By Former T/5 John K. Lester

      I was a "jeep" driver for a forward observer party for "B" Btry., 29th Field Artillery, 4th Infantry Division. About two weeks after the initial invasion on June 6, 1944, I remember driving through Mountebourg, in Normandy. The road that had to be used through the city, came under constant sniper fire from the enemy. Once you started, there was no turning back. A "jeep" doesn't give you much protection. It was the road to Cherbourg, so you drove, you prayed, and thanked God when you got through the city. It was bad enough, you had to be worried about mines, enemy artillery, etc., they had to throw in the snipers. Let me tell you, they were good at it. They had plenty of experience. I had about two weeks in combat but, I was learning fast.

      The sunken roads between the hedgerows in Normandy were another dread for drivers. Along with all the above mentioned hazards, hidden anti-tank guns, zeroed in enemy artillery, dead cows, destroyed and burning vehicles, and on many occasions, bodies of those who were victims of war. Some of the dead were American. Seeing enemy dead didn't bother me. The sight of our own was a different story. I remember one GI I thought I could help. I stopped to see but, he had been hit in the head by a shot from a sniper. He was propped against a tree. I cried when I saw a snapshot, I presumed to be his wife and two little girls. They looked to be about one and three years old. The picture was fastened inside his steel helmet liner. The shot up helmet was alongside him. Those steel helmets didn't stop sniper bullets. Something like that is hard to get out of your mind.

      I remember one time when we were moving up in convoy, we were straffed by one of our own P47 fighter planes. By a stroke of good luck, he didn't cause much damage on his first pass. When he started the second pass, he was shot down by a "GI" who was operating a 50 caliber machine gun that was mounted on one of our 2 1/2 tons trucks. He really had him in his sights. He saved many of us that day. I remember him getting reamed out by a captain, for shooting down one of our own planes. We learned later that the plane was being flown by a German pilot. We also learned that, instead of a court martial, the "GI" was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his excellent marksmanship.

      On July 25, 1944, the 4th Division spearheaded the ST LO breakthrough. The 8th Infantry Regiment, supported by the 29th Field Artillery, was the attacking force. Well over 2000 heavy bombers flew over to bomb 1000 yards ahead of the infantry. I was at an observation post and could observe much of the activity. I hadn't seen as many planes since "D"-Day. The first waves of bombers were on target but, the heavy cloud of smoke started drifting back over the infantry and, then the bombers started dropping their bombs on our own troops. Many of our infantry were killed, wounded, and stunned by this terrible error but, the attack went on as planned. I don't know how they did it under those conditions. They made it possible for the new 3rd Army to break out and start to roll over France. Some of the bombs that were dropped short, landed close to our observation post. I believe Lt. General Leslie J. McNair was killed by one such bomb not too far from my location. If I remember right, he was standing by a knocked out german tank about 100 yards from me. I saw at least four of our B-24 bombers fall out of the sky. Two of them were breaking apart as they fell. What an awesome sight. The Germans had put up plenty of anti-aircraft fire.

      Just outside Paris, France in August 1944, my F.O. party, (three of us), had our first home cooked meal. The area was under intermittent fire. Nothing serious, just annoying. A boy about twelve, yelled at us to come into his home. We were a little apprehensive but, we parked the vehicle under cover and went in. What I saw amazed me. This boy knew more about the war than we did. He had large maps hanging on the wall and was trying to keep track of what was going on. The maps didn't help us but, he sure was proud of them. While he was telling us about his maps, his mother was fixing a meal.

      They didn't have much food but, wanted to share what they did have, with us. I remember having chicken, potatoes, and green beans. It was a feast. Of course, we had wine. It was an enjoyable hour, or so, and a small reprieve from the war. For a change, I had something good to remember. When we left, we gave them whatever rations we could spare. All we had were K-rations and limited "C" rations. The little chocolate bars were a big hit with the boy. I can still see him standing proudly by the maps he had made. They were happy people. The war was over for them.

      We went on from there, to be among the first Americans to enter the city of Paris on August 25th. We may have been there first but, we didn't get to stay in Paris very long. We moved out the very next morning heading for Belgium and the road to Germany. I believe it was the 28th Division who got to parade, and enjoy, Paris. I know it wasn't us. We didn't have the proper dress for parades and celebrations. They needed fresh troops for that, not dirty, tired, out of place, combat troops. Besides, we had to go on. We still had a war to win.

             John K. Lester
E-mail address: johnklester@juno.com

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