Seven years after the war ended, I met General Omar Bradley at a cocktail party. He had been the Commanding General of the Twelfth Army Corps and he had ordered the attack.
I had studied the war for a number of years. Almost no popular history was written about the November campaign north of Geilenkirchen and the Hürtgen Forest. Seventy thousand men were killed, wounded, or were missing in an action that has never made popular history.
I asked General Bradley why the battle had been fought. He said, “There wasn’t any military reason for the battle. Strategically, it meant nothing. But Stalin asked Roosevelt to put on the pressure so the Russian Army could have some relief. I was against it, but Ike pushed it.”
That’s what the general told me. I had trained with some of the seventy thousand. Fort-five thousand casualties had been caused by trench foot. We did not have proper winter boots because Bradley had given priority to ammunition and gasoline, instead of the winter clothing we needed. I have two frostbitten toes, and Shad Northshield was evacuated with trench foot.
Other casualties: Lieutenant Mercer Yeager, S/Sgt Curran Begnaud, PFC David T. Powell, Pvts Jack Reynolds and Ben Levin. All dead.
Ben Levin was caught in a minefield after dark. We heard the blast of the anti-personnel mine, designed to blow its steel at testicle level. We heard his screams but we were not to go to him until the minefield was cleared. Anyone who moved forward might trip another mine.
We heard Ben yell for a medic.
He had been with me on the train to the embarkation dock in New Jersey and we had sung that silly song that got me out of the front lines. Levin never became the master of ceremonies he hoped to be. His patter included changing words in the sentimental tunes popular at the time.
“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” became “I’ll be obscening you in all the old familiar places.”
He mutated the opening of “One O’clock Jump” to: “Open your legs, you’re breaking my glasses. I’ve got my face just where your ass is.”
He took the tune, “I’ve got my eyes on you,” and changed it to: “I’ve got my thighs on you.”
Ben’s screams became weaker as time passed.
Hitler has only got one ball,
Goering has two, but small,
Himmler is somewhat similar,
but Goebbels has no balls at all!
After a time Levin made no sound at all. Graves Registration must have picked him up two days after he was killed.
I suppose my face changed when General Bradley told me what his orders had been. I must have reacted. He explained.
“War is just the extension of National Policy,” Omar said.
Bradley’s biographers call him the soldier’s general.
The soldier’s general did not give us waterproof shoes.
Bradley, Omar. Photograph. Britannica Online for Kids. Aug. 15, 2016.
“I’ve Got My Eyes on You (1939 song)” by Cole Porter