Saturday, October 11, 2014

Near Beek, Holland- Operation Market Garden 1944: Dwayne Burns 508th PIR, 82nd Airborne

1 Lt. Polette, 508th, 82nd Abn
Up the road heading for Beek to counterattack the 3rd Battalion came what looked like an enormous slice of the German Army.  My view was limited through the trees, but there were more enemy troops than I had ever seen at one time.  They were walking along in three columns at route-step and they didn't even know we were right there above them. 
     A realistic guess would be that this was a battalion, maybe reinforced, or some other portion from a larger unit.  What really set it off was the staff car with the top down and some high-ranking officer riding in the back, acting like he was number one.
     Hollywood could not have created a better scene.  They had come right up the road toward us as if they had never heard of the American Army.
     With them right under our noses I found myself nearly afraid to breathe lest they hear me.  Since we were limited in numbers I thought maybe if we stayed hidden they would just pass on by and go into town where the 3rd Battalion plus F Company could show them a real good time.
Lt. Polette, probably at the Sissone Wishing Well 
     "My gosh, what are we going to do?"  I said. "There are so many of them." 
     Polette was right beside me but I didn't really know who I was speaking to.  I guess I was talking to myself, because Polette suddenly swing his Thompson machine gun off his shoulder.  I looked over at him and he turned and looked back.
     With a quick double shift of his eyebrows he said, "Let's go get 'em."
     His voice sounded so causal and his expression so smug, one might think we were sitting in a pub and were going to try to pick up a couple of girls at the next table.  I wanted to ask, "Get 'em with what?"
     Without another moment's hesitation, and even though we were greatly outnumbered, he took off down the hill.  I was still trying to ready my own weapon and join the run when Lieutenant Polette starting firing his first shots.  Now, it must be explained, all the troopers of F Company would have followed him to hell and back if the lieutenant said we could do it and would lead the way, so down the hill we went.  This action isn't in the books and remains unknown in war history, except for the few troopers who were there and survived, but it had to be one of the greatest classic battle charges of the European campaign.  
     There were only thirty or forty of us on that part of the hill, but there were several hundred enemy soldiers at the bottom.  Slamming down the hill, firing from the hip and screaming at the top of our lungs, we acted like crazed Indians on the warpath, and suddenly this hill was the Little Big Horn, with General George Custer waiting below.  
     Despite being few in number we had great willpower, and with each step, with each scream, our spirits became wilder.  The Germans we unleashed ourselves upon must have felt our energy.  They likely had sensed our determination and, not knowing our true head count, had surely visualized their own massacre.  Our advantage was the tree cover and the Germans were in the open.  The platoon was spread wide, and below it must have sounded like the gunfire came from the entire hill.  The Jerrys broke and ran like whipped puppies.  It almost looked like an organized move.  That is to say, they all turned tail and ran as one.  We started to cut down the hill at an angle and ran after them until we got to the road.  There Polette called a halt.  
     He shouted his orders, "This is as far as we go! Pick your targets."  He dropped down on one knee for better aim, and his Thompson jumped every time he cut loose.  
     I took a place at the roadway's edge and picked a target.  Down on the flats the Germans were running for their lives.  There was no cover.  All they could do was try to get out of our range.  There were so many of them I found it unusually hard to concentrate on one mark at a time.  
     Only one German seemed willing to stand and fight, and he was in the back of the staff car, madder than hell.  His driver had turned off the road and was gunning ahead of the rushing retreat.  The officer stood up, shouting and waving his arms, trying vainly to get his men to stop and reorganize.  But the soldiers had the bit in their teeth and there was no stopping them.  We urged them to continue on their way with a helpful repetition of small-weapons fire. 
     As the last Germans made his escape to a range of safety, we finally stopped firing and sat down to watch them finish their way across the flats.  Between the two sides, one could see scattered pieces of equipment and dead or writhing Krauts for a thousand yards.  The "devils in baggy pants"-- the German nickname for us paratroopers-- had scared them off again. 
     After a brief pause from our mad sprint down the hill, we withdrew back to the top and set up an organized defensive position in a pear orchard.  The view was good there.  We knew it was only a matter of time, however, until the Germans would regroup and start back.  Maybe this time they'd hit us with artillery fire.  But we figured they wouldn't try coming across the open flats again. 

"JUMP Into the Valley of the Shadow"- Dwayne Burns 
pages 121-123


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