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March 29, 2017

"The infantryman hates shells more than anything else," Bill Mauldin wrote about the front lines in Italy.

His phrasing makes it sound like the men were expressing an aesthetic preference, like a choice among distasteful rations.
But "shells" weren't a few rounds of artillery floating in at odd intervals. They were deafening, unrelenting, maddening, terrifying. One fortified American position in the Pacific recorded being hit in a single day by 16,000 shells. In the middle of an artillery barrage hardened veterans would hug each other and sob helplessly. Men caught in a direct hit were unraveled by the blast, blown apart into shards of flying skeleton that would maim or kill anyone nearby. Afterward the survivors would sometimes discover one of their buddies so badly mangled they couldn't understand how he could still be breathing; all they could do was give him the largest dose of morphine they dared and write an "M" for "morphine" on his forehead in his own blood, so that nobody else who found him would give him a second, fatal dose. (One soldier marked with that "M" was Bob Dole, wounded in Italy in 1945; he wasn't released from the hospital until 1948.) Commanders came to prefer leading green troops into combat, because the veterans were far more scared. They knew what was coming. Losing the War - by Lee Sandlin

Posted by gerardvanderleun at March 29, 2017 10:47 AM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

As a retired artillery officer I will tell you that this is true. I never came under enemy artillery fire but as part of our training we did come under our own high-explosive fire, on purpose and right on top of us. We had overhead cover and the fall of the projectiles was "walked" back to us by the instructor, who there with us. Once it got to about 30 meters away that was close enough!

Very loud, and would hit you in the chest. Very confusing to endure, smoke and dust goes everywhere and you can't see a thing even if you keep it out of your eyes. And when it stops you don't trust the silence for a looong time.

Here is a video of incoming artillery shot with remoted cameras. Go full screen and turn the sound waaaaaay up: "How artillery will ruin your whole afternoon."

And here is what the much more pleasant scene of outgoing artillery looks like.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at March 29, 2017 2:10 PM

From the article: "My friend suddenly had the impulse to ask a question that had never occurred to him in his entire adult life: "What was it really like to be in a battle?"

"His father opened his mouth to answer -- and then his jaw worked, his face reddened, and, without saying a word, he got up and walked out of the room. That's the truth about the war: the sense that what happened over there simply can't be told in the language of peace."

Former Marine and author Steven Pressfield put it this way in Gates of Fire:

What can be more noble than to slay oneself? Not literally. ... But to extinguish the selfish self within, that part which looks only to its own preservation, to save its own skin. ...

When a warrior fights not for himself, but for his brothers, when his most passionately sought goal is neither glory nor his own life’s preservation, but to spend his substance for them, his comrades, not to abandon them, not to prove unworthy of them, then his heart truly has achieved contempt for death, and with that he transcends himself and his actions touch the sublime. That is why the true warrior cannot speak of battle save to his brothers who have been there with him. The truth is too holy, too sacred for words.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at March 29, 2017 2:16 PM

Also, survivors of WW2 in Berlin said afterward that nothing terrified them as much as Soviet artillery, once the Soviets got within range.

They knew that US and British bombers sent far more destructiveness upon them per unit of time - but the bombers came, they bombed, they flew away.

Soviet artillery never stopped. People went literally insane from it.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at March 29, 2017 2:20 PM

Your comments reveal much; thank you Donald.

Posted by: Dan Patterson at March 29, 2017 7:30 PM

I've heard the shells flying way overhead on training exercises and wondered if they ever *run out of fuel* and just drop.

Walk it back is what happens after you call (RTO) in for fire support, you tell them the coordinates and to "fire one for effect" and from where it hits you redirect the coordinates (walk it back, or walk it out) toward the target. Being the monkey in the middle is the scariest place to be.

Imagine being at a shooting range, and you're laying on the ground between the shooter and the target. Everything's cool until it isn't and your heart beats quicktime til it over.

On days off a friend and I used to drive out to the training ranges with a bag of goodies and sit on the hill and watch the howitzers below firing at the hill 3 miles across the valley. After a few hits on that afghan red you can start to see the shells in flight. They look like a ghostly dotted line. Like a poorly made animated gif. Takes a few seconds for the impact sound to come back across the valley.

Posted by: ghostsniper at March 29, 2017 7:56 PM

I stopped reading here:

"The great rage against Japan was what prompted the 1942 roundup of more than a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans on the west coast into internment camps -- an unconstitutional and flagrantly racist act,"

... because this statement is rank, ahistorical BS.

Posted by: David at March 29, 2017 10:23 PM

OK, then, David. What was it?

Posted by: pbird at March 30, 2017 3:52 PM

pbird, i will answer for David: It was fucking revenge, pure and simple. I am a vietnam vet and I also stopped reading this after a few paragraphs. Sure, I have some of the same thoughts and had nightmares for two years after and never forgot lost buddies but this article just got on my nerves. I'm sure the Greeks and Romans never pissed themselves like this.

Posted by: Schoolboy at March 31, 2017 9:44 PM

Alright. I believe that.
A few years ago my daughter and I discovered one of the camps in Southern Idaho. It was very near my grandparents' place. No one ever told us about it. When I mentioned it to my mother she turned like a snake and hissed "we never hurt them!"
The hate is STILL THERE.

Posted by: pbird at April 1, 2017 7:28 PM

Fuck the Japanese internment and detention camps. That's an excrement loaded turd-ball you are throwing out just to keep yourself from reading and contemplating the article. Get over yourselves, citizens.

War is a thrilling, exasperating, horrible, glorious, terrifying, incomprehensible, beautiful, gracious, injudicious, wasteful, funny, black-out causing boner. War is not what you want, but must not look away from. Your looking-away; your idiotic moralizing, is your worst moment as a human. You are shit. You are worse than shit, because shit is human, and beneficial. You are none of that. You, kind reader, are a fucking drip off the gland of the slimiest reptile on Earth.

Did I mention that I don't particularly care for you?

One commenter here has the clear conscience enough to put away this article, I think. None of the rest do. Read the fucking article. It isn't war; it is the public's individual and collective perception of the moral story that is World War II.

Japanese camps? I should slap the shit out of you for that bullshit statement.

Don, I'll bet we occupied the same bunker on that incoming range. My experience was 155 HE rounds, and my surprise was the huge size of the shrapnel. A number of years later I was talking with a WW II veteran who was wounded by a direct hit by German 155 shell fire, and he was telling me his story in a way that he could not to his family, who were also present for the story. It burst in a tree trunk directly over his head, and his 2 buddies on the right and the left were killed, but he was severely wounded, evacuated, and placed on the dead pile at the battalion aid station. He and I busted out laughing when he told the story. I'll bet you readers don't understand that. And fuck you for that.

Now, I'm going to go and finish the article.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at April 1, 2017 9:09 PM

I had the wonderful experience of having a WWII vet as a drinking buddy for a few years. I'm far younger but he thought my Viet Nam experience qualified me as a brother in arms and opened up to me in ways that he could not with most other people including his family.

On only a couple of occasions, after several whiskies, he let loose with stories that you couldn't even begin to imagine. Without going into dirty details, the one thing he hated was artillery for the exact reason mentioned in the article. It literally had everyone shitting their pants and crying. He tried to volunteer for a ranger outfit just to get off the battlefield.

Being shot at is one thing. You actually have a chance to take cover and return fire. Having tons of high explosives raining on you at random without warning for indeterminate intervals, maiming, killing and even vaporizing guys on all sides of you has got to be the most frightening experience imaginable.

The amazing thing is that so many of those guys somehow managed to put themselves back together and live relatively normal lives following the war.

Posted by: Galway Boy at April 2, 2017 3:40 PM

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