Wednesday, August 17, 2005



(continued from yesterday)

There was one interesting incident while we were in Esch.

Some valuable records had been left in Bastogne and it was decided that one of the agents – a volunteer would return there and attempt to retreive them. His name was Mickey Rooney and was not related to the film star. At local intelligence headquarters he was briefed on the way to travel to get there. He was warned that there was an American road block at a certain point on the outskirts of Bastogne and to move with great caution. Rooney made the trip successfully and returned with the records. He said there was one amusing incident.

On approaching Bastogne along the road in the area where the road block was supposed to be, he was moving slowly and carefully. Then along the road in front of him he saw a lone American GI carrying a Tommy gun and with clusters of hand grenades attached to his battle jacket. Rooney stopped on direction of the soldier and identified himself after giving the pass-word. Ready to move on he said : “There is supposed to be a road block around here. Can you tell me where it will be?” The road block answered : “Road block! I’m the road block!”

From Esch we soon moved to Neuchateau and then to Bouillon. We had found Luxembourg to be very interesting. One of the most notable features was the multi-linguistic abilities of the people, even the children. It reinforced the notion that the language should be learned in childhood as a matter of course and not as a discipline.

At this time Oliphant and I were set up as a team and we remained one until the end of the war. At the time during the Bulge it was our duty to travel the roads, visit the towns and to pick up any information which would be important to our troops. We talked to the mayors of towns, to the priests and to anyopne who might have information. The lines of battle at this time were very fluid and intelligence of mined roads and the like was very sketchy. The area in which we operated was quite wooded and German units and American units frequently used the same roads within a short time of each other. Oliphant and I set out each morning about nine o’clock and we returned to the hotel in which we were staying in Bouillon. The largest town and most active one which we visited was Libramont . Apparently the Germans still had good intelligence for the headquarters of the American forces in the area was hit directly by an air bomb and a general among others was killed in the blast.

Soon after a Belgian woman was picked up and accused of having relayed information of the location of the headquarters to the Germans. During the bomb attack Oliphant and I were on the outskirts of the town in a pretty open area. We left our vehicle and huddles at the parapet of a bridge until the single plane left. We had planned to meet members of another team, Joe Gray and Ray Opp at the headquarters. When we arrived at the location and saw the blasted building we were concerned that the team might have been inside when the bomb exploded. Later on in Bouillon we found out that the men had already left the headquarters before the bomb went off.

It was an adventure each morning as Oliphant and I set out on our patrol. Again, the battle lines were very fluid and there was a great deal of transport on the roads. Most of this was of military vehicles like our own and usually single ones or small envoys. The intelligence was that there were a number of teams of Germans dressed and equipped as Americans who were infiltrating our areas. There was a new password each day and whenever we were stopped at a road block which might appear suddenly and unexpectedly we were questioned something like this : “what are the Boston Red Sox?” or “What is shit on a shingle? ”. Incidentally, the latter referred to a common army breakfast passed up by many GI’s. It consisted of cooked hamburger meat in a milk sauce and over toast – a sort of “Sloppy Joe”.

In this area our most frequent intelligence source was the local parish priest. Also the mayors of the towns were very helpful. Too, we looked for travellers on foot who might have observed military movement along their way. Just as the Americans had a battle headquarters in Libramont the Germans had one in nearby St Hubert. Thus it was pretty safe in the area of Libramont and dangerous near St Hubert.

That the local people were accustomed to the German people was frequently shown when they were caught by surprise and would turn around with a “Heil Hitler” salute. At night there was quite a bit of German small plane activity. The towns people frequently reported them and spoke of flashing lights between the planes and the ground. This signal activity indicated that there seemed to be some german agents in the American area.

Now and then we ran into small units of other than Americans. There were scattered English and French in the area. Everyone seemed confused as indeed we were. On our patrols when we saw an approaching vehicle one would hope that it was friendly.


Tragically, this is all he had written. If he tried to tell me these stories in person at the time he was writing them, I probably would have been looking at my watch every five minutes eager to get away, and taking in absolutely nothing. Now, a year after his passing, I would dearly love to hear the rest of his account.

Thank you all for your kind comments over the past few days, and again I'm sorry this is all I have to share with you guys. It's a great comfort at this time of his anniversary to know that his efforts to record even some of his experiences were not in vain.

From tomorrow, you will have to go back to reading stuff from li'l ol' me I'm afraid, a lifelong civilian pacifist!


Michèle said...

Fascinating memoirs. Posting them is a great tribute. I enjoyed reading . . .

Mr. Middle America said...

Dude, I want to look like that when the time comes!

Buffalo said...

Sincere thanks for sharing and for posting his picture.

As for your horrible pacifist leanings, I think they would be scattered to the winds if you felt a threat to you and those you love.

JL Pagano said...

Michele : Glad you enjoyed them.

Mr MA : I know exactly what you mean - though it looks as though I'm going the way of my father's side of the family.

Buffalo : I guess we could debate the various definitions of the word "threat" until kingdom come, but your point is well made.

On a global scale, however, I am a firm believer that there is always a peaceful solution to every dispute, no matter what the history, no matter what the hatred involved. If you have not yet found the solution, you either haven't looked hard enough, or you don't really want to find it.

Mr. Middle America said...

"I am a firm believer that there is always a peaceful solution to every dispute..."

I tend to agree with that theoretically. However, and apparently, it is impossible for those in power to concede to the concept. I am thinking it is because of two reasons: (1) it is NOT seen as monetarily profitable (they are not thinking outside the box, still thinking in terms of scarce resources... which can be debated endlessly), and (2) by choosing the war option, those in power do not have to lose anything. By "lose anything" I mean their "pride" (which with men... hell, you know how that shit works, especially when you have to stand in front of the world and say.... "Hey, maybe we are wrong..."), their family (the Bush daughters, for example, are not in Iraq, just lower middle and lower "class" people)... they only stand to gain... by contributing more revenue to the Military / Political Industrial Complex (in any country)... thereby ensuring continued political sustenance.

The world has been thinking in this same box since the beginning of time. EXTREME Power and EXTREME wealth are (apparently) intoxicating. Giving those constructs up... I can only presume... is a hard pill to swallow.

JL Pagano said...

A hard concept for those in power to grasp it may be, but there's another concept that the rest of have to keep in mind, hope.

Although I may be a pacifist, I know there probably won't be anything that can be called "peace on earth" in my lifetime.

If I thought for a second, however, that this was something that never ever ever could be achieved, there wouldn't be much point in going on.

Even the best football coach won't win every game - but if he doesn't approach every kickoff thinking it's possible to come out victorious on the day, he will probably lose more than he wins.

I try (not always successfully) to apply this mentality to my views on "World Peace" or whatever you want to call it.

To go back to Buffalo's point, however, if someone threatened my family, I'd probably kick their fucking head in. Go figure.

Heidi said...

JL~thank you so much for sharing your grandfather's memoirs! While I am disappointed he didn't write more, I am very grateful for the glimpses he gave into his experience. And I enjoyed reading your comments regarding the mentality you apply to your views on "World Peace." It makes sense to me, and I think most people would agree to feeling the desire to destroy anyone who threatened their family. I certainly do.