OLD CHARLIE

Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 25, 2003.

  1. Guest

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    low2go
    J. Wilborn
    Posts: 26
    (2/8/01 3:41:45 pm)
    Reply OLD CHARLIE
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    OLD CHARLIE.

    Charlie was a storyteller--a gifted storyteller. At lunch
    breaks or other times when the crew was together,
    Charlie would hold his listeners spellbound with the story
    he told. You will note I said ‘story’ and not plural
    ‘stories’. Charlie told one story--he told one story very
    well. Depending on the working conditions, or other
    time restraints, the story always seemed complete enough
    for the listener to have formed his own visions of what
    might have happened. Charlie was not highly educated and
    his story was liberally laced with crude
    colloquialisms and bad words--not filthy language mind
    you--Charlie was not that type--just ‘Charlie words’, so
    to speak. As one would listen to Charlie’s story, one could
    almost sense a certain spirituality--a paranormal
    event--not frightening at all, but uplifting--making you
    want to say humans aren’t all bad after all--even when at
    war. Those feelings come in either the short version or
    it’s long rendition. Here, these many years later, I am
    recalling that story as accurately and as completly as I
    can--after all, it has been almost half a century. When
    Charlie told us his story, he had only been away from the
    war about seven years.
    I graduated from my Iowa high school in May of 1951--the
    United Nations police action in Korea, later to be
    called the Korean War, made me lust for service to my
    country--I wanted to join the Navy. My guardians
    counseled me to wait for a few months as I was only
    seventeen and had to have their written permission for
    naval enlistment. After helping to get the spring crops
    into the field, I went off to the city and sought a job.
    Times seemed good--jobs readily available. The job I chose
    was to be in the shipping-receiving department of a
    large auto repair supply house. That’s where I met Old
    Charlie--that’s what everyone told you when you needed
    a question answered-- ”ask Old Charlie”. When you’re only
    seventeen, thirty five seemed ancient--Charlie was
    older than that so I picked up the expression also “see Old
    Charlie”. What made it even more fitting was that
    Old Charlie always wore bedroom slippers--that and a black
    glove on his left hand. Shortly after I went to
    work at AUTO SUPPLIERS, Charlie offered a kind of an
    explanation for his attire--maybe he cought me staring
    at him. He told me he had been born and raised on a farm
    but after being hurt in the war, didn’t say wounded to
    me, just hurt--well you just can’t work in cow and pig
    manure wearing bedroom slippers and you sure as hell
    can’t milk cows wearing a glove! No, Charlie didn’t say
    what he said to me hatefully--he was just grinning
    away--having been raised on an Iowa farm, around the pigs
    and cows, I knew a thing or two about manure--I
    grinned back at Old Charlie. I was yet to hear how the
    seemingly gentle old fellow had been hurt--over the next
    several months that I worked there--before entering the Navy
    in August, I would hear Old Charlie’s ‘story’
    many times. Whatever variation of the story it was -- the
    complete or the abridged, I would thrill to the story
    and the spiritual mystique surrounding it. I never felt
    sorry for Charlie--he wouldn’t have allowed it--the
    bedroom slippers and the one glove sheltered war wounds--
    Charlie never said the word wounded--it was
    always his hurts.
    December 24, 1944. The day before Christmas throughout the
    Christian world. The Christian world at war--a
    war that had dragged on and on, accounting for untold loss
    of life and human misery. Allied forces had been in
    the European theater of operations since June 6th--always
    attacking and driving eastward toward the bowels of
    Nazi Germany. Two weeks prior, the German Army had launched
    a major counter-offensive against the
    attacking Allied forces--in the coldest and most severe
    winter in recorded history, the mighty armies reeled and
    battled--the France and Belgium battlegrounds would forever
    be remembered as being where the greatest tank
    battles in the world were fought. Many of the foot soldiers
    from all sides would freeze to death in the bitter
    winter temperatures. There were times when battle tanks
    from various units would become
    stranded--mechanical breakdowns--run out of fuel and
    ammunition. Even against standing orders, crews would
    abandon their machines and attempt to get back to friendly
    lines. More that a few times, those crew members
    would be found frozen to death--victims of the terrible
    weather instead of the terrible war. Other times, battle
    elements would become separated in the heat of battle--or
    lost to enemy action, thus a single solitary unit
    surviving. How frightening that must have been for the four
    man Sherman tank crew--Charlie’s crew--tank
    commander Sergeant Charles Schroeder’s crew. Dawn had found
    them sheltered on the lee side of a hedgerow.
    Their idling engine had failed an hour earlier--out of
    fuel. The intense cold had rapidly invaded the confines of
    the tanks steel interior--all of their rounds for the main
    gun had been depleted--it would have been useless
    anyway because the turrent could not be rotated without the
    engine running. They had their side arms, a couple
    of tanker carbines, and the tanks fixed machine guns.
    Facing capture would have been more agreeable to
    contemplate than the bitter freezing cold. Charlie
    cautioned his crew to bundle up the best they could--keep as

    warm as they might under the conditions. Every ten minutes
    or so a crew member would get out and stomp and
    thrash around to keep the blood flowing--it become
    tiresome--Charlie wouldn’t let his men fall asleep--inside
    the
    metal behemoth, hoarfrost collected from the men’s
    breathing--the only sounds were the opening and closing of
    the hatch as the crew took their assigned turns outside at
    keeping moving--trying to stay warm--stay alive.
    Every so often Charlie needed to prompt one of the men that
    it was their turn--. Finally Charlie had the men
    remove their boots and rub each others feet--at first there
    was a sense of revulsion--in the close confines of the
    Sherman there was little enough room to begin with--but they
    followed Charlie’s orders and discovered there
    was relief to be had in that simple gesture.
    Charlie had not been in the Army very long--he lived on the
    family farm with his parents. When the war began
    in 1941, Charlie was offered a ‘farm deferment’--a legal
    release from being drafted for military service. As the
    time went by, Charlie would hear of men who knew being
    killed or wounded--some in the German war it had
    become known as--or the Jap war--the one in the Pacific.
    There were many unkind things said about men with
    deferments--the most polite being ‘draft dodger’. It
    bothered Charlie--it bothered him a lot. He told his
    parents
    that he was going to join up--the Army seemed the most
    logical. Charlie was already in his late twenties--most
    of the fighting forces were still in their teens. The Army
    treated Charlie like a ‘rare-find’--older, more mature and
    the vast experience of working tractors and mechanical farm
    implements. Within six weeks of joining up, Charlie
    was on a troopship headed for England--a member of the elite
    armored division that would gain world wide
    renown from the broncho General who led them--General George
    Patton. Around the other troopers, Charlie
    learned and talked the lingo--main gun barrels were called
    tubes, the treads were called tracks, the hatch cover
    was a lid--and even the special protective head gear the
    tankers wore was called a ‘brain-bucket’. Charlie fit
    right in--the name Pappy was mentioned on rare occasions by
    new associates, however Charlie it was and Charlie
    it would be--even later when he recieved a battlefield
    promotion to Sergeant, the troops still called him Charlie.
    The Sherman tank was fairly new in the American
    arsenal--fast and agile but no match for the big German
    machines--the Sherman gunners would claim that they had seen
    main battery rounds bounce right off the German
    Panzers--the machines that were named after large jungle
    cats--the Leopards and the Tigers. Training classes
    would empathize silhouette features--sounds of
    engines--nomenclature about the enemy machines--even the
    crack of the main battery was cause to send chills up the
    spine.
    The horrific cold was mind-numbing--Charlie and his crew had
    to be more persistant just to stay awake. Ski
    could no longer get up to make it outside the tank and work
    out the kinks--his feet had become blackened--like a
    bruise. He kept his mittened hands inside his field
    jacket-- Packi, the Italian kid from New York swore and
    muttered to himself--Jitter, the one who always claimed to
    be a ballroom dancer fared the best of all--his nervous
    energy seemed to fire up his engine. Charlie had noticed
    the numbness and discoloration in his own feet and
    hands--try as he might, there was no overcoming the
    feeling--the worst thing about it was that it didn’t
    hurt--it
    seemed easier to lie still and sleep rather than bounce
    around--waste your energy. The cracking open of the lid
    become less and less--finally the crew just settled in--.
    Sometime before midnight the sound come. At first it was a
    muffled hum--then a distinct sound of an engine--a
    turbine engine with the telltale whine--and finally a sound
    that reverberated and cast away whatever doubts the
    near frozen Sherman crew may have had. German armor--the
    biggest of the big--a Leopard--almost one hundred
    tons of machine designed for one purpose only and that was
    to kill and destroy. The sounds were deafening
    inside the steel hull on the Sherman---Ski was the only one
    of the four that did not respond--he was too far
    gone--he had obviously surrendered to the bitter nighttime
    temperature--the other three Americans waited.
    Suddenly the Leopard’s roar become a purring noise as the
    tank’s big supercharged turbine settled into it’s idling
    mode--waiting. Charlie had expected capture to be
    inevitable--there had been recent stories of the mass
    executions of American prisoners by the Germans in the
    immediate area--Charlie, the eternal optimist, could only
    hope for the best for he and his crew. The German tank
    continued to idle away--not a threatening sound--maybe
    even a comforting sound. Charlie knew that a single round
    from that massive cannon on the Leopard--couldn’t
    think about that--had to take care of his crew as he reached
    up and threw open the heavy turrent lid. The large,
    squat looking machine was about two hundred meters off to
    their left flank--clouds of steamy engine exhaust
    were being spewed out into the cold night air--this Night
    of Nights--this Christmas Eve on the Western Front so
    far from home--moon so bright a newsprint could be read by
    it’s light. The Leopard’s main battery cannon was
    boresighted onto the Sherman---Charlie had thought about a
    single round earlier--now he stood upright, head,
    shoulders, and torso exposed, looking directly toward the
    Leopard. For the lack of something else better to do
    Charlie saluted in the direction of the big Leopard--held
    his salute for a brief moment and then snapped his arm
    away briskly. The hatch cover on the idling German tank was
    thrown open and a black clad figure come out of
    the opening. “My God’ Charlie exclaimed to himself, “this
    Kraut tanker isn’t going to fire after all--and I’ll be
    damned” Charlie mused, “he’s returning my salute!”
    “American tanker--nien petrol”, the German shouted
    questionably, to which Charlie nodded and shouted yes all
    at the same time. What was there to loose? Even if
    Charlie’s crew had rounds for their main tube, they could
    not fire and maneuver. “Merry Christmas American” the lone
    German tanker shouted--slapped his helmet in a
    careless salute and closed the hatch on the big turrent.
    With a deafening rumble that seemed to shake the
    ground, the enormous Daimler-Benz engine come to life from
    it’s muted purring sounds. The Leopard spun
    into a graceful leaning motion that eventually turned it one
    hundred eighty degrees and roared off over the
    uneven ground, eastward and away from the battle arena. As
    the big Leopard had turned, Charlie had noted a
    figure and a number on it’s side--almost as if it glowed in
    the moonlight--it had read TRINITY 3. Those figures
    was so near the German cross insignia, it all appeared as
    one marking . Charlie looked off to where the big tank
    had turned around--the dirt was gouged deeply where the
    treads had gained traction. Right in the middle of
    where the Leopard had stood idling moments before, were two
    cans--they looked like the fuel cans carried on
    American tanks--called jerry cans. On feet that felt like
    numbed didgits that had gone to sleep, Charlie bailed out
    through the hatch and down over the side. Fortune could not
    be so kind--those were the feelings that were
    playing with Charlie’s impaired senses--’just couldn’t
    happen’ he concurred blindly. He dashed as quickly as his
    frozen feet could take him over to the cans--even before he
    got to them, he could smell the gasoline fumes in the
    cold night air. “Jitter--Packi--Packi, you guys get out
    here and help me--we’re moving out--we’re heading to the
    barn!’ The two cans of fuel was quickly transferred into
    the empty tanks on the Sherman--with a bit of coaxing
    and jockeying of the choke the Chrysler come to life,
    throbbing reassuringly. Ski still had not revived
    himself--he was oblivious to all around him. The other men
    had a new lease on life as the Sherman sped off
    toward General Pattons Third Army line of defenses. Within
    the week Charlie and his surviving crew members
    would be in a hospital in England--Ski didn’t make it--never
    knew of their salvation. Charlie had his ‘hurt’ feet
    and hands treated for frostbite--toes on both feet as well
    as some fingers on his left hand needed to be amputated,
    thus Charlie’s ‘hurts’--not wounds. Ultimately the wearing
    of the bedroom slippers and the single glove.
    Charlie always finished his story--the most captivating part
    to his story was a photo he carried with him.
    Dog-earred and beaten up--maybe from the Stars and Stripes
    newspaper--it was the picture of a German
    Leopard tank with the tank commander standing in the
    turrent--black uniform--a classic German pose--haughty
    and proud--his tank was named the TRINITY 3. The article
    went on to tell of this battle tanks numerous kills
    of the American, English, and French armor. The purpose of
    the newspaper article was that it announced the
    destruction of the German Leopard and it’s crew back in
    October 1944--the tank commander had been positively
    identified and his exploits written about. This was the
    part Charlie loved--what had happened to him and his
    crew had happened two months later and hundreds of miles
    apart. Charlie never mentioned the word
    miracle--you just knew he wanted you to form an opinion of
    your own. He only told that one
    story--ever--sometimes short--other times the long one--once
    was enough--noone ever offered Charlie a logical
    explanation--he might have bought a good one--want to try?
    John H. Wilborn
     
  2. rooter

    rooter *VMBB Senior Chief Of Staff* Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2001
    Messages:
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    Location:
    Glendale Arizona
    This may have been Charlie's benefactor...who knows...he'd perished
    months earlier....Chief

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    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Wittmann
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