We were a scraggly, dusty, sorry looking line of Dogfaces dragging ourselves single file into the first German city I had seen since ‘joining’ the Fifth Infantry Division as a replacement. The city had been rendered an impressive pile of ruins by merciless bombardment.
Nevertheless, industrious German civilians had cleared the streets of obstacles, giving the city the clean tidy look of normality if you didn’t notice that the buildings were all piles of rubble.
As we approached a slanting heap that had once beena a large apartment house I noticed several young people digging amidst the sticks and stones. Curiously I asked: “Looking for firewood?” “No,” one of them answered, “we are looking for our “Vater.” (not “water” but “FATHER.”) I saw no point in continuing the conversation.
By the time the last one of us had dropped his rifle and slid comfortably unto the floor of the basement in the house that had been chosen for Co. Headquarters, one of the talented treasure finders among us (I suspect he had been a burglar in ‘real life’) had discovered and recovered a respectable stash of high quality German champagne. (A worthy rival to the best French product) In fact, he had quickly discovered a champagne factory and brought us a respectable part of its store for our enjoyment.
This genuine hillbilly (there were lots of them) claimed to be a member of the notorious Hatfield vs. McCoy legend, but we had strong doubts, as he was one sorry individual. He would even avoid the strain of carrying water in his canteen by mooching it from us.
I doubt the rest of the guys were following my example; as they had probably figured out the bottle per hour of guard duty routine on their own. What I do know is that Hatfield also took to the idea but that instead of pulling it off he brought about our downfall.
Hatfield took over guard duty at midnight and was to wake his replacement at two. ALL of us, including Hatfield slept well that night, but it was the last rest we had till Germany collapsed. Battalion noticed our absolute silence; Hatfield having entered into sound, blissful, lasting sleep as soon as he had finished his first glass of champagne. No jangling of the bell by Battalion was able to rouse him or us so they finally felt obliged to report our disappearance to Regimental Headquarters.
A Colonel came personally to investigate around six AM. He strode unchallenged into our basement fort greeted only by the soft rumbling buzz of peacefully sleeping soldiers. Hatfield was sound asleep, head down before his two unfinished bottles. The rest of us were strewn about as comfortable as possible.
Now Hatfield had to carry his own water or go without.