Heroes: the Army
"...Then "Look out! Grenade"! It burst just a few feet behind me . Not hit yet, well something was felt in my pants, but it wasn't blood. Then someone up ahead of me hollered out for a pair of nippers and I crawled forward and passed them to them..."
Roy L. Gray
- Branch of Service: Army
- Co. B., 100th DNF, 399th Regiment
- Dates: 1943-1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1924
- Entered Service: Mineral Wells, TX
The First Few Days of Combat for a Young Soldier in 1944
by Roy L. Gray, 3rd platoon, B company of the 399th Infantry Regiment, 100th division
THE FIRST FEW DAYS OF COMBAT FOR A YOUNG SOLDIER IN 1944.
Land! Land! came the cry up on the deck! It seemed like a long time in those words coming from a young soldier's point of view.
My name is Pvt. Roy Gray, I was a soldier in the 3rd platoon, B company of the 399th infantry, 100 division. The sun was so bright, shining on the waters of the port of Marseilles France, on that day of October 20th 1944. The waters of the Mediterranean were so vivid blue and crystal clear, such a contrast to the waters we had looked at all the way from New Jersey Port till we got here.
Our ship was the SS Mac Andrews and for 10 days we were aboard her starting October 6th 1944. Other ships along side of us were dodging in and out with the "Whoop Whoop" of the escort ships looking for enemy submarines, and we spent our days getting haircuts on deck and learning to speak whatever little French we could learn in such a short time. Little did we know that all this was not going to be no pleasure cruise for me or any of the 100th infantry division.
At the port entrance a great big white rock greeted us with parts of sunken ships protruding out of these beautiful waters. Our ship was a small ship when compared to some of the others waiting just offshore full of anxious soldiers who were just boys fixing to have to become men.
We climbed down rope ladders to go ashore in these small type of landing boats crammed full of young boys. Upon touching the docks and finally back to real dirt there were cries coming from the streets that lie ahead. Young French children had come to greet our welcome and they were screaming "American Soldiers welcome, welcome".
Then as they got closer to us they began to scream, "Candy, candy, choc-o-lat, choc-o-lat, give us candy"? They must have heard that American soldiers liked children and would be carrying candy I guess. So yes we spread candy bars amongst them and they got real exited as they had never seen a Baby Ruth candy before and we had plenty of them onboard, because each of us was given a whole box as we left the ship. A grueling long hike awaited us towards the city of Marseilles and we were all glad to be on dry land too.
The people of the city we saw as we made our way towards the city were old men and young children sitting on the sidewalks at small tables and they insisted that we have a bite to eat with them. So we stopped and broke bread and had a little wine with them each of us trying to communicate but that didn't really matter because they were glad to see us and we were were glad too.
Laden down with all our duffel bags and gear, we left them thanking them and proceeded towards our destination where we would bed down for the night. Our camping place was in some big field just outside of town, and a bunch of tired unorganized soldiers rushed to pitch our tents in a hurry, Two men to a tent, not in no military fashion of any design just getting the two halves together and getting some well needed rest and sleep were the thoughts on our minds. Sounds of that night were heard all thru the tents like; "get your feet outa my face, stop snoring, now it's raining shutt up and go to sleep!
And rain! man did it rain!! all night, and constantly for the next five days and nights. Seems like it was never gonna stop either, mud was everywhere in our tents on our uniforms not even a dry spot for a bug to land.
Then we heard those lovely word, "Chow", come and get it, and did we ever, it was good to have a nice hot meal under all these conditions.
Finally it was time to move on, and we boarded some trucks headed north for COMBAT. That was a new word for me and what did it mean? I was soon to find out, and would remember that word forever. The roads were littered with the evidence of a defeated German Army everywhere, but it would not be evident to us for many days to come. There were overturned tanks, blown apart equipment, and much more proof that someone had left in a real hurry to get away from there.
On our first rest stop one guy in our platoon learned real quick why not to heat a can of beans from a C-ration without opening it first. POW!!, it went off like a mortar shell hitting the dirt and everyone ducked thinking it was, then someone kinda chuckled abit and said no, it was just Joe trying to cook up some beans without opening the can first. Boy was we glad cause I don't think anyone was ready for that kind of thing just yet.
As we started out again aboard the trucks, we could hear the sound of big guns in the far distance. These weren't the same sounds like the guns we heard back in the states when we were in training maneuvers months before. These were real, and it was plenty scary, and I said to the guy next to me "We are in a warzone and I don't like it".
The first town we came to was abandoned with no signs of anyone around, just parts of houses, the framework of what use to be walls. This was just an example of what we would continually see ahead in many of the towns that lied ahead of us. We managed to find one house that was fairly intact and had enough room for me and my squad to sleep in for the night. We were told to dig foxholes even tho we weren't close to the front just in case, so we did. Some of the guys, and I guess me too didn't see no need of digging them too deep, and the ground was pretty hard too even after all that rain.
During the middle of the night, BOOM!BOOM! as those big guns were blasting off and they sounded very close, but we unrolled our bedrolls on the floor and went to sleep. Soon the BOOM, BOOM! awoke us again, but this time it was much closer sound. One of our guys was missing, "where is Bill"? someone replied. "Outside digging his hole deeper" another said. "And with his steel helmet too". Yes we found we could dig deeper, no matter how hard the ground was.
Then after we left we moved towards the front getting closer and closer to the real action. We came to a small village and took our next rest. We saw what look liked to be a trough full of water and we said "Let's fill our canteens". As we were just fixing to do this an old Fenchman came running and screaming something in French at us "Not wata, not wata, he screamed" It turned out to be this was the urine that was drained down from the barn. You see most farm villages had the barn built on to their houses as we do our garages. Finally, we were told that this was as far as the trucks would go and we were in a combat zone. "Get off, pick up your gear, have your rifle ready, and carry your stuff to that tree yonder someone said".
When we got to a certain spot inside the forrest, someone said "Now leave your gas masks and overcoats here in a pile cause you don't need them". Don't need them? It's cold and raining, brand new gas masks, all that tear gas we've been close to and we don't need them? This just did't make sense! One of the first things we learned in boot camp was don't ask why just do it. Now there was more than just that Boom Boom sound we had been hearing, there was a new sound, Brrrrrrup, Brrrrup, Ratt,-ta-tat, and Pow Pow!! This was definately part of that word I had heard back awhile back , Combat, and for this private I was scared!
It was November now and patches of fallen snow were on the ground here and there and as we came nearer some GI's met us and told us just how glad they were to see another American soldier like us. As we made our way closer towards the Vosges mountains, (Black Forrest) as some called them we didn't know what lied ahead for any of us. We were to relieve the 179th Infantry division and it was November 1, 1944. "Just pick out a hole, they're all ready for you" someone said. They were nice foxholes, waiting for us and this time already dug so we didn't have to dig them, thank God. We would get to see much use of them tho, cause we wouldn't be staying there too long.
Patrols were sent out and I was sent on the first one. Barbed wire, snippers in my hands I went out, Ping! a bullet zipped by my ear! Then "Look out! Grenade"! It burst just a few feet behind me . Not hit yet, well something was felt in my pants, but it wasn't blood. Then someone up ahead of me hollered out for a pair of nippers and I crawled forward and passed them to them.
Back from the barbed wire incident and still shaking, a Sargent said "Move out". A clearing showed a small town up ahead with a church with a tall steeple was our next encounter.
As we entered the small town, I remember the sound of 88's and some guy hollering "Incoming". An awful whining sound they made, then Bang! as they tore up the ground where they struck where I had just left in time.
A young boy just turned into a Man that day. It was from this very town that I was sent out on patrol again, and coming back from patrol I began to take on enemy fire once again. I told the others to cross over a small bridge while I kept the enemy at bay, and returned fire.
Now I was a poor shot and I doubt if I could have hit my target but fire I did. Anyway, we were all by this time Combat soldiers and did what we had to do to survive. The young lives that would be given that others might live to finish this war would lie ahead of all of us.
----- Roy L. Gray
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 100th Infantry Division
100th Infantry Division
100th Infantry Division -- Century
ETO Order of Battle: Divisions
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "The First Few Days of Combat for a Young Soldier in 1944", by Roy L. Gray, 3rd Platoon, B Company, 100th DNF, 399th Regiment, was originally published as The War as I Remembered It.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the son of Mr. Gray, Mr. G. Gray.
Original Story submitted on 19 January 2005.
Story added to website on 1 February 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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