Monday, November 09, 2015

A Salute to Veterans

Tales of a Texas Boy are stories my father told me about his life in West Texas as a child. When WWII started, my father signed up, of course. His father (my grandpa) served in the military as a veternarian. This is his story.

Excerpt - Pa's Story

World War I took many young men away from their homes and sent them off to foreign shores. Eddie's Pa was one of those young men. He has his own tale to tell.

In 1916, I was still a young buck and not yet married, so I signed up with Black Jack Pershing to go after Pancho Villa. Ol' Pancho and his banditos came into US territory and killed a bunch of folks in Columbus, New Mexico.

I was real good with horses, so soon I was the veterinarian. This was just as well, as I didn't take well to using a gun. I'd never studied vetting in school, but I'd grown up on a farm in Nebraska and knew just about all there was to know about horses and mules. We chased Pancho and his gang just about all over Mexico, but never did catch up with him. A couple years later, I was still in the service, so I ended up goin' to France with Black Jack when he got to be a General. I could have decided not to go as I'd done my time, but I knew Black Jack could put me to good use.

We were on the troop ship for weeks. Everybody was seasick for the first few days. The horses seemed to fare fine in that regard, but I was worried we couldn't exercise them enough. We brought them up from the hold, a few at a time, and let them stretch their legs. We'd lead them in a quick walk around the deck. With the metal decks, we didn't want them to move very fast for fear they'd slip and fall.

I'd hate to have to put down a horse with a broken leg, so we took it real easy. As a result, the horses were not in good fightin' shape by the time we landed in France.

It took some time, but me and Joe, who got assigned to be my assistant, got them in shape again. Mostly the horses were used to pack gear, but a few officers still rode them. Black Jack Pershing liked to ride on occasion, as did Captain Patton. I thought we should only have mules, since they make better pack animals than horses, but there were never enough mules to go around.

We weren't in too many battles directly as we were the supply line for the army, but in 1918 it turned pretty bad when we went into the Argonne Forest. They called this an 'offensive.' I can see why as it offended me a lot. The fighting went on for nearly two months and only ended in November when the big guys signed the Treaty at Versailles.

In that short two months, it was hell on earth. Thousands of men died. One whole division, the 77th, was cut off for near a week and held out surrounded by the German forces. It was some battle, I can tell you. Almost all day long, I could hear the shells bursting and the sharp reports of rifle fire. And I heard the screams of dying men and horses.

The worst part for me was the horses being swept up in the middle of the battle. It broke my heart to go out on the fields after the fighting passed by and after the dead and wounded men were collected. Sometimes the ground was so soaked with blood that my boots were covered before I got back. A horse with an artery torn open bleeds gallons of blood; men only a few pints. It angered me when I thought how much the horses gave. They didn't even have a say in goin' to war. Men, at least, had a choice.

I carried a sidearm and had to shoot more horses than I can count. Those we could save, we'd bring back to the line and see if we could treat their wounds. It was a second heartbreak when they wouldn't heal proper and we'd take them out behind the tents to put them down. We dug a deep trench to bury them for health reasons and we kept digging every day to hold them all.

While we treated the horses, close by we could see the wounded men being brought back from the battlefield. Legs and arms were already gone or had to be cut off by the doctors right there in the field. From the history I'd read about the Civil War, this was just about as bad. If the choice was amputate or die, then they had to do what was necessary. We dug another trench to hold the arms and legs the doctors cut off; the dead soldiers we wrapped in oilcloth to be sent back behind the lines, where we hoped to send their bodies back home to their families.

All told I spent twenty months in France. It was the worst part of my life and I hoped and prayed we'd never see another war like this again.

* * *

Pa's story made me sad in a way, though I was proud of him for what he did in the war. It seemed to me people should learn to get along. I never was sure why Pa had to go to France. Later in my own life, I'd learn what it was to go to war. I was lucky to not go overseas, but somethin' in me wished I had.
* * *

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Little Eddie tells some almost true Tall Tales set in West Texas of the 1930s. Guess what's true and what Eddie fudged on. Was it about the bear? Cage McNatt's prize sow? The skunk in the cornpatch? Guaranteed for a chuckle and maybe a tear here and there.



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