July, 1944: St. Lô


There remains a brief epilogue. The 2nd Battalion departed the battle by foot from La Madeleine to the ridge road. While waiting for it I took a last look around the now quiet field. The salvage crews were at work, and much of the wrecked equipment and weapons had been removed. But the deep wounds in the land were undressed and gave the appearance of verdant desolation. Every hedgerow was scalloped with holes, for no man had stopped without digging in. Practically every hedgerow had been fought for, plowed by shells, and gaped with raw passages for tanks. Whole trees were blasted down, and shattered limbs hung from others. The sickening smell of high explosive persisted.

While I looked and wondered at all this the battalion, in column of twos, commander leading, appeared toiling up the slope. The column was pitifully short; at first I thought that it was only one company and the other would follow. Then I realized that this was all there was, and the memory of it still dries the throat and stings the eyes.

I had seen the great, gray ships of the D-day armada stretching to the horizon in every direction, and I had often seen majestic fleets of Flying Fortress bombers returning from Germany. These were scenes awesome in power and portent. But for a sight to grasp and hold the heart forever I give you a decimated infantry battalion lurching out of battle, bowed with a mortal weariness and with all it has endured. This is not a drama of machines but of ordinary men who have achieved an extraordinary triumph over their fears and vulnerable flesh. For me all sights must pale beside it. I joined the commander and told him of arrangements for the bivouac. The column trudged on toward the Couvains road. Behind us the mists of onrushing time and events began to gather over St. Lô    .