February 18, 1944
Allied forces moving inland from Anzio beachheads came under heavy attack, as the German Army launched a major counter offensive against the advancing allies.
The German drive created a hole two-miles deep into the 45th Infantry Division's line.
Reinforcements are being rushed to the front to ward off a German breakthrough to Anzio.
-World Press Service
-till death do us part.
A line of fire digging at his heels would do that--bring to mind a vow befitting a man married to the military. The line overtook him a few feet short of a narrow creek bed, slicing through his right side and catapulting him feet first into a thick clump of brush. The last thing he remembered was a burning sensation in his lower body, followed by a numbing feeling, before his descent into darkness.
He awoke to a steady rain tapping on his head. He attempted to shift into a more comfortable position, but pain radiated in every direction and he paused to gain his bearings.
How long had he been out?
In the distance he heard the muted thumps of mortar shells and machine gun fire, followed by the barking of orders...in German.
He turned his attention to his wounds, matted mud concealing the extent of them except for the gash producing a deep red blotch in his pants. He was stranded behind enemy lines, badly wounded, and help would not be quick in coming.
Shielded from direct view, his best chance was to remain still and hope the shifting tides of battle gave his fellow grunts the opportunity to rescue him. Otherwise, he would wait until dark, unless he bled to death, first.
He snatched a packet of sulfa drugs from his pocket and emptied it onto the gash, the seeping blood draining the stuff off in red rivulets. He reached through a tear in his uniform, ripped off his undershirt and secured it around the wound.
He lapsed into a semi-conscious state, gazing forlornly through a small gap in the twigs and branches. Wisps of smoke mingled with the cold rain and burning diesel fuel to form noxious air from which, like his lair, there was no apparent escape. Yet another reminder that he had tasted the stench of one too many battlefields.
A dead cow lay between a cluster of burned out tanks and armored vehicles, its stomach ripped half open by the line of fire, its stubby legs pointing skyward.
Nausea soon joined his pain, threatening to drain what survival instinct he had left. But, both were scattered by a burst of gunfire that split the settled silence followed by a responding burst from across the field.
He had heard of trailers, troops whose job it was to 'finalize' the field following an engagement. Separated from his weapon, he was left to play spectator.
Tugging at the twigs with his free hand, he widened his window. Two German soldiers lifted their dead from the field and stacked them like cordwood next to a tree. Some of the dead were nearly naked, blown out of their uniforms and boots by heavy artillery. One corpse, burnt black and crisp, they hovered over for a while, apparently debating whether or not it was one of their own. Poking at the smoldering clump with the tips of their boots, they bent to examine it, before deciding to leave it be.
He used his attention to the soldiers' activities to keep himself conscious, unaware of a third approaching him from behind, until it was too late. He made eye contact with the intruder, more out of instinct than instruction.
The man towering over him with a rifle cradled against his breast and water dripping from the brim of his helmet was a first sergeant of middle age, medium height, and lean build. But for a nasty scar rimming his right cheek, he could have been describing himself, down to the dark brown eyes peering from behind a mud-speckled face, eyes that remained focused on his.
Where was his note...damn it! Where the hell was his note!
Still in his pants, he suddenly realized.
Oh, God, how stupid of him!
He wanted to check his pocket for it, but he knew any movement of the sort would spell instant death for him.
"Should the time ever come, go out like a professional," his father said once, as the soldier leveled his weapon and carefully looked about, as if looking for witnesses.
"Steh auf!" the German said, abruptly shouldering his rifle with one hand while extending the other.
Surprised, yet suspicious, he remained still, keeping eye contact.
"Steh auf!" the German repeated, motioning with his hand.
So, it may be a ruse, but what did he have to lose?
He grabbed for the outstretched hand, an onrush of pain preventing any further movement. The German dropped to one knee, wrapped a muscular arm around his shoulders, then pulled him to his feet.
They stood for a moment in the rain, steadying their legs. He could feel only one of his, numbness having nearly taken control of the entire right side of his body.
The German guided him to a nearby oak tree and propped him up against the trunk, before loosening his grip.
"Gehen Sie so," he said, standing aside to point in the direction of a lone farmhouse located a quarter of a mile down a cobblestone path.
"Gehen Sie so," the soldier said again, before loping off in the opposite direction.
His fear faded along with the departing German, and pain reclaimed his attention. He wiped at his eyes, surveying the expanse of land between him and the farmhouse. If he were to remain upright, he would have to traverse it tree by tree.
Overhead, American artillery shells whistled past, the pattern broken by the swish of an errant one, as it tumbled end over end toward him. He braced himself as the shell landed and detonated in a nearby treetop, the explosion showering shrapnel in every direction.
Gathering whatever strength remained, he took the first step, glancing at his foot to verify its movement.
This must be what a peg-legged man feels.
He stumbled forward. He made the fifteen yards to the first tree, hugging it like a rushing toddler would a mother's knee. Ten yards, twenty yards, fifteen yards, each additional stretch took him closer to the farmhouse, until he ran out of trees fifty yards short of his goal.
He wiped at his eyes again, attempting to glean a sign of life ahead.
"What the hell," he mumbled, shoving himself away from the tree and reeling to and fro down the cobbled path.
Almost there, he drifted into semi-consciousness, losing his balance, hearing a voice.
"Hey, Flaherty! Is that you?"