Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… The corporal lifted the bolt of his rifle, pulled it back, then pushed it forward and down again, ejecting the empty casing and putting another round in the chamber. This is too easy… he thought, as he scanned the top of the trench works about twenty five yards away for another German helmet to pop up. Was God testing him? Was he doing His will, or failing the test? He hadn’t really meant to be exactly where he was, doing what he was doing; it just sorta happened. "Thou shalt not kill…" his mind whispered every few minutes, and he couldn’t stop it. Another helmet came up on his right; he sighted and squeezed the trigger. He heard the death grunt, saw the blood vapor, and heard that high pitched foreign yelling from the other men. He didn’t know what they were yelling, but they was powerful scared.
Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He thought about exactly where he was; lying prone, where he could clearly see all the trenches and the pits for about a dozen machine guns, all chattering away. But they had to keep looking over the top to get the drop on him; and they couldn’t just start spraying them guns every which way, else they’d get some of the prisoners he and the boys had just captured right before all this shooting started that were behind him on his right. What made him land just here in this perfect spot when everybody that wasn’t hit took cover? He didn’t rightly know. He saw another part of a helmet and one eye appear on the side of a sandbag next to one of the guns… and again he squeezed the trigger.
Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He looked for a second at the rifle breach just ahead of the bolt that was getting too hot to touch with a bare hand. "U.S. Model of 1917 Eddystone" it read. He never did figure who, what or where Eddystone was, but it was a right smart rifle. Much better than the .303 Lee-Enfield he had for a while when they was training with the British after they got to Le Havre. The .30-06 bullet had more punch, and the longer barrel meant better accuracy. It wasn’t nothin’ like the homemade muzzle-loaders back home, but he got good with it right quick back at Camp Gordon, so they asked him to help out some of the city boys with their shootin’. He’d have felt pretty poorly about himself if he hadn’t – shootin’ was about the only thing he could do that he was right proud of, even though pride could be a sin. Some of the boys complained the rifle was too heavy – about eleven pounds with the strap, kit, bayonet and all. But he was a big fella, and being heavy like that meant the rifle didn’t kick so much. He stroked the smooth wood encasing the barrel with his callused hand, licked his thumb to wet the far site to cut down on the haze, spotted a target, and fired. Another poor German boy was sent to his maker.
Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… He figured they couldn’t get a fix on him even if he was "off-hand," and he’d see them even better that way, so he stood up. "Why are my eyes and hands workin’ this rifle as smooth as a clock ticking?" He wondered, almost ashamed at his own body for not revolting at such doings. And the answer came to him: "Turkeys… The shooting matches where they’d tie turkeys behind a log, and if you got one just as the head popped up, you’d be goin’ home with a prize dinner for Momma and the little ‘uns. Them trenches was just about as far away as them turkey logs were back home; only these heads were a whole lot bigger… can’t hardly miss." The thought just made him feel lower. There was joy in gettin’ a turkey for the folks; but this… this… was it murder? "Lord, let this not be a temptation… Please let Captain Danforth and Major Buxton be right," he prayed, but couldn’t shake the doubt and the mussed up feeling inside. He tried to remember all the answers from the Bible they gave that night in the Major’s quarters at Camp Gordon, when he told them he’d do his best to obey orders and be the best soldier boy they ever knowed, but his church taught killin’ was a sin, and there warn’t no way to get away from that no how. Render unto Caesar… He that hath no sword let him sell his cloak and buy one… But if the watchman sees the sword coming… But Thou shalt not kill… thundered again in his brain. The Major had talked about them poor Belgians mindin’ their own affairs when these Germans come along, but he never met no Belgian–never met nobody outside Tennessee before he joined the Army, except for crossin’ over the line to Kentucky for some ‘shine before he got right with the Lord.
The machine guns were quieting down some, and he hadn’t seen a head pop up for a minute, so he crouched low and began to make his way back to where some of the other boys took cover closer to the prisoners. He almost didn’t see the charging Germans until it was too late. From out of the end of a small ditch about thirty yards away they came–about maybe eight or nine of them, with bayonets fixed. A rifle with only two or three rounds left in it just wasn’t gonna get this job done, so he dropped it and frantically fumbled with the flap on his pistol holster. As he did so, he heard pistol shots from behind that brought down two of the charging men. He got his Colt M1911 out, pulled back the slider to chamber the first round, clicked the safety with his thumb and fired at the man furthest away. The .45 ACP round hit him in the shoulder, spun him around and dropped him to the ground… One, two, three, four more shots in quick succession brought down four more from farthest to nearer, but the officer leading the charge was almost upon him when he put one right into his guts, saw him fold in half like a camp chair, and begin screaming and rolling around on the ground just a couple of yards in front of him.
He holstered the pistol, picked up his rifle, and pulled the bolt back a bit to check, because he couldn’t remember if he had already chambered a round. He had. That last brush got his hands to shakin’ and his heart a-poundin’, so he took some deep breaths to get his shooting skills back. Who fired them shots? He wondered. Was it Beardsley? Konotski? Whoever it was, he was mighty grateful. He knew it wasn’t his best friend, Corporal Savage. Murray got tore up awful in that first machine gun burst. Blood everywhere, tunic ripped to ribbons. His eyes welled up as he tried to drive the picture from his mind–Gotta be ready to shoot… How did he get them Germans with his pistol so easy anyway? Same answer occurred to him–turkeys. When you hunt ’em with a pistol you shoot ’em from back to front, so they don’t see nothin’ till they’re hit. He wasn’t thinking about turkeys when he done it though, he just done it. Another head appeared and he fired the rifle.
Clack-CLACK, Clack-CLACK… The wounded officer in front of him was grunting and moaning somethin’ fierce, but what could he do? He’d get shot for sure if he went out to help, or try to get him back with the other prisoners. Maybe those other boys will quit now… "Hey! You up there! Give up and come down!" He yelled. The machine guns started chattering even worse, and the trees and bushes all around were getting all chewed to shreds. Either they couldn’t hear him, didn’t understand him, or they were just plain ornery. "Don’t want to kill no more of you lessn’ I have to!" he yelled. The guns slacked off a bit. He heard another loud moan from that wounded officer, and the rustling of bushes behind him. He dropped down on a knee and swung the rifle around, almost into the face of a German officer who had crawled up from the prisoners.
"Nicht shiessen!"
"Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot…! English?"
"No, American."
"Mein Gott… Eine Amerikanische cowboy! Also das ist was ist los hier."
"If you stop shooting at them, I will make them give up!"
The German tried to look over at his wounded comrade from different angles to see how bad he was. He unbuttoned his tunic and pulled out a shiny metal whistle. The corporal lowered his rifle, took out his Colt, and pointed it at the man’s chest.
"No tricks, now, or I’ll tech you off first!"
"Nein! No tricks!"
Brigade Headquarters – 164th IB, 82nd ID, Chatel Chehery – 8 Oct. 1918
The aide-de-camp rapped on the frame of the open door leading into the dining room of the chateau that had been converted to an office.
"Permission to enter, sir?"
"Come in, Lieutenant."
"Beggin’ your pardon, General, but you really should come out here and see this."
"What is it now?" He took off his glasses and looked up from the maps on the table, rubbing his bleary eyes.
"Well, sir, this big corporal and six men just marched into town with about a hundred heinie prisoners. They’re from Danforth’s company, General… Claim they grabbed them all by themselves over on the left flank."
"Danforth’s company you say? Big fella, this corporal? Maybe with red hair and a mustache?"
"How the hell did you know that, General?"
"Lucky guess…" he answered, as he dashed outside.
"General Lindsey! SIR!" The corporal snapped to and saluted, but his expression and furtive looks gave away that he’d never been anywhere near a General or even a Colonel before, and wasn’t sure whether he should just stand there, or halt the whole line he was leading.
"Not meanin’ to bother you, sir, but they told us they couldn’t deal with all these fellers up front, so we had to bring them back here."
"Well, Corporal, it looks like you captured the whole damn German Army!"
"Um, oh no, no sir…, just a 132 of them, so they told me when they counted ’em up on the way in… General, should I stop ’em here, or keep ’em movin’ towards the stockade?"
"Oh you just carry on, Corporal… Carry on!" The general burst out laughing, slapped the corporal on the back a couple of times and jerked his thumb towards the prisoner holding area.
"Lieutenant, with me…" The general ordered, as they returned to the chateau dining room.
"I’m sure Danforth’s gonna ask for an investigation, so we might as well have this man’s file pulled now. He’ll be on the next list for sergeant, that’s plain enough, and likely there will be a DSC in it for him, but it might get beyond that."
"Medal of Honor, sir?
"Could very well turn out that way, Lieutenant."
"How did you know who he was, General?"
"Danforth and Buxton have been telling everybody that would listen about the backcountry corporal that could shoot a tick off a hound, but didn’t want to kill anybody. Pointed him out a few times to me when they were formed up. Said he was a natural leader, though… I figured it to be him. Those damn guns on our left have been a thorn in my side for weeks. With the left nailed down, we’ll be through the Argonne in a few days now. I wonder if he has any idea of the lives he just saved, not just the ones he brought in, but a lot of our boys too."
The lieutenant took out a pad of paper and a pencil.
"Name, sir?"
"His name, Sir… So I can pull his file."
"Oh yes–York; Y-O-R-K, Alvin C."
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