A World War II Unforgettable Experience
I was a soldier during World War II. Our company was an advanced ordnance field unit closely following the invasion into the Normandy beaches of France on June 6, 1944. Once the shores were secured the allied forces fought their way slowly inland over the next several weeks.
One day before dawn, my buddies and I were startled out of our slit trenches. The deafening roar of studded formations of heavy American heavy bombers filled the sky. We were told there were three thousand aircraft, the greatest array of air power ever displayed during the war. We cheered until we were hoarse. They were on a surprise raid to break the impasse of the German stronghold in the city of St. Lo. The success of that mission became the springboard for the armies to make major rapid advances toward Paris.
Shortly after the raid our company commander, directed us to break camp immediately. We were urgently called to lead a convoy of armored vehicles and munitions supplies to our front line troops moving ahead. I was assigned to ride in the point vehicle, an uncovered 6x6 truck, awaiting a new canvas. It was a drab and unusually cold and rainy afternoon. I envied all those who rode in sheltered vehicles. All twenty of us huddled together against the biting wind. Standing firm we held on to the rails and open roof supports. Our driver rumbled along the hilly, pot-holed roads. Rounding a curve heading up a steep incline I saw far in the distance, through the mist and rain, a sprawling village crested atop a craggy hill. Below and behind us was our convoy of one hundred forty odd vehicles following in unison with a steady engine roar.
Approaching the village at dusk I was dumbstruck with the unfolding scene. Every church bell tolled non-stop. The citizens lined both sides of the road waving and cheering as one. Their reaction was a spontaneous explosion of energy, joy and tears. They were oblivious to the cold, windy rain. Our driver slowed. We were spellbound and overcome with this gratuitous reception. With the site of our massive convoy approaching they realized they were indeed liberated. They threw flowers and food toward us. We responded with cigarettes and candy. We pumped our fists with tears of joy. Every child, woman, farmer and worker reached out to us as we edged our way up through the village. Needless to say we were so energized by this once in a lifetime experience that we rode the rest of the night to our destination without a grumble about the weather. We each quietly absorbed, in our own way, the fullness of this spontaneous happening.
Burned into my soul to this day is the eye contact I had with all those beautiful French citizens. Their relief and gratitude at finally being freed from their Nazi oppressors spoke volumes to me as to why it was an honor to serve during that war. It was indeed, an unparalleled and unforgettable treasured moment of communion with people of another culture forever reminding me that we are all one where love abounds.
I am proud to say that Ash Rothlein is a student of my Writing About Your Life class at Tri-County Community College. This story was published by the Clay County Progress of Hayesville, NC along with several wonderful photos for their Veterans Day issue. Other than letters, Ash said he was not a writer, but now says he plans to write more about his life experiences.
Thanks, Ash, for letting me share your story with my readers.