Longform

Letter in a Battle

Page 6 of 18

"It was colder'n Hell and we were all alone on the coast of [CENSORED] Africa with 5 and 10 inch shells whistling over our heads. (Our battleships were shelling a French Marine garrison just inland from us.) About then there appeared on the horizon, on a sand dune, on horseback with a cloak flowing in the morning breeze, a lone Arab horseman (just like the movies). I was about to quit and swim back to Arizona. I had visions of hordes of Tuareg tribesmen riding down on us with rifles, but nothing happened. I suppose he was just a curious native wondering what was going on.

"I had the men wring out their clothes (we had all been in water over our heads) and clean up the guns, and the m.g. sergeant and I went down to the reef, stripped, and went diving for the tripod and ammunition (funny sight in the early morning). We found the tripod and two boxes of ammunition and managed to get ourselves stuck plenty by the marine thorns growing down under the rocks.

"We hauled back our finds and dressed and then I saw an excited Frenchman running toward me over the rocks so I grabbed my gun and gave him, 'Arretez! Haute les mains' [Stop! Hands up!]. He was scared half to death but was friendly. He took me around some big rocks to his family who were huddled there, driven from their home earlier by the naval shelling. I gave them a wet chocolate bar and a pack of cigarettes and everyone relaxed. Anyway, he could tell me where we were and I knew the country well enough from map study to see that we were some two and one-half miles away from our beach, clear out of the Division zone of action. By then the sun was up and the men were drying and the shelling had quit, so we started out to find our various outfits. On the way we found other scattered units. The First Aid men patched up a few wounded soldiers -- we had none in our group -- and by 2 o'clock they were all back where they belonged and I found the [CENSORED] Battalion and was able to take first word from it to the Regimental C.P. even though it was 7 hours late. The Regimental group was [CENSORED] hours late landing so everything was O.K.

"On our way up the coast line we ran into no fighting. But the firing was still in progress down toward [CENSORED] and there was lots of artillery fire and plane strafing down on the beaches where we should have landed. Most of the casualties were on that beach. After a terrific bombardment and some hand to hand fighting [CENSORED] surrendered about [CENSORED]. I drove in à la jeep about an hour later.

"Quite a sight, a beautiful little resort city all shot up. Made a tour of their harbor defenses and, take it from me, they were plenty strong. The taking of [CENSORED] was a damn good job by the American Army (with naval support). Most of the fighting had been done by a single Battalion from [CENSORED] regiment -- and our losses weren't so very heavy.

"We all felt good and started out that night moving up on [CENSORED] 16 miles away. Not much excitement that nite nor most of the day -- sleep a few hours in a trench, then march a few miles, run a few of my 'messenger-boy-missions,' etc. But about 5:30 that day (Monday) the guns from [CENSORED] found our Command Post and laid shells all over us. We all learned that high explosive artillery shell isn't bad so long as you stay down in a trench and it didn't take long to learn to dig. I dug mine with a trench knife and a helmet plenty fast.

"The artillery fire followed us all night, everywhere we moved. They must have had telephone spotters from the houses around [CENSORED]. The fire was too accurate for guess work. But we never lost a man (from our Command Post group, I mean). At 3 A.M. on the outskirts of [CENSORED] our two assault Battalions ran into a trap and got out only with considerable loss. I had to run a message to the 2nd Battalion at 9:00 A.M. and got into some excitement myself but it wasn't bad, though I did have a shell explode only a few yards from me when I wasn't looking and wasn't down. It took one fellow's leg nearly off.

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Edward Lebow
Contact: Edward Lebow