Veteran Stories:
George Wagner

Army

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We landed in France, five days or more after landing. We weren’t on the initial landing. We landed about five to seven days later. And we got inland and the first thing they told us, get rid of your gas mask. And I thought, what? They said, you have no need for the gas mask. And I said, what? I’ve been carrying it around for five years and, or four years, and you now, you don’t need it? And he says, well, the only thing that was good about it, we used to put a lot of stuff in the gas, in a bag of the gas mask, like candies and cookies and cigarettes, and all that.

Anyway, one night about the third day, about 10:00 at night, they came by with army trucks; and they said, okay, get aboard, we’re taking you up to the [battle] front. I thought, what? Ten o’clock at night? But, anyway, we got on the trucks; and we had to stand up, they really pushed us in there and we didn’t sit down, of course. They could get more people in the truck standing up.

So we rolled for about 10 or 12, or 15 miles, I don’t know, and we got off; and they said, we have troops already online outside of this village and we want to relieve them, so you guys will take over there. They’re in foxholes [small dugouts] and it’s at the end of an orchard. And you guys, they will get out of the foxholes, they’ve been in there for days and you will jump in, take over and they’ll go back, and rest. Okay.

So it came, we headed for the foxholes; and on the way, we passed by a colonel standing on the side of the road watching us. Anyway, we came by a bunch of trees and I saw a partial body hanging in one of the trees. And a colonel was standing there watching our reaction. And some guys looked and some guys looked [and said], ohhhh. So I went by; and I winked at him, just like saying, ah, it’s okay.

So anyway, when we got up to the apple orchard, they were on the outside of an apple orchard, and they had just dug in there. And they were supposed to get out and we were supposed to get in. But when we got there, they didn’t get out, so we couldn’t get in. And [one of my sergeants] he says, keep moving, keep moving. So we walked out to the apple orchard and all hell broke loose. You could hear the Germans. Their rifles were all automatic. They didn’t go bang, bang, bang. They went [noise]. They shot maybe 10 or 12 bullets at a time. And I said to one of my sergeants, what the hell: they got automatic rifles and we got single shot rifles? What the hell are you…[what the hell] is going on? He says, never mind, keep moving, keep moving.

So I was a mortar man. So I’m going along and I got the [ammunition] sack, three [mortar] shells in front, three shells in back. And all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose. So I hit the grass. But I was like a turtle because I had the ammunition on the front and the back; and when I hit the ground, I was like just, floating in the air. So what I did, I took that ammunition off me, tied the straps around my leg and crawled, and pulled the ammunition behind me. I didn’t want to stand up because I wouldn’t be up much longer.

Anyway, I’m crawling along and dragging the shells behind me in a bag, in the canvas bag that I had over my body. And I’m pulling myself along and all of a sudden, I see a 60 millimeter [M2] mortar [light-weight firing weapon] that uses these shells laying on the ground. And I’m thinking, what the hell happened? And Mac was the charge or the mortar, and I’m thinking, where’s the hell’s Mac? So I go up and I go by a mortar laying on the ground. And me crawling with straps around my leg, pulling the ammunition. And I’m thinking, well, what the hell good is the ammunition without the mortar? Where the hell is Mac?

So anyway, I crawl through the orchard and I got up to the trees. We got up to the trees and there’s Mac. I says, Mac, what the hell are you doing here? What did you do with them? What did you do with the mortar? He says, I threw it away, I threw it away. I said, what do you mean ̶ that’s the weapon. I’ve got the ammunition, you’ve got the mortar. He says, I don’t want it; I don’t want it, it’s a death trap, it’s a death trap. [laughs] So I says, okay, Mac, I’ll trade you. You take the ammunition and I’ll take the mortar, alright? [The] mortar’s 49 pounds or something like that.

So he says, yeah, yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. When you’ve got ammunition, you drop it off at the gunner’s site where he’s firing from and you go back for a refill. And that’s what he wanted to do, go back for refill, get the hell out of the orchard. [laughs]

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