the seaman driving the Higgins boat and witnessed the anxiety on his

smooth, whiskerless face. He wore a helmet and a bulky life vest which covered his long sleeve

shirt with no insignia. He looked to the left and right and made small adjustments to the craft’s

trajectory. He squinted his eyes against the spray produced by the boat’s bow and he looked up

only if a shell came directly overhead. Goodson’s study of the seaman was interrupted by an

explosion so close that the spray of ocean water rained in on the now crouching men. Goodson

decided not to peak over anymore. Instead, he reminded himself that home lay beyond the

approaching beach. If he wanted to see his family again, then he must face whatever awaited on

the other side of the Higgins boat ramp.

The first man off after the ramp dropped, disappeared under the waves. The landing craft

beached in front of a bomb crater ten feet in depth. The men who went in on the left side barely

escaped drowning.

“Jump in on the right side,” shouted Goodson, “the water’s not near so deep.”

The wet, sea sick troops crawled on to the beach only two hours behind schedule. They

immediately went about searching for weapons and, for some, boots. Goodson quickly found an

M-1. “Watch it!” yelled a unknown infantryman, “Kraut snipers still cover this area. Keep your

heads down. Don’t silhouette!” Just as he spoke the troops heard the snap of a high velocity

round and the thud as it struck the sand. Utah Beach D-Day plus 1 was not safe.

“Alright three fifty ninth, grab what gear you got and start moving in columns of two.”

“When will they get us back our heavy weapons, Lieutenant?” asked a dirty-faced


“We’ve been ordered to move 5 klicks inland and wait for weapons near a place called

“Ruebille”. Until then grab any weapons you find,” the officer answered, “Over there. Look.

Grab that can of ammo and pick up that rifle. Let’s go.”

The battered and broken German coastal defenses still proved dangerous and stiffened as

the 359th moved forward. “Watch out ahead. Snipers in the house along the route inland,”

warned a lieutenant as the unit moved forward. “There are still mines and booby traps.”


“Move out,” muttered Goodson slinging his borrowed M-1 over his shoulder.

“Whatcha’ muttering about?” asked Sirone.

“We’ll I’ll tell ya’ all about it” answered Goodson. “I was a 21 year old, happily married

farmer from Calhoun County, Mississippi. My Daddy taught me how to live and I had no

intentions of leaving Derma where my daddy had the family farm. When Uncle Sam called me

saying ‘Congratulations. You’re classified 1A in the U.S. Army. Report to your draft board.’

This I was not ready for. No sir! It really got my attention. I said to them, ‘No. This won’t work.

Right now my wife Sue is pregnant. No, I can’t go right now. Maybe later I can.’ But I found out

at the draft board what you think don’t count. They said, ‘Maybe we can give you a little time.

After all, it won’t be long.’ Yeah right! They loaded me up on a bus and shipped me out for

Camp Shelby that day! The next day they gave us all new clothes. They had two or three piles of

everything. They asked your size and then gave you whatever they wanted. The sizes were big,

bigger, and biggest. They measured my feet and gave me two sizes too big. When I told ‘em they

were too big, they told me to grow into it. That was the first time they told us to shut up and do

what you’re told.”

“Yeah, guy” replied Sirone, “same here”. “In New York (pronounced Nu Yark) I had it

made, guy. Then Uncle Sam came calling. I had my girlfriend and work in my old man’s garage.

Wow! Now look at me. Fightin’ krauts without so much as a pistol!” Sirone threw back his small

head atop his thick neck and laughed.

Basic Training

Blessed be the Lord my strength which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to
fight. (Psalm 144:1)

The outbreak of the war caught the United States completely unprepared. A mere

174,000 men served on active duty. Their weapons and uniforms remained unchanged from

those issued to the Doughboys of the First World War. When recruitment and the federalization

of the National Guard did not produce sufficient troops the government began drafting young

men. At first the army held stringent requirements – all your teeth, ability to read, no criminal

record and near perfect eyesight. By 1942 the requirements had drastically lessened. An inductee

needed only have sufficient teeth to eat a k ration. Also, the illiterate and near sighted received

reader primers and glasses. By 1945, one hundred thousand convicted felons were inducted:

some directly from prison.

Goodson and his comrades trained at

Camp Barkeley in Abilene, Texas in 1942.

Named after a World War I era soldier killed

during the fighting in France the camp

encompassed 70,000 acres of West Texas

terrain. Both infantry and armory divisions

were trained there and towards the end of the war the base functioned as a prisoner of war camp.

Basic training is detested by every soldier, sailor and marine. The weeks of basic strip away the

civilian way of doing things and replace this with the military way. For most, this was their first

time away from home and for the majority the first time outside their county! They traveled by

bus and train. They left the corn fields, factories, and schools to join something so large that most

never knew the true dimensions. They learned how to make their beds and form in columns.

They acquired the basics of army field strategy and first aid. They practiced with the M-1 rifle

and threw dummy grenades. They drilled

and drilled.

The Irving Berlin song, “This Is

the Army Mister Jones”, from that

anxious time said it well:

We all have been selected from city and from farm

They asked us lots of questions, they jabbed us in the arm
We stood there at attention, our faces turning red
The sergeant looked us over and this is what he said:

This is the Army, Mister Jones

No private rooms or telephones
You had your breakfast in bed before
But you won't have it there anymore.

Finally, after completion of basic they received their orders. Some trained to be

mechanics others trained to be cooks or medics, and some became infantryman. According to

one source: More than 16 million Americans served in the armed forces during World War II. Of

these, less than a million ever saw combat. The infantry represented just 14 percent of the troops

overseas, yet accounted for 7 out of every 10 casualties. The rest served in support roles – tanks,

artillery, medics, etc. Goodson would be one of the small percentage who saw and experienced

combat on a daily basis and endured its horrors.

After basic in Texas they trained in Louisiana for two months. From the Texas heat to the

Louisiana mud and water, the unit’s training went from bad to worse. “I thought Texas was bad

but it was fun to what Louisiana was” Goodson thought to himself.

In September of the same year the unit packed up everything for desert maneuvers in

Arizona and California. They found nothing but sand, mountains, and rattlesnakes. The soldiers

swore there were at least two snakes for every bush. The temps climbed to 115 degrees during

the day and plummeted to near freezing at night. In an act of desperation, the men braved the

rattlesnakes to sleep on the sand that stayed warm throughout the night!

From there the unit found itself in Fort Dix, New Jersey. The Camp was named for Major

General John Adams Dix who fought in both the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Camp Dix

served as a training and staging ground for units during World War I. The camp, remobilized

March 8, 1939 became Fort Dix and the installation became a permanent Army post. The units

did some training, but the fall weather turned to winter and the incessant snow made training

impossible. From camp Kilmer, New Jersey, under the command of Brigadier General Jay W.

McKelvie the 90th traveled by train to New York and embarked ships in New York Harbor. “We

were packed like sardines,” reminisced Goodson. As the troops passed by Lady Liberty they

looked hard and long feeling it might the last chance to see her. Ahead lay the unknown, but each

man optimistically believed he would do his duty.

During the two week voyage the troops endured hours of tedium, a violent storm at sea,

and hours of cleaning and shinning weapons. Life aboard ship, with all the maritime traditions

and protocols, gave the soldiers a special respect form the sailors. Before they thought the sailors

weak – the sailors didn’t fight like the army. But after a few days at sea all this changed. Life at

sea could be tough. The ship never slept and the sailor drilled even more than the soldiers –

Battle stations, fire drills, etcetera went on day and night as the crew prepared.


The 90th served with distinction in World War I. After the armistice the division

disbanded. The allied command felt it necessary to hastily revive the 90th during the early

planning of Operation Overlord. The Division consisted of the 357th, 358th, 359th Infantry

Regiments; 315th Engineers, 315th Medical Battalion, 415th Quartermaster Battalion, 90th Signal

Company. Division Artillery consisted of three 105 mm howitzer battalions (343rd, 344th, 915th)

and one battalion of 155mm howitzers (345th).

By the 9th of April 1944 the entire 90th Division arrived in England by way of the Irish

Sea. Finally, disembarking in Liverpool. Group A which was composed of foot elements of the

1st and 3rd Battalions, and 359th Infantry Regiment marshalled at Camp Syon Abbey in

Devonshire, England. The Group was attached to the 4th Infantry Division. The men of the 359th

trained each day knowing that the Invasion could come at any time; each feeling positive that he

could be counted on to stand and fight. April turned to May. The Canadians, English and

Americans all waited – a combined force of over one million men. On the beaches of Normandy

the Wehrmacht also waited with guns poised to drive back any army so foolish as to attempt an

amphibious landing. The prevailing belief in Germany was that an invasion on the Normandy

coast would be a diversion from the real invasion at the Pas-de-Calais/Flanders region. The day

of the invasion the German high command dismissed the early reports from the beaches as

hysteria. Many of the German commanders, because of the poor weather conditions the previous

day, visited family in Germany or absented their headquarters. June 6th 1944, Operation

Overlord, the largest amphibious assault ever attempted, commenced. Goodson and his fellow

infantryman, untried in combat, waited aboard the doomed USS Susan B. Anthony. The months

of training and rehearsing ended; the time to use this training against the waiting German

defenders begun.


We fight for hedgerows; we live in hedgerows; we sleep in hedgerows.

(Album: 359th Infantry, p. 21)

On June 3rd they embarked on the transports in preparation for the invasion. On June 8th

warning orders were received -- the 90th would immediately move forward and attack. On the

10th of June the 90th Division went on the offensive. In front of the 90th lay the maze of

hedgerows, carefully plotted artillery and mortar fire missions, landmines, snipers, and house to

house combat. At times the American and German lines lay a mere 100 yards apart. If a unit

halted in a gate or particular part of a hedge row for more than a minute the Germans rained

down fire on them. Captured German documents contained fire mission for every part of the

battle field. Goodson believed that the Germans could put their 88 shells in your pocket from 15

or 20 miles away.

The hedgerows encircled five acre plots to prevent erosion. It was like a glass house that

you could go round and round in at the fair. The hedge, planted on top of banks and allowed to

grow back into itself, grew so thick and high that neither Sherman tanks nor rabbits could

penetrate them. In this malformed French country side, the immovable object collided with an

unstoppable force.

“Set up that machine gun here and cover this field of fire. Anything moves out there open

fire. The Germans are dug in just beyond that hedge row,” the thin-faced lieutenant yelled.

“Hey, Sirone.”

“What, Goodson?”

“You know anything about digging?” he asked smiling.

“Yeah, guy. I know a thing or two about digging holes.”

“Well, let’s set the gun and dig in. I don’t want to disappoint the Jerrys if they decide to

try something.” That evening the German bombers came through. They scouted the road

Goodson’s unit walked in on and then they returned to strafe and bomb. When they came back

through the American antiaircraft guns opened up with a volley of steal, smoke and fury. The

planes came just over the tree tops. The American gunners hit their mark, but not before the

German pilot released his bomb. Goodson could see the bombs coming right for his fox hole. He

shut his eyes, but the bombs exploded about twenty feet from his position.

Finally gathering himself he confessed, “My foxhole’s a foot deeper!”


German mortars and 88s exploded throwing dirt

and rock mixed with blood and flesh high in the

air. The Germans pounded the American lines

throughout the night.

“MEDIC! I’m hit,” cried a wounded GI.

“Where you hit?” yelled Goodson.

“In my shoulder,” he cried out, “Oh, God, I’m bleeding!”

“Hold on. Don’t try to move. They know right where you’re at, man. Somebody’s

coming.” Soon the voice became quieter. Then completely quiet. Goodson never knew the young

soldier’s name. With all this and more, retreat was not an options.

Soon Goodson’s unit, fully supplied with new weapons, advanced into an area where the

Airborne Troops landed during the initial invasion. “Sniper!” came the warning cry.

“Where?” asked Goodson ducking for cover.

“Not sure,” an unknown voice replied. Everyone ducked down and began to search the

trees strewn with tattered parachutes. “Swish-snap” was the all-too-familiar sound of the high

velocity sniper rounds.

“They’re in the parachutes!” someone yelled. “Their hiding among the parachutes!” the

message went down the line.

“Shoot up in the parachutes!” Within a few minutes the sniping stopped. One of the

sniper turned out to be a woman.

“You came real close to her. Did she scare you?” Goodson ribbed Sirone.

“What? No, guy! She’s a woman!”

Soon the 359th began to make contact with some of the 101st Airborne Troops and also

with the Glider Troops. These troops came in the early hours of the invasion landing in hamlets

such as Sainte-Mère-Église. Dropped behind the enemy, on gliders with the idea of landing in

open fields and parachutes, their mission was to capture key bridges and silence the heavy guns

devastating the troops on the beaches. The Germans put logs on their ends as obstacles in the

fields which tore the gliders into shreds. Some gliders, loaded incorrectly, could not be

controlled by the pilots causing them to land violently or crash. The fields, filled with debris and

strewn with equipment, stood as memorials to these disastrous landings. Scores of paratroopers

landed miles from their drop zones and became separated from their units. Despite the chaos and

confusion they carried out their missions and saved many American lives.

“Hey, look here,” called out an indignant voice. “These guys didn’t make it to the

ground,” pointing to dead paratroopers still hanging in their parachutes in the trees. “They’re all

shot up from the bottom of their boots up. Damn Krauts!” In town the evidence of more

atrocities stoked the fires of the infantrymen’s fury. The Germans hung captured GIs in the

streets and shot them. Others were hug by the private parts. The incensed Americans stopped

taking prisoners. They almost went crazy from rage.

The 359th was released from assignment to the 4th Infantry Division and reverted to the

control of the 90th Division on 10 June. Immediately committed to action in the vicinity of

Picauville to the East of Pont l’Abbe the Regiment received a severe shelling during the move to

that sector. Soon, the entire Regiment had been committed. Elsewhere, the units adjusted their

lines and made preparations for a continuation of the attack.

The “gate to victory” hinged on breaking the Mahlmann Line which stretched from Caen

to the east and the strategically important port of Cherbourg in the west. This defensive line,

created by a tangle of wire, natural obstacles, the infamous hedgerows, and dug in positions,

must be broken to facilitate the breakout of the 90th. “Guns bristled from every hedge, from

every ravine, from every tree and bush.” Committed to fighting to the death, with this line the

Germans intended to hold and push back the advancing Americans. The 90th immediately

received orders to advance and break this line. The Allies took heavy casualties during the initial

battles to secure a foothold on the beach and the take of the heavily fortified cities of Cherbourg

and Caen (which held against three attacks and fell only after a fourth assault by the British

under the command of Bernard Law Montgomery). On June 17-18 the VII Corps reached the

Cotentin Peninsula’s western coast, trapping German forces on the peninsula. On June 20 the

combined forces of the 4th, 9th and 79th Infantry Divisions slammed against the outer defenses of

the port city. Despite a furious counter attack and attempted breakout by the Germans, they

surrendered on June 20th. The Americans lost 40 percent of its infantry to the heavy fighting.

Now with replacements it must scratch and claw its way through the German killing fields.

The 90th’s overall performance rated as subpar.

Unit moral waned and its leadership lacked the ability to

motivate the combat fatigued troops. From the

beginning the unit, composed of draftees, suffered from

an acute lack of leadership and an epidemic of low

morale. In the opening scenes of Utah Beach and the

immediate operations inland revealed these inadequacies with painful clarity. Lieutenant General

Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army, called the 90th a “problem unit.” Yet,

Goodson, like the young men with which he fought, experienced a quick transformation. Despite

all this, they doggedly struggled to free themselves of the hedgerows and withering German

artillery and mortar attacks. Forged by these hellish fires and the leadership of men like Brig.

Gen. Raymond S. McLain (July 20, 1944), by the end of the war the Division earned the respect

of friend and foe alike.


The American command planned an all-out assault on the Mahlmann Line. The

combined force of the 359th focused its attack on what is today called Pretot-Sainte-Suzanne

situated in the Manche department, 21 miles from Saint-Lo. With the cover of 4th Division

Artillery the 359th would attack from the right flank, the 358th to the left, while the 357th was held

in reserve to pass through the 358th to seize the high ground to the south. July 2nd the final

reconnaissance, troop briefings and supply checks were completed. That night the men slept

uneasily, if at all. The artillery moved into prepared positions under the cover of the moonless

night sky.

Key to the western end of the line was the taking of the nearly impregnable Hill 122 also

known as Foret de Mont-Castre. The 1st battalion of the 359th gritted its teeth and moved on the

objective. From this high point the Germans directed withering artillery down on the troops

below and watched the movements of the units. Throughout the Cherbourg campaign the

Germans used this strategic observation point to harass and demoralize the Americans below.

The time finally arrived to wrest this high point from the hands of the highly trained and

fanatical German troopers.


Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war
should rise against me, in this will I be confident. (Psalm 27:3)

The offensive began July 3, 1944. The battle plans fell apart almost immediately. The

359th met fanatical resistance as they crossed their Line of Departure and at times engaged in

hand to hand combat.

“Alright. Listen up ladies. We’ve got orders to move down this road in relief of the

battalion over there,” the new lieutenant said matter-of-factly as though talking about going to

town on a Saturday afternoon. His eyes and gestures revealed a nervous young man newly

graduated from West Point.

For hours Goodson’s company waited and waited. Listening to the now-all-too-familiar

sounds of artillery shell explosions, the yak-yak-yak of automatic weapons and constant stream

of wounded men staggering to the rear.

“Hey, Goodson, got any smokes” Sirone asked as he picked up two cans of ammo.

“No. I’ve traded all mine for coffee.”

“Oh, guy,” replied Sirone, “This is goin’ to be a long war.”

The men walked in columns of two. Each man in Goodson team had a specific job and

some part of the M1919 heavy machine gun to tote. The gun loaded by placing the pull tab on

the ammunition belt from the left side of the gun. A grabbing mechanism at the entrance of the

feed way held the first round in place. The infantryman then pulled back the cocking handle with

the palm of the hand facing up, and allowed it to fly home and seat. Goodson preferred the

tripod. With the tripod on his back he could run and had both hands free to use his pistol. A full

gun crew consisted of four men: the gunner, the assistant gunner, and two ammunition carriers.

Rarely could a full crew be maintained. The gun fired 500 rounds a minute at an effective range

of nine tenths of a mile. Basically, if a crew could see it, they could hit it.

“Sargent, we’ve been sent up in relief of your battalion. Where is it?” queried the

Lieutenant as he lay prone beside a bloodied and dirt covered sergeant.

“Right here,” sergeant replied motioning at himself and another man.

“Where are your men?”

“Right here.”

“Just two men?”

No, sir. There is three,” replied the sergeant tipping up a now empty canteen. “You got


“Sure, here,” he said handing the man a canteen.

“We’ve been here two days without fresh supplies. No water or K rations. Nothing. I sent

one guy back to try to get something and never came back,” he explained handing the canteen to

the hollow-eyed soldier beside him who drank deeply and wiped his dark, chapped lips.

“You are relieved. Move back toward the rear, soldier.”

Crouching low he put his gun behind his head and wearily moved down the road

Goodson had just come up.

Heads held low the unit moved forward. Goodson thought they finally contacted the main

battalion. Goodson said, “Look up ahead. Troops in those foxholes.” On closer inspection the

soldiers, with their guns still pointing toward the enemy positions, were all dead.

“Yo, guy, that means nobody is ahead now but Krauts!” Sirone surmised as he threw his

ammo boxes in an artillery blast crater.

WHOOSH! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! German shells suddenly poured it with pinpoint

accuracy. The Lieutenant turned white and vomited as he lay trying to cover himself with leaves.

Dirt, debris, and equipment flew in every direction. The Lieutenant yelled some unintelligible

order, but no one could make out what. The shells just kept coming. The men took refuge in a

shallow 30 foot ditch.

“Lieutenant, sir, we’ve got to get out of here! If we stay a minute longer we’re all dead!”

Goodson yelled at the nearly incoherent officer. “We’ve got to move across that field now! Let’s


The lieutenant gained enough composure to acknowledge Goodson and the men began to

run. Goodson weighed less than 150 pounds when he went through receiving at Camp Shelby.

He now weighed 140 (by the end of the war he weighed a slight 135). He carried a 45 caliber

pistol in a holster with fifteen clips of ammo. He still had two grenades and his 15 pound back

pack. Now, with the 51 pound tripod, he and his buddies made a suicidal 100 yard dash. Once in

the new fighting position he ducked his head flipping the tripod over his back and setting it

firmly on the ground. The rest of this team followed breathing heavily and sweating. Just as they

set the gun the scream of more shells filled the air. Boom! Boom! The shells fell directly into

their position. The exhausted, confused soldiers could not discern the source of the shells nor

could they know the exact location of the German infantry nor their guns.

“Oh, Jesus! I’m hit!” Sirone yelled. “Ahhhhhh! Help me. Medic up!” Sirone fought the

air and writhed. He had a hole through his right arm and the back of his neck. His dog tags had

been pushed into the wound on his neck by the force of the explosion. “Here! Put your hand here

and hold tight,” Goodson instructed as three shells landed near the ditch where the men tried to

hide. Goodson buttoned Sirone’s collar to try to stop the bleeding. Two others were wounded.

Shrapnel hit one between the legs and his kneecaps where now outside is pants. The other man,

hit in the face, could not be helped. The smell of sweat, blood and fear filled the air. Men

defecated in their trousers and others vomited from the effects of intense terror. The medic was

hit as he tried to help the wounded.

“I’m hit bad. I’ve got to have a shot of morphine,” the medic, eyes half closed,

whispered. “Give me a shot. I – I – I can’t do it.” Goodson gave him the shot and the medic

blacked out.

Goodson saw a flash of incredibly bright light and felt his body being push violently. He

heard nothing. For a moment he did not know where he was or what was happening. Everything

became quiet and still. Coming to himself he felt shrapnel in his shoulder and a hot fragment of

the German shell stuck from his boot. Trying to extricate the steel from his foot proved


As he tried to bandage the guy hit between the legs Goodson heard something in the

bushes. He pulled his 45 out and pulled the trigger just as his Company Commander came into

view. The 45 misfired. “My God, man. I pulled the trigger and the gun didn’t go off,” Goodson

stuttered to the Commander who now had his hands in the air.

“I’m glad it didn’t. Good job,” the stunned commander replied.

The medics came up to evacuate Goodson and his bloodied unit. “Everybody that can,

come now. We’re moving you to the aid station. They are tearing us up now!” he barked.

“Help me get this stretcher,” Goodson called to another GI. “Let’s get going!”

BOOM! BOOM! More shells fell on the retreating men. Goodson jumped for a narrow

ditch just as the exploding ordinance lifted the dirt completely covering him. He struggled to get

out of his roadside tomb. As he again picked up the wounded man two more shells exploded 30

feet down the road. Two men carrying a stretcher were thrown helter-skelter, while the wounded

man fell to the road. In a short time the men dusted themselves off and picked up the wounded

man a started off again. The worlds of reality and dream, madness and sanity all blended together

into a distorted, twisted hell were the rules of civilized men did not apply.

In the aide station some of the men received their last hot meal until Christmas. All the

men suffered some level of combat fatigue, athlete’s foot, lice and a host of other ailments

associated with long periods without sleep or proper hygiene. After the first day of the offensive,

the Division advance of 1200 yards at a cost of over 600 casualties.

That night from Hill 122

Goodson and his unit were bombarded

by German mortars and artillery

which the enemy plotted with

precision in the months leading up to

D-Day. Suppling the newly formed

front lines proved nearly impossible. In the night the men stared out from foxholes as enemy

probes and counter attacks came in waves. The second day saw meager advances and high

casualties. The third day . . . .

The third day started off like most. The night watches, relieved at zero five hundred,

ambled back to their fox hole just as a light rain began to fall. The men, if time and conditions

allowed, warmed coffee on small fires and ate cold K rations. Each K ration came with and an

accessory pack that included nine cigarettes, water-purification tablets, matches, toilet paper,

chewing gum, a bar of coco, sugar and a can opener. The coffee and cigarettes could be traded

for almost anything. The soldier's daily ration consisted of three cans of a basic meal (baked

beans, spaghetti, etc.). Many times a soldier might have only part of a ration or nothing for a day

or more. He did not take off his boots while on the line or close to it. The infantryman’s feet

during combat operations swelled from lack of care, the effects of extreme cold or long

exposures to water. Once removed he often could not get his combat boots over his swollen feet

and toes. In some extreme cases soldiers marched and fought without boots.

The 359th commenced its attacked on Foret in the early morning hours of July 5th.

KABOOM! Goodson’s helmet flew off. The blast threw him about four feet from the

hedgerow he used for cover. “I’m hit! What happened?” Goodson yelled as he searched his body

for the telltale sign of shrapnel.

“Hey, Goodson, What ya’ doing?” his buddy asked smiling.

Goodson looked up just in time to see the still smoking muzzle of a Sherman tank

withdrawing from an opening in the hedgerow. The percussion from the muzzle was enough to

knock Goodson for a loop. From that point on he always checked overhead just in case.

“Move out. We’ll place of guns about a klick that direction,” the commander called. They

moved only a few hundred yards and the signal came to get off the road. Goodson found himself

in the middle of a large apple orchard.

“Halt. . . move out. . . halt. . . . move out. What’s going on down there?” Goodson

complained as he looked at the apple trees loaded with small green apples and hummed a line of

Glen Miller’s “Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me.” In his native

Mississippi he often ate wild apples, persimmons, muscadines, and huckleberries. He especially

missed his wife’s apple preserves. The long, cold winters in Calhoun County could be endured

with the aid of hot biscuits with butter and a big glob of apple preserves. Biscuits were a luxury.

They raised corn to grind for yellow cornmeal. Wheat flour required a trip to the mercantile

because wheat did grow well in the South. He often though of Sunday biscuits and grtavy when

K rations ran low.

“Hey,” Goodson said turning his back pack toward the soldier closest to him, “Grab a can

of cheese out of my lunch pouch.”

“Man, you’re more trouble than you’re worth,” replied the young Texan with a distinct


“Get the cheese . . . ,” Goodson began to reply just as ten German shells threw the entire

world into a chaos of screams, cries, and flying dirt. A shell shattered the top of an apple tree

about ten away knocking Goodson to his knees. When he looked down a fragment from the shell

left a hole in the dirt large as a fist. Hitting just in front of his knee he could not believe he didn’t

even get a scratch. He never knew what happened to the can of cheese, but it didn’t matter

because he lost his appetite for the rest of the day!

Moving quickly from the orchard they came to a line of barbwire. The wire stood four

feet high. A foot soldier could not get over it or under it. This served as a booby trap and

physiological weapon. Explosive charges placed under the wire quickly cleared a path for the

unit to cross. Goodson thought, “We’re in the Germans’ backyard and anytime we could be

thrown out.”

Goodson still wore his rain gear even though it worked like a personal sauna. This

became insufferably hot when running or working to set up the gun. He thought it impractical

once wearing the raincoat to take it off. Taking off the rain gear meant taking off the belt and any

ammo, opening his back pack to store the coat, and putting everything back on once more.

“Better to sweat than go through all that,” thought Goodson. Instead he unbuttoned the coat and

attempted to ventilate as much as possible. After crossing the wire Goodson’s gun crew

advanced about 200 yards. Goodson sat by a young hedgerow where you could see though in

various places. Another GI named Jefferies sat down beside him so he moved about sixty feet to

the right. He leaned back on some dirt thrown from a hole as he unbuttoned his coat even more

pulling at his collar to let air in.

SWOOSH! SWOOSH! “Mortars!” a collective shout rose up.

“Mortars are on us!” Goodson shouted diving hard toward the hedgerow. One of the

mortars landed where Goodson first sat down before Jefferies sat by him. Jefferies took the full

force of the shell. “He looks like a stack of dirty clothes,” Goodson thought. No time to stop,

think, or feel.

“Is anyone still out there?” yelled the sergeant.

“Jeff didn’t make it,” Goodson yelled in reply.

“Let’s get him outa’ there,” the sergeant said looking toward the hedgerow.

“It’s no use. He’s gone. Let’s try to help the others,” Goodson replied. The full weight of

what happened didn’t hit home until years afterwards. War made men into animals and forced

them to treat other men like livestock. A sniper’s bullet, a plane’s strafing, or a seemingly

random mortar demoralized the fighting man and dehumanized the enemy. “The wounded were

an embarrassment, exposing man as animal, made of meat and gristle. The dead rotted and

stank.” Living in the theater of combat caused men to shake uncontrollable and lose the ability to

function as a soldier. In World War II those suffering these natural effects of extended periods of

intense fear received the scarlet C for coward. “Not surprisingly, as the war dragged on, soldiers

deserted in large numbers. In all, about forty thousand GIs deserted during the conflict.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! By then the German artillery moved their guns and began to

hammer the new position. “I’m hit. AAARRRGGHHHH!” Goodson yelled after being thrown

several yards. He looked to his right and saw a member of his gun team with his cheek blown

away. The back of his tongue and back teeth formed a grotesque smile. Others where cut and


Goodson’s chest burned. It felt like someone had hit him with a Louisville Slugger. He

quickly dug through his raincoat down to his two shirts. He found a jagged piece of red-hot metal

in his chest. The smell of burnt hair and clothing filled his nostrils. He tried to pull it out, but the

metal burned his fingers. In moments of extreme fear men do extraordinary things. In

desperation he grab the shard of burning shell tearing it from his chest. Throwing the smoking

trophy on the ground as a two foot spray of dark crimson blood spewed from his chest with every


“Everyone who can move let’s go to the aid station,” the sergeant yelled as another volley

of shells rained in near their position. “The rest stay here and we’ll come back for you.” The

soldier missing his cheek tried to stand but found his legs would not carry him. A 19 year old

from Oklahoma put the wounded man on his shoulder and began to carry him. Just as he did the

German guns opened fire on the escaping men. The Oklahoman and the wounded man both fell.

The tattered men ran across a field to another fighting position. As they reached the ditch

the Germans sprayed them with automatic machine gun fire. As the Germans reloaded they

scrambled behind a hedgerow and crossed another field. Once again the Germans were waiting.

Shells rained in on the fleeing men. One shell blew Goodson’s helmet fifteen feet. Still bleeding,

he crawled to retrieve it. He tried to get in it! This struck Goodson as being so ridiculous he

laughed at himself.

As they crossed the last hedgerow they found a field filled with dead or wounded


“I can wait. I’m not bleeding now,” Goodson said to himself. A medic, his hands red with

blood and face showing the signs of days with little rest sleep, ran up to Goodson.

“Where are you hit?”

“In my chest, but it ain’t bleeding now,” Goodson replied looking away as the medic

hurriedly pulled back Goodson shirt. The medic, ducking his head symbolically as a shell

exploded fifty yards away, fully exposed Goodson wound and searched for injuries. Around

Goodson’s belt the medic found a two inch thick mass of warm, clotted blood. Cleaning away

the clotted mass he immediately reached into his pack bringing out a packet of sulfanilamide and

a box of gauze wrapping. Tearing the sulfide package open with his teeth he sprinkled the white

powder in the hole in Goodson’s chest. Goodson winched but said nothing. Hurriedly and

without thought the medic applied the 4x4 gauze with a bandage tying it around his chest and


“If you can walk, go see the Colonel,” he said as he began you see to a soldier with most

of one arm completely blown off. Goodson, now staggering and weak from the blood lose,

slowly moved toward the next triage station.

“What’s your name private?”


“Who’s your unit?” the Colonel asked as he applied another dressing the help stay the

flow of blood and gave him a syrette of Morphine Tartrate.

“The 359th,” woozily answered Goodson. The voices and sounds seemed to be far away.

The dirt being thrown up by the still falling German shells reminded him of a water fountain he

had seen the in the Grenada town square when he was a boy. His dad took him there when he

had a fever that would not break. It took all day by horse and wagon and the doctor said if he

lived another two days he had a chance, but it was all in the hands of God.

“Go get in that ambulance” the Colonel instructed pointing in the direction of a vehicle

being filled with men in every kind of condition. Just as Goodson got within twenty yards of the

ambulance a volley of shells fell directly on their position. The medics ran in every direction or

simply covered their prostrate patients. One empty ambulance, flipped on its side from an

explosion, began to burn. Goodson half jumped but mostly fell into a crater as a shell threw hot

dirt and debris on top of him.

When he gained consciousness he could hear the medics. “Okay! That’s everybody. Go!”

yelled a medic trying to close the door.

“No! We’ve got room for one more,” a voice inside replied.

The wounded soldiers inside looked up with bloodied, mud smeared faces toward the

back of the ambulance.

The driver yelled back, “I’m leaving now! We’ve got to move! The krauts have this field

on the firing tables!”

Goodson wanted to signal the medics or say something, but he couldn’t. He seemed to be

observing the events while not actually participating. His shoulder stopped aching – maybe that

shot worked he thought - and he thought of home. The smell of the dirt made him think a fresh

plowed ground in spring – a musty smells produced by the mixing of oak leaves fallen the winter

before and green spring grass just starting its life.

Faintly Goodson heard a medic yell, “Here’s one more I think! Yeah, he’s breathing.”

Goodson felt himself being lifted. “GO!” a voice yelled as the double doors slammed.

“We’ve got to run this intersection!” the driver yelled. “The krauts are shelling it!”

“We can’t sit here!” responded a voice near Goodson.

“We’ll wait for the next shell! We’ve got about three of four seconds in between! Hold

on!” Shells fell behind the ambulance hitting a jeep and tossing the men inside like leaves in the

wind. In the intersection a shell fell and hit another ambulance trying to run the gantlet. Just as

that shell exploded the driver gunned the engine. The wounded men and medics in the back

bounced and lurched backwards.

“Move it buddy!” yelled the driver at the ambulance in front of him. The vehicles drove

in a haphazard, frantic way. The smoke and shelling making the chaotic scene even more

impossible. “Let’s move it up there!” The driver went over or around craters, fallen trees, and

smoldering vehicles. The driver raced along for several miles and stopped as abruptly as he had

started. The doors flew open and men with stretchers began gathering up the wounded.

“Put me down fellas,” Goodson pleaded. “Little guys like you shouldn’t have to carry a

big ole guy like me.” Goodson tried to raise his body on the bouncing stretchers. He managed to

raise his head but nothing more.

“Shut up, mac. We gotcha’,” answered the soldier in front. “We been doing this all day.

Don’t worry.” Arriving at the tent another medic took the blood soaked dressing from

Goodson’s wound and hastily examined it.

“Prep this one for surgery,” he said to yet another person. This new person rolled

Goodson into a room filled with all-manner of carnage.

Inside the medical tent they began to take off Goodson’s blood and dirt encrusted clothes

which he did not appreciate. He had not been naked since landing in Normandy and the sensation

felt very intrusive. His chest and lower shoulder were turning a dark shade of purple around the

open wound from the fragment of shell. His hands and face were dark brown from the sun while

the rest of him remained a lily white except for the many cuts and abrasions. His foot never fully

healed from the German shrapnel and still oozed a clear sticky liquid. His right forearm still bore

the remnants of a scar from a nail that sliced his arm as a young teenager. They removed and

inspected his wound again. Hurriedly and without comment they moved him to the surgical tent.

He could see men laying on stretchers each with his own distinctive bandaging. Eyes, whole

faces, torsos, legs and feet bandaged with white and red gauze. Some men lay on their stomachs.

Most lay on their backs. They took Goodson to x-ray his chest and put him back with the

sleeping men. In a few minutes they carried him back again.

“Why are we going back in there?” Goodson asked looking at a small light hanging over

head from a cord.

“We didn’t get the shrapnel,” a shirtless medic answered in a disinterested tone.

“Well, you ain’t goin’ get it,” Goodson replied in kind. “You wasn’t supposed to get it. I

threw it down when I pulled it out. It was too hot to hold. It made blisters on my fingers.”

“It’s the dope,” the medic said to his partner as though Goodson were not in the room.

“He’s talking out of his head. Try to center the entry wound in the center of the table and make

sure he doesn’t move this time.” They readjusted Goodson and took another picture.

“Look at the blisters on my fingers,” Goodson said trying unsuccessfully to raise his right

hand. “Ain’t no shrapnel.”

“The Doc’ll decide that, mac,” the medic answered as they rolled him into surgery.

The doctor asked Goodson some general questions as he gave him a local anesthetic. “I’ll

clean the wound in a minute,” he said to someone standing by his side as he continued to cut

little pieces. Goodson felt the pressure of the knife and the sound like a hacksaw on tin.

Goodson could see the doctor operating on another soldier front of him. The man’s belly

was opened and the doctor had his intestines in his hands. He inspected each part cleaning them

with saline as he went along. The doctor’s mask covering his thin, gaunt face while weary eyes

looked intently to his work.

“What are you looking at?” the doctor asked Goodson.

“I’m watchin’ ‘em operate on that fella over there,” Goodson answered.

“You can’t do that,” the doctor replied as he paused to throw a sheet over a string that

divided one part of the tent from the others. “You’ll get sick,” he said as he stitched the wound

and applied more bandaging on the wound. “Don’t touch this or get it wet for a while,” he added

as Goodson was wheeled out to make room for the next soldier.

Goodson thought, “Don’t get it wet. How am I goin’ to do that?” The sight of a wounded

German prisoner disrupted his thoughts. The soldier’s opened grey coat and black belt revealed a

deep wound in his side just under his arm. He skin, clinging to his ribs, rose and fell

rhythmically. He groaned and muttered a stream of words in German. Mud and dirt caked his

hair and covered his face. Goodson spoke no German, but thought the German must be cursing.

Two doctors and a nurse worked to hold him still. After the doctor gave him a shot of something

he soon quieted.

In the wee hours of the morning Goodson awoke to the voice of the female nurse that

held the German for the doctor. Her soft voice awakened something in Goodson and reminded

him of his wife and home, while drab grey dungarees and military issue shirt belied her young,

thin frame. She did not smell of perfume, but did smell distinctively feminine. Her face,

unmarked by time, looked at Goodson with a disinterest brought on by her training and months

of war.

“How does your chest feel?” she asked checking the bandages the doctor applied after the


“Feels okay. But I don’t think I want go skimming rocks right now.”

“We are moving you to a hospital ship this morning.”

“Okay. What happened to the kraut? Did he make it?” Goodson asked looking at the

nurse’s green eyes beneath thin brown eyebrows.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him,” she replied pulling the sheet back over Goodson’s


Goodson, trying to raise up a bit to look about, said, “I can help you with him if you’d


“There are a lot of men who feel the same way you do. But we have to help them too. We

take some in front of others and before we can get to them they’re gone. To be working on one

of them when our own boys are dying . . . it’s a tough decision,” she said while marking a chart

at the foot of Goodson’s bed. Her small hands with painted nails moved quickly from one line to

the next. Glancing at her watch she put the chart back in its place.

Early that morning the 4th Medical Battalion moved Goodson to the 10th Division hospital

ship which was a converted Landing Ship Tank (LST) on Utah Beach. The flat bottomed LST sat

beached at low tide and became water borne with the high tide. Goodson, who knew nothing

about low and high tide, could not figure out how this beached ship could get them to England.

“Ships don’t work on land,” he thought to himself.

“If we get to England we’ll have to get on something that’s in the water. Right?”

Goodson quipped as the shirtless, muscular soldiers walked with his stretcher through a large

opening in the front of the ship designed to embark and disembark machines and men. The

soldiers laughed.

The tank deck, instead of its normal compliment of tanks, jeeps, and cargo, housed a

hospital complete with beds and orderlies to help make the injured soldiers comfortable. A

diminutive British orderly with small disordered teeth asked, “Would you care for a bit of


“What do you think? I had a bit of breakfast yesterday, nothing since,” replied Goodson

turning his head to stare at the man’s malformed teeth.

“I’ll retrieve a sandwich for you,” the little man said as he walked away at a very brisk

pace. “Retrieve a big one while you’re goin’ to all the trouble,” quipped Goodson. The orderly

returned ten minutes later with a small piece of bread cut three cornered.

“What’s this?” Goodson asked handing the bread back to the Englishman.

“A sandwich.”

“A sandwich?” Goodson rhetorically asked as he reached out and grabbed the orderly’s

shirt pulling him close to his face. “Who pays for this sandwich, mister?” Goodson growled.

“Why . . . the . . . the Americans. Yes. The Americans,” he answered shocked by

Goodson’s sudden hostility. “The Americans pay for the food and pay us to handle it during the

trips across the channel.”

“Well then, you’d best go and not come back ‘til you have two slices of bread and plenty

of jelly on it,” Goodson ordered as he turned the little Englishman loose.

The orderly returned in a minute with two pieces of bread with two big spoons of jelly.

“How does this suit you?” asked the orderly nervously making sure to stay out of arms reach.

“That looks pretty good, but you’d better remember when you bring something to a

hungry GI, unless that’s all you got, don’t bring a sandwich like the first on you brung me,”

replied Godson in a voice low and growling. “Some people’ll scare you more than I did.”

“Yes. Thank you,” he politely replied. “And . . . and next time I will ask if they want a

big sandwich or a small sandwich. I could not ascertain immediately whether or not you felt up

to eating at that moment,” he explained.

“I hollered I wanted a ‘big-un’. Next time pay closer ‘tention,” Goodson said while

taking a wolfish bite from the sandwich.

During his time in England Goodson discovered that during wartime a pint of jelly made

1000 sandwiches. He determined that the only way to get a decent sandwich was to make it

yourself. He also decided that the man who cut the meat for an English sandwich and the man

who cut the meat for the K ration pork-n-beans was one and the same! From the transport ship

Goodson moved to the 10th’s medical hospital in Worcestershire.

“Hey, listen, I’m going into Worcester,” Goodson called out donning his cap. “I’ll be

back in time for lunch.” Walking toward town the war seemed far away. Unlike London,

Worcester did not suffer from the Luftwaffe’s Blitz of 1940-41. In just 24 nights the German

bombers dropped more than 5000 tons of ordinance on the civilian population of the capital. In

total 43,000 Londoners lay dead and cold from the Blitz. By 1944, with the turning of the tide of

the war, many of the London evacuees had returned to find their home and communities reduced

to rubble. Worcester remained free of the pockmarks and destruction of German bombs. Still,

reminders of the war were always present.

A thunderstorm during the night made the August air smell fresh and Goodson felt

reinvigorated for the first time since his injuries. The trees still held green leaves that moved

under the influence of a light breeze. He thought Worcester an odd place. In the country side the

wooden houses, topped with thatch roofs, smelled of home and hearth. Old men with canes

moved animals from one small pasture to another and young girls worked cleaning the morning’s

dishes. Along the narrow road into town he met young men in British military uniforms. Some

bore the terrible marks of combat injuries and others walked seemingly unscathed. “The

randomness of war,” Goodson thought to himself.

Approaching Worcester the homes became more substantial. Brick replaced wood and

formed shingles replaced thatch. The stone and brick edifices in the city proper looked like the

antebellum county seat in Houston, Mississippi. He visited there once with his father looking for

a new hipper for their farm. The 15 mile trip to Houston and back took most of a day. The train

used to be an option, but the railroad shut down the line after the road improved. Most

everything the farm needed came from Derma or Calhoun City which were much closer. All

these thoughts caused a strong desire for his family to rise to the surface.

“Good morning, sir,” the waiter said as he placed a napkin and knife in front of Goodson

revealing a hand missing three fingers. “A spot of tea and a breakfast roll?”

“Do you have coffee today?” asked Goodson.

“I’m not sure,” the waiter replied. “I know how you Americans love coffee.” He ducked

behind a curtain covering a small door. After a muffled conversation the man returned with a

small cup of coffee. Rationing in the towns and villages made it hard to get coffee at times. He

also had an English biscuit which could be eaten with jelly or plain.

“Thanks,” said Godson as he carefully raised the cup to his lips. Sugar, coffee, flour,

etcetera where all scarce. The war effort called for sacrifices and Goodson understood that better

than most. After coffee and a biscuit he ambled along the streets admiring the different structures

and wondering about the people who constructed them and why. Along the way he stopped at the

local pub. He played darts and enjoyed the local ambiance.

The next morning Goodson was sent to the 10th replacement depot to await orders to

return to his unit. He looked forward to getting back to the front lines although his wound still

needed more time to heal. A feeling of guilt always accompanied him during his time

recuperating. During his convalescence he helped the men getting ready to ship out for home or

return to their units. Soon his name appeared on the extra list.

“Lieutenant, sir.”

“Yes, Goodson. What’s do you need?” the Lieutenant asked as he continued to look over

the list in his hand.

“They’ve got me on the extra list and my wound is not near healed. I don’t think I’m

ready to go back to my unit,” he explained as the same feeling of guilt rose up in his mind.

The lieutenant, still looking down, replied, “Don’t worry. We have 19 names ahead of

yours and yours is last. I have never used more than 3 or 4 at a time.”

The next week Goodson moved to number 10. Still the Lieutenant, with the same

detachment, assured Goodson that he would not be sent back. So, Goodson, as was his custom,

went into town down the now familiar road. The MPs surprised him when they walked into the

pub and called his name. “GOODSON, R L!”

“Right here. What’s goin’ on?” Goodson answered as he stood.

“Come with us. Everyone is shipping out today,” they replied.

“Well, nobody told me anything about it.”

“Just get your things and come with us.” By the time Goodson returned to the depot the

bus had left.

“I’ll just go with the next group I guess,” Goodson quipped.

“Next group. Is that all you have to say,” a perturbed soft skinned sergeant barked

looking toward Goodson. “You’re supposed to be ready to leave and not leave the depot when

your group is up. I could write you up and I probably should. Your papers went with the bus and

now the clerk in France will need to hold them until we can get you out with the next group. Do

you get what I’m telling you?”

Goodson having receive the tongue lashing coolly replied, “What’er ya’ goin’ do? Send

me to the front lines?” The sergeant, with his soft skin and 75 cent haircut, walked back to his



"The impetus of enthusiasm was theirs again. They gazed about them with looks of
uplifted pride, feeling new trust in the grim, always confident weapons in their hands. And
they were men” (Red Badge of Courage).

Goodson joined back up with his company outside Reims during the advance towards

Maizieres-les-Metz in early September.

“Your orders, soldier,” an unknown Captain requested.

“Here, sir,” Goodson replied as he reached into his field jacket to retrieve his papers from

the 10th replacement depot.

“Wounded in the Cotentin peninsula campaign. Says here you got hit the first week of

July. How’s your injury?” the lieutenant asked looking up from Goodson’s transfer orders.

“It’s still mighty sore, but it’s mostly healed,” Goodson replied as he rubbed his chest

with his hand.

“Very good. Private!”

“Yes, sir,” answered a private who’s been working at a field typewriter at a small desk.

“This is Goodson. He’s just coming back to the unit. Here’s his orders. Make sure payroll

and mail call are notified,” the private took the papers looking at them as he walked back to the

field desk.

“Alright, Goodson. About a klick that way we’ve dug in. Grab your gear and I’ll send

someone with you to introduce you to your gun team.”

In 10 or 15 minutes a dirty faced sergeant appeared. “They sent me to get a replacement

named “Godson”.

“Here, sergeant,” Goodson answered reaching down to pick up his gear.

“Follow me.”

As Goodson followed the sergeant he could immediately see that things had changed.

They walked at a brisk pace which made Goodson still healing chest hurt. All along Goodson

saw the rubbish and waste of war – empty K ration and ammo boxes, shattered trees, a disabled

German panzer tank, shell-pocked fields and abandoned fox holes. A company sized group of

brush covered tanks sat just off the road waiting for fuel. Soon they were at the most forward

position. In a hole six feet by three feet sat a dirty soldier. His clothes, earth colored from wear,

covered his very thin frame. He sat drinking coffee. In the hole were the remnants of his

breakfast – a can of hash, boiled potatoes, and biscuit. Part of this he ate cold. The small fire still

smoldered not far from the fighting position. Outside the foxhole sat empty ammo boxes covered

with mud and bits and pieces of personal effects.

“Hey, Chief, here’s our replacement ‘Jolson,’” the sergeant spoke to the dirty soldier who

barely acknowledged the information. “Make sure you give him the low down on the situation.

I’ll be back in 10,” he said turning to move down the line.

“Okay, we’ve been for several weeks. The Jerrys are holdup in Metz and are not goin’ to

give it up easy. We do some training and try to stay dry. It rains every day and some of the guys

are really having trouble with trench foot. So, try to dry your feet when you get a chance,” the

soldier explained as Goodson surveyed the terrain in front of the gun.


“Look there,” he pointed. “The Jerrys are just there across this field of fire. Anything that

moves ahead of our position is the enemy.” Goodson strained to see. He imagined what a counter

attack would look like – confusion, noise, terror. He massaged his wounded chest.

That first night proved to be trying.

Whoooossshhhh! “Flares. They shoot ‘em every night. If they see someone or if someone

shoots, then they’ll shell us all night. They’re not coming over here tonight. They’re daring us to

try to take the town.”

Before Goodson’s return, the 90th was placed under Maj. Gen. Wade Haislip’s XV Corps

in General George S. Patton Third Army. This signaled a change in tactics. One of the first

messages sent from Patton read: “Put on your neckties.” Following the breakout from Normandy

in the last days of July 1944, Patton’s army rapidly advanced 400 miles in a mere 30 days. With

the supply lines dangerously over extended the men and machines of war ground to a halt. The

army lacked fuel, ammo, rain gear, food, and etcetera. This gave the Germans time to bring up

reinforcements, adjust battle plans and prepare to destroy the advancing Americans. In front of

the stalled Allies waited General Otto Knobelsdorff’s First Army, which was determined to

defend the Maginot line and the ancient fortress city of Metz. The Germans boasted that no

enemy commander had been able to capture Metz since Attila the Hun entered the city in AD

415. More than this, Hitler declared Metz a fortress city meaning the Germans soldiers must

fight to the death.

“Godson or Jolson?” Heck! The replacement,” the sergeant stuttered.

“It’s ‘Goodson’ and I’m no replacement. I been here since Utah,” Goodson responded.

“Whatever. You got guard from 1 till 3,” the sergeant instructed.

“Gotcha’. One till 3. What’s the password?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll find out,” came the noncommittal response.

Goodson awoke to morning’s first light. “What the . . . ! Get up!” Goodson went from

foxhole to foxhole until he found the sergeant.

“What the heck, Jolson?” the sergeant sleepily asked.

“The guard musta’ been killed last night! Nobody woke me up for my watch!”

“Relax. We just pull guard until the Germans go to sleep.”

“What? Man, this ain’t no game we’re playing. I don’t know how you’ve lived this


The sergeant, more fully awake replied, “Look, I’m the Sergeant in charge. And I’ll say

how we work things.”

Goodson, looking sternly at the Sergeant, “We’ll have a watch all day and all night. I’ll

see to that.”

The sergeant growled something and laid back in his wet hole.

Back with his gun he talked with the other guys. “Yeah, he always takes the mid-night

watch and never wakes nobody. When we wake up ain’t nobody on the guns,” a private


“It won’t be that way no more,” Goodson pledged. That day the unit moved closer to

Metz and Goodson’s gun set up in a birch pulpwood stack. The men dug two-man holes and used

the wood and dirt to cover the holes against the rain and night chill.

“’Jolson’, you’ve got the mid-night to 2 watch,” the sergeant, without looking directly at

him, informed Goodson.


Goodson passed his watch sitting at the gun and staring out into the moonless night. The

cool, crisp air of the fall night reminded Goodson of his home. The fall harvest of cotton and

soybeans in his native Calhoun County signaled the soon coming of winter. His family always

planted at least three acres of sorghum in the spring and the first of September meant a trip to the

sorghum mill. Two men in Calhoun County cooked molasses for the public. Goodson and his

family used the mill in Vardaman because it was closer and the man who cooked the molasses

professed to be a Christian. It took three full days for the family to strip all the fodder from the

ribbon cane and load it on to wagons. The weather in August would always be hot and humid.

The men arrived in the fields early before the sun came up. The dew from the tall grass at the

row ends wet the blue jeans and made the heavy. The leaves of “sagum”, as the men pronounced

it, cut and made ones skin raw. To prevent this the men wore long sleeved shirts, thin cotton

gloves and hats. The top button needed to be closed to prevent bugs, worms, and debris from

falling down ones shirt. When all the leaves were removed, the men cut and stacked the denuded

cane. The cane could then be tied with seagrass string and loaded on to wagons or trucks. All this

happened as sweat stung the eyes and fatigued muscles strained to lift the gangly bundles of juice

filled cane.

The state kept the concrete road to Vardaman, but the county dirt roads presented a

challenge. But this became part of the adventure and an opportunity to get away from Derma and

the monotony of the family farm. The sorghum mill worked for 20 percent. So, if the family

made 100 buckets, then the folks at the mill took 20 buckets as their pay. The family rarely used

cash. The barter system worked well in post-depression Mississippi. That was a different world –

Mississippi, his wife and children, the recognizable things.

“Hey, sergeant,” Goodson whispered into the hole were the sergeant and another soldier

slept. One used care when waking a battle weary soldier in the middle of the night. One time a

sentry got pistol whipped because the guy in the hole thought he was a German. “Sergeant, it’s

time for your watch. It’s 10 minutes after 2. Here’s the watch,” Goodson said more forcefully.

The sentries use the same wrist watch and passed it one to the other. If a man went to sleep,

everyone knew.

“Okay, you’re relieved,” a voice said inside the fox hot as a hand reached out to take the


Goodson waited a few minutes and announced the time again. “Sergeant, it’s 2:13 and

it’s your watch.” He waited. “Get the heck out and get on guard now!” Goodson lost his self-


“Who in the heck do you think you are?” the sergeant asked as he crawled out of the hole

into the cool night air. “I’m the sergeant in charge and I say what goes and what don’t go around

here. And if you don’t watch yourself I’m goin’ to write you up for insubordination. Do you hear

me?” his voice rising.

Both stood looking at each other. Finally, the sergeant turned and walked to the gun. That

morning early the Sergeant walked up to the command post to talk to the commander about what

happened. Goodson thought the reason being the sergeant wanted to get his side of the story told

first. But Goodson had no intentions of telling anyone about what happened or how the sergeant

did not set the late watch after mid-night on most nights. As Goodson suspected the commander

sent word for Goodson to come to the command post. The commander knew Goodson from the

days of training in Louisiana and he listened to Goodson’s side of the story. The sergeant lost his

stripes and Goodson was given command of the gun. The commander said, “If that’s all, go back

and take over and good luck. You know what to do. I hope to see you often. Dismissed.” Events

quickly tested Goodson’s mettle once more.

“Where’s your company goin’?” Goodson asked a private loaded with grenades and

ammo in a column of infantry moving ahead of their gun emplacement.

“Don’t know,” the infantryman replied moving quickly past.

“Fellas, we better get ready cause when the Krauts get a look at those infantryman

something’s goin’ happen,” Goodson said looking down toward their gun. Before the column

completely moved passed, the shells started to fall. Goodson ran jumping in a hole like a rat as

he heard shrapnel buzzing overhead. Between a hole in the log and dirt roof a fragment of red

hot German shell with Goodson’s name on it found its mark. Hitting his hip it kept burning. The

hole, occupied by 2 other terrified GIs, didn’t allow him room to throw it out. It cooled where it

lay until the opening barrage ended.

“Somebody move! I been hit!” he groaned moving to ease the pain. “I can’t move with

you guys in here!” Then he saw two riflemen loaded with munitions from the column in the hole

– a two-man hole with 5 guys! The shrapnel didn’t go in, but deeply bruised his hip causing him

to limp a few days.


What a cruel thing is war; to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the
purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred
instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world!
(Robert E. Lee, Christmas Day 1862)

The 90th, per Patton’s orders, continued to probe the German’s positions. The purposes

were to learn more about the German capabilities, to keep the troops combat ready, and to open a

route of departure for the upcoming attack.

On the 3rd of October the all-out assault commenced. Called “the two bloodiest local

attacks during October”, the 90th rammed into the German positions north of Metz at the

industrial town of Maizieres-les-Metz and south at the combined fortifications of Fort Driant and

Fort Jeanne d’Arc. The fighting, continuous and brutal, advanced slowly. The Metz fortress

spread six miles west of the Moselle and reached back another four miles to the east. The most

heavily fortified city in Europe at the time boasted 43 forts arrayed in an inner and outer belt that

together mounted 128 heavy artillery pieces. But, first Maizieres-les-Metz must fall.

Goodson’s unit lost most of the seasoned sergeants and officers. With the decimation of

the enlisted and commissioned soldiers, for several missions they carried only one gun instead of

four. Goodson liked it when a familiar face returned.

“Hey, sergeant!” Goodson called out as his old sergeant walked up with his clean

uniform and gear. “Where ‘ya been?”

“I caught a piece of Kraut steel in my arm and had to spend some time with the 10th

medical,” the sergeant replied.

“Man, we can sure can use ya’,” Goodson replied as he stacked ammo. “We’ve been at

this for two weeks and guys are getting’ killed as fast as they’re brought in. The rain and mud

ain’t helpin’. We got to be extra careful not to let the gun get muddy.” Two days later the

sergeant died. Goodson’s heart grew cold and uncaring. He thought only of getting home which

seemed to him nearly an impossibility.

The German pillboxes intimidated, molested, and maimed American fighting men in

equal measures. With several feet of reinforced concrete a single pillbox could pin down an

entire company. Only through the force of sheer will and acts of individual heroism could they

be taken. Goodson’s guns were called up to support a squad trying to take a particularly strong


“What ya’ got going?”

Goodson asked a sergeant crouching

in an abandoned German trench.

“About 300 yards just in

front of those trees our scouts ran up

on some Germans in a pillbox. Their

sending up a new tank to help take it out.”

“We’ll sent up our guns and wait,” Goodson said as he turned to relay the situation to his

guns. As he waited he heard the familiar sound of armor – the drone of the engine and clanking

of the tracks. Up the road came a tank he’d never seen before. Goodson held some blankets he

had found – come in handy come night fall he thought.

As Goodson walked with the blankets toward his gun an infantryman said, “You’d better

get back.” The tank fired 50 caliber tracer rounds into the pillbox and maneuvered the main gun.

“I’ve seen a tank shoot before,” Goodson replied as he backed up against the remains of a

shot up house about 50 feet behind the tank. KABOOM! The tank fired its main gun almost

knocking Goodson down. Goodson looked around the corner just in time to see the shell slam

into the front of the pillbox. The debris and fire blasted in every direction as plumes of smoke

shot upward. The tank advanced and sprayed the opening with its flame thrower.

“Wow! What was that?” Goodson yelled watching from his gun position as the infantry

advanced toward the smoking heap.

“It’s a new tank to bust up the pillboxes that bombs won’t crack! It’s got a 240 mm

Howitzer,” the GI, looking through binoculars, replied. “They pack a wallop. Look at that hole

would ya”!

The 9.4 inch diameter, 360 pound shell tore a mammoth hole through the front of the

pillbox. Goodson, familiar with the sight of Germans trying to run from a burning pillbox, didn’t

see anything moving down range.

After the fall of Maizieres-les-Metz on the 30th Goodson’s platoon rested. Eisenhower

made this a priority throughout the army to maintain the morale and combat readiness of the

units. More specifically, the breaks prepared the troops for the assault of the main German lines

with the intentions of driving them from their positions. During the break the crews cleaned and

oiled their guns, exchanged wet ammo for dry, and bathed. Everyone received dry socks and

underwear. Some found clean uniforms.

The quartermaster baked fresh bread and ground coffee to replace the C and K ration

instant coffee. Fresh meat also made for a welcome gastronomical relief for the soldiers brought

to the rear. During this period the crews retrofitted their American tanks with “duck bills.” These

wider tracks allowed the tanks to manuevor more easily in the ever-present mud. The tank

companies received repacement tanks and much needed repairs to the operational vehicles. Most

importantly, the riflemen received desperately needed cold weather gear and rubber overshoes.

Still, they lacked blankets, socks and wool uniforms.

“Listen up for mail call,” a corporal with a large bag over his shoulder shouted. This

always brightened the day of even the most war-wearied, home-sick soldier. “Johnson!”

“Here!” a voice called out.

“Kline. Kline!”

“He’s at 10th medical,” a voice called out.


“Which one?”

“George L.”

“Here Corporal!” the voice shouted.


“Here!” he shouted as he moved through the sea of hopeful GIs.

“You got a box, too.” This always brought a special joy when a box from home came.

“Hey, Goodson, don’t forget me,” a playful voice called from somewhere. Though

envious, every other man hoped to get some taste of home even if not his home.

In his tent, with a host of witnesses, Goodson began to open the artifact from home. The

handwriting was Sue’s. He knew her distinctive script. It was fluid and refined. Not at all like his

scratch. She had used a Nabisco Cookie box from the local store to pack the items. He first

extracted the newspaper used to fill the empty spaces. The newspapers from home always held

special interest for the GIs. Several weeks later he received a letter predating the care package

explaining that the box would contain cream for his athlete’s foot. Unaware of this earlier letter

he ate the foot cream on cookies. He thought the taste odd!

Morale remained high in spite of the mud and rain. Within the rank and file rumors

persisted that the war could be over before Christmas 1944. Patton himself fueled the euphoric

rumors by travelling up and down the lines giving rousing speeches about how the Rhine river

flowed a mere 132 miles away and the war might end before the 90th reached it! All this wishful

thinking did not end the torrential rains, dry the endless mud, nor divide the swollen rivers. All

this and the German army awaited the now war hardened troops.

The afternoon of the 8th they hiked about three miles then rested. Following orders, they

wrote letters home and put things in order. Early in the evening they practiced river crossings

embarking and disembarking wooden boats several times. In the early hours of November 9th the

359th, loaded with grenades, ammo, and three day supply of K rations, crossed the marsh to the

Moselle River to commence an assault on Metz from the north. The army engineers constructed

some boats to ferry across 57mm antitank guns to support the infantry. Some troops carried their

boats to the river while others waited for the boats to be delivered by trucks. Goodson’s gun,

attached to a rifle company, waited under a moonless sky for trucks to deliver their boats. The

cold fall air carried the sounds of the rivers that lay 50 yards ahead in the dark landscape.

Everyone waited in complete silence for more than two hours.

“The trucks are here,” the fresh Lieutenant whispered. “Everyone up. Columns of four

and follow me. Maintain light discipline.” Though every GI knew not to have a flashlight out

during a night operation, the Lieutenant dangled one from his perfectly organized back strap.

“He means to win the war all by himself,” Goodson thought to himself smiling.

Sure enough, the Lieutenant accidently hit the on-switch. Though the Sergeant quickly

covered the flashlight lens with his hand, it was enough for the Germans to make out their

position. SWOOSH! SWOOSH! In less than a minute the Germans dropped four shells about

thirty feet apart on top of the troops, trucks and their boats. Some made it across that night, but

Goodson did not cross until the following night.

After the river crossing Goodson and the rifle company crossed a ditch on an improvised

bridge made of poles and brush. Each man held the man ahead of him. No one stopped walking

and no one let go. In the darkness one of the men in his crew slipped and dropped two boxes of

ammo in the water. This left a scant 500 rounds for a gun that could fire up to 20 or 30 rounds

per trigger touch. This meant they could provide less than a minute of sustained fire.

BURR, BURR. “Mausers!” Just beyond a set of railroad tracks two pillboxes opened up

on the scrambling troops. The 8mm Mausers used tracers every fifth round. This allowed the

Germans to direct their deadly alternating cross fire. During the short lull to reload the riflemen

dashed across the road.

“Move down the railroad and keep you heads down,” instructed a sergeant as the men

crossed. “Forty yards that way is a street. Go up the embankment. The place is crawling with


Goodson led his gun crew as they ran toward the sounds of M-1 fire, grenades, and

mortars. “On each side of the street are pillboxes full of Germans,” shouted a highly excited

private. “They’re murdering us!”

Throughout the action the Americans used the same ditches and holes as the Germans. A

group of GIs jumped back into a hole they left thirty minutes before. Now the Wehrmacht

controlled it. “Lege deine Hände in die Luft!” barked the German soldier. “Pud up yur hans,”

another German repeated in broken English. The Germans talked among themselves in elevated

tones. The decision was made to take them prisoner to extract information from them. A guard

watched the door where the disoriented soldiers waited. Goodson’s crew came up on the guard.

Goodson whispered, “The guard is just around the corner. When he looks the other way

we’ll get him.”

When the guard turned away a soldier knocked him down with his rifle. The German lost

his gun and the prisoners escaped without one shot being fired. This confused fighting continued

through the night. German and America fighting positions touching in places, hand-to-hand

combat, with men unsure where the enemy might be.

In the morning with little or no rest Goodson’s gun was called up to help hold a position

from a German counterattack. The Americans overran a large enemy pillbox and the Germans

planned to take it back. As soon as Goodson arrived the shells started hitting all around. After

two days of fighting the Americans gained 100 yards and did not want to give it back. This

counterattack, like so many others, was repelled.

“Sure is quiet,” Goodson commented stacking boxes of fresh ammo brought by a runner.

“Makes me nervous.” Goodson moved down the German-dug the trench about thirty feet from

the gun. He dug a hole in the side of the trench and climbed in with a wool blanket for warmth.

“This is okay,” he thought. Just then he heard the familiar whoosh, whoosh of mortars. A shell

hit right by his hole. The sandy dirt collapsed and covered everything but his head. The shells

continued to fall as he extricated himself and ran to the gun. He arrived to find the gun and crew

okay. Another shell hit two feet from him. He didn’t get down low enough and the blast of sand

hit him in the face and chest. The blast knocked him over. A shell hit in the same place, but

Goodson, out cold, could do nothing.

“Goodson, ya’ still with us?” a distant voice asked.

“Pull him over here,” another faint voice said. “Man, his face is messed up. Medic!”

As Goodson came to himself he realized he could not feel his arms. His upper body lay

limp like a wet dish rag. In a few hours he regained use of his arms, but his neck still would not

support the weight of his bloodied face.

“We got nobody to go with you to the aid station,” they told him. “When a runner comes

up we’ll send ya’ back. Just hold on.”

Finally by night fall some soldiers came up the line bringing K rations and Goodson went

with them. Still unable to walk they carried him. Falling once he rolled 40 feet down an


“This is company headquarters in here,” they told him as they left. The place was

completely dark. The crooked entrance prevented light from being seen outside. As Goodson

stumbled through the entrance. Inside a guard caught him roughly by the shoulders.

“Who are you?” the guard demanded.

Goodson, unable to speak, mumbled something and this made the guard think he might

be German. “Sprichst du Deutsch?” the guard asked in basic German.

“Turn him loose soldier. He’s one of mine,” the Company Commander ordered. “What

happened?” Goodson mumbled what he could remember and the Company Commander caught

only bits of it. Godson face and neck, completely covered by dried blood mixed with dirt, looked

horrible. “I don’t have anyone to take to the aid station. If you want I’ll take you now or you can

wait and someone will take you,” the Commander continued.

The Company headquarters building had been a French grocery store, so they lay

Goodson on an empty shelf. The next morning at 10 am Goodson lay where he passed out.

“My God, I forgot about you,” a soldier said while nudging Goodson. “Are you still


“I. . . . I . . . I’m alive, but I’m so sore I can’t move,” Goodson whispered as he tried in

vain to get off the shelf. “Give me a hand,” he implored as he extended he still bloody hand.

They led him 100 yards to the aid station.

“Couldn’t you stand up until we get to you,” a thin-lipped medic asked as Goodson

leaned against a make-shift counter.

“Sure,” Goodson whispered as he righted himself.

“You, come here,” a major instructed motioning for Goodson to come to him. “You are

walking. I know dead men don’t walk. Tell me what happened.”

“Two shells blew up in my face.”

“I’m glad I checked you out. Any of the others would’ve sent you strait to the morgue,”

he said letting a smile break his otherwise somber face.

“That’s good.”

“Even though you can walk somewhat, I’m going to give you some sleeping pills. Take

two and sleep. When you wake up take two more and sleep some more. Then when you wake up

come see me and I’ll check you out again,” the Major commented as he looked in Goodson’s

bloody ears and felt the base of his skull.

The pills had no effect. At ten that night, in complete frustration, Goodson got out of bed.

The aid station, quiet because of a lull in the fighting, appeared itself asleep from exhaustion.

Passing the guard without question, Goodson returned to his two guns manned by less than one

crew. The Commander sent clerks and cooks to assist the decimated units. At times hybrid

companies formed of Headquarters personnel moved into combat positions in an attempt to hold

positions won at high human capital. But these “replacements” had no experience with heavy

guns and life in the trenches.

The palpable darkness covered everything. You could see looking up, but not looking

down. Quietly approaching the trench chills ran up his spine – no one manned the now

motionless gun. Goodson thought he might find them with their throats cut by a German

bayonet. Then he faintly saw movement.

“Who’s there?” he demanded stepping back and pulling out his pistol.

“It’s me,” a voice answered in English. The soldier gave his name, but Goodson did not

catch it. He knew the man, but not the name.

“Why didn’t you shoot me?” Goodson asked as he leaned over to inspect the gun. “Why

did you move when you did?

“I was tryin’ to git lower in the trench,” the young soldier confessed, “So you wouldn’t

see me.”

“Now, what would you’ve done if I’d been a Kraut? Huh?” asked Goodson interrogating

the still shaking GI.

“I don’t know.”

“Did ya’ have ya’ gun on me? Well, did ya’?”

“I . . . I did until ya’ got real close.”

“The next time you’re guarding the gun at night and somebody comes up sneaking

around and you don’t say nothing and don’t shoot, I’m goin’ shoot you! What if I was a German

and cut your throat and then killed the men sleeping in their holes?” Goodson spoke his voice

filling with rage. Grabbing the soldier by the shirt he pulled him up close. “If you’d been one of

my guys they’d shot!” dropping the thoroughly dressed-down sentry back into the blackness of

the trench.

Goodson, with cloudy senses, wondered to himself, “I must’ve walked by several sentries

returning to the lines, but I can’t remember any of them.” The concussion and after effects

lingered for weeks and clouded his thinking.

In spite of debilitating cold, sucking mud, and incessant

rain the 90th took Metz and continued its assault of the Siegfried

Line. Ahead lay the Saar River and the fortified city of Dillingen,

Germany. The heart of the German “Vaterland” seemed within


On the 6th of December in the early morning the attack

commenced. The first objective -- crossing the Saar and then the

taking of Dillingen.

“Alright, fellas, grab ya’ gear and fall in with the rifle

company,” Goodson instructed as steam from his breath accent

each word. “We’re crossing the river and setting up a defensive line. Heard the 95th was

supposed to capture the bridge at Saarlautern, but the Krauts put up too tough a fight. So, the

plan is we’ll cross here and fight here.”

Unknown to Goodson ahead of them lay the thickest and most heavily defended part of

the Siegfried Line. From the high ground across the Saar the Germans directed deadly fire on top

of the advancing GIs. In the approach to the city an intricate series of pillboxes and fortifications

awaited the Americans.

“Sergeant, set up your gun here on the west bank. The 357th and 358th will cross and

secure the east side,” his Lieutenant instructed.

“You heard ‘em, let’s dig in over there. No noise or you’ll get every man in the river

killed,” Goodson whispered.

The men of the 357th and

358th, some carrying as much as

fifty pounds of gear, stepped into

the small boats. The river, swollen

out of its bank, roared passed. The

current carried the flotsam and

jetsam from upstream – submerged logs and hidden obstacles that might capsize an overloaded

boat. “Remember to start rowing as soon as the boats are free from the shore,” the voice

whispered to each boat leader.

Quietly they stepped into the boat which rocked unsteadily under the weight of each man.

Without a word the boats slipped out into dark moving river. As the men rowed, they could see

other boats gliding along like a grotesque sea monster. The men searched the darkness listening

over the sounds of the oars for the signs of the Germans. Though the boat drafted shallow still

the keel grounded ten from the bank. The men and all their equipment started moving over the

sides into the icy water the first steps filling their boots and soaking their trousers with the

freezing water. Ashore the men joined a growing army of men all looking into the same darkness

still waiting for the first contact with the enemy. The daring attack caught the Germans

completely off guard.

From across the river Goodson could clearly see the opening scenes of the battle of

Dillinger unfolding. Goodson’s gun opened up on the targets as the early morning sun rose. This

brought quick and deadly retaliatory fire from the Germans. On both sides of the river the 90th

slugged away at the dug in Wehrmacht. After the first days fighting the GIs realized modest

gains. Meanwhile the engineers, under constant shelling and automatic weapons fire, labored at

bridging operations. A foot bridged, constructed under impossible circumstances, allowed more

troops and supplies to join the continuous combat on the east side of the Saar.

“Sergeant, we’ll move out at 4 in the morning. Our objective is a large pillbox here,” the

Lieutenant said pointing to a heavily creased map. “Make sure your weapons are ready and you

have ammo and K rations. They’ve resupplied us with carrying parties by the footbridge. Any


“I’m down 5 guys, so, we barely got enough men for the two guns. Any idea when

replacements are coming.”

“No. The Captain said nothing to me about replacements. Do the best you can,” the

Lieutenant replied folding the map and putting it inside his jacket. “Get some rest and good luck


Long before dawn the rifle company set out toward the pillbox. Goodson’s men fell into

the column. A fog of steam rose from the rows of men walking quick in the early morning cold.

BURRR, BURRR! BURRR! “Mauser!” someone yelled.

“In coming!” WHOOSH! WHOOSH! As the mortars fell Goodson and the columns of

riflemen disappeared in every direction.

“Where they at!” someone yelled.

“Up there!” came the response.

“Set your gun up here,” Goodson pointed. “We’ll move this gun up over to the other side.

Follow me!” Goodson and two others cross the road and began to try to find a flanking position

as the Germans continued to fire into the pinned company. Moving around, he came upon the


“Sir, where you want this gun?” Goodson asked. The Lieutenant, huddled in a shell

crater, was shaking and could not respond.

“Are you hit?” Goodson asked looking at his uniform.

“I….I….I’m not sure. Need artillery or air support. Maybe we could rally in a flanking

maneuver or . . . . .”

“Man, their killing us!” Goodson yelled at the rambling Lieutenant. “Get on the radio and

tell them we got a situation and need artillery on top of those positions, man.”

Within a minute shells fell, but landed long and to the right. It did quiet the guns and gave

the rifleman an opportunity to close in. Small and difficult for reconnaissance to see, the

pillboxes held the rifle company in a deadly field of cross fire. After several hours a rifleman got

close enough to throw a smoke grenade in front of the closest pillbox. The second GI threw a

grenade through the slit. The Germans threw it back out just as it exploded. The GI held the

second grenade longer, throwing it at the last second. The phosphorus grenade covered the

Germans with white hot chemical and filled the pill box with stifling smoke. As the first German

tried to run the GIs cut him down. The other Germans, escaping the oven within, ran directly into

the waiting American guns. Still, the other pillbox remained defiant.

“Look,” Goodson said pointing to one of the smoking Germans, “They’re SS. They don’t

surrender and don’t take prisoners. We should’a let ‘em burn.”

“Nazis! Every one of them,” a sergeant commented as he rifled through their uniforms

searching for papers or souvenirs. “Look here, must be his wife and kids,” showing Goodson a

picture from the soldier’s pocket. The young woman in the black and white photo looked

somberly at the camera. The baby in her lap, maybe 2 years of age, sat with its head tilted

downward. The young child by her stood with his hand on her arm in the loving touch of mother

and child. Behind the family stood a young, virile man in a grey army uniform. Proudly he

looked directly into the camera as his right hand fell softly upon the shoulder of the woman.

“They’re the age of my kids,” Goodson thought to himself.

With morning light the P-47s joined in pounding the German positions with five inch

rockets and 50 caliber machine guns. Still, the Germans could not be dislodged. The Americans

cleared the last of the smaller pillboxes after a pitched assault with the support of the artillery. In

the process they captured four prisoners and one donkey. They figured the donkey to be a

messenger. The Captain requested a withdrawal and resupply. But the commander insisted the

company press the attack and take the original objective.

“They’ll get my whole company killed,” the Captain thought to himself. He called his

sergeants and lieutenants together and explained the situation. “We’re going to assault the larger

pillbox located here,” pointing to a black dot on his map. “Top, how many causalities do we

have?” the Captain asked looking toward an older rifleman with chevrons and one rocker on his


“Thirty killed or wounded,” he replied. “We got some guys moving the wounded back to

the aid station.”

“Okay, rest the men. I want the heavy machine guns dug in. Don’t want a counterattack

to catch us off guard,” the Captain said as he rubbed his gloved hands over his dirt covered face.

“Be ready to move in an hour.”

Goodson set up his weapons using the trenches constructed by the Germans. As the army

advanced they used the pillboxes and trenches abandoned by the Germans. This tactic produced

several unintended consequences. The Germans often had their own positions on artillery firing

tables so that an overrun trench or pillbox could be shelled with pinpoint accuracy. The GIs also

contracted lice when they slept in the German pillboxes or trenches. Without a place to bathe and

without clean uniforms or blankets the biting proved to be insufferable.

The Third Army stood poised to take the Siegfried Line after establishing several

crossings over the Saar River. December 15th Patton paused to build up the supplies and

ammunition in preparation for the assault of the West Wall.


Remember the cheering throngs of Frenchmen, women, and children, as they gave us
green apples, wine, and cognac and we gave them cigarettes, chocolate, etc ... ? Such things as
liberating a whole nation are not easily forgotten. Every man had a certain amount of pride in
himself and in his buddies, and many weren’t ashamed to shed a few tears to see other people
made hysterically happy. (Album 359th Infantry 90th Division, p. 6)

The evening of December 15th Allied spirits flew high.

They liberated France and the Germans gave ground each

week to the advancing Allies. Many of the generals talked of

how, with the Rhine now in sight, the troops might be home

for Christmas. The common sentiment was: “The optimists

see the end of the war by Christmas and even the confirmed

pessimists are beginning to waver” (Album, p. 43). Many of

the GIs, because of the lull in the fighting, were given

weekend passes to Paris. Why not be optimistic. The Germans appeared to be in full retreat on

every front. In the past weeks military intelligence monitoring German communications heard

almost nothing of significance. They interpreted this as a sign of a disordered command and

demoralized army. In the early hours of December 16th all this speculation and optimism proved

to be completely wrong. The Germans slammed into the newly arrived American troops in the

Ardennes near the town of St. Vith. The Germans called it the “Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein”

(Operation Watch on the Rhine), while the Allies designated it the Ardennes Counteroffensive.

The untried replacement units came to the Ardennes to become acclimated to the environment of

war. The generals felt it unlikely that the Germans would hit this part of the line. In fact, they did

not believe the Germans possessed the man power nor the machines of war to launch any major

offensive. As though the weather itself fought against the Allies bitter cold and cloudy conditions

favored the advancing Wehrmacht. Hitler hurdled more than 200,000 men, approximately 1,000

tanks and 1,900 artillery pieces at the completely surprised Americans. What followed would be

the largest battle fought on the Western Front in Europe during World War II and the largest

sustained battle ever fought by the United States Army.

December 18th Patton’s 3rd Army turned 90 degrees and began marching toward the

Ardennes. As Patton raced toward the besieged town of Bastone with his armor, the 359th held

the hard won ground between the Moselle and Saar Rivers. Christmas 1944 and New Year 1945

found Goodson and his guns in sleet, snow, frozen feet and training newly arrived replacements

to get the unit back to combat readiness. The green untested GIs needed to learn the basics of

river crossings, pillbox busting, and house-to-house combat.

Click, click. Click, click, the new Lieutenant absent mindedly played with his lighter as

Goodson and some others drove along in a jeep. Click, click again the new platoon leader fiddled

with his lighter.

“New lighter?” Goodson asked trying to silence the click, click of the lighter.

“Sure is, sergeant Goodson. I bought it State Side just before I got sent over last month.

It’s not Black Crackle like my men have. It’s a brass Zippo. Won’t rust like the new ones do.

Want to see it?” he asked attempting to pass the lighter over his shoulder to Goodson.

“No. I just don’t want to see or hear it any more. Don’t want the Germans knowing

where were at and all,” Goodson replied trying to remember the officer’s bars.

“Yeah. I saw this one and thought, ‘What the heck. I’m going to fight for my country and

I’m going to need a good lighter,’” he said taking back the lighter when he noticed Goodson was

not interested in looking at it.

Click, click, click. “Sir, please put the lighter away and shut up,” the driver chimed in

with less tact.

“Sure,” the Lieutenant capitulated. The Jewish driver and Lieutenant of catholic

persuasion had not agree on anything since the start of the training. In fact, they fought like two

little kids. Thirty minutes later . . .

Click, click, click. “I thought you were goin’ to put that brass Zippo away.” The

Lieutenant put it away without saying anything as the driver lit his fourth of the day. After about

ten miles the Lieutenant broke out a cigarette and tried to light it. Nothing. He put it away. A

little later he got the cigarette out and tried again. Nothing. He turned to the driver and asked,

“Hey, could I get a light off you. My Zippo stopped working.” The driver tore into him for what

seemed like 15 minutes. He didn’t ask again and pretty quick learned how to be a Tough Ombre.


“What time is it?” a voice asked over the noise of the deuce and a half.

“Time for you to get a watch,” a voice answered back.

“Nice. I ain’t heard that one since 2nd grade.”

“So, you finished 1st grade?”

“Hey, you guys keep it down. The Krauts are trying to sleep.”

“Wow, a deuce and a half full of Bob Hopes,” the soldier commented. “Never mind

bunch ‘a wise guys.”

Goodson, fading in and out of a fitful sleep, looked at his watch. “Zero 300,” he

announced. “After four hours in this thing I really need to whiz,” he thought to himself.

“Where we headed exactly,” another voice asked.

“Belgium. Some place called ‘Arden’ or ‘Ardens.’ The Germans are tearing us up and

‘Ole guts and glory’ wants to make sure we get our share of the medals,” Goodson said referring

to Gen. Patton.

“Yeah, ‘Ole our guts his glory’. Our guts and his glory,” a voice commented.

The column of trucks, tanks and jeeps stretched for miles. Patton, though upstaged by a

break in the weather which allowed for an airdrop of supplies, liberated Bastone on Christmas

Day 1944. A feat that most thought impossible or at least impractical. Such things did not deter

Patton who believed the 3rd could do whatever he asked. On January 6, 1945, Patton called on

the 359th to come up from the south attacking the retreating Germans’ flank. They would fight to

push back the bulge in Luxembourg, a landlocked country in Western Europe bordered by

Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south.

“Grab your gear and let’s go,” a lieutenant barked. The crisp, authoritative voice of the

young officer crated on Goodson’s well-worn nerves. “Time to put all that training to the test.”

“That’s what they say just before they get us all killed,” Goodson thought as he strained

to lift the tripod from beneath the tarp of the ton and a half truck. Additionally, he carried a 500

rounds of ammo, two boxes of 45 caliber ammo, thirty caliber carbine with several clips of

ammo, and his K rations. All this weight made the short drop to the ground from the truck

difficult. The trucks, with the T-O patch removed for reasons of secrecy, returned south to pick

up more troops. In the bitter cold of the early morning Goodson and his Regiment waited in the

secret assembly area in Luxembourg. Some men stomped the ground and rubbed their already

chilled hands. Others pulled down their knit caps – one of the few winter items that had reached

the troops.

“Columns of two, ho!” barked the Lieutenant.

Goodson now knew he would get them all killed!

Ahead lay a fifty mile march and the beginning of an offensive operation against the

German army. The 26th and 35th infantries and the 6th Armored Division stalled the German

salient, but the combination of German strength and wintery conditions proved to be too much.

The 90th must attack and reduce the salient, destroying the enemy in the process.

“We’ve walked nearly ‘til night,” a replacement complained. “I thought we come to fight,

not train and walk. The war’s goin’ be over before we get there at this rate.”

“Yep, you’re goin’ to whip the whole Kraut army by your lonesome,” laughed another


“Why don’t the two a ‘ya shut up,” Goodson finally broke in. “There’ll be plenty of

fightin’, killin’, and dyin’ for everybody. Hear that low thunder up yonder. That ain’t thunder.

Them’s German 88s and they can put a shell in your back pocket. So, why don’t you both shut

up and pay attention, because I don’t aim to get killed because a couple of green newbies

couldn’t keep their tongues from floppin’.”

The column continued up a long hill and the sun could be seen just over the top. They

stopped and word came back that a sniper up ahead covered a 100 yard stretch of road. The

Germans used snipers with great effectiveness to protect retreating troops. These snipers, feared

and hated, could hold back entire companies for hours. From 600 yards a concealed sniper could

fire then slip away unseen. This randomness and element of surprise added to the anxiety of the

battlefield. The GIs in Goodson squad felt very uneasy as they approached the stretch of road

covered by the sniper.

POP! Goodson heard the familiar sound of a high velocity round going by.

“Get down,” one of the green GIs yelled as he hit the dirt. Most of the untried troops

ducked for cover.

“Whatcha ya’ doin’?” Goodson scolded. “Get up! His ain’t seen us yet and he’s shooting

at fellas down yonder.” When we were in Normandy I heard tell about a squad that got

completely taken out by one sniper. He hit the first man. All the others tried to hide. He picked

‘em off one by one. When a sniper shoots you don’t hide. You run ‘cause ain’t nowhere to hide.

You understand me?”

“Yes, sergeant,” a man said standing up.

“Follow me and wait ‘til I’m clear. If I get hit and go down, don’t stop. If ya’ bunch up

he’ll get every one of ya’,” Goodson instructed as he adjusted his heavy accouchements.

Watching the man in front of him, he started his trip through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Huh, huh, huh, huh. Goodson breathing quicken as he tried to jog with all his gear

weighing him down. POP! The sniper’s first shot missed just ahead of Goodson. POP! Another

miss as Goodson strained to maintain a jog. HUH, HUH, HUH. His lungs burned from the bitter

cold air and the exertion. “Half-way,” Goodson surmised. He passed a fallen GI. His body

smoking in the cold air from the fresh sweat and blood. “Must have been one of the first hit,”

Goodson thought. In the beginning a dead body bothered Goodson, now he passes one without

feeling anything. HUH, HUH, HUH, HUH. POP! “Just behind me,” Goodson thought. Almost

immediately another high velocity round popped near him. Goodson finally reached the line of

trees and began to walk quickly. His heart pounded in his head and his lungs burned. “Kraut

Sniper . . . hope we don’t run into too many of ‘em,” he thought looking back at the line of GIs


January 9th the attack commenced. The 357th took a position on the left, Goodson and his

359th took the right, and the 358th held in reserve. The German army reeled backward from the

speed and strength of the assault.

“Set your gun here on this corner and watch for anybody tryin’ to come in on that

approach. While it’s quiet we need to check out these building and clear ‘em,” Goodson said as

he distributed ammo. “Let’s ease down behind here. You two stay with the guns and we’ll check

things out.”

“Look there,” a soldier said pointing, “Lights through that crack.”

“I see ‘em,” Goodson replied. “If there’s Germans here, they’ll be in the cellars. Easy

boys.” Goodson led the way as the men crept up to the door. Goodson held his pistol firmly in

his shaking hand as his eyes watched for any small movement. Just as he reached the door

something hit him in the face and shoulders. He jumped back almost knocking down the man

behind him. “My, God. It’s a white sheet and pole,” he whispered. The wind caught it just as he

stepped toward the door. Everyone smiled with an uneasy relief.

When they finally reached the door of the cellar they discovered the weapons of about

twelve German soldiers – Mausers, ammo, grenades, etc. Apparently they planned to surrender

with the sheet and pole, but decided at the last minute to run. The Germans had heat and the

squad decided to eat.

“I’ve got a couple of cans of meat and one of cheese,” one soldier volunteered.

“Here, I’ve got two cans of biscuits and crackers. Here’s my salt,” another volunteered.

“Hand me your helmet and we’ll make something worth having,” Goodson said reaching

for a canteen. In just a minute the squad created a meat-cheese casserole. “Good as moms,” he


“We’ll set the watch and use this cellar for the night,” Goodson announced licking the

last of the night’s creation from his mess kit. One night’s reprieve from the numbing cold.

The next morning the new Lieutenant came looking for Goodson who sat with the gun

while the men finished a quick breakfast.

“Sergeant, where did you place the guns last night before we bivouacked?” he asked as

he straitened his pressed field coat.

“Well, the first gun there covers the road comin’ into town,” Goodson replied pointing in

the direction of the gun. “The other gun is covering that open field, but I haven’t gone out there

yet to see just exactly where it’s put.”

“Sergeant, you, as squad leader have the responsibility to reconnoiter. The leader should

make a personal reconnaissance to verify his terrain analysis, adjust his plan, confirm the

usability of routes, and time any critical movements. When time allows the leader must make a

mapped reconnaissance. The leader must consider the risk inherent in conducting reconnaissance

forward of friendly lines. Sometimes the leader must rely on others to conduct the

reconnaissance if the risk of contact with the enemy is high in setting his defensive perimeter,”

the Lieutenant recited some officer’s manual gibberish as the veins in his forehead glowed red

and pulsed.

“Lieutenant, we have our own rules that are a little different from what they told you in

officer’s training school. My men know how to kill Germans without getting’ their own selves

killed in the process,” Goodson explained looking toward the ground.

“Let’s find that other gun,” the lieutenant said walking away like Patton on parade.

“The gun is this way,” Goodson said as the officer turned on his heels. In a few minutes

they were close enough to see the gun and crew sitting just in a line of trees looking out over an

open field.

“The deployment of the heavy machine gun is to be done to maximize the fire

effectiveness of the weapon. Move this weapon out from the trees to a position in the field,


“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”


I don’t think those guys are goin’ want to set out in the middle of that field where any

one-eyed German with a gun could pick ‘em off.

“Sergeant Goodson,” the Lieutenant said standing straight as board, “I am giving you a

direct order and you will be court martialed if you do not comply.”

“I’ll tell ‘em what you said, but I don’t think they’ll like it,” Goodson said walking away.

Reaching the second gun he said, “Listen, fellas, the new Lieutenant wants this gun set up in the

field out there, so . . . .” Goodson said going on to explain the rest of the conversation.

“What the heck’s he thinkin’?!” one of the more seasoned guys blurted out. “He can take

his direct order and his court martial and stick it up his tailpipe for all I care.” The others got

even more explicit.

Goodson returned to the Lieutenant and said, “The men said no, sir.”

The Lieutenant turned completely red in the face, wrung his gloved hands and squeezed

his lips together tighter than a toad’s behind.

“I’m sure the Captain will have something to say about all this,” he said. He muttered

something else that Goodson did not make out. Goodson never heard a single word about the

incident from HQ.

Later the same day they moved to another town . . . .

“Okay, men, the enemy is about 400 meters to our front. The engineers are blowing the

Heinie ammunitions dump and then we are supporting the rifle company in their attack,” the

Lieutenant said with an air of incertitude.

Just as darkness fell the engineers set off their charges. The entire field erupted with fire

and the explosions of the two hundred yard long stack of German artillery shells. The ground

shook and everyman within a quarter mile felt the concussion as a glowing ball of fire and smoke

rose from the ground. Shells were hurled in every direction. Some of the ordinance did not

explode until the casings heated sufficiently to pop the cap. Random shells exploded long after

the initial explosion.

The rifle company attacked.

Immediately, thirty Germans, mostly conscripts formed into regiments to support the

offensive to take Antwerp, surrendered. The company commander told two men to go back with

the captives and ordered the rest to press the attack into the woods.

“Lieutenant, we need to get a move on,” Goodson said watching the rifle company’s


“It’s getting dark and we lack sufficient light to continue the assault,” the Lieutenant


Goodson looked at his squad and said, “Ya’ll move up this road and I’ll come back and

get ‘ya.” Goodson headed out to see what lay directly ahead. Coming back he led them up an old

road off the main road.

“What now?” the Lieutenant asked as he struggled to keep up.

“Hear that?” Goodson asked.

“I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly. Wait here and be quiet. Be ready to hit the grader ditch.” Goodson moved


WOOSH. WOOSH! WOOSH! Six mortars fell close. The squad all jumped into the

shallow cover of the ditch. Goodson fell in on top of a man, who didn’t move.

“Let’s go!” Goodson yelled. “Lieutenant, move!”

“I. . . I don’t think we should!”

“Get back on the road. Look, there’s a dead man in the ditch.” The Lieutenant all but flew

out of the ditch!

“Let’s move up this road,” Goodson said surmising the movement of the battle by the

sounds of small arms fire. BURR! BURR! A German Mauser began firing at them. Goodson and

the Lieutenant, who now remained glued to Goodson, took cover behind two trees two feet apart.

The rounds continued to hit between them.

“What do I do now? The Lieutenant stuttered.

“Lay still and be quiet.” Goodson whispered. Just then the riflemen opened up on the

position and three German’s surrendered.

The darkness created chaos in the line. “Where ya’ll headed?” Goodson inquired of a

group of riflemen feeling their way through the dark.

“We’ve set up a defensive line at the fork in the road.”

Goodson returned to his guns and they moved up toward the fork. Goodson heard talking

in the woods and new it was the rifle squad. “Top, where ‘ya want us to set our guns?” he asked.

“We have both forks covered and are braced for a counterattack. Put a gun on each fork,”

the infantry Top answered.

Returning with the now humbled Lieutenant, Goodson moved his guns down the dark

road toward one of the forks. As they walked they could hear voices murmuring low with words


“Let’s not go in there,” the Lieutenant said pointing down the road. “Let’s just stay with

the road.”

“Had your fill of Germans already? Why Germany’s full of ‘em I hear tell,” Goodson

said goadingly. “Here’s the rifleman and the first fork. Try to find a clear field of fire and I’ll go

with them to the other.”

“Hey, sergeant. We found a tree across the road, but no riflemen. Figure something might

have happened to ‘em,” a GI surmised.

Goodson didn’t notice any signs of a fight. “Let’s go look again. Go easy ‘cause the

Germans are all around,” Goodson said looking through the darkness for a sign of the riflemen.

As they moved toward the fork and the fallen tree Goodson saw something or someone

on the ground. He pull out his pistol and inched his way closer to the thing in the darkness. As he

approached a voice in English asked, “American?” To his relief the riflemen were laying real

quiet and still. The others almost stepped on them before.

“Why didn’t you say something before?”

“We were afraid you might be Krauts, so we decided to lay low,” the private confessed.

The next morning the company continued to pursue the retreating Germans. Goodson and

his guns walked along with the rifle company until 4 in the afternoon. “We need to cross this

valley to the road on the other side. They gave us a jeep, but we’ve only got room for one gun.

I’ll mount this one on the jeep and go along the road. Lieutenant, you take the other gun and

cross direct. You should be there before us,” Goodson said as he mounted the guns on the back

of the jeep.

As night fell the Lieutenant and the others had not arrived. Finally, several of the men

staggered in. They looked like death. “What happened?” Goodson asked.

“The Krauts shelled us bad,” a private said.

“The Lieutenant?”

“A shell hit him. Johnson was close to him when he got hit and got covered with the

Lieutenant’s innards. He’s ain’t been right since.”

“Johnson,” Goodson called out. A blood splattered private stepped toward Goodson, his

face lacerated from the shelling.

“Here, sergeant,” he replied quietly, his hazel eyes looking at the ground.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m shaking and can’t stop. I . . . I can’t do it again. You know, take the shelling and I

can’t stand the thought of seeing nobody else blown up or nothing. I just want to go home. I

can’t take it,” he said as he lit a Chesterfield and pulled on it deeply.

“Let’s get you to the aid station,” Goodson pulled his knit cap down against the cold and

adjusted his helmet. “The rest of you set up that gun. We may be moving again tonight,”

Goodson said as he prepared to take Johnson to the aid station. At the aid station they bandaged

Johnson’s wounded head, gave him some pills and prepared to send him out.

“Major, this man ain’t in no shape,” Goodson protested. “Can’t he at least stay the night

and warm up a little and go back tomorrow?”

“No. Our orders are to send anyone who is not critically wounded back immediately,” the

major explained.

“I can’t take no more,” Johnson growled. “I ain’t goin’ to take it. Hear me!” his voice


“See that blood?” Goodson pointed at Johnson’s uniform. “That’s all that’s left of our

Lieutenant thanks to a Kraut shell. Johnson was standing close and got splattered.”

“Sergeant, he’ll go back or be court martialed. Lots of men are suffering from cowardice.

Patton has a standing order that any man who will not fight is to be handed over to the MPs and

put in the brig. Short of this, we are to send the men back to their units. Now pick up your


“I . . . can’t do it,” Johnson said as he began to sob.

The major turned and walked back to his papers.

“If this is how you treat men with their minds gone, then you’ll have two men to court

martial,” Goodson said defending Johnson. About that time the Company Commander walked


“Major, what’s going on?” the Commander inquired. The Major rehearsed all that

happened and the situation with Johnson.

“Sergeant, the company is moving out. Leave Johnson with us and we’ll see to him,” the

Commander said looking toward the Major.

“Alright, sir, but it ain’t right how we’re treating these guys,” Goodson said.

The next morning at 0400 the company commenced another attack. “Where we headed

sergeant?” a private asked as he picked up a couple cans of ammo.

“Word is the Company’s next objective is the closure of the last road. The Germans are

tryin’ to get back to Germany and we’re cutting off their escape,” Goodson answered.

After marching an hour word came down the line to get off the road and stay quiet.

“What’s happening?” Goodson whispered to a runner who came by with word of the halt.

“I don’t know. Something about some Jerrys coming down the road toward us,” the

runner whispered.

“Shouldn’t we set up our guns,” a new guy whispered. “I mean we can’t just sit here.”

“We’re goin’ ambush ‘em,” Goodson replied. “When the Germans come down the road

we’ll get ‘em before they know we’re here.” Soon Goodson could hear in the distance the sounds

of troops walking and men talking. “They got no idea we’re here,” he thought. “Everybody stay

down and be quiet,” he said to his crews. The talking grew louder with the sounds of equipment

being jostled. “This is going to be bad,” Goodson thought as he moved his pistol slowly up. The

German column, at least a company strong, continued to move between the American columns.

Goodson could see their distinctive helmets and German rifles. Some carried machine guns with

belts of rounds strung over their shoulders. Their boots crunched the freshly formed frost on the

edges of the road. Suddenly the column stopped. The Germans looked uneasy. They began to

move their weapons preparing for what might happen next. Some of the more nervous Germans

moved toward the edge of the road where the GIs still lay hiding. At any moment the Germans

would see the GIs. Like a wave, the GIs stood up with their M1s pointed directly at the German

column. The Germans, to the surprise and relief of the Americans, put up their hands.

“Surrender,” a German officer said in broken English as he put his hands up. “No shoot.

Surrender!” he repeated in a louder voice. This prompted all the Germans to begin dropping their

weapons. “I am school teacher! Der Krieg ist vorbei. The war is no more! My men need food

and medicines,” the German officer’s thin, battle wearied face told the story of the German army

as it tried to escape back to Germany. After searching the German prisoners a squad of GIs

escorted them back to the rear to be processed.

Goodson and the rest continued pursuing the retreating German army. As they came into

a clearing they made a grisly discovery. “What happened here?” a private asked.

“Looks like the SS troops systematically executed these guys” Goodson replied looking

at the rows of dead Americans lying in the cold snow. They murdered ‘em and ran over ‘em with

tanks afterwards. Look at them tank tracks.”

“The Krauts want to humiliate and infuriate the Allies,” a Lieutenant chimed in. “Reports

tell us that other units are finding executed and mutilated GIs, too.”

In the same area dead Germans also littered the ground. “I ain’t ever seen a fight this

brutal,” Goodson thought as they walked through the area. Goodson walked along looking into

the cold faces of the executed GIs.

“Whatcha’ doing,” the private asked.

“I’m looking for my brother, C W. He was captured somewhere around here and I want

to see if he among these fellas,” Goodson said continuing his search. “Good. He ain’t here.”

By noon Goodson and others could see their objective – the last avenue of egress for

retreating Germans in the south. “Set your guns here and here,” the captain said to Goodson as

he pointed to his map. “Nothing comes out of here alive. We’ve got intel that a large mechanized

column with troops on the ground is retreating through this pass.”

Goodson and his squads could hear the familiar noise of German Tiger and Panzer tanks.

Adding to the cacophony, six wheeled trucks loaded with troops, armored half-tracks, armored

staff cars and motorcycles moved with the tanks. “Here comes the first of the column. Wait for

the artillery and mortars. We don’t want to attract the ‘tention of the 88 on that Tiger,” Goodson

said to a relatively new gunner. “When the attack commences, look for men on the ground trying

to run.”

“Yes, sergeant,” the gunner nervously answered. “I’ll look for dismounted troops.”

When the artillery and mortars began to rain in on column, the heavy guns opened up

from defilade positions. The thunder of the shells exploding was accompanied by the deafening

roar of fuel and shells exploding in the column. The ground shook and the percussion felt by GIs

a mile away. German troops tried to run for cover on the sides of the road. Men on fire jumped

from burning vehicles before spinning and falling to the ground. “Get the ones trying to run!”

Goodson shouted at the young private.

“But their good as dead,” the private replied.

Goodson slapped the private causing his helmet to fall backwards. “They’re dead when

they’re dead. If they had half a chance they’d cut your throat. Now use that gun.”

POP, POP, POP. The private began to fire into the chaotic scene below.

“Short bursts. Pick your target,” Goodson instructed. Within five minutes the artillery

barrage ceased and a cease fire called along the line. His face black from the BAR, the private

stopped firing. He rubbed his face with his blackened gloves and relaxed his hands and fingers.

His ears rang and the smoke that filled the air made it hard to breath. The burning equipment and

the mountain on the other side created an impassable obstacle. No Germans could escape the

man-made hell below.

“We did it!” he yelled. “Look at ‘em burn!” he shouted and then began to weep as he sat

back in the snow that filled their fox hole. “My, God, what are we doing? I’m a soda jerk not a

killer. Last year I was in high school and planning to go to college or work in my daddy’s store.

Now, I’m killing Germans in some place that don’t even have a name.”

“Don’t fret,” Goodson said. “Before long it’ll be like shootin’ quale. They won’t even

seem like men.” As the Germans tried to surrendered nervous riflemen shot them. Others were

shot as they tried to escape into the trees. This went on for hours. Suddenly shells from the

German artillery, mistaking the surrendering Germans for US troops, fell in on top of them. As

they began to run from their own artillery the confused GIs shot them. “War’s the most confused

mess I’ve ever witness,” Goodson thought to himself.

That night the temperatures again plummeted. The men received new winter boots

several days before. The boots, made larger than the GIs normal leather combat boot, had rubber

bottoms with felt and cloth uppers. The men, because the boots seemed too large, put on extra

socks. This caused their feet to sweat. In the near 0 degree weather their feet froze. One of the

squads found an abandoned farm house with a pot belly stove. Someone built a fire in it and the

men pulled off their new boots to let their feet defrost. Goodson came in and started to pull off

his boots.

“Hey, man, look at your feet,” Goodson said pointing to one of the soldier’s closest to the

stove. “They’re swelled up like they’re gonna burst.” The men’s frost bitten feet, thawing and

swelling, burned like needles sticking in them and ached. To their horror, their swollen feet did

not fit back in their boots. Goodson, realizing his feet were swelling and hurting, forced his feet

back in his boots. “Look, men, don’t take off your boots. If you do, you can’t get ‘em back on,”

Goodson told the guys coming in to warm.

During the night the Germans continued to sporadically molest the GIs with shelling.

During one of the light shelling several of Goodson men dove in a supposedly abandoned

German pillbox for cover. Six Germans still occupied the bunker. When they put their hands up

the startled and confused GI yelled, “Put your hands down!”

“No! No! We want to surrender!” one of the Germans replied. “We are waiting all night

for to capture us!”

“Okay then. You’re captured. Now keep your hands up so we can see ‘em,” Goodson

instructed. Just then a German youth, wanting to show his friendship, reached down into his coat

for a chocolate bar. A nervous GI began shooting thinking the Germans were booby-trapped or

still had weapons. When the confused shouting quieted all the Germans lay dead and the youth

clutched the chocolate in his cold fingers.

Fearing a German counterattack, Goodson and his guns needed to be moved. When the

jeep arrived a random shell hit near the jeep. A fragment of steel hit their replacement Lieutenant

newly arriving from the States. “Well, there goes another one,” the driver quipped as he saw the

hole in the Lieutenant helmet. “Geez, we don’t keep ‘em long.”

Just then the officer said, “What? Who? Where am I?”

“Hey! He’s still with us . . . somewhat,” the driver commented as he poured a shell

fragment from the Lieutenant helmet. “Look, the hole and fragment are a perfect match. Here,

sir, a souvenir of your time with the 359th!” he said laughing.

First light they received orders to move out. Sleep deprived and suffering from

hypothermia and frost bit after passing the night with only blankets, the men whose feet swelled

by the fire marched on the frozen roads in socked feet. The frozen ice crystals cut at their

swollen aching feet like knives. After an hour the order came for the men without boots to sit

down while the rest pushed forward.

The tanks traveled the main roads ahead of Goodson’s guns. After a six mile march

Goodson came upon a small town. “Stop! Germans in the open!” Goodson barked. Everyone got

down. In the yard of a large house twenty-five German soldiers stood brushing their teeth.

“Don’t think they know we’re here,” Goodson commented just as the Germans ran into a house.

“Dang! If they start shooting out those windows we’ve got problems, mister. Get the guns on the

house. You men follow me.” Goodson and the other eased down a bank and entered the house

through a back door. He could see a long hallway and rooms opening up from it. “This is where I

get a grenade,” Goodson thought as the hairs stood on the back of his neck. Looking behind him

the others quietly followed searching for any movement or the faintest of noises.

A German girl burst into the hall with a white sheet in front of her. Goodson, startled and

anxious, grabbed the young girl and pushed her behind him. “She was trying to surrender,” he

thought to himself afterwards. Looking in the last room he could see the Germans with their

hands up. “They’re surrendering,” Goodson, greatly relieved, reported to the equally relieved

men behind him.

“The SS left us here. They are gone,” a German explained. “We simply waiting for

chance to surrender. I hate zem. The Schutzstaffel are the. . . . How do you say? Oh yes, Hitler’s

butchers and the worst of the Nazi fanatics. To think it all began with a tiny group called the

Saal-Schutz Security of the Hall. Himmler has made it something terrible. The SS has the job of

surveillance, blood shed, and terror. I despise them.”

The Americans always took such denunciations with a grain of salt. They never knew for

sure who was a Nazi and who wasn’t. The SS soldiers were indoctrinated and discipled into a

worldview of racial hatred and elitism. They functioned like a religion with its own set of rituals,

confessions, and beliefs. The SS elite renounced Christianity and all of its rituals and

celebrations. Himmler replaced all of these neo-pagan observances. They practiced these rituals

and celebrations in places considered special to the SS. The fanaticism and brutality of the SS

made them a target to the American

soldiers. They did not gave anyone with the

SS insignia any quarter and shot many of

them for the slightest provocation or none

at all.

Taking the Germans outside

Goodson called a company runner assigned

to them. “Look here, take this M1 and take these Germans back to HQ.”

“I haven’t even fired my M1. I type invoices and run messages. I….I…..don’t know.

What if they try to run,” he asked his voice shaking.

“Don’t let them know you’re scared. If one of ‘em gets out of line, tell ‘em one time and

after that shoot,” Goodson told the company runner matter-of-factly. “There’s 31 of ‘em. Keep a


“Yes, sergeant,” he replied pointing his M1 at the column of prisoners.

“You’ll do fine or get yourself killed – one or the other,” Goodson said.

The next day they set out again pursuing the Germans. Eight inches of snow fell during

the night and the temps remained well below freezing. Goodson and the men took off cross

country. They proceeded to cross a deep hollow and a field. The Germans shelled them, but they

kept moving. Goodson prepared to set up a gun at the lower end of a field when he heard a shell

coming straight at him. He drove into a small ditch that had snow melt in it. He and the shell

landed in the ditch simultaneously. When he came to he was on his hands and knees in the ditch.

“Sergeant! You okay? God, I thought you’d bought the farm,” a frantic voice called out.

“Here take my hand. Your eyebrows and hair . . . they’re smoking.”

Goodson rubbed his face and found his eyebrow and eyelashes completely burned away.

“My clothes are dry. . . .the shell musta’ blowed the water out. How am I still here?” Goodson

rambled as he sorted through what just happened. “Musta’ been a concussion shell and it hit right

under me. If it’d been a shrapnel it’d pulverized me.” The randomness of war never can be

understood. Men lived and died with no rhyme or reason.


I did have some of the very best men in the Army. The new men we got would try to
find someone that might help them. (Flashbacks, 63)

By the time the Allies reestablished the pre-December 16th lines over 80,000 young

Americans lay dead or severely wounded. Many froze to death after being wounded in the artic-

like conditions before medics reached them. Added to these were the shell shocked and deserters.

With so much American capital expended the commanders enforced a standing order that

wounded men must be sent back to their units as quickly as possible. Men with little or no

combat training served in the ranks of the depleted rifle companies. This also entailed a steady

stream of replacements who needed to be quickly introduced to the chaos and hell of combat. In

the rifle companies green troops faced a battle hardened enemy, deadly cold, and their own

doubts and fears.

“Sergeant, here are the 13 replacements you were told about,” a company runner

announced. “This is Sergeant Goodson. You’ll meet your lieutenant when a replacement is sent.

Good luck,” he informed the young troops as he turned to leave.

“Hello, my name is Glen,” one of the replacements said extending his hand.

Goodson, looking up from a small fire where he tried to warm a cup of instant coffee,

said, “Any of you guys know anything ‘bout heavy machine guns?”

One of the replacements smiling said, “I fired a BAR in boot camp. Hit the target every


“Was it shooting back?” one of Goodson’s men asked.


“The target, was it shooting back?

“Ah, no.”

“Then shut up! Ain’t none of you trained with the 30 caliber?”

“No,” one of the other replacements confessed.

“Then what did you train on?” Goodson asked.

“We never went to heavy weapons school. We’re all 745 Riflemen,” one of the

replacements said.

“Not me,” a voice protested.

“Yea, so what are you?”

“I’m a 560 Pigeoneer,” came the reply. “They didn’t need any more bird handlers, so

they changed my orders because of the Bulge. Or at least that’s what I was told.”

“Great! A pigeoneer. Well if the Germans start throwing pigeons, you’re the man,” one

of the seasoned GIs joked. The other replacements laughed. . . .

“What’re you laughing at? Think something’s funny here? Ain’t nothing funny. Wait ‘til

your toes start rottenin’ off and you shit yourself in a foxhole when the 88s start falling. Then

you’ll . . .”

“Alright. At’s enough,” Goodson broke in. “We’ll break you in on the guns. Move your

stuff over there.”

The replacements, uniforms clean and untorn, put the packs and weapons together. They

looked at the line. Men, who barely appeared as human, sat looking toward the German lines

with the empty-eyed thousand yard stare. Some smoked Chesterfields or hugged cups of coffee

long since turned cold. Some men still bore the scars of past brushes with the Germans – swollen

eyes, shrapnel pocked cheeks, bloodied ears. No one looked at the replacements. No one asked

their names or cared to know. The common rules of curtesy, the engagements of civilized men,

did not apply. Men tested by combat and accustomed to seeing death looked without really

seeing, spoke without acknowledging, and acted without actually participating. The replacements

only wanted to get away, run or hide.

That night Godson and his men were held back to rest and prepare for an attack early the

next morning. The men passed the night in German pillboxes. The replacements wrote letters

home by the light of a bottle of oil with a rag for a wick and learned to navigate their world like

new born pups. One of the new guys knocked over the oil lamp setting off a fire. Three of the

new guys got splashed with the burning oil and everyone scrambled to put out the fire. “I don’t

which is worse the Krauts or you replacements,” one of the old guys jabbed.

When the fire and smoke cleared one of the newbies asked, “How long have you all been

on the front line?”

“I’ve been here a month,” one voice spoke up.

“I’ve got three months and five dead krauts under my belt,” another said.

Goodson then said, “I’ve been here from day one, except for two months back in England

when I was in the hospital.”

“Have you seen Patton?” one guy asked.

“How do you know what to do to stay alive?” another asked.

“Yea, tell us what the secret is to staying alive,” someone said.

Goodson sat thinking for a moment. “I don’t think I know the answer to that one. You

have to have some good help. If your conscience tells you to do something, don’t ask any

questions, do it then. If anybody laughs it may be you, but it won’t be your buddy and it sure

won’t be me. Listen to every shell. You’ll get to where you can tell if it’s coming at you.”

One of the boys who liked to laugh said, “I’ve heard a million shells today. How can I tell

if one’s going to hit close?”

“What you’re hearing goes on all the time. When we leave in the morning you’ll have to

get smart real quick,” Goodson said without looking at anyone.

“I’m goin’ to do whatever you do tomorrow,” the guy who like to laugh said smiling.

“You won’t have time to do that. It’ll take all you’re the time to find a place get in the


Laughing he boasted, “You can’t beat me down!”

“Well when it’s daylight tomorrow we’ll see how you do,” Goodson said folding his

arms and lying back against the cold German concrete.

At 0330 Goodson and his untried troops began an offensive. The shells began whistling

over head as the German and American batteries exchanged fire. Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel of

the Royal Artillery developed the shrapnel shell as an anti-personnel weapon in the 18th century.

World War 2 witnessed the perfecting of the artillery shell into the most effective weapon on the

battlefield. More men died from high explosive shells than any other weapon.

As the shells screamed louder and louder some men ducked. Others hit the ground, but

popped up immediately when the other kept moving. The shells fell closer and closer. In the

darkness the men began to see the flashes and smell the burnt powder. The excited shouts of men

and distant sporadic popping of small arms fire added to the din as they approached the hastily

formed skirmish line.

The replacement that liked to laugh said, “Sergeant, I’m already worn out and you ain’t

hit the ground yet!”

“Well, get ready, it’s getting’ light. Just in a minute they’ll see us comin’ and they’ll be

on top of us. Forget the shells your hearing now. If it screams so loud your ears almost burst you

shoulda’ been on the ground.”

“Right, sergeant,” he said with a nervous laugh. As the early morning sun kissed the

retreating night the German spotters called in fire missions on the Americans. The tops of the

trees exploded sending wooden darts raining down. The foundations of the earth slipped and

shook as the shells found their marks. As Goodson looked up he saw the replacement that liked

to laugh doing just that, laughing.

“Get down you dern fool!” Goodson yelled. He dropped down as a shell fell close. When

the shelling let up he popped up like a jack-in-the-box grinning from ear to ear.

Sprinting to Goodson he proclaimed, “I was trying to do like you but I forgot to hit the

ground. But I won’t forget next time. No sir!”

“Okay, let’s go,” Goodson said.

“It’s goin’ to snow? Well it could I guess,” the replacement replied.

“No, I said ‘let’s go!’” Goodson said in a louder voice.

“What? Shoot, my ears are ringing so loud I can’t understand nothing’ you’re sayin’!” the

replacement said putting his finger in his ears as though trying to clear something from them.

“I’ll take this gun. The other three guns need to be moved to cover the fields of over

there,” Goodson pointed down the line ducking once as a random German mortar fell close. “The

word is the German’s will mount a rear guard action, so hurry.”

The German’s shelled the line again. Several of the replacements lay down trying to

cover themselves with whatever was close. Another threw up and could not stop shaking. As the

German heavy machine gun opened up on their position one man was hit. The German gunner

found his mark as another replacement tried to run. Hit in the legs he fell screaming. A man tried

to pull the wounded man back into the hole and was hit. At this point, under the confused noise

of the German Mausers and mortars, the others broke running toward the rear. Within two weeks

Goodson lost 11 of the replacements. The two that survived turned into real men.

Throughout the Battle of the Bulge and the subsequent engagements the 90th repelled

countless, determined German counterattacks. In the battle to liberate Oberwampach,

Luxembourg alone the fanatical SS troops launched 9 futile counterattacks. In the battle for

Binsfeld the 357th Regiment armed only with light machine guns repelled a vicious German tank

counterattack. Fighting in Luxembourg and Belgium the 90th liberated the cities of Berle,

Longvilly, Troisvierges, Bra, Harlange, Niederwampach, Asselborn and many others. Vianden,

the final community in Luxembourg to be liberated, would fall to the Americans on February 12,



On German Soil

No man can enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he will first
bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house. (Mark 3:27)

January 29, 1945 the 90th crossed the swift running currents of the Our River. On the far

bank of the Our lay German soil. Beginning at the Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany

juncture, the original point of General von Rundstedt’s costly gamble the six weeks before, the

90th intended to punch its way across the Rhineland.

The necessity of more boats slowed the crossing. The boats, once across, could not return

against the current. Once in the water the men rowed vigorously for the other side. Those without

paddles used the butts of their rifles.

BURR, BURR, BURR! Upstream the Germans opened fire. The soldiers ducked as the

high velocity rounds hit close with an all-too-familiar pop.

“Everybody! Get up and row,” the boat master barked to avoid drifting down stream into

an even worse situation. “Row!” The men did with renewed energy fueled by heart-pounding

terror. The boat, turning aimlessly in the current, quickly righted itself as the Germans continued

to harass them from the opposite bank. As rounds whizzed and popped overhead the men

continued their desperate crossing. The boat hit a snag. Instinctively two combat laden GIs bailed

over the side and disappeared under the water. The machine gunner hit the men still in the boat

in the legs and stomachs. Five rounds hit one man’s helmet. As the boat sat motionless a German

mortar, barely missing the boat, inadvertently dislodge it. The troops poured out onto the bank

and began to low crawl up the bank toward the gunner. The German continued to fire from about

8 feet above until his own mortars took him out.

Crawling 30 yards, Goodson and his guns caught up with the rifle company as the rounds

clipped branches just above them. Two German MG 42s held down the company in a deadly

crossfire. Firing up to 1200 rounds per minute, the GIs called it “Hitler’s buzz saw” for its

distinctive sound. No one dare raise even a finger. When the guns ceased firing momentarily the

rifleman began firing and rushed forward. The Germans quickly surrendered, as the American

overran the positions.

As the sun began to rise the company moved through a small village and advance another

500 yards. The German resistance stiffened as they approached another small village. Goodson’s

company would provide covering fire as another company moved through them to take the

village. The observer called in artillery to soften the German position in the woods. The first

volley fell short hitting the observer and destroying his radio. As guns from all over fired for

effect, the shells fell directly on top of the Americans. In a ten acre beet field 300 Americans

suffered the full fury of an American artillery barrage. The shells, hitting 20 feet apart, killed two

and severely wounded 20 before the artillery battery received the call for cease fire. When the

shelling stopped mud covered shattered men. The shells went deep into the thawing fields

throwing up great heaps of German mud leaving four foot wide craters. This mud saved the lives

of many that day.

Removing the wounded and dead the company waited for the other company to pass

through. Goodson’s guns, placed up on a ridge, prepared to give covering fire for the company.

“Okay, now make sure you fire over the heads of our guys,” Goodson instructed a

private. “Our job is to keep the Germans’ heads down.”

“I don’t think I can do it, Sergeant. What if I hit one of our guys?” the private nervously


“Okay, then I’ll take your place. You stay here and watch the ammo. You hear somebody

calling for ammo, run it ‘em to faster than a jack rabbit in a grass fire.”

“I’ll go with ya’, Sergeant,” one of the two remaining replacements said. The two ran to

the gun and began firing as the other company of rifleman advanced on the town.

From his high position Goodson commanded a panoramic view of the developing battle

below. The infantry followed Sherman tanks slowly moving toward the city edge. The tanks,

concerned about Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon and the dreaded Tiger tank, moved circumspectly.

Just then German 88s began to rain in on the advancing infantry. He could see the flash of

Mausers. He opened up on targets of opportunity. The Shermans maneuvered their turret firing

as they continued to move forward. In the distance Goodson saw the glint of something in the

morning sun and with it the muzzle of a Tiger or a Panzerkampfwagen. The American tankers

feared the Tiger because of its thick 5 inch armor which they could not penetrate. The Tiger

boasted a 16 foot long, 3.5 inch main gun that could take easily out any tank in the American

tank corps.

The Tiger fired as it

moved out of its concealed

position. Goodson looked

through binoculars as the Tiger

slowly raised its main gun. “He

aiming toward us. We’ve got to

put some 30 caliber rounds in

his eye,” Goodson thought as he walked the guns rounds onto the Tiger. “Tiger!” he yelled

toward his other guns just as the German tank gunner fired. “Get down!” The very first shot hit

directly under Goodson gun. The explosion of the 88mm shell blew dirt and shrapnel in every

direction sending the gun over on top of Goodson and the other GI. “Stay down. Don’t move. He

thinks he’s taken us out. If we move he’ll send another round up here!”

The two men scampered back to their original to find the ammo belts, packs and men

gone. A German shell completely obliterated them.

“Thank you Lord for sending us to fire the gun,” Goodson thought.

“I thought we had a close call with that Tiger, but look at this! Next time you need

anything, just say the word and I’ll go with ya’,” the astonished and still shaky replacement

blurted out.



The early days of February saw the abrupt departure and winter, and the equally
abrupt arrival of the hated enemy of all troops . . . General Mud. (A History of the 90th
Division, 58)

As the snow and ice of winter gave way to the

thawing and run off of spring the roads turned into

quagmires, foxholes into pools and life in the field into a

constant struggle to move and stay dry. Added to this the

retreating Germans completely or partially destroyed

strategic dams and bridges. However, flooding valleys and

destroying bridges hindered but did not halt the determined

Allied advance.

The fighting man endured a sort of misery in February 1945.

It was cold but not quite cold enough to freeze. . . . Rain fell continually and things were
a muddy mess. Most of us were mud from head to foot, unshaven, tired and plagued by recurrent
epidemic severe diarrhea . . . . It was miserable to have to jump from one’s blankets three or four
times a night, hastily put on boots, run outside into the cold and rain and wade through mud in
the dark to a straddle pit. As likely as not the enemy would be shelling the area, and that did not
help. . . . As usual, it was the infantryman who really suffered in the nasty fighting. Cold,
wetness, mud and hunger day after day; vicious attack and counterattack; sleepless nights in
muddy foxholes; and the unending rain made their life a special hell. (S. E. Ambrose, Citizen
Soldiers, 399).
In the early morning of February 6th the 359th spearheaded the second advance of the 90th

through the Siegfried line. The entrenched Germans intended to hold this last barrier between the

Rhineland and the Allies. However, by morning light, the city of Habscheid fell. The maze of

pillboxes and obstacles, preventing the advance of armor and reinforcements, quickly evaporated

under the direct fire of 155 mm self-propelled artillery and determined riflemen. The Germans

attempted to slow the advance with artillery and Nebelwefer or “screaming mimies” (The troops

called it based on its distinctive “scream” when fired.).

After four days fighting the Siegfried line buckled under the weight of the advancing

Americans. The city of Pruem fell on the 12th and a halt called. During the halt the Air Force’s P-

38s, with their two Browning M2 machine guns, two Browning M1919, and a 1 and a half inch

diameter Oldsmobile cannon, decimated the dug-in Germans.

On February 18th the attack resumed completely catching the Germans off guard.

Goodson’s 359th captured one German regimental commander, and two battalion commander

with all their staff. Additionally, the unit captured 400 prisoners. The city of Kresfeld quickly fell

before the stunned Germans mounted a counterattack to slow once again the advance. The next

day, through stiff resistance, the cities of Masthorn, Neider and Uttfeld fell into American hands.

On February 24th the 90th reached the Pruem River and halted once again. By the end of

February 1945, Patton’s Third army had made advances in the Eifel region north of the Moselle

River. Braking the Siegfried Line from Pruem to Saarburg, they wrest Orsholz Switch, the Saar-

Moselle triangle and Trier from the hold of the Germans.

WHOOSH, WHOOSH, WHOOSH. “Get down! Mortars!” a yell came down the line as

Goodson and his grew dove for cover. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. The mortars exploded in the

tree tops. Splintered wood and piece of tree branches mixed with German steel sprayed the

troops below.

One the new guys lay clutching his face. “I’m hit! I’m hit! Oh, God, they got me!” he

cried though his tightly closed fingers.

“Here, private,” Goodson cajoled, “Move your fingers so I can get a look at ya’”.

“Medic! I’m hit!” he continued to chant.

“Move your hand,” Goodson said as he reached up to pull the frightened soldiers fingers

from his face. “Look here, it’s just scratches, you darn fool. You’re so scared you think you got

you a purple heart. You ain’t even hurt.”

The man’s wild eyes began to calm and he felt ridiculous to have acted so. “Well, it hurt

like I wuz hurt bad. It did,” he explained.

“Check that fella’,” Goodson pointed toward a GI with water almost covering his noise.

“He’s gone, Serge,” someone replied. “The mortars got ‘em.”

Godson noticed bubbles as the man’s face sank under the water. “Pull ‘em out. He’s

breathing. Must just be knocked silly.” The rain and water quickly filled holes when the men did

not constantly bail the water. Many times a sleeping soldier woke up to find himself completely

submerged. The strategy was to dig one end of the foxhole deep to catch the water. If they any,

tree branches placed in the bottom helped to keep their feet dry. Once an infantryman’s under

garments and boots were wet, it proved impossible to dry out. A soldier on the line might go a

week or more with wet feet and damp clothes.



When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they
shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither
shall the flame kindle upon thee. (Isaiah 43:2)

On March 14, 1945 the 90th participated in the XII Corps all-out assault on the Moselle

River. Using assault boats once again, they met light resistance in the crossing. Soon resistance

stiffened. The 357th would cross north of Kattenes and the 359th would cross at Sterneberg.

Despite a footbridge from upstream braking loose and destroying the footbridge downstream, the

engineers still finished construction by

morning. The crossing of the Moselle by

boat, footbridge, and pontoon bridge


“The engineers are working to finish a pontoon bridge at this point,” the said pointing to

a map with a field compass sitting on it. “We’ll be moving out at 0400 and cross in boats. The

engineers will construct footbridges as soon as we secure the other side. Then pontoon bridge

will be constructed to support the tanks. Reconnaissance tells us that the German’s are dug in

with pillboxes, 88s, and Tigers. They’ve reported seeing SS troops, so we need to expect stiff

resistance. Questions?”

“Yes, sir. Where’d all this water come from?” Goodson asked the captain.

“The Germans are sabotaging dams upstream along with bridges. The bridge at Remagen

was captured intact, but most all the others were blown. Right now the water is 4 to 6 feet deep

in places. For this reason artillery can’t be brought up and sometimes supplies could be thin.

Command knows all this, but we must cross and hold or the Germans might use this section of

the line to counterattack or at least molest the other parts of the line. Any other questions? If not,

good luck and rest your men tonight. Dismissed.”

As the men walked away they talked in low muffled tones. Some laughed and lit

Chesterfields as they walked back to their units. Though much warmer, the night air still could

chill the bones. Especially misfortunate was the soldier who passed the night air in wet boots and

damp uniform.

The crossing went without incident, but soon the Germans opened up on the infantrymen

as they approached the town of Morshausen. The 159th Volksgrenadier Division defended the

city with tanks and armored cars. The Germans mounted a counterattacked designed to destroy

the part of Patton’s army across the river. With no way to retreat and the waters rising, Goodson

and the 359th fought for three long days until supplies and reinforcements could be brought


“We’ll set our gun here and you set the other there,” Goodson pointed to a point 100

yards away as he hurriedly set up the tripod. “No time to dig in. Use this ditch for cover. Go!”

The Sergeant who was busted for not standing guard duty and two others hurried to set up. They

could hear the German armor moving. The riflemen had bazookas, but these bounced off the

thick plating of the Tigers.

“There’re Panzers with troops on the ground coming right toward us,” the spotter

whispered as he looked through binoculars. Motioning at the other gun he pointed toward the

advancing Germans. The other team signaled “All ready” in reply. Goodson thought to himself,

“If I fire the tank would have no trouble taking us out. The road curves and goes to a cut. . . If the

tanks got to the cut before the men, I could get some of them.” He got as low as possible. As the

last tank got to the bank Goodson felt the icy grip of fear. His hands shook as his heart pounded

in his ears. He felt small and very vulnerable. The Germans never saw him. RATATATA!

Goodson opened up. The first of the Germans stood a mere 8 feet away. Men fell in front of his

gun. The other gun fired but soon went silent. In the distance he could see the other gun

abandoned. “Looks like they cut and run! We’ll never make it!” Goodson yelled.

“The gun’s jammed! Oh, God!” he yelled at his spotter who was feeding ammo. “Wet

ammo o worse!” Goodson thought. He grabbed for the bolt to clear the bad round, but missed

because the gun starting firing again. The bolt hit his hand hard several times. “I wasn’t pulling

the trigger! I got so scared I didn’t know I wasn’t pulling the trigger!” Goodson quickly

surmised. He sprayed the ground in front of him with rounds. The German soldiers screamed and

yelled as he poured fire directly into them. Point blank range his 30-06 rounds cut men down like

a scythe through corn stalks. He reloaded with his last 250 rounds. “This ain’t enough to get the

job over!” he yelled as a German potato masher dropped in front of the gun. Goodson pushed

down two riflemen who had joined them. The explosion threw rock and dirt in every direction

with a deafening percussion. The German who threw the grenade was joined by others. “Get up

and help me!” Goodson yelled at the men who were still laying in the ditch. Just then someone

set a can of ammo down on each side of Goodson and left. “Who was that?” Goodson wondered.

The cans of ammo saved the lives of everyone in the ditch. When the furious close quarters

combat ceased, the ground around the gun was covered with brass and links. The gun smoked

and crackled as it cooled. The barrel, red hot from sustained fire, cooked off the last five rounds.

In front of their position Germans lay stacked one on top of the other. In the dim morning light

he could see the ghastly faces with empty, fixed eyes looking into nothingness. Goodson

thought, “I’ve seen a lot of battles, but this is the most casualties I’ve seen anywhere.”

An infantryman came up looking for a bazooka team to take out a Panzer tank stuck in

the mud. “Get down! The Germans are ten feet away!” Goodson said, his gun still hot from the

early morning fire fight. As the infantryman got up to leave someone else got up with him. The

infantryman emptied his carbine into the other man who was barely visible in the early morning

light. “My, God! He’s shot his own man,” Goodson thought.

“That was a German officer trying to use his bayonet on me!” the soldier said coming

back to Goodson’s gun. “He must’ve been playing dead or something and tried to knife me in the

dark!” When the full morning light finally came Goodson could see clearly that it was a German

officer with a bayonet fixed on his Mauser.

The German panzer tilted hard to one side with both tracks firmly stuck in the thawing

earth. A tracked vehicle can traverse gaps, over run obstacles and smash its way through brick

walls. But once the tracks lose traction or the belly goes high it is a sitting duck. Like a turtle on

a post, the hulking tank could rev the engine and traverse the turret, but it could not move.

Another tank moved in close to assist. Suddenly the assistant drivers hatch popped open and a

frantic German crewman jumped out. Turning to loosen the cable draped across the bow of tank

a shell exploded thirty yards below Goodson. Thinking it was another German tank he looked at

the rifleman said, “Look here. If a tank comes for my gun, just turn and run for the woods. They

ain’t about to come in the woods after us. But keep in your head that the woods is full of

landmines.” Just then another shell slammed into the disabled tank. The shells were coming from

an American tank destroyer firing from about 1200 yards away. The German crewman tried to

get back in his hatch, but was cut down by 50 caliber rounds. As he fell the tank lurched forward

crushing him under the track. The disabled tank tried to traverse to fire but before it could

another round found its mark. The tank burst into flames. The hatches flew open as the burning

crew tried to escape the steel cooker. As they did the tank that could still maneuver took a direct

hit. Burning, the tank turned and fired. As it did it retreated toward Goodson. “Get down and

don’t let ‘em see ya’!” Just then a high velocity round slammed into the retreating panzer. It

stopped dead as black smoke billowed out. It took three hits. As the crew tried to surrender the

nervous rifleman finished them.

The tank destroyer turned its guns against the Germans who were now trying to find

cover behind small trees and bushes. The tank opened up with its 50 caliber and two browning

30-06 machine guns. The trees and men denigrated.

“Help!” a voice called out. Goodson moved toward the sound and found a Lieutenant

with a shrapnel wound in the thigh. His thigh bone was sticking through his dungarees and it

looked like ground beef. The steam rose from his wound and his eyes rolled back in his head like

a cow being dehorned. “Help me get to the aid station! The medic gave me some morphine and

said he’d be back. That was twenty minutes ago.”

“Yes, sir. Just hold on. Chances are that medic ain’t never coming back. Let me get my

gun and I’ll be back,” Goodson said running back toward his position. As Goodson reached his

gun a shell fell on top of the Lieutenant. “If I’d moved him thirty feet he might still be alive,”

Goodson thought to himself.

As the tank destroyer that took out the panzers came up Goodson recognized the driver.

“Hey, Thomas,” Goodson yelled, “Good shooting.”

“Hey, man,” responded a dark skinned Mexican-America. “Yeah those panzers are hard

to kill, you know.”

“What kind of situation we got now, Thomas?”

“We done killed every German from here to the river, man,” Thomas replied in a thick

Spanish accent.

“I don’t know if I believe you completely.”

“You are not believing me? Walk down there and see you self,” He said smiling.

Just then a man came limping by using a stick and his rifle as crutches. His foot was

completely gone. “Where’s the aid station?” the soldier asked.

“It’s down that direction,” Goodson responded pointing with his gloved hand.


“Thomas, you want to help guys like that, but you just do what’s you think is right and

the consequences is the consequences.”

“I know what you mean, man. There ain’t no way of knowing what’s right.” Thomas

replied as he removed his com helmet and scratched his head of thick black hair. “We were

operating just up the road and a guy waved us down. Said he and this kid got separated from

their company and wanted a lift. I said, ‘Sure, man get on.’ So, we come up on a machine gun

nest and the infantry ain’t cleaned it out. So, the machine gunner sprays ‘em. Well, the guys up

top, before they can get down get sprayed by the Germans. This kid – a replacement – gets hit in

the leg and falls off the back, right. He cannot run. So, a Kraut steps out of the brush with a anti-

tank gun. The driver he is backing up to give us some space and runs over the kid. He is in

combat thirdy minutes and gets runned over by his own tank. Man! This war ain’t making no

sense to me, man.”

“A man can’t be a soldier until he goes completely crazy,” Goodson commented as he

walked away.

Meanwhile the engineers worked to establish the pontoon bridge to allow tanks and

artillery to enter the fray. As the shells hit near the bridge the hinges broke allowing part of the

bridge to drift down stream. The engineers, under constant shelling, worked to finish the vital

connection. Entire crews would be hit and immediately another would be sent out to take their

place. Several tanks fell into the water with the loss of the crew, but the heroism or the engineers

and tank crews saved the entire operation.

The next morning the Germans began shelling the pontoon bridge. The men had orders to

complete the bridge and get the tanks across at all costs. The longer they hesitated meant more

men and machines would be lost. The Engineers lost so many men they could not get crews back

to work between barrages. Goodson and his guns sat in defilade watching the drama unfold

below as sections of the bridge broke apart as shells landed close.

Patton’s plan worked because of the tenacity and valor of the individual US fighting man.

Only a handful of Germans survived. For Goodson’s action during the three days of combat he

received the Silver Star. The Silver Star is the third-highest military combat decoration that can

be awarded to a member of the United States Armed Forces and is awarded for conspicuous

gallantry in action. The Sergeant who ran away tried to put himself up for the same award. After

Goodson’s telling of the event and an investigation of the evidence, the Sergeant was lucky he

did not receive a court martial. Goodson complained to the officials about the reward: “Give this

to somebody else. I didn’t do anything different than I had been doing.”


Headed for the Rhine River

“I thought that to cross in boats would be too risky, and would not be fitting for my
own prestige and that of Rome. And so, even though building a bridge [across the Rhine
River] involved enormous difficulties, because of the breadth and depth of the river and its
strong current, that is what I thought I must attempt, or else give up any thoughts of taking
the army across.” (Julius Caesar)

Julius Caesar's Bridge across the Rhine stands a sterling feat of military engineering.

Built during the Gallic War 55 years before the birth of Christ, it holds the distinction as the first

bridge to cross the Rhine River. Though the armies ensuing campaign turned disastrous, it did

show that the 40,000 strong Roman legionaries could go anywhere they desired. For the 90th

Infantry, two thousand years later, the Rhine River still presented a strategic and geographic

challenge. The Rhine River stretches 766 miles. Beginning high in the Alps it flows northward

where it empties into the North Sea at Rotterdam. In some points it swelled to 20 miles in width.

Already, the Ludendorff Bridge across the Rhine at Remagen was secured on March 7th. Now,

Patton and his modern “legions” set their sights on this ancient prize.

As Goodson’s unit approached the Rhine German resistance stiffened. The fighting

resulted in casualties on both sides and many Germans surrendered. The Luftwaffe, almost

completely decimated, sporadically sent in planes to harass and slow the advancing troops.

“There’s the bridge,” Goodson said as he looked through the windshield of jeep.

“Looks like they ain’t blown it yet,” the driver commented.

“Looks intact. But be it won’t be when we get there. They say at Remagen they tried to

blow it, but the explosive did work.”

“Yeah, I heard the same,” the driver said as the column came to a halt. Up ahead men

began jumping from vehicles and the sound of anti-aircraft fire began to rise.

“Plane!” Goodson yelled as the jeep emptied. The German pilot, clearly visible in the

cockpit, strafed the column of vehicles and men. In response, every America gun opened up on

the enemy plane.

Pop, pop, pop! “Get down,” Goodson yelled, “If the Germans don’t get us our own guys

will!” Some fired so low that their own men were being hit by the friendly fire. “How we didn’t

just get killed I don’t know. Let’s get outta here.”

Now on foot the unit sustained fire from every side. They eventually overran a house

used as a German headquarters. After a skirmish a German officer inside wanted to surrender.

“Keep coming nice and easy,” the infantryman ordered.

“I am Colonel Hindenburg und I am surrendering,” the officer said as he walked out with

a handkerchief made into a white flag.

“He’s got a gun still, Johnson! Watch ‘em close,” an unknown infantryman said in an

elevated voice.

“Take off that gun belt. NOW!” Johnson bark as he lifted his carbine higher. The German

officer defiantly tried to walk past the nervous GI.

“I vant to surrender to your commander. I vill not surrender to un soldier of lesser rank.”

“Buddy, you see this rifle? It outranks you AND Adolf Hilter! So, drop the gun belt or

you’ll drop. I’m counting to three. One, two . . . ,” immediately the German unbuckled his belt

and allowed it to drop to the ground. “Good choice you stupid son of . . . .”

“I am Colonel Hindenburg und I vant to speak to your commander at once,” the officer


“Shut up and lock your hands over your head. I’ll give the orders from here on out.”

After this the rest of the Germans began to give up. Some were boys as young as thirteen.

Conscripted into Hitler youth – a desperate measure on the part of Hitler to fill the dwindling

ranks of the German army – they fought and died as part of the regular army.

Previously, allied planes and artillery bombed and shelled the area repeatedly on both

sides of the river in an attempt to hold the bridge. The Germans now purposed to send the bridge

to the bottom of the river before it fell into the hands of the advancing Americans. The town

leading up to the bridge lay in ruin. The building were heaps of rubble. The populace long ago

abandoned the city to the German Army. The streets, homes, parks and shops lay utterly

indistinguishable beneath piles of smoldering destruction. This made travel through the town

difficult and dangerous. At times the original street lay buried under 10 to fifteen feet of debris.

The Germans used the chaos and destruction to funnel the Americans into ambushes and pre-

planned firing positions. Mortars and shells rained in on the advancing Americans. Pockets of

Germans with Panzerfaust, potato mashers, Mausers and MG42s inflicted heavy casualties.

Snipers constantly harassed the GIs.

Suddenly and with a deafening roar the bridge exploded. The last of the German

defenders trying to escape across the bridge were vaporized or sent plummeting into the river.

The Americans began shelling the hulking remains of the bridge. Most of the Germans in the

water never made it out.

March 22-23 Patton’s army crossed the Rhine River. The army used 500 assault boats,

LCVPs and DUKWs. A combined force of 7,500 engineers built foot bridges and pontoon

bridges. Before dawn a major part of the 90th was across and advancing eastward. At first light

the German artillery opened up and a few Germans planes flew sorties over the troops. Goodson

was hit in the boot and lip by friendly fire directed at the planes or by the planes – he was not

sure. His lip was sore for a week.

The story is told that Patton called General Bradley: “Brad, don’t tell anyone, but I’m


“Well I’ll be damned – you mean across the Rhine?”

“Sure am, I sneaked a division over last night.”

The following day Patton stopped halfway across the pontoon bridge and relieved

himself. “I’ve waited a long time to do that . . . . Yes, sir, the pause that refreshes,” he said as he

zipped up his dungarees. (Citizen Soldiers, 433-34)

At 0300 on March 28th the 357th and 358th crossed the Main River meeting light

resistance from units of Hitler’s Youth defending thin lines. By noon a bridge was in place

allowing the whole of the 90th to cross. Goodson and the 359th, now attached to the 4th Armored

Division, met determined opposition at Stockheim and Selters. On March 30th the Division

ripped 25 miles of territory from the retreating Germans hands.

Huge quantities of valuable military equipment were overrun in the lightening drive.
White flags replaced the Swastika as the German national emblem. Village after village,

town after town, displayed the banners of surrender, delighted that their communities had
been spared the ravages of war. . . . It was soon discovered that all Germans despised
and loved the Americans passionately, a phenomenon which the troops accepted with a
skeptical grain of salt. . . . Morale, always good, now rose to a boiling point. Complete
and final victory was just around the corner (A History of the 90th Division, 78).
With this gouging of the German lines, the 4th Armored Division advanced halfway across

Germany. With the 90th once again together the Division turned eastward reaching the Werra

River on the 2nd of April.


The End of the Rainbow

“The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.” (Psalm 135:15)

In quick succession Vacha, Dippach and Oberzella fell into American hands. On 4th of

April the 90th captured Merkers. Two military police, Clyde Harmon and Anthony Kline,

stopped two French women on a road outside Merkers because they were out during curfew

hours. “Halt! Show us your hands,” the MP ordered.

Both women froze in place. Immediately, one began to say something in French. She

repeated it as she pointed to the abdomen of her friend.

“Looks like her friend is pregnant,” one soldier surmised. “Is she pregnant?” he asked

making a half circle motion around his own abdomen.

The women began to shake their heads as they continued trying to communicate.

“Sprechen dauch?” one of the MPs asked in broken German.

“Ja, ich spreche ein bisschen,” came the reply in clear German.

“I don’t know exactly what she said but it is German. Let’s wake up Mootz. He speaks

Kraut.” Back in camp Mootz was non-too-happy being awakened so early.

“Mootz, wake up. We need a translator.”

“What? Who are . . . What do you want?” Mootz replied rubbing his face.

“We got a couple of ladies . . . .”

“I don’t want nothing to do with your “ladies”. It’s 0430. My patrol doesn’t start until

0800,” he said looking closely at his watch.

“No. Not those kinds of ladies. One is pregnant and we think she needs to see a doctor.

They speak German. We can’t understand a think they’re saying.”

While carrying them into town to see a doctor, the group passed the entrance to the

Kaiseroda salt mine in Merkers. The two women began to tell Mootz an incredible story about

how the Germans hid a treasure of gold and other valuables in the salt mine. Mootz had heard

about other units finding Kraut loot and he thought there might be something to it.

Back at base he found the other MPs. “We have come to the end of the rainbow! Guys,

how would you like to be rich? I’m talking like John D. Rockefeller.”

“What? You trying to get back at us for waking you up so early?” One of the MPs said


“No. No. Listen, those ladies told me that the Krauts hid gold and stuff in the mine just

outside town.”

“How are we supposed to get this gold back to America, Rockerfeller?”

“We lay low and when the war is over we come back. See. I been figuring all this out.”

“And when command finds out that you ain’t passing all pertinent information up the

chain of command, you’ll be standing in front of the man. How you gonna spend anything from

the brig? Did that ever occur to you, Curly?”

“Well, no. But . . . I better pass it along. Probably just them dames talking. Right?”

Mootz said as his spirit fell.

By noon of that day, the story made it to the desk of Lt. Col. William A. Russell. He

began an investigation. In short order a former British prisoner of war said he had been present in

Merkers and saw the treasure being unloaded. Under duress, the assistant director of the National

Gallery in Berlin admitted he was tasked with caring for the paintings stored in the mine in


The next day engineers blasted a hole in the vault wall to reveal on the other side a room

75 feet wide and 150 feet deep. Inside found over 3,600 bags and cartons of currency, over 8,300

gold bars, 55 boxes of gold bullion, and thousands of bags of gold coins, silver, platinum bars,

and gold rings. They also discovered over 200 bags and containers of Nazi loot stolen from the

countries they had overrun. Among the art work were paintings by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino,

known as Raphael, Rembrandt, Anthony van Dyck, Albrecht Dürer, and works by Renoir. Along

with these where found tapestries of inestimable worth and engravings looted from the art

galleries and homes of Europe. This treasure lay hidden in the salt mines of Merkers as silent

witness to the thievery and avarice of the Nazis.


The Beginning of the End

“We were hearing every day that our lines would meet with the Russians any day.
By this time we had decided that some of us might live to get back home. We really didn’t
want to take too many chances now. (Falshbacks, 87)

The 90th began to overrun town after town with little or no resistance.
“Okay, dismount and probe the perimeters. Watch out for snipers and booby-traps,” the

Captain yelled as the convoy halted on the outskirts of a small town.

“You men stay with the guns. You two grab your rifles and let’s check out in this

direction. Keep your eyeballs pealed for anything that don’t look right,” Goodson instructed. The

war was over. Everyone, including the Germans, knew it. The get killed now, with home in sight,

would be the greatest of all tragedies. “Here’s something,” Goodson pointed to a large building

with barbed wire and abandoned sentry positions. Easing up to look inside the fence he saw and

heard nothing. “Easy does it now. Nice and easy fellas.”

As he passed through the outer fencing and through another set of barbed wire he could

smell something odious. “What in the world is that smell?” he questioned out loud. As he opened

a door leading into one of the main building he could see something, but could not make out

what it was. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he began to make out the dirty, emaciated

figures of men. Some stood motionless. Others lay in the squalled filth on the floor. “These is all

civilians. My word!”

As he spoke some of the prisoners began to move toward him. Their eyes bulging in

sunken eye socks. Teeth showing behind thin, dry lips. “Who are you?” Goodson asked.

“Anybody here speak American?”

“I speak a little,” a weak voice replied. “We are political prisoners. The guards ran away

when they heard you were coming. They said they would be watching and shoot anyone who

tried to run.”

“We’re American soldier and everything is gonna be alright,” Goodson reassured the

bony figures moving ever closer. “Let’s get those of you who can walk outta here so the medics

can help the weaker ones.”

The prisoners, some only beginning to understand what was happening, began to file

outside. As the outer courtyard filled Goodson and his men heard a familiar sound – whoosh,

whoosh, whoosh. “Mortars!” a voice cried out. “Everybody get down.”

The mortars hit far right, but the next barrage would be right on top of the camp. “The

Germans have this plotted! It’s a trap! Get outta here!” Goodson yelled. The prisoners, dazed and

malnourished, tried to follow the GIs. The next set of mortars did not miss. One landed in the

middle of the courtyard. Others hit the buildings killing the prisoners trying to go inside to


The after action report showed that some of the men on the floor were already dead

before the mortars. “No one should have gone through this,” Goodson said shaking his head as

though to somehow shake the memories out. “I been fighting all this time and I seen lots of

cruelty, I ain’t seen nothing to match this. Why didn’t they just shoot ‘em first?”

Leaving this town, they pushed on taking another town just before night fall. “Hey,

Serge, I found half dozen eggs,” a gleeful private announced.

“Not so loud. You want every man within ear shot to come running. Look here, let’s set

the gun there just on the edge of town to watch that avenue of attack. Give me ‘em eggs and I’ll

fix ‘em up for us,” Goodson said as he reached out for the brownish colored eggs.

In the kitchen of a small house the unit commandeered he set about to cook the eggs.

“Let’s see here, butter or oil or something,” he muttered as another soldier put more wood in the

stove. “Look here. This looks like lard or something.”

As he fried the eggs the smell and texture didn’t seem right, but to a man they were thin

and always suffered from hunger. So, the men ate the eggs though no one wanted to lick his


As a German man came in he began to laugh. “What you cackling about?” Goodson

asked as he tried to swallow the last of his eggs.

“I am laughing because you used this to cook da eggs. No?” he said pointing the

container that looked like lard or grease.

“Yeah, I did use that.”

“How’s it tasting, GI?” the German asked.

“Not so good,” Goodson replied as the others began to look at their own empty plates.

“This because it is not to for cooking. This is hair dressing!” the German said laughing.

This struck the GIs as funny and they started laughing, too. The German man spoke English and

showed the men were a can of coffee was hid. As he searched for a pot to boil the coffee he said,

“There are still German soldiers in town. I can . . . .”

Just at that moment one of Goodson’s new men busted into the room. “Serge, come

quick! We’ve been attacked!” he said in an excited, breathless voice. His wide and nervous eyes

looked quickly toward the door. Looking back he continued, “I…I…We got ‘em, Serge.”

“What? Hold on a minute now. Let’s go see,” Goodson said as he grabbed his coat.

Stopping 50 yards from the gun position Goodson interrogated the still shaky private,

“Where’s the guy you left with the gun? And where did the Germans come from?”

“He was there when I came looking for you. I don’t see him now. The….the Germans

came from over there,” he said pointing toward a row of houses about 100 yards in front of the


“Nice and slow. We don’t want to get shot by own men,” Goodson said walking slowly

toward the gun. As he got closer he began to think the other soldier had cut out or maybe the

Germans snuck up on him and cut his throat. Just then Goodson could see the top of a helmet in

the very bottom of the foxhole. “It’s me Goodson. You okay?”

All at once like a jack-in-the-box the soldier popped up. “Am I proud to see you guys,”

the private said as his voice broke from nervousness. “We shot the German on the road.”

“Did you see anything?”

“No, I got down in the hole and hoped nobody would come up.”

Goodson looked out toward the road and beyond. He couldn’t see or hear anything. In the

dark a man could be right by you before you knew he was there. You could usually smell the

Germans before you could see them at night. Goodson strained his eyes, ears, and nose. Still,

nothing. He put his rifle over his shoulder and he and the other soldier walked out to the road.

Moving slowly they walked the 45 yards. Reaching the road the private stopped as Goodson

walked a little further. Looking in both directions he asked, “Where did you say they were?”

“Right where you are standing,” the private answered in a low voice. Just as he spoke

two German soldiers popped up on both sides of Goodson. It scared Goodson so that he forgot he

had a rifle on his shoulder. The private turned and ran thinking that a dozen Germans jumped up

in an ambush. The Germans, separated from their unit and unaware that Goodson still had his

rifle on his shoulder, threw down their weapons and put their hands in the air to surrender.

“Dern your hides,” Goodson yelled at the Germans, “I almost had a heart attack right

here in the road!” The Germans looked at him but could not understand. “Start walking! Go!”

Goodson barked as he escorted the prisoners back toward the house to get a look at them in the



Goodson’s guns was attached to a rifle company

that took a town and captured 10 or so Germans. The town

lay in a valley and the Germans still held the high ground.

Every time a man showed himself in the street the Germans

started shooting. The Germans used 88s and 20 mm anti-

aircraft guns along with snipers to harass the GIs hunkered

down in the town. “What in tarnation is going on? We ain’t

been shot at like this in weeks!” Goodson complained.

“Lieutenant,” the Sergeant of the rifle company

called out. “We need two guns at that end of town.”

Just then one of Goodson’s men came up asking, “Sergeant, which gun do you want me

going with?”

“Sergeant?” the Lieutenant rhetorically repeated. “You aren’t a Lieutenant?


“I ought to shot you for impersonating an officer and falsifying orders. You are an

insubordinate disgrace to the US Army. Of all the things I’ve seen and heard while I’ve been in

this war, this takes the cake. What rank are you?”

I’m a private first class. My Company Commander calls me Sergeant, so I reckon I am,

but really I don’t know what rank I hold.”

“I have been moving my men around all over Germany because you said to do it. I’m

supposed to obey the orders of a lieutenant of a machine gun crew, but I don’t have to obey

anything you say!”

“Look, I’m the only one in two platoons that has even a Sergeant’s rank. We can’t keep a

Lieutenant long enough to learn his name before he’s hit or killed.”

“You should’ve told me you were a Sergeant.”

“I might have lied if I’d said it because no one has ever told me what rank I am. I don’t

know for sure that you ain’t a Sergeant. I’ve heard your men call you Sergeant. So appears to me

that we are about even,” Goodson said looking coldly into the Lieutenant’s grey eyes.

“No we aren’t. You’ve been telling me and my men what to do. I’m not taking any more

orders from you. You just wait till next time,” the lieutenant threatened as he angrily turned to

walk away. As he turned the corner a German sniper shot him through the stomach. Goodson

never saw the Lieutenant again and he never was sure of his name.

That night Goodson’s men held up in one of the houses in town. Two of them laid down

on a bed upstairs. Two German women came in motioning for them to get their muddy boots off

the bed. They stood up while the women put sheets and a blanket on the bed, then proceeded to

jumped back into the freshly made bed combat boots and all. Sitting up, they gave the

bewildered women a snappy salute. The incensed women stomped, yelled something in German

and stormed out. “What’s the matter with them?” one asked the other.

“I don’t know. Probably mad because they’re losing the war.”

“That sounds right,” he agreed laying his greasy hair on the fresh pillow case.

Down stairs Goodson came in to discover the men frying a ham they commandeered. The

German civilians who were in the cellar came out and began to chide the Americans. They began

to push and try to force the Americans to leave. “Look here, mister. I’m fixin’ to fry this ham and

eat it and there ain’t nothing you can do to stop me,” one of the soldiers said as he pulled his

pistol from his holster. “See here, this says I got the right to what I want,” he said raising the

pistol toward the man.

Goodson, stepping in before things got out of hand, separated the two. “Look. We are

Americans. My men are hungry. Do you understand?” Goodson spoke slowly as he walked the

men back toward the cellar. The German angrily said something pointing at the soldiers who

hungrily searched through the cabinets for other treasures.

“Hey, Serge, why don’t you whip up some of those fried eggs with the hair cream,” a

dirty faced soldier said smiling.

“Just a minute and I’ll fix some up just for you,” he replied as he slid the bar across the

cellar door. “We ain’t supposed to commandeer the food from the civilians.”

“Well, you gonna recite the Uniform Code of Military Justice to us or eat a piece of


Goodson takin off his ammo belt sat down at the table. “I never been one to get all up in

arms about regulations,” he said as he cut and ate his part of the meat with his combat knife

which he wiped clean on his shirt sleeve before using it.

Two or three town later the rifle company took a little town just at sunset. Goodson

took his gun to a small pasture and set it up. As he and the crew walked back to a small farm

house previously occupied by the Germans shells began to drop in behind them. “Run for the

farm house!” someone yelled.

With each shells getting closer and closer, three men tried to get through the small

farmhouse door at the same time. As Goodson dashed for the same door he stumbled. He hit the

ground hard and slid on his stomach through the thin snow cover. He lay with his head covered

until the artillery barrage topped. Standing up he smelled a strong stench. “What did I just land

in?” he muttered. “Holy smokes! This must’a been the German’s latrine!” he said his voice


The other men who came out to check on him turns on their heels and said nothing.

Goodson took off his heavy overcoat and second of pants leaving them outside. He didn’t

have a second pair of boots. The house had water. With a thin bar of soap and a dull razor he

tried to get the stench off the horse meat he Germans had been eating off his cloths and body.

“Serge, did ya’ check your pockets for coffee packs before you threw ‘em away?”

“No. But if you want, go right ahead and check ‘em. You can exchange almost anything

for coffee with the German civilians,” Goodson said as he scrubbed his skin in the cold water.

“That’s alright. I got coffee,” the private said thinking about the fecal encrusted clothes.

In about an hour Goodson smelled like a country boy in town who had been too long

without a bath.

By now lieutenants and officers recently arrived began to souvenir hunt. Men who had

not seen combat tried to get up toward the front to take pictures and see what was really going

on. The Germans put up little or no resistance. Goodson was one of the few men remaining of

the original 359th that landed on D-Day plus one. In the eleven months of combat he had seen his

fill of war.

“Goodson!” the Captain called.

“Here, sir.”

“Go with the rifle platoon to the next town and see what is there.”

“Okay, sir.”

“Goodson, when you check it out come back. Don’t stay and try to hold. These two jeeps

and this Dodge half-ton truck will go with you.”

Goodson jumped in and the vehicles started out. The forest was so dense that you could

not see the sun. As they drove along Goodson could see that the mature trees towering forty feet

into the air were seeded in uniform rows. The bits of sunlight that did penetrate the canopy

flashed and snaked along as the vehicles sped along. The narrow road made Goodson uneasy

because anyone could be waiting in ambush. If the vehicles needed to turn around, it would not

be easy.

Up ahead he saw Germans retreating from the town the American had just overrun. “Stop

the jeep,” Goodson ordered. “German infantry jus ahead in those trees.” Everyone started firing

randomly into the woods ahead. Goodson was the only one who had even seen the Germans.

After a minute or so Goodson called for a cease fire. Most of the men were almost out of ammo.

The new Lieutenant with the rifle company had less than half a clip left.

“That fifty cal shoot?” Goodson asked the driver of the half ton.

“I guess,” he replied as the Germans fired back at the Americans who were now

scrambling to get back in the jeeps and truck.

Goodson jumped up and began firing the gun. “I ain’t ever fired a gun this big,” he said

as his pulled the bolt back letting it slam home chambering the first round on the belt. The M2 50

caliber machine gun, which the soldiers called a “ma duce”, fired 800 rounds a minute and was

effective up to a half mile. The 12.7 mm rounds could take out light armored vehicles, planes,

and enemy pillboxes. When used against troops in the field it caused human flesh to explode.

Du, du, du, du, du. The 50 caliber weapon sprung to life. The Germans stopped firing.

The ammo belt slinked from the ammo can as the hungry weapon devoured the rounds and spit

the hot rounds from the three foot barrel. The heavy brass and spend belt links fell noisily at his

feet. As Goodson sent the rounds down range he watched the tracer rounds ricochet off tree’s

and rocks. He squeezed the thumb trigger in short burst and felt the machine gun vibrate


As the truck backed around to go head toward the town, he swiveled the gun. As the

truck ran over debris he lost his footing allowing the gun to swing wildly. In the chaos of the

moment he did not think to let go of the thumb trigger. As he swung around the sprayed the cab

of the truck and fired directly over the heads of the men inside. Goodson felt bad about what had


After he gave his report to headquarters his stomach was in a knot. He had seen an aid

station being set up and decided to get some medicine. There was a line already formed and

Goodson recognized some of them as the men from the rifle company from the woods.

At the aid station the medic looked Goodson over. “What do you need?”

“My stomach is hurting me something powerful,” Goodson replied.

“What have you eaten today? Anything different than normal?”

“No. Just the usual.” About that time some of the rifleman from the woods came in the

examining area.

“Doc, you got to help me. My gut feels like somebody’s got a knife in it!” one of the

soldiers complained. Another’s trousers were wet with blood from diarrhea. Another passed out

as they brought him in.

“What’s happening to these men? I was with ‘em no more than two hours ago in a battle

and they was fine.” Goodson asked. “I ain’t seen nothing like this on the line. What’s goin’ on?

“Well these men have seen something or been through something really traumatic,” the

medic explained. “I see it all the time.”

“What did you need again?” the medic asked.

“My stomach was hurting when I came in but it’s better now,” Goodson said.

“We better give you as a shot just in case. It might come back.”

Goodson returned to his men in a house owned by an old German woman. She spoke

some English and busily help the men warm up some rations.

“When German soldiers leaving, said to me ‘Here is ammo und gun to kill Americans

when come into town.’ But I sick of war und I am remembering that after the other war the

Americans did not shoot the civilians unless civilians are shooting at them. So, I am glad war is

over,” she said as she pan fired some spam.

“Where are the German weapons now?” someone asked suspiciously.

“I am putting them in the cellar in a pile. When the Germans are in my house all the time

I am thinking, ‘I hope you are leaving my house soon.’ Sit and eat. I have last of goats milk for

you,” she said pouring the thick, white liquid in several metal cups. The milk smelled spoiled

and the men pushed the cups back. “You are sleeping there for the night. No?” she said pointing

to the bedrooms. “We are sleeping in cellar.” With this she and three other elderly Germans

walked into the cellar being sure to lock the door behind them.

Goodson and his men had only laid down when a runner came breathlessly into the

house. “Sergeant Goodson?” the courier asked.

“What now?”

“They want you at Company HQ.”

“What? They wantin’ us to attack at 0400? Or maybe they want to send us out tonight?

Why can’t we just stop for a few days and wait till the papers are signed? The war is over!

They’re determined to get everyone of us killed,” Goodson complained as he walked out the

door with his ammo belt in his hand.

The Company HQ seemed busier than usual for the late hour. Goodson braced himself

for the news of some new offensive against the Germans. “Patton’s got a bee in his bonnet and

we’ll all have to pay for it,” Goodson thought as the Company Commander walked in.

“Sir,” Goodson saluted and continued, “I rode the front jeep in five towns today. I was

shot at and near killed. Let’s take turns at this. Let someone else lead . . . .”

“How would you like to back to where you can get some gravy and biscuit?” the

Commander asked interrupted Goodson’s tirade.

“Look here, me and my guns have . . . . What’s that? Did I just hear what I think I just

heard?” Goodson asked as his hands began to shake. “If I heard what I think I did and anyone

gets in front of me I’ll shoot him!”

“You did hear it, Sergeant. We have a furlough for you to the United States. You’ll be the

first from out outfit to get this. We had a man last month and I let him go with some rations to

the front and he was killed. I’ve felt bad about this ever since. So, I’m not taking any chances

with you. Go to Division Headquarters and wait there until they can get you on the road,” the

Commander said looking at Goodson.

“Thank you, sir,” Goodson replied giving a snappy salute.

“Do you have any souvenirs?”

No, sir. I know what happens to someone captured by the Germans if they got that kind

of stuff. So, I just never picked up anything.”

“Here,” the Commander said reaching into his desk, “take this 32 German pistol and


“Thank you, sir,” Goodson said looking at the design of the German firearm.

“The Walther P38 is a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol used by the SS mostly. It was

supposed to replace the Luger P08, but the war changed that. The Lugers are common, but this

pistol is harder to find. I want you to have it.”

“That’s mighty nice of you, sir.”

“Goodson, you are one of only five men from the original unit that landed on D-Day. The

company has been completely replaced five times. Over 20,000 men and officers in the 90th

Division, good men with loved ones back home, have been wounded or killed since this thing got

started,” the Commander paused and reflected on the cost. “As of yesterday, we’re in

Czechoslovakia and we’ve gone completely across Germany.”

“Yes, sir. A bunch of those were men were my buddies and it’s been a long, hard row to

hoe,” Goodson added.

“Well, the war’s not done, but I hope it is for you,” he said shaking Goodson’s hand. The

men exchanged a few other words and Goodson walked out.


The Long Awaited Journey

Soldiers in every war obsess over home and family. The thought of mother, wife, or
girlfriend occupies the mind of the G.I. as does no other sentiment.

April 17, 1945

Dear Sue and Girls:
How are all of you? I am hoping that everything is okay. I have the best news ever. I am
coming home! They have given me my orders and I am guarding them extra close. I should be
home in a couple of months. Tell mother and daddy the news. I’ve only got enough postage and
letter writing gear for this one letter.
Like I said in the other letter, it has been lots better lately. Thank you again for the
package you sent. The socks and cookies came in real handy. The jar of jam broke, but it didn’t
make too much of a mess.
I’ll close for now. See you all real soon!
Your husband,
For the first time in almost a year he began to believe that he might get out of the war

alive. This single thought caused his heart to fill with fear. As he travelled back to the beachhead

every tree, bush, and hedgerow potentially concealed a sniper or German machine gun. The

landscape still held landmines, unexploded ordinance, and other dangers. The damaged bridges

could collapsed and friendly fire, though now rare, might rain down on unsuspecting troops.

“What a shame to survive the Germans and get myself killed trying to get home,” Goodson


As he got closer to the beachhead the roads and the general appearance of things

improved. He passed long columns of German prisoners headed to the rear and columns of fresh

American replacements headed to the front. America manpower and machinery swept over the

decimated Wehrmacht in less than 12 months.

Goodson also witness more of the tragedy of war. At one aid station newly liberated

American prisoners of war anxiously lined up at the Red Cross snack table. Within three minutes

the first of the POWs collapsed. Soon another fell. “Get those men away from those donuts!” a

medic yelled as he ran toward the starved men. “Their stomachs can’t take so much at one time!”

As it turns out that their stomachs exploded and they fell dead were they stood.

Finally, aboard a small transport ship, he travelled the short distance across the channel to

yet another staging area where a blended group of Americans waited for their ticket home. For

the first time, it really struck Goodson that he was going home.

Once aboard the troop transport bound for New York City he settled into life aboard ship.

He remembered the constant drone of the ships motors of the first crossing. The voice on the

speakers announcing each segment of the day. The sound of the ships whistle and crackle of

“Reveille! Reveille! Reveille! All hands heave out and trice up. Now reveille! The smoking lamp

is lit in all authorized spaces. Breakfast for the crew” which started each day. Periodically, the

crew did drills and each one had its distinctive whistles and orders. The ship smelled unlike

anything he knew in civilian life. The aroma of the air below decks varied. The berthing areas

smelled of cigarettes, body odor, and canvas. Each compartment and passageway, depending on

its location, carried distinctive aromas. The mess hall, which served four full meals a day,

smelled of coffee and steamed vegetables. Above decks the air smelled of salt with wisps of

diesel exhaust. Goodson always felt the sensation of speed as he stood above decks. The ship

was never static for fear of German U-boats which still prowled the waters.

He pulled some duty aboard ship. The higher ranks pulled duty first, so he didn’t have

duty until the end of the trip. Almost every man on ship suffered from some form of stomach

upset. There weren’t nearly enough bathrooms on ship and this caused undue suffering among

the embarked troops. The Captain decided that the mess kits weren’t being cleaned adequately

and Goodson became the mess kit inspector. One day he noticed how the cooks were getting

behind on pot washing. They used the same pots to cook in all day and never cleaned them.

Goodson believed this was the source of the stomach problems and approached the officer in

charge to tell him.

“I think I know why the men are so sick,” Goodson reported.

“You do?” the officer in charge replied quizzically.

“Yes, sir. I seen cooks fixing beans for lunch in a big pot. Well, after this they used the

same pot to fix supper. Now, the problem is they are always behind on washing pots. So, they

don’t wash nothing. They just go right on ahead cooking in the same pots all day.”

“Is that so? Well, I think the problem is that you’re spending too much time watching the

cooks and not enough inspecting the mess kits, Sergeant,” he said as he walked away.

“Dang officers don’t know to come in out of the rain,” Goodson muttered to himself as

he went back to watching the men washing their kits.

Shortly afterwards, the officer in charge passed through the line with the Colonel. The

officer in charge dipped his mess kit in the water and held it up for Goodson to inspect. It clearly

had a large glob of mashed potatoes stuck to one corner of the kit.

“Okay, it’s clean,” Goodson said noticing the potatoes still clinging to the kit.

“Well, Sergeant,” the officer said for the benefit of the senior officer, “Obviously you are

not checking the mess kits well enough. I should write you up because this is dereliction of duty.

When you are given an assignment you are to carry out that assignment to the best of your

abilities. Do you understand, Sergeant?” the officer berated Goodson.

“Well, sir. Begging your pardon. But I reckoned that a man who reached the rank of

Captain ought to be able to wash out an army issued mess kit, sir,” Goodson said looking directly

into the astonished eyes of the officer.

“Well, Captain, looks that he won that round,” the Colonel said smiling. “Good work,

Sergeant. Come with me, Captain.”

Goodson did not pull anymore duty the rest of the trip home!

He passed the rest of the trip playing cards. He never suffered much from sea sickness.

Once, during a few days of stormy seas, he felt nauseas, but soon regained his sea legs.


As the Statue of Liberty came into view a collected sigh of relief ran through the

transport and Goodson knew they were headed the right way. He had wondered if He’d ever see

Lady Liberty again when they left the harbor in 1944. Throughout the war he thought what it

might feel like to see her again. Now here she was with her torch lifted high. This was nothing

compared to seeing his wife and kids again.

By the time they reached New York the war in Europe was over.

He boarded a train in the New City and began the trek across the eastern seaboard to

Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, MS. As he glided along the USO and other groups provided

newspapers, sandwiches, and coffee. At most of the train stations along the way the USO set up

canteens where the servicemen could wash, eat donuts, buy cigarettes, and make calls to families

eager to hear news. As he rode along he watched the trees and small farms pass by his window.

It was late spring. The farmers turned cold, damp soil in preparation for planting. Some fields

showed the signs of neat, orderly rows of newly emerging corn, wheat, and soybeans. The oaks,

poplars, and maples showed off their new green foliage. The grass never appeared so green nor

the sun as bright as those first days home.

Before leaving Camp Shelby he and the others sat through classes about what to expect

when they returned home. But nothing the men said touched upon what Goodson felt deep within

his soul. In quiet moments and especially at night he thought of the cold, the mud, and the rain.

He remembered the smells of shot and shell, the stench of death, and the cries of wounded men.

Specific sounds and smells triggered these terrible memories. He dreamed about the combat

experiences and awoke to find his sheets twisted and wet with sweat. The ghosts of fallen friends

walked with him. He tried to bury the memories. He felt guilt for having survived when so many

good men had died. He felt grief for his loss, but could express this grief to no one. Waves of

grief and depression rolled over him and he buried it deep inside himself. If he acted as though it

never happened, then maybe someday it would all just fade away. But it was a part of his life that

would not go away. He mentioned none of his experiences with his traveling companions. Once,

when a soldier who obviously had not seen combat began talking like he had been someone

during the war, Goodson simply said: “Any man who’d fought like you claim you fought would

never talk that way about it.” In the years to come he hated the question, “So, tell me what you

did during the war?” He never participated in any recognition ceremonies. He did his job and

came home and he didn’t want to reflect on what happened.

As he pulled into the train station in Grenada, MS, his wrist watch showed midnight.

“Good. Finally here and on schedule,” he thought to himself as he walked toward the bus station.

“Hey, Mac,” he said to a sleepy-eyed man at the ticket desk, “When’s the next bus to Calhoun


“Won’t be another bus until 10 am tomorrow,” he said pointing to a faded schedule on

the wall behind him.

“You mean to tell me I’ve come all this way and now that I’m just thirty miles away I’m

stuck?” he responded angrily.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, but that’s what I’m saying.”

“Well, I’ll walk if I have to. I ain’t about to wait til no 10 in the morning. No, siree!”

Goodson said walking away from the dark bus station.

“Hey, RL! That you under that uniform?” asked a familiar voice.

“Yeah, it’s me. Who are you?” he asked looking toward a dark shape looking out from a

pickup window.

“It’s me, Bobby. Bobby Smith,” the voice replied as a hand extended to greet Goodson.

“I did know you was back.”

“Just got in and I’m looking for a way home.”

“Shoot. I’m headed to work. Got the graveyard shift at the hosiery mill. But you know

who’s got a car is your cousin Mona. She lives just down from the mill. Betcha’ she’d give you a

ride if she’s got gas. Probably got enough to get to Calhoun City but not enough to get back


“I can get her some gas to get back home on,” Goodson said reaching to open the

passenger side door. In twenty minutes he was knocking on Mona’s door. “Mona, it’s me, RL.

Your cousin. I need a ride real bad. Anybody in there?” he nearly yelled as he tried to look in the


Soon a light came on inside and a middle aged woman in a house coat looked cautiously

out. “Who’d you say you was?”

“RL Goodson.”

“RL! You back? Last I knowed you was in the war.”

“Yeah, it’s me. Just got back and I need a ride to Calhoun City something terrible. I was

wondering if you could give me a ride.”

“In the morning?”

“No. Get your clothes on. You’re carrying me tonight.”

“Tonight? I guess I. . . Sure. Why not? Okay, I’ll get some clothes. Just wait right there.”

Soon the two were riding along Mississippi Highway 8 East headed to Calhoun County

and home. “Won’t this thing go any faster?” Goodson asked as he noticed how slowly the night

scenery passed.

“Sure, it’ll go faster, but my tires are practically bald. If I go too fast one might go out on

me and I don’t got no spare,” she explained being sure to keep both hands on the wheel and her

eyes on the road. “You help me watch for deer crossing the highway. They’re bad right now,”

she said glancing at Goodson.

Goodson watch read 3 am as they drove into Derma. They passed the bus stop where he

caught the bus to leave. In the distance he saw the porch light of his daddy’s house. “Turn here.

Right there at that mail box.”

Goodson handed her 5 dollars. “Five whole dollars!” she said astonished. “What’s all this


“Well you helped me out in a big way, so I want to give you something special,”

Goodson said jumping from car. “Would like to pass the rest of the night here and head out in the


“No. I best get back. I got work in the morning. Thank you kindly for the five dollars,”

she said searching the gearbox for reverse. “Glad you made it home RL. Bye,” she said backing

out of the driveway.

Goodson visited for only a moment with his parents. “I need to be going. Sue’s a waiting

for me,” he said throwing his duffle bag over his shoulder and turning to leave. His house lay

about 100 yards from his daddy’s place. He jogged the entire distance. And there it stood. The

place he had at one point given up hope of ever seeing – home.

Running up on the dark porch he began knocking on the door. “Sue. Sue! You in there.”

He saw the light come on in the back of the house. “Sue, hurry and open this door or I’ll bust the


“Who’s at the door?” she asked sleepily fumbling with the lock.

“Hurry up now!” Goodson cajoled.

“Okay. Hold on.”

“RL!” she said opening the door. She felt as though she might faint and all but fell into

his arms. “You said you was coming home, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high. But

you made it!”

“Where’re the kids?”

“Why, there’re a sleeping. It’s middle of the night.”

“Well, I want to see ‘em right now.”

His little girl looked at him like a stranger at first. She put her hand over her eyes and

looked at him through her fingers. “You look like my daddy, but he’s not here.”

“Honey, I am your daddy,” Goodson said hugging her tiny frame.

“Here’s your boy,” Sue said holding a baby boy that Goodson had never seen.

“My son! Hello there little man,” he said reaching for the little bundle.

The war was truly over. Goodson put away his uniforms and medals. He buried deep

inside him the emotions and memories of those days spent in Europe. He finally arrived home

and, for now, that reality overruled every other emotion.


With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God
gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's
wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan,
to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with
all nations. (Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address)

RL Goodson’s story and his telling of it remind us of the good

and evil which abide in the human heart. The villain and the hero, the

coward and the valiant, all live among us and within us. World War II

caused untold suffering. The civilian population suffered more than any

other segment of the society. This suffering reached far beyond the years

that war raged around the world. RL would not speak of the war nor his

part in it for more than 50 years. The events so traumatized and affected

him that half a century’s distance from the events was needed before he spoke of them. Even

after so long a season of grieving, when the stories emerged they stung and the voice of the man

still carried something of the madness of those days; his eyes still carried a piercing stare as

though only recently seeing the events. Still, some events remained so charged with emotion that

he never gathered the strength to express what he saw and felt. Such was his burden to bear

throughout life. Oliver Wendell Holmes, a veteran of the War Between the States, perhaps best

put into words what only RL and his comrades could know:

The generation that carried on the war has been set apart by its experience. Through our
great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire. It was given to us to
learn at the outset that life is a profound and passionate thing. While we are permitted to
scorn nothing but indifference, and do not pretend to undervalue the worldly rewards of
ambition, we have seen with our own eyes, beyond and above the gold fields, the snowy
heights of honor, and it is for us to bear the report to those who come after us.
(Source: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., "In Our Youth Our Hearts Were Touched With
Fire", 1884)
So, this “report” recalls the conspicuous gallantry of RL Goodson and the thousands of his

generation who held the singular experience of war. It also reminds the reader of the value of

home and family which motivated so many through the long season of war.


Resume of the 90th Infinity Division (1944-45)

ETO Attachments

 5 March 1944: Third Army

 23 March 1944: Third Army
 27 March 1944: VII Corps
 19 June 1944: VIII Corps
 30 July 1944: Third Army
 1 August 1944: XV Corps, Third Army, 12th Army Group
 17 August 1944: Third Army, 12th Army Group
 25 August 1944: XV Corps, Third Army, 12th Army Group
 26 August 1944: XX Corps
 6 January 1945: III Corps

 26 January 1945: VIII Corps
 12 March 1945: XII Corps

WWII Campaigns

 Normandy
 Northern France
 Ardennes-Alsace
 Rhineland
 Central Europe

WWII Units

 357th Infantry
 358th Infantry
 359th Infantry
 90th Reconnaissance Troop Mechanized
 315th Engineer Combat Battalion
 315th Medical Battalion
 343d Field Artillery Battalion (105 Howitzer)
 344th Field Artillery Battalion (105 Howitzer)
 915th Field Artillery Battalion (105 Howitzer)
 345th Field Artillery Battalion (105 Howitzer)
 790th Ordnance Light Maintenance Company
 90th Quartermaster Company
 90th Signal Company
 Military Police platoon
 Headquarters Company
 Band


 Brig Gen Jay W. McKelvie

 Maj Gen Eugene M. Landrum
 Brig Gen Raymond S. McLain
 Maj Gen Raymond S. McLain
 Brig Gen James A. Van Fleet
 Maj Gen James A. Van Fleet
 Maj Gen Lowell W. Rooks
 Brig Gen Herbert L. Earnest


Abrams, Joe I. A History of the 90th Division in World War II. N.d.

Ambrose, Stephen. Citizen Soldiers. 1997.

Caesar, Julius. Caesar's War in Gaul. The translation of 4.16-19 was
made by Anne and Peter Wiseman. In “Caesar on the First Germanic Campaign”. Accessed 7
December 2018.

Goodson, RL. Flashbacks. 1999.

United States Army, "Album: 359th Infantry - 90th Division" (1945).World War Regimental
Histories”. Accessed 20 December 2017.

Varangis, Nicholas. “Patton’s Bloody Battle at Fortress Metz”.

Accessed 19 December 2017.

Ward, Geoffrey C. The War. 2007.

Hymel, Kevin M. “The 90th Division Comes of Age”. Accessed 19

December 2017.

“90th (US) Infantry Division after Action Reports – Battle of Normandy.” . Accessed 5 January 2019.

Video Resources

“The War”. By Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. 2006. Accessed in

“Apocalypse: The Second World War” (translated from “Apocalypse, la 2e Guerre mondiale”).
2009. Accessed December 2017.

“World War II in HD Colour”. 2009. Accessed December