The night passed without further incursions into the line of Charlie. Periodic flares were sent up to confirm that. As a medic, Billy was not required to stand watch, as it would do no good to have an unarmed man watching over the others. Tucked below the ground with his back up against the wall and his knees pulled in, sleep came fitfully. Every sound started him awake. The adrenaline was still flowing interrupting his sleep. His mind was in overdrive. Since the landing, his mind had hardly thought of home. But his subconscious was longing to be there. He had entered a hell that he had no words would describe. Nothing in his training could replicate what little of battle he had seen. He wondered what it would be like in a year if he was lucky enough to go home. Would he sleep then ?
He dreamt of his home and his father. The study, where he often found him and played as a child. He could smell the fresh brewed coffee that his Dad loved so much. He talked to him and his dad laughed and gave him a hug. When he awoke, he could not remember what they had talked about. He did feel that hug. Strong and playful.
“Rucker…Rucker !…..Wake up Dammit.” Doc kicked some dirt onto his helmet.
Billy looked up at the dark figure over him. The sky was turning into grey. 0530 hours. “Yes, Doc. I’m awake. You need help ?”
“Naw. Just time to get up. Do your business and meet me at the CP at zero six.”
He found it hard to move his legs into a position to stand up but slowly managed. He was sore everywhere. Stein was next to him curled up. The movement in the hole aroused him slowly. Billy looked over to Doyle and Andrews hole. Andrews was as he had seen him at last light. Vigilantly looking outward and had his hands on the BAR. Once again he pulled a K ration out and proceeded to make himself ersatz coffe, cold. He needed all the energy he could get. The food was as tasteless as the box waxed cardboard it came in but it was food. He took the cigarettes and tossed them at Stein.
“Hey, I don’t smoke. You can have mine.”
“Thanks. You’z alright, Doc,” Stein said and proceeded to unwrap the package and light one up. He stayed below the parapet to hide the glow.
Billy crawled out of the foxhole and went to the rear of the assembly area and filled his second canteen. He needed to brush his teeth and wash his face. His face didn’t grow enough hair yet to worry about shaving. Some of the older men had a full shadow on their faces. Shaving wasn’t a priority in combat. The impregnated uniforms that they were issued to help resist any chemical attack were now stiffening with the sweat, grime and blood of combat. Everyone stank and no one cared. They wouldn’t be standing inspections any time soon.
At the CP, Captain Shilling was looking haggard but managed to remain full of resolute enthusiasm. The platoon leaders and their NCO’s listened intently.
“As you know, we are acting as the reserve company today. Able and Charlie will move south. Scouts have reported that an encampment is to our south across the river. It looks to be a marshaling place for troops and supply. Force strength unknown. By the end of the day we are to be at or beyond the St. Lo rail line. Once they reach and assault the first objective, they will move on and we will secure the area. At any time we may be called on for additional duty. Platoon leaders get with your NCO’s and look at the maps. If we are needed, I don’t want any radio calls telling me you are lost. Moving in and out of these hedgerows…well, anything can happen. Be alert, stay alive. One hour till jump off. Get moving.”
Doc recommended that they keep with the plan they had been using since D-Day. Billy would trail with Second Platoon. Doc would mingle with the others. They moved close enough together so that each of them could easily make contact if needed. Walking back to his foxhole he noticed some faces he hadn’t seen before. They were conspicuous due to their relatively clean uniforms. Lieutenant Beasley was dropping them off to the NCO’s of each Platoon. There had to be at least twenty of them. Replacements. Had that many men died ? He had lost count.
Four of them were left with Sergeant Dice. “You know why you are replacements ?” he asked the nervous looking bunch. “That’s because you are replacing someone who is dead or shot to hell. Don’t think for a minute you are going to come into my platoon acting like a jackass. Better men than you aint made it five miles into France. We are dealing with hardened, battle tested men. They would like nothing more than to slit your throat or put a bullet right between your eyes and take pictures of your girlfriend and momma and put them up in the latrine. You listen. Keep your fucking heads down. And God Dammit, use your fucking rifles. I find one of you cowering on the ground and not shooting, I’ll save the Krauts a bullet. You will pull up the rear today. Watch and learn. Got it ?”
“Yes, Sergeant,” they said.
“Jones, Dawkins ! Get these men ready for war.”
What a terrible way to start a war, though Billy. At least he had several months of training, England and a few weeks to get to know the guys in the Company. Five months ago, these guys were probably still civilians. If they survived their first combat, they might be alright. He thought about talking to them for a minute but the memories he already had made him veer away from them. He might be yanking their dog tags by the end of the day.
“You ready for another day on the job, Doc ?” Doyle asked, still in his foxhole.
“Just as ready as you.” Billy walked over and jumped into the hole.
“Where is Andrews at ?”
“I dunno. He disappears sometimes. Guy scares the living shit out of me sometimes. Been with him since Sicily. He’s kept me alive so far. I just hope my luck doesn’t run out.” “He sure seems to enjoy this. Where is he from ?”
“Oh, he does. Sergeant Dice is just as good but he aint mean like Buzz. Dice has knocked off a hell of a lot of Krauts but he moves on. Buzz is just a plain killer. I know he is from Chicago. He never gets any letters from home though. Rumor has it that he grew up in an orphanage. He told me he worked for some ‘Business’ men before the war. Said he collected rent and stuff from people. I don’t think the first time he shot a gun was in Basic.”
“Good morning to ya, boys.” Father Quinn crouched down next to the men.
“Hey, Father. I was wondering when we would see you again. Have you met our new medic, Rucker?” Doyle turned to Billy.
“Aye, I have. We met yesterday. He helped me find the line. Are you doing alright?”
“Well, Father, I’m still alive. And you?”
“I’m as well as can be expected. I pray for the lots of you every time I get the chance,” Father Quinn put his hand on Doyle’s shoulder and patted it. “Hopefully, we can resume our services once we get a firm position. Where is Corporal Andrews? He hasn’t been wounded has he?”
“No sir. I haven’t seen him this morning. I’m sure he will be glad to know you asked about him.” “All right then. I know you boys need to get ready. If you need anything, tell the Sergeant. God be with you today,” he said and moved down the line.
Billy was surprised that Andrews and a man of the cloth had a relationship. He also felt uncomfortable around the priest. It was unthinkable to call a man ‘Father’ in a spiritual sense. All of his life he had felt prejudiced against Catholicism. Dad had had no ill will towards the Catholic people but often mentioned their errors and faults and rejected their beliefs and the priesthood. This certainly wasn’t a time to ponder the merits of his faith over others. Father Quinn obviously was loved by the men and he was moving among them. Where was Major Wadsworth?