Handwriting on the Wall

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Another true story told to me by a veteran who is no longer with us.

It was a bad winter that year, 1944. No unit was up to strength. They had taken too many casualties, but that was no excuse. Besides, the Army wasn't interested in excuses. The Army wanted results.

The Germans (Bernie called them Krauts) were ensconced in a French chateau near the border. They had turned the place into a salient guarding an important road. The weather was too foul to call in air strikes, the armored division tanks were bogged down in mud and artillery was in short supply. Bernie's infantry company would have to take the compound by storm.

The plan was to make the assault under the cover of darkness. They would use the woods to get as close as possible. They hoped to cross the remaining ground with minimum losses. It wasn't much of a plan, but nobody had a better idea.

The sergeant "volunteered" Bernie for the grappling team which would scale the high wall surrounding the chateau and open the gate from the inside. The entire operation depended upon it.

They made it through the woods without incident and hunkered down just inside the tree line. They awaited the appointed hour. The soldiers checked their equipment, double checked it, triple checked it. Each man made final preparations according to his own particular faith.

It had been easy thus far. The German sentries had been uncharacteristically lax in their duties. That worried Bernie. "These aren't the Krauts I know," he thought, "I wonder what they're up to." He may have despised the Germans, but Bernie never made the mistake of underestimating them.

A soldier tripped; his weapon discharged. The element of surprise was lost. The plan fell apart. The lieutenant ordered, "Go, dammit, go!"

Bernie rushed headlong through blinding snowfall. He ran smack into the chateau wall. Dazed, he landed flat on his back. That was probably the safest place to be. Fighting was heavy all around by then. There was shooting in every direction. A man screamed somewhere in the night. Bernie knew what that meant.

The grappling hook held on the first try. Bernie was the second man up. As he topped the wall, a bullet whined overhead. Bernie discharged a half clip of ammunition into the darkness.

The team dropped down inside the wall, found the gate and felt around for the latch. It wasn't locked. "This has to be a trap," Bernie thought, "Krauts don't make mistakes like that."

The team leader opened the gate and gave the signal — flash, flash, pause, flash. GIs poured into the compound. They found a door. They kicked it down and tossed in a couple of grenades. With a knot in his stomach and a prayer on his lips, Bernie charged inside.

The chateau was deserted. The Germans had abandoned it, probably the night before. They had taken whatever they could carry and destroyed everything else of value. The only thing they had left behind was graffiti.

Pvt. Bernstein sat on the floor and cleaned his rifle. He saw the handwriting on the wall, but he didn't understand German.

Copyright © 2011 - 2015 W.C. Bell; All rights reserved.

Submitted: January 22, 2015

© Copyright 2022 Whiskey Charlie. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:


Joseph Mark

It is great how you retell these old war stories. I guess the Germans got the last laugh by leaving.

Thu, January 22nd, 2015 1:39pm


I heard that story around 1950 when I was a kid. The really appalling thing to me was how many Americans were killed or wounded in the confusion of a night attack on an abandoned building.

Thu, January 22nd, 2015 5:51am

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