A Shared Close Call
1st. Lt. William G. Cole

Anyone who spent time with the infantry experienced "near misses", incidents where serious wounds or worse were avoided by very small margins of time and distance. It truly seemed that sometimes "the bullet didn't have your name on it." It seems, in memory, that most of the near misses happened quickly and were over just as quickly, leaving only time for a quick move toward whatever cover could be found. But I am writing this to describe an experience shared by Bernie Mayer and myself which was not so brief. I have put the narrative together using excerpts from letters exchanged between Bernie and I. It was the most terrifying few minutes I remember.

From Bernie's letter of 9-13-93:

Do you remember the time you and I were along with the infantry without the radio but with a EE8A phone and half a mile of wire? Martin was following behind, splicing the wire as we advanced. We were hit by a mortar barrage and I hit the ditch on the left, you were on the right. A carbine was pulled up alongside side my head on the right side and the phone was near my helmet. A mortar shattered my carbine stock and it hung only by the sling, and the phone handset wire was in three pieces. Hockert couldn't believe I was holding the phone at the time; he never saw the carbine.

From Bernie's letter of 10-21-93:

The "close call" you describe when were were in roadside ditches during a mortar attack was the most terrifying thing I remember because what happened to me was very similar to what you describe as happening to you. Seemed like the mortar shells would never stop coming, and they were accurate - right on top of us. The Germans had adjusted the mortars on that little road and waited till we got there and let us have it. One round hit about eighteen inches from my left side, opposite my head, and blew out my left ear drum - it is still not fully recovered. And that ditch I was in was very shallow but just deep enough. Like you, stuff I was carrying got cut up. I had forgotten about the wire but I remember I had a field telephone on my back and it got shredded. My canteen got punctured. My jacket had holes in it. I was so scared I forgot the details of what happened to you and I'll bet you didn't remember the details of what happened to me. Why would I have a phone on my back and you have another one in your hand? We came close to getting chewed up that day. I believe this happened in early July when our division artillery was attached to the 90th Division and we were sent up front with a bunch of strange troops. I never felt so all alone. The situation was hot - lots of things happened that day, a horrible day for the infantry we were with.

From Bernie's letter of 11-12-93:

Your memory of the close call we had involving the telephones was precise. The man in charge of that body of infantry was wrong, in my opinion, in refusing your offer to soften up his next objective with some artillery fire before going forward. You did come across the road to where I was in the shallow ditch. You asked me if I was alright. Then, after a two second inspection of my person, we hauled it out of there. With no radio and only two phones that were not connected to the line we were of practically no use whatsoever. We met Bill Martin who was laying the line from the jeep forward. He only had a roll of the thin little line with him and he heard the to-do up front so he waited for things to ease up a little before coming on.

The fact that you had the phone was proper for the Forward Observer. It would be connected for use and the lineman carried one to check the line for breaks or short circuits while back-tracking the wire.

In closing: I have no memory of anything that day following this incident, which I have previously described, perhaps too dramatically, as a near-death experience shared by Bernie and myself.

Note: 1st. Lt. William G. Cole and SSG Bernard Mayer were members of C Battery, 29th FA at the time of this story.

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