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Octobre 1944 - Embermenil


Edwin G. Lansford Writes
Headquarters Company, 271st Infantry
Embermenil, Alsace, France
The 44th Division first went on line about 15 km east of Luneville at Embermenil. The I&R Platoon occupied the basements of shelled-out houses in the village. My squad occupied the first building back toward Luneville from a crossroads in the center of town. The village church - a large stone structure was on the corner on our side of the street beyond the cross-street, then a vacant lot, and then our house. Due to our inexperience in such matters, we had picked a hot-spot, since the German military always recorded the coordinates of all road intersections and churches. The Germans customarily used the church steeples for observation posts, and assumed that the American army would too, so that was where the Germans usually aimed their artillery.
Our house was a two-storied frame building, stuccoed, with a red tile roof and a concrete ground floor. The basement was fairly safe, but noisy at night. Some nights it seemed like an 88 came in about every 15 minutes and struck our house. The sounds always woke me up with the following sounds of violent destruction:
1) The sudden brief roar of the shell
2) The concussion
3) Sounds of shrapnel, plaster and other debris crashing against the upstairs walls
4) Chunks of plaster, etc. bouncing down the wooden stairs from the second floor
5) Brief silence
6) A scraping sound, almost instantly turning into a roar louder then the explosion as tiles dislodged by the blast began sliding over the remaining tiles
7) A loud clattering as the dislodged tiles shattered in the street outside.
8) Silent thoughts of the senseless, systematic destruction of some Alsation family's home.
9) Back to sleep 'til the next shell came in.
We had carried beds and mattresses to our basement to sleep on, so we were quite comfortable until the weather turned wet. Then, with many tiles missing from the roof, the basement began accumulating water. Soon we had two or three inches of water on the basement floor, and were forced to lay boards on top of blocks in order to move around. We also set our beds on blocks so that the bedding would not get watersoaked. Outside, heavy traffic had turned the unpaved street into a virtual river of oozing mud flowing ever so slowly back toward Luneville.
One clear day while I was standing in the street a Messerschmidt flew over the town from the rear with its machine guns chattering. Everyone was so surprised that we only watched in amazement as it passed overhead. That was the only time that I remember our unit being strafed. A few minutes later it came back strafing in the opposite direction and several of us shot at it. I was only carrying a carbine at the time, but I fired several rounds it was so near. Brownie opened up with our 50 cal. from the jeep it was mounted on. Somebody's shots did take effect, because we learned later that the pilot had bailed out and had been taken prisoner in the adjacent 114th area. We also heard that the pilot went to the rear without his boots because some infantryman took a liking to them.
The line companies, meanwhile, relieved units of the 79th Division which had been occupying trenches left over from WWI. My squad joined them after a few days to establish an observation post (daytime) and listening post (night-time). When I learned that the unit we joined was part of C Company, I immediately asked where Davis (Dodson Davis from Charlotte, NC) was since we had become friends in ASTP at St. Louis University and had planned to continue our friendship after the war. I was shocked and saddened to learn that he had been killed the very first night, before his unit ever got to the trenches.
The observation post was a complete bust: That section of trench was down in a hollow grown up with trees, so observation was severely limited. I spent the afternoon trying to dig a foxhole with my mess-kit lid in the side of the trench. We were told that the Germans had attacked that section the night before and driven C Company out, then they had counterattacked and taken the section back again, including one severely wounded German who cried for water. I don't think anyone ever gave him any.
We were also told that the Germans had shelled them all night before, and the informer was dismayed because the shelling had seemed to come from the rear. The listening post that night was also a complete bust. All we could here all night long was the screaming of shells coming in from the rear and exploding about 50 yards or so in front of our positions. The shrapnel sounded especially ugly; some pieces buzzing, some pieces making whirring sounds, some zinging, and most of them either thudding to the ground or whacking into trees. The sounds would have been reassuring instead of frightening if we had only realized that the shelling was friendly, protective fire from our own artillery instead of enemy fire.
The next morning our squad moved to another section of trench in a different area, and we spent the remainder of that day and that night in a dugout also left over from WWI. Needless to say, I rested much better that second night. In the trench near that dugout was an American helmet, and curiosity prompted me to ask about the owner, whereupon I was informed of the following series of events: The former owner of the helmet had been a young kid who had repeatedly, morning after morning, climbed out of the trench and stood up in plain sight of the enemy, shouting insults and challenges at the Germans, disregarding pleas from the other men to get back down into the trench. That foolish show of bravado had continued for several mornings without incident until one fateful morning when the Germans fired a single machine-gun burst dead-center. The poor kid was killed instantly. There is no telling how many other casualties also happened to green, inexperienced troops before any of them learned that none of u s were immortal.
Several years after the war, my wife Sue and I were on a tour with other 324th veterans and their wives, and although Embermenil had not been scheduled on our tour, we had called the mayor from Strassbourg the night before and took a side trip back to the town. Much to our surprise, the entire town, men, women, school children, and all were waiting to receive us when our bus arrived. The people held a lovely reception in the town hall for our group, serving champagne, cakes and cookies. The ladies must have spent much of the night preparing for us. Next door to the town hall stood a new church building, smaller than the huge stone building that I remembered, neat and clean, but without a steeple, which the towns people had not yet been able to afford. Our group took a collection to apply toward the steeple. In 1993, Sue and I returned on our own, and saw that the church had added a tall tower to the building, with clocks in each side of the tower which we could see from quite a distance away. In 2000, my son Jim and I returned again, and this time they had added a tall steeple to the tower, so finally, after fifty-five years, the building had been completed.


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