What a whiff!
Freshly moistened mud, cordite, and brass coming together to start an offensive.
“Stinky, stop your naval gazing and watch the line!” Lt. Collins barks in my direction.
He just wants to look good for the brass.
“Hey Pokey, what’s the brass doing here anyway?” I ask the GI sitting next to me.
“How’s I t’know? Looks if he’s watch’n,” Pokey replies.
“He better watch me. I'm gonna kill me 25 of them Nazis!” Straureman blurts in a loud voice that echoes across the field.
“Shut it, Straus!’ Lt. Collins yells over our heads to drown out the now discernible and increasing buzz of heavy bombers approaching.
The brass is crouching there, in the foxhole next to Lt. Collins, binoculars in hand, scanning across the short distance to the German lines.
Three stars per shoulder. That’s the most brass I’ve ever seen in one place at one time.
We all fall silent as the bombers approach, our nerve ends sharpening to the crescendo of roaring engines.
My left hand pushes into the mud of the foxhole, refreshing in its cool, moist, softness.
Next to me, Pokey’s eyes are locked on the sky, his jaw agape at the site of more than a thousand bombers overhead.
“I’d hate bein’ on th’ other end o’ that!” Pokey yells in order to be heard above the din.
I smile, pushing my whole tense body ever harder against the soft mud.
“Bombs a fall’n!” Pokey mumbles to himself, his eyes still locked on the bombers.
My head lifts away from the mud, small bits of its brown soft drops dripping from the right side of my helmet. In the sky, I can see hundreds, maybe thousands, of small black dots falling gently toward the earth.
The Germans are only a few hundred yards away, yet those bombs look like they're falling right above us.
As I watch the little black dots turn into ever-larger objects, it hits me that they are still moving forward.
Of course, they had to let them go over us so that they’d fly over to the German lines.
The massive box of bombers keeps moving forward.
Turning my head to the left, I can see between the clouds a long line of planes coming in after the ones overhead.
Each box of planes, in its turn, let fall hundreds of little black dots.
Farther and farther back in the line, the black dots start falling from the planes.
If the bombs overhead are falling on the Germans, and the planes are miles and miles behind us, where will those bombs released earlier fall?
Pokey’s eyes cannot break free from the planes and bombs descending toward the earth.
Just about 300 yards away, a bright light erupts from the earth, followed almost instantly by a deafening explosion of bombs and napalm.
If the first bombs hit just right there, then the ones released before that same point are going to march this way!
My head jerks up again. The bombs are falling ever farther and farther back now.
They are releasing too soon!
We’re in the path!
Run, or stay in my foxhole?
“RUN!” I yell at the top of my lungs. “RUN BACK! RUN BACK AS FAST AS YOU CAN!” my mouth screams at full pitch as my body ascends from the thick mud in an effort to make as much distance between myself and the soon to be explosions on our line.
Pokey fumbles next to me, still looking up at the sky.
“GET BACK IN YOUR FOXHOLE!” Lt. Collins screams.
But more men begin getting up to run.
As I pass, my head turns in the direction of Lt. Collins. I notice even the three-star general starting to get up.
“RUN, SIR, RUN!” I yell as I fly by their slit trench.
A bright light engulfs me as I'm hurled into the air.
On July 25, 1944, the Allies began their breakout from the Normandy Beachhead in operation COBRA. As a preliminary step in softening the German positions, more than 1,500 Allied heavy and medium bombers dropped bombs and napalm on the German lines, sometimes just a few hundred yards from American positions. Unfortunately, for the 2nd battalion of the 120th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division, some of the bombs were released too soon. The men of the 2nd battalion had just moments before, considered themselves lucky to be in the presence of Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, probably the highest-ranking officer any of them had ever seen. General McNair was the architect of the U.S. land army whom General George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff, called “The Brains of the Army.” He was also sadly the highest-ranking officer killed in combat in World War II. He died along with 111 U.S. soldiers. Another 490 were wounded. This event was the most catastrophic friendly fire incident for the Allies in World War II. On the previous day, 25 U.S. soldiers were killed and 130 wounded in a similar incident. Despite these tragic losses, the aerial bombing was a success and broke the German lines. Operation COBRA was also a profound success, leading to the liberation of France.
Two weeks after Lieutenant General McNair’s death, his son, Colonel Douglas McNair, was killed by a Japanese sniper on Guam.