|Me, with five veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, from left: Sam Trinca, Chet DePalma, Tony DeTomaso, Jim Burke, and Chuck Hurlbut.|
During the past few weeks I've been transcribing a conversation I had in 1998 with five veterans of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion. The battalion was split up on D-Day, with some members landing on Omaha Beach and others landing on Utah Beach. A narrative drawn from my individual interview with Chuck Hurlbut is included in my book "Nine Lives," but I always kind of dreaded transcribing the group interview because a) I wasn't sure I would recognize the individual voices, and b) the conversation began in a mall in Ithaca, N.Y., with an artificial waterfall in the background, then moved to lunch at a nearby Holiday Inn, and concluded in the lounge.
I'm almost finished with the transcription, which I plan to include in my book "Conversations With D-Day Veterans." Today I came upon two passages in one of the files I've converted for use in the transcription program ExpressScribe. The first is one of those scenes that is both sad and humorous at the same time. The second is a wonderful description of the effect of American tank ammunition early in the war when confronted with a German tank.
1) Jim DePalma: Do you remember when the German paratroopers came down during the Battle of the Bulge? We captured what, four? We had about four we captured, I don't know what town it was. Anyway, I had the duty of guarding these four, taking them to the POW camp. Who the hell was it, Mitchell, said to me, he says, "Have them dig a latrine." So I give them a shovel apiece and they started to dig, and one guy started to cry. This sergeant started to cry. So I said to someone who could speak German, "Ask the guy what's wrong with him." Well, he thought he was digging his grave.
2) Bill Secaur: I got chased down a road by a German Panzer 200 yards behind me with a jeep. I was driving a jeep with a machine gun mounted with a messenger. We ran into our outfit in a schoolhouse and they said you better get some sleep. We woke up an hour later and everybody's gone, kitchen equipment's all there, and everything else is gone. We went out the back door of the schoolhouse and here comes a Panzer tank. We took off with a jeep, that's when we went into the woods. We went into the woods, and here's a tank destroyer outfit from the U.S. and they were waiting for the tanks to destroy 'em. When we first went in with American tanks we couldn't touch a Panzer tank. The shells would bounce right off like a ping pong ball.