“Veterans Voices Series”: Erwin A. Thompson’s Night Patrol story…transcript from Telegraph video
To see Erwin A. Thompson tellling this story of bravery in action...matter of factly and with gentle humor...go to www.thetelegraph.com. Tip: To avoid problems in streaming this video, you may wish to press the pause button on the screen and allow the entire video to load first before playing (watch for the progress of the gray line).
What follows is my transcription from the Telegraph's ongoing "Veterans Voices Series." It is Pop's story of the night he took out a patrol of three men in World War II, never expecting to come back, and almost didn't. He and another man saved each other's lives.
POP’S NIGHT PATROL STORY (transcribed from Veterans Voices Video at www.thetelegraph.com)
The captain called me and gave me this order and said to go down this railroad track 700 feet and find out if there was any enemy forces in place there.
It was pretty much a booby trap of an order because if there were any enemy forces anywhere around, that’s what they’d be watching would be the railroad track. I knew that and he knew that.
I said, “Captain, nobody but a fool would try that.”
He said, “Sergeant, those are your orders.”
So, they were my orders. We were fighting a war and we had to do something. We had to find out if the enemy was in command of that particular territory or not. I really didn’t think that we’d get back from there because of the situation.
I went to my platoon leader. Just before we’d gone overseas, they’d put out the order that a commissioned officer would lead all night patrols.
I said, “Well, Lieutenant, I guess you’re going to lead this patrol” and he laughed at me. So I knew where he was.
I was allowed to pick the men I wanted and the number of men. The man before me had gone out part of the way and had taken out his whole squad and I thought that was stupid. Why risk 12 men’s lives when you’re almost sure they won’t come back? Because we’d cover the area they’d covered the night before and another 400 yards in addition to that.
It was probably the hardest decision I had to ever make in my life, but I had to pick men to go with me. I decided that 3 men including myself would be the minimum they’d allow me to get by with.
So we set out. In order to get on the railroad track onto the other side of our lines we had to crawl under a trip wire which was stretched across the railroad track with an M-8 antipersonnel mine about 3 feet in the air which would have been the death of anybody who tripped the trip wire.
We went down the railroad track and we’d gone probably three-or-four-hundred yards when I tripped the trip the trip wire. We were walking and I didn’t stop. Anyway, I tripped the trip wire. That triggered an explosion of a kind they had figured for it.
The only good thing about it was that the railroad had ditches and we jumped into the nearest ditch. I never did hear from one of my men, Sicony. Anthony Sicony. "Chick" we called him. I said, “Chick, where are you?” He never answered.
Tennessee answered me and he was in the same ditch I was in, not too far away. He told me, “Tiger, go on and get out of here. My leg’s broke and I can’t move. But at least you can get out.”
I told him, “Either we’re going to both get out, or neither one of us is going to get out.”
He said, “I can’t walk.”
I said, “You can’t walk, but you can crawl.”
So we crawled and actually got out of their range. But, they could hear us talking and they kept firing hand grenades at us. But we got to the place where we were out of their range. We got up on the railroad track and walked. A three-legged deal. His one leg and my two.
We were walking down the railroad track and he said “Tiger, how about that trip wire?” ---for that antipersonnel mine that our own people had installed. I reached down and I touched that trip wire. If we’d taken one more step, we’d neither one of us never have gotten out of there.
So I saved his life and he saved mine.
We got down and he crawled under the wire. I thought I’d go back and see if I could find Chick, but I sat down and I was just awful tired. I hurt, but I was just awful tired, that was the main thing. I was awful tired. After I sat there a few minutes I couldn’t move.
He crawled out from under the wire there and there was a squad of men in control of the house. They came out and rescued him. I was stiffened up by that time and couldn’t move. They dragged me in there. Fortunately, we were in what’s known as a stable position they had medics and ambulances and so on. They patched us up as best they could and hauled us back out of the combat area.
I never did see Tennessee again. He went to a different place than I did for some reason or other. I never did hear from Chick. I got the Third Armor book the year I got out of the service and he was listed as missing in action. They never did officially list him as being…
[fade out and fade in as my father moves from discussing the field engagement to the damage done by that engagement.]
You could put your hand in one [wound] in my left knee here and right ankle. Your finger would just barely cover two pieces of flesh between my foot and my leg. The rest of it was torn up with shrapnel. I’ve got holes in my arm which people think are vaccinations, but I could show you where the shrapnel came out on the other side, some of it probably still in there. I had some in my leg, too. I had a piece in my jaw here. That’s one of the reasons I don’t shave. Because it didn’t heal up right and it’s hard to shave. So I started growing a beard years later when I could do that.
That’s about it. Three months in the hospital. The only reason I got well was because I went down there myself and got in the physical therapy tub because my trigger finger wouldn’t work. They found out that I had a piece of shrapnel in my third finger that kept my trigger finger from working. So they took the shrapnel out and sent me down to the PT place because of that.
That’s why I can walk today because of that hot water bath I gave myself.
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