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Journal of Louis Coke

CHAPTER I

The Santa Paula was a good-looking ship. I struggled over the gang plank with
mingled feelings of apprehension and pride, for I knew this was the beginning of a great
adventure. I was unlucky enough to be assigned to D-3, which was perhaps the hottest
and most crowded compartment in the ship. The bunks were three high. I got a middle
one and stowed my duffle bag and equipment away. It had been a hell of a day with
preparations, the long hike to the train carrying about 90 lbs of equipment and now to end
up in this bake oven. I made a mental note of the date, September 11th. In a few minutes it
would be the 12th and weࢥ on our way over there.

I woke to the strange sensation of rolling motion and realized we were under way.
When I reached the deck there was no land in sight. I felt a sudden keen pang of regret
that I hadn೥en the Statue of Liberty. I found that I୩ssed breakfast, a thing I swore
must never happen again when I discovered we had only sandwiches and coffee for
dinner. The Santa Paula had a unique staff of cooks. They concocted the most inedible
mess of ᮣy䩳hes I堥ver had the misfortune to be forced to eat or starve. Eggs
and tomatoes, eggs and peas! I still shudder at the thought! We ate standing up at long
tables where a sense of balance was vital or youଯse half your chow every time the
ship rolled. The salt air must have been the cause but at any rate I was always hungry. At
times I wished I had two meal tickets so I could go through twice. There were others among
us whose stomachs were not as hardy as mine. One poor fellow confided to me that he ate
6 meals a day 䨲ee down and three up. Luckily, we had only one day of really rough
weather and even that could have been much worse. For my part, I enjoyed it immensely
and I sat for hours as far forward as we were allowed, watching the bow rise and fall.

We all worried about mail and I used to lay on my bunk wondering if my folks had
any idea where I was. All the boys used to discuss our destination too. D-3 got to be a
rumor hole so after I discovered the ship had a fairly good library I moved up on deck
and read all day. In the evenings we had movies or we played cards. The days began
speeding by and we knew that soon we would know where we were headed.

Our convoy was quite large and we had destroyer escort. We had a submarine scare
one day and they dropped several depth charges. Rumors said that two subs were sunk
but no one knew for sure. Aside from that, it was a very peaceful trip. We were glad of
that although we had competent Navy gun crews for protection.

Late one evening we sighted land and the convoy anchored in what seemed to be a
bay. The crew said it was England and the lights we saw were Weymouth. We all looked
for the White Cliffs of Dover and were very disappointed to hear they were north of us.
The next day we crossed the dark green waters of the Channel and towards late afternoon
we docked in Cherbourg Harbor. Everyone crowded the rails staring and speculating as to
the future. We were told to pack up and prepare to leave and for hours we waited
impatiently for the signal to unload. A cold downpour further dampened our spirits and
later on, us too. About 11 o쯣k we filed down the gang plank onto a floating dock and
then onto an enormous float barge. It held about 1000 men and we stood on it with all our
equipment for over an hour while the driver went all over the harbor trying to find the
place to dock. We were thoroughly soaked and miserable and we cursed the Army
efficiency as it had never been cursed before. At last we came alongside a pier and tied
up. They started unloading us and it was hell keeping the proper groups together. At last
my feet touched European soil but instead of the thrill I had anticipated I only swore at
the mud and rain. We struggled with our bags, rifles, and packs to a bombed out storage
building where we had another hour wait for vehicles. It was there that we got the
lowdown on France. Several men from a port construction outfit painted glowing pictures
of the French girls and how easy they were to make. We also learned that cigarettes and
rations were worth a fortune (which you gave right back if you bought anything.) We
heard about cognac and calvados (buzz-bomb fluid we call it now.) We were very
interested in everything they said and everyone was still asking questions when the trucks
arrived. We piled on like a bunch of sardines and took off. My first impression of French
towns was not pleasing. The cobbled streets and stone buildings looked unfamiliar and
forbidding. I wondered if they were all like that.

Finally we arrived at the marshalling point where irate officers tried to separate
units and assign them their areas. Another hour and we were told to pick up our bags and
move out to M area. We staggered down a muddy dirt road about a half mile and turned
into a lush green pasture. We dumped our equipment on the ground and waited. After the
necessary(?) lining up, dress right etc. we began pitching tents by squads. But first we
had our first police job in the E.T.O. It was necessary to clean off several hundred cow
pads. We got to work and soon all the tents were up. It was still raining. We crowded
wearily inside and immediately fell into beautiful soothing slumber. we had arrived in
Europe. War was beginning to be a grim reality.



CHAPTER II

When we woke up it was still raining steadily. we were to discover that France was
just one big mud puddle in the days to come. However, we scrambled out into the rain to
get our C ration and a cup of hot water. We grew to hate the monotony of those C rations
and when we got our first K's it was like manna from heaven.

It was quite a busy day. We got our "poop talk" which told us almost nothing. We
did get warned about mines and booby traps and also the warning that no one could be
trusted was sound advice. we went out and bought straw for our tents and I discovered to
my dismay that three years of high school French had left me with a great deal to be
desired in actually speaking the language. The people in Normandy were not very
friendly. I suppose it was because of our bombings. At any rate I managed to make
myself understood and I purchased several bundles of straw and some cider. Normandy
apples are supposed to be famous but I never did find one that tasted any good, although
they made good cider.

M Ქa became muddier every day. We cleaned the cow pads off another field
where we drilled and played ball when it wasn't raining. I rather enjoyed it all. The clean
damp smell of good earth mingled with the ocean breezes was very pleasing and
invigorating. Everything was so green and during the few hours we had sunshine the
scenery was quite beautiful.

We had our first casualty in France although the fighting was a long way off. T-4
Isoldi was killed when an ammo dump blew up. Several others were quite badly burned
but they all recovered and were awarded the Purple Heart. The accident sobered us all
and we began to realize that we were in danger even so far in the rear.

Finally, they found some engineer work for us. we were to clear certain areas of
mines. Everyone was rather apprehensive because we had heard stories about casualty
rates in mine clearing crews. I was rather worried myself but luckily another situation
arose and I never did any mine sweeping in France. All men with driver's permits (and a
few without) were to become Red Ball drivers hauling vital supplies to rail centers. I was
very excited about it. Action at last and a chance to see some more of France. Before we
left we heard a speech that further quickened our pulses. General Keating said, "Men, the
102nd Division will take its place in the toughest part of the Siegfried Line in the near
future. I have the utmost confidence in your willingness and ability to carry the name of
the 102nd to fame and glory."



CHAPTER III

We rode for many long hours and by some miracle it didn't rain. The farther we got
into France the friendlier the people seemed. However, I developed a real dislike for French
kids on that trip. One of the little stinkers slugged me right between the eyes with a big
hard apple. It wasn't even ripe enough to eat when I finally regained consciousness. As
usual it was about midnight when we reached the area outside of Houdan. We pitched
tents all over a hill and in the morning I found that I'd been floated right out of the tent.
We found a better spot and made a fairly good camp. The chow was swell and we soon
discovered that just about anything you needed could be gotten because Redball had
priority. While waiting for the first convoy to pull out we sneaked into Houdan without
passes. In about two hours many of the boys bought bracelets, dirty pictures and some
even found some cognac and beer. Girls were plentiful and friendly so I need say no
more about that.

I didn't get to go on the first convoy which had the best trip of all. They hauled
medical supplies up to Liege, Belgium and came close enough to the front lines to hear
artillery. A few robot bombs also dropped in.

Meanwhile the remainder of the company learned to drive and except for a few
men, all joined Redball at a different camp. Everyone seemed to think it might become
permanent and rumors even had us changed to a Q.M. outfit.

I finally got my turn to go out. My driving was somewhat ragged, and with about
five tons on my two and a half I had some thrilling moments. Our route was from Houdan
to Paris loaded and then to St. Lo and the beaches from where we brought a load back to
Houdan. The 102nd had the fastest convoys on the road and I believe we did a fine job of
delivering the goods. I enjoyed it all tremendously. We saw so many towns, and so many
beautiful girls waved and cheered us on.

We also saw how desperately hungry the French were. Grown men and women
begged us for our "dog biscuits". In Paris it was different. They had money and were only
too anxious to pay a small fortune for almost anything edible. Many of the boys sold
extra rations which they didn't like or didn't need. Even a can of 10 in 1 lima beans
brought a pretty good price. I only know of one instance where anyone actually sold any
of the load he was hauling. There are bound to be a few people like that in every outfit.

We lost our second man on Redball. Lomonacco was burned to death when his
truck collided with a big Air Corps gas truck. Everyone felt very badly about it because
he was so well liked and was so intelligent that he was bound to have a brilliant future.
The boys drove more slowly and carefully after that.

Redball ended as suddenly as it had started for us. The Division was alerted for
movement and in a few days the first elements were on their way to Holland.



CHAPTER IV

I was not with the company when it moved. A large group of us drove the
Division's jeeps to Maastrich [Maastricht], Holland. It was a long trip, and since we had
no assistant drivers we put in a lot of hours. Going through Paris a motorcycle cleared
traffic for us and we roared through cheering crowds at forty mph. We passed through
some beautiful country, especially along the Albert Canal. We didn't go through Liege on
our way through Belgium but we came close. I think the Belgians were about the
friendliest people I've met. It didn't take long to go through Belgium and soon we were at
Maastrich [Maastricht] where the jeeps were taken over by infantrymen. The company
joined us and we pitched tents in a little orchard. Some of the boys could speak German
and since German and Dutch are quite similar, they got on fine. We got some guildens
and bought beer. The girls were very nice and were anxious to show their appreciation at
being liberated.

Everyone was very interested in latest developments at the front since we learned
that we were out on a peninsula and surrounded by the enemy on three sides. We heard
faint rumblings in the distance and several robot bombs went over while I was on guard
one night. Our morale was very high and everyone was in a fighting mood. The war
couldn't last much longer the way we were knocking hell out of them.

We moved a little closer up front to Heerlenheide. My platoon moved into a beer
hall and we slept on the floor. The people who lived all around us were very friendly and
sympathetic. I think all the boys made good friends there. Part of the 2nd Armored
Division was bivouacked near us and we heard some good stories and received some
good tips. They were a swell bunch and damn good men to have on your side in a fight.

We spent all our time getting our equipment in shape and writing letters. Everyone
wrote letters and sent cards. We all knew it wouldnࢥ very long before we୥et the
enemy ᮤ someone has to die. We all assured our folks that everything was fine, the
war would be over soon, and we૮ock off a couple of Krauts for them. In our hearts,
however, we all felt a little doubt and perhaps fear.

Our next area was the pine forest. No one actually realized that we were in any real
danger although we were ordered to dig in. Zriny and I dug down about seven feet and
used a ladder to get in and out. The Captain claimed we were trying to desert. John
couldn೬eep nights from the sound of our artillery. He thought it was incoming mail,
and to tell the truth no on knew for sure. The first indication we had that we were near the
front was while watching our Air Force bomb and strafe a town just on the horizon. Even
then we weren෯rried about anything except getting enough to eat. We just couldn༢r> seem to satisfy our appetites.

The platoon got its first combat mission in the pine forest. I stayed with my 50 cal.
while the rest of the squad went out. The job was to lay a 350 yard A.P. [Anti-Personnel]
mine field in front of our recon troops. The boys had a rough time, carrying the mines a
hell of a way, but they did a good job and came in cold but satisfied. They got a couple of
cows the next night.

Our infantry was already on line but the situation was at a stalemate. However, we
all knew there would be a jump-off soon and one day we got orders to move. It was a
good thing we did because the jerries shelled hell out of the pine forest the next night.

We pulled into an area from where the infantry had jumped off to wait our turn. The
doughboys pulled out in such a hurry some of them even left their weapons behind. We
moved into their foxholes and began searching the area for equipment we could use. I
even found a pack of cigarettes. At last our orders came through and Lt. Lay outlined the
plan. We made our preparations and about nine o쯣k they got us out of the holes. 崒s
go! This is it!Ⲿ


CHAPTER V

In spite of the short pep talk we got before we left, no one fully realized that we
were going into actual combat and that someone might get killed. It was bitter cold that
night and I curled up in the back of the platoon truck and dozed off. Once we halted for a
big hole in the road and I woke up. I saw haystacks burning and heard some artillery
which was quite close. I didn૮ow enough to be a little worried and I fell asleep again.
I didn෡ke up until the trucks had parked in the orchard in Floverich. A house was
burning right next to the orchard but my only thought about it was that it provided good
light by which to dig my foxhole. Zriny and I dug in together again after parking the
truck next to a little tree for ᭯uflageץ only dug down about two feet and since
we were tired I said, ell with it!ᮤ we quit digging. We slept soundly until about
eight o쯣k when everyone was jolted out of their sweet dreams by the officers, who
were running excitedly around the area telling the men to prepare for a counter-attack.

Sgt. Toohey sent the 50 cal. machine gun squad to protect a little bridge on an
intersection. The squad consisted of myself, Cpl. Lavergne, Baumgart, and Franklin. We
moved out to set up the gun loaded down with ammo, tripod, and the 50. There was one
small entrenching shovel between the four of us. The only place where we could have
any field of fire was right on the intersection next to a large stone crucifix. We had just
begun to dig the gun in when the first shell hit in the orchard. Several more swiftly
followed. Cuevas, Barnhouse, Moroz, Anders, and McFarland were hit almost
immediately e of them too seriously. I was so green I didnॶen know enough to
lay down until one hit about 25 feet from us. I saw a flash of orange flame and the next
thing I knew I was on the ground rubbing dirt out of my eyes. None of us had foxholes
and Franklin was using our one shovel as fast as he could lying down. That෨en I got
scared. I began crawling around trying to find a low spot, but there was none, so I finally
quit. Several more hit our intersection, but none of us was hurt. The shelling stopped for
ten minutes. We finished digging in the gun and Franklin began his foxhole while I ran
back to the orchard for an engineer shovel. Lavergne dug in and I started to. The shelling
went on for another ten minutes. I dug down about two feet ⩧ht into a dead horse or
pig. I started another hole and went down about 3 楥t where I crouched in the bottom
sweating out the shells which were walking all over our intersection. The rest of the
company had moved into some German trenches and no one else was hit.

Every so often weॡch take a shift at the gun. Franklin was a pretty sick boy just
as many others were that day. I felt pretty bad myself. To top it off it began to rain ᠼbr> cold steady drizzle that lasted all night. I went up to a barn and got straw for our foxholes
and some doors to cover us. All day the shelling continued and we waited for the counter-
attack. It wasn࣯ming. We were too tired and scared to realize that we were acting as
infantry and not engineers. All day we waited and watched. Toward evening I caught a
stray cow and led her over to a house where I tied her up and milked her. I got over a
gallon of milk and it sure was good. We finished our K-rations and settled down for the
night, wondering how long this hell would last. We had seen our first day of combat. We
had survived our baptism of fire. The day was just beginning, however.

In the middle of the night a message came to move the 50 up forward. We carried
that heavy bastard about 300 yards in the dark and the mud and couldn঩nd the trench.
Lavergne went back and got a guide. We set the gun over the trench while the rest of the
squad moved in with us. They expected another counter-attack and we were to hold those
positions at all costs. No one slept that night. The rain and wind were terribly cold and
the trench was too narrow to sit down and too wet to lie down. I thought morning would
never come, but finally the first tinges of light appeared in the East. We listened to a
terrific tank duel in the distance and we were glad the 2nd Armored was there with us.

When daylight finally came we fixed up our trench and some of us got some sleep 좲> a sleep that we needed badly. During the night an 88 dud had landed less than a foot from
the barrel of the 50.



CHAPTER VI

For the next two days we stuck to our trenches sweating out the constant artillery
barrages. No one else got hit but several of the boys had a good start in pneumonia.
Duhon got back to the states with T.B. I think almost all of our trench foot cases started in
those cold wet trenches.

About the fourth day we were given an engineering mission clearing the road from
Immendorf to Puffendorf of mines and debris. It was too hot for a 2 㯠they drove us to
Immendorf in the jeep in groups of four. Oviatt drove like a demon. When my group
reached Immendorf we all pile off the jeep and carried the mine detection into an alley. I
saw Silvette wiping blood off his chin and I asked him what had happened. ᢲielson
just got killed,襠said. I turned around and there he was, still lying in the middle of the
intersection. I got a sudden tight feeling around my heart. Gabby had just got married a
few months ago at Dix. Everybody liked Gabby.

I forced myself to action and in a few moments the detector was set up and we
began sweeping toward Puffendorf. Our original third squad was all there 䯯hey,
Funk, Sam Allen, Prendy, Lavergne, Paulikoski, Franklin, Fondry, and myself. The only
man missing was Baumgart who stayed with the 50. We split into two groups, one on
each side of the road with one man on the detector and the rest as security. Just outside of
Immendorf, about 200 yards on the left of the road, three P-47s were bombing and
strafing a patch of woods. At the same time our artillery was laying time fire right over
the woods. It was a terrifying sight. We swept steadily up the road going as fast as
possible and about halfway between towns we saw our tanks on the right side of the road
and the German tanks about 400 yards on the left of the road. We kept going right
between them. Several times shells came in but they went way over.

We had almost reached Puffendorf, which was only partially ours at the time, when
shells started landing close. I looked for a hole to dive in and was very surprised to see
Sgt. Murryೱuad in a trench just to my right. He motioned me in and I just made it. A
shell hit almost where I had been standing. A piece of shrapnel sliced through Lavergne༢r> thumb but everyone else made it to the trench okay. The jerries had observation on us
while on the road but now we were hidden by a bank. The shelling stopped. Sgt. Toohey
and Murry compared notes and discovered something had snafued. His squad had already
swept the road and our job was to clear debris. All our work had been wasted effort. We
started back, double-timing all the way. It was dangerous to stand around. We stopped
once to roll a dead horse off the road. An infantry forward observer told us that casualties
were terribly high but the doughboys were advancing in spite of everything. We went
back to Floverich and the trenches, but not for long. The C.O. wasnೡtisfied with the
condition of the road so we had to fill the craters with sandbags. At last the job was done
and we settled down in the trenches for a little rest. News came in that we were moving
out as infantry.



CHAPTER VII

My luck held out and I was left in the trench with my 50 while the company moved
out. I was not entirely alone because during the night several tanks had set up in our area
and were firing occasionally. Our motor pool and part of our mess section were staying in
a bomb shelter nearby.

Notation by Laurie:
That is all Dad wrote about his overseas experiences.
I never knew that he had started a journal until years after
he passed away March 31, 1987.


 

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