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Pressures Of The Line

February 2024
1min read


I was very interested in Dr. John W. Appel’s “My Brush With History” in the October American Heritage . He rightly emphasizes the inconceivable stresses that infantrymen endured during World War II and the fact that the most obdurate combatant can absorb only so much of that intense pressure. But there is one aspect of combat that he does not mention. That is the primitive life of the infantryman, which was physically and emotionally debilitating. It ranged from the jungles of the Southwest Pacific to the constant rains and intolerable cold of Italy and Northern Europe. I found it almost unbearable, as did everyone I knew. I have always thought that this endless exposure was almost as psychologically damaging as the dangers of death and wounds in combat.

I was in combat for forty-two days in Lorraine and Belgium before being wounded. I remember standing in an ex-German foxhole, alone in a forest. It was bitter cold, and I was shivering constantly. How long could this go on, I thought. Forever, it seemed. It was my lowest point during my time on the line, yet no one was shooting at me at that moment. I was just utterly and hopelessly miserable. I recovered and carried on, but despair lingered.

My company, in about 250 days in combat, out of an authorized strength of 187 men, had 127 killed and 394 wounded. The discrepancy was made up by replacements, of whom I was one. At the time, I knew very few of my comrades—so much for bonding—and had no idea that such terrible losses were being sustained. I do not think many others did either. If we had known, our stresses would have been greater.

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