I began wearing thick glasses at age four. I was nearsighted. An optician noted that my eyes did not work together. I saw with one eye at a time, usually the left one. The suggested solution was a stereopticon device with slightly different photographs on each side. I was told to force myself to use both eyes at the same time and train the muscles to work together. The device made me throw up, so I threw it away. This meant I judged distance badly and could not perceive depth properly. That’s why I made so many errors in baseball. I was always the last one chosen, and always put in right field, far out of the action. I made so many errors that I was given a wicker basket to catch the high flies I missed. I didn’t know it was my eyes; I thought myself inept. It was worse in tennis. If I took the net I could not focus on the oncoming ball. I was hit in the forehead several times.
I went to war as a sniper.
In combat I carried a Springfield ’03 rifle with a mounted scope. Around my neck a pair of field glasses. On my nose some very thick spectacles. I crawled through the lane just before daybreak and took up a position on the third floor of a demolished church north of Geilenkirchen, a town in the district Heinsberg, in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.
The ground I wiggled through was wet. My eyeglasses were streaked with mud, as were my field glasses. The rifle’s scope was opaque. I couldn’t see. I tried to scratch the dirt off the field glasses, my spectacles and the sniper sight. I pulled my shirt out of my trousers to clean the glasses. The wet cloth further smeared the lenses. I fired one shot, and struck only the earth north of Geilenkirchen.
I think a mortar fired at me when I scrambled back to my squad. It hit the floor below the steeple and dust and debris enveloped me. Later I was permitted to complain to the company commander. I told him that my eyes were 20/800 uncorrected, that the ‘03 had a recoil kick that had hurt my right shoulder. I told him I should not have been placed in the infantry, or in that house the Germans had fixed in their mortar sights. I told him I had bleeding plantar warts on my feet. I could not be a good infantryman.
He brought me to the supply sergeant who took my sniper’s rifle and issued me a grease gun, more formally named the M3 SMG. It looked remarkably like the tool used for injecting grease into the axle nipples of vehicles. It was the poor man’s sub-machine gun.
The company commander said, “What you do with this is hold it in front of you and spray like a garden hose.“Do you think you could do that, Wolff?”