history being made each day

August 4, 2017

The wheat was ripe but there was no one there to cut it now, and tank tracks led through it to where the tanks lay pushed into the hedge that topped the ridge that looked across the wooded country to the hill we would have to take tomorrow. There was no one between us and the Germans in that wooded country and on the hill. We knew they had some infantry there and between fifteen and forty tanks. But the division had advanced so fast that the division on its left had not come up, and all this country that you looked across, seeing the friendly hills, the valleys, the farmhouses with their fields and orchards, and the gray-walled, slate-roofed buildings of the town with its sharp-pointing church tower, was all one open flank. All of it was deadly.

The division had not advanced beyond its objective. It had reached its objective, the high ground we were now on, exactly when it should have. It had been doing this for day after day after day after week after month now. No one remembered separate days any more, and history, being made each day, was never noticed but only merged into a great blur of tiredness and dust, of the smell of dead cattle, the smell of earth new-broken by TNT, the grinding sound of tanks and bulldozers, the sound of automatic-rifle and machine-gun fire, the interceptive, dry rattle of German machine-pistol fire, dry as a rattler rattling; and the quick, spurting tap of the German light machine-guns—and always waiting for others to come up.

It was merged in the memory of the fight up out of the deadly, low hedgerow country onto the heights and through the forest and on down into the plain, by and through the towns, some smashed, and some intact, and on up into the rolling farm and forest country where we were now.

History now was old K-ration boxes, empty foxholes, the drying leaves on the branches that were cut for camouflage. It was burned German vehicles, burned Sherman tanks, many burned German Panthers and some burned Tigers, German dead along the roads, in the hedges and in the orchards, German equipment scattered everywhere, German horses roaming the fields, and our own wounded and our dead passing back strapped two abreast on top of the evacuation jeeps. But mostly history was getting where we were to get on time and waiting there for others to come up.

Now on this clear summer afternoon we stood looking across the country where the division would fight tomorrow. It was one of the first days of the really good weather. The sky was high and blue, and ahead and to our left, our planes were working on the German tanks. Tiny and silver in the sun, the P-47s came in high in pairs of pairs and circled before peeling off to dive-bomb. As they went down, growing big-headed and husky-looking in the snarl of the dive you saw the flash and the smoke of the bombs and heard their heavy thud. Then the P-47s climbed and circled again to come down strafing, smoke streaming gray behind them as they dived ahead of the smoke their eight big .50s made as they hammered. There was a very bright flash in the trees of the wooded patch the planes were diving on, and then black smoke arose and the planes came down strafing again and again.

“They got a Jerry tank then,” one of the tank men said.

“That’s one of the b—s less.”

“Can you see him with your glasses?” another helmeted tank man asked me.

I said, “The trees hide him from this side.”‘

“They would,” the tank man said. “If we used cover like those damned Krauts, a lot more guys would get to Paris or Berlin or wherever it is we’re going.”

“Home,” another man said. “That’s all I care about going. That’s where I’m going. All those other places will be off limits anyway. We’re never going in no town.”

“Take it easy,” another soldier said. “Take it a day at a time.”

“Say, correspondent,” another soldier called. “One thing I can’t understand. You tell me, will you? What are you doing here if you don’t have to be here? Do you do it just for the money?”

“Sure,” I said. “Big money. Lots of money.”

“It don’t make sense to me,” he said seriously. “I understand anybody doing it that has to do it. But doing it for money don’t make sense. There ain’t the money in the world to pay me for doing it.”

A German high-explosive shell with a time fuse cracked overhead and to our right, leaving a black puff of smoke in the air.

“Those lousy Krauts shot that stuff too high,” the soldier who wouldn’t do it for money said.

Just then the German artillery started shelling the hill on our left where one of the battalions of the first of the three infantry regiments in the division lay above the town. The side of the hill was jumping into the air in spurting dark fountains from the multiple bursts.

“They’ll shoot on us next,” one of the tank men said. “They’ve got good observation on us here.”

“Lay down under the back of the tank there if they start to shoot,” the big tank man who had told the other soldier to take it a day at a time said. “That’s the best place to be.”

“She looks sort of heavy,” I told him. “Suppose you have to start backing out in a hurry?”

“I’ll holler to you,” he grinned. Our 105s opened up behind us in counter-battery fire, and the German shelling stopped. A Piper Cub was circling slowly overhead. Another was off to the right.

“They don’t like to shoot when those Cubs are up,” the big tank man said. “They spot the flashes, and then our artillery gives them hell or the planes go in after them.” We stayed there a while but the German artillery only opened at intervals on the hill the battalion was holding. We were not attacking.

“Let’s go back and see where the rest of the combat command has got to,” I said.

“Okay,” said Kimbrough, who drove the captured German motorcycle we rode on. “Let’s go.”

Ernest Hemingway
The GI and the General
Colliers Weekly, November 4, 1944

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