Biography of Les Nordlund
PFC, Co B, 1st Bn, 405th Inf Regt, 102nd Inf Div, 9th Army, USA
BEST OF LIFE
Lt. Robert S. (Smitty) Smith, followed by 1/Sgt Tony DeBellis, opened the door and softly walked across the room to the only window, where I sat at a table writing a letter home to my folks. We knew each other well, but this PFC runner immediately stood to recognize his wishes. I whispered, "Hello, Sir. What can I do?"
The soldiers of the combined 1st Battalion and Company B command post were exhausted and sleeping this cool, clear afternoon of February 12, 1945. Smitty, the Battalion S2 officer, had come to see Captain Norm Estes, who sat asleep in the center of the room. The rest of the 1st Battalion Headquarters contingent of sergeants and runners lay sprawled on the floor around the captain.
Smitty whispered back, "Les, I'd rather not disturb Norm. I could talk to Bull (Major LeRoy Frazier). Is he in?"
"Downstairs, I believe -- the battalion CP, Sir. He may be sleeping. Just a minute. I'll check."
"Les, please. I'll go down. It'll be OK."
Military protocol was not high on my list. I respected my lieutenant. I didn't want him awakening or embarrassing the battalion commander. I slowed my pace but did not stop. "Sir, it'll only take a second. I don't mind."
I found Bull presentable and began to share Smitty's request. We heard a violent explosion, possibly a hit on our village farm house CP. We rushed upstairs to a room filled with plaster dust. The window table had disappeared, indicating a direct mortar hit. We heard groans. It was difficult identifying bodies, except for Captain Estes, who still sat in his chair, limp and covered with gray dust. Blood trickled down the captain's forehead, indicating a serious or fatal wound.
I found Smitty on the floor not far from where I'd last seen him. He saw me, "Les, get help, quick. It's bad. Oooo!" Others lay still. More groans. I ran for medical help, not hesitating to obey.
The carnage took place in Rurdorf, Germany. The jittery enemy had prematurely attempted to wash away our assault across the Roer River by opening the flood gates at the upstream Schwamanuel Reservoir. Thankful for his poor timing, we waited for the man-made flood waters to recede.
Captain John Finney replaced Captain Estes. I needed to coordinate my efforts with many replacement officers, riflemen, runners and non-coms. We had much time to think about what might lay ahead. This dependable runner was now anxious and scared.
My 21-year-old mind sought for new motivation and spiritual re-arming. I muttered, If I only knew I'd be OK after the next battle, I'd be brave and gutsy -- an inspiration to others. Didn't Christ know of his resurrection before he died? This unknown battle seems like greater suffering.
Later I realized it would be honorable if I were meant to be a KIA. The humiliating death of Christ was no comparison. I rumbled inside, Get with it, nervous soldier. Pull yourself together.
I temporarily resolved the turmoil by admitting that my soldier friends, including my brother, died willingly for a just cause. Why couldn't I? The next few days showed me -- I had much more to learn.
The northern flank of our Allied Forces began the final push to Berlin on February 23rd. British infantry and armored corps advanced on the left flank of our U.S. 102nd Infantry Division. The reliable U.S. 84th Infantry followed our assault in leap frog fashion. Other U.S. Ninth Army units jumped off simultaneously in Operation Grenade, crossing the Roer River en route to the Rhine.
At 0330 hours, our 1st Battalion, 405th Infantry Regiment paddled across the Roer in assault boats near Rurdorf. We suffered more casualties to key personnel but achieved the planned bridgehead. Could we reorganize for expected counterattacks?
Day-2 began with a roaring artillery bombardment prior to our 1000 hour jump-off. The 701st Tank Battalion supported our 405th Infantry Regiment attack on Hottorf -- their Company A tanks followed our 1st Battalion.
Infantry Companies B and C outgunned and overran a battered enemy machine gun nest 1000 yards from our objective. Two German soldiers came out of the dugout without weapons, hands raised.
We continued our advance to the objective through the flat sugar beet fields. Conditions were cool and clear, visibility excellent. Suddenly a second machine gun began firing at my platoon from our prior jump-off position. The slugs whistled close to me at an obvious 300-400 rounds-per-minute, indicating American equipment. I dove for a tank track depression. "Ouch!" One hammered into the bottom of my right foot -- a safe wound. The gunner stopped firing. Confused and hurting, I muttered in desperation, That idiot! Thank God he now sees his mistake -- but does he? I can't take that chance. I've gotta crawl for better cover.
The gunner fired a second volley. Another slug tore through flesh. I screamed, "Oooo!", as blood oozed from my left thigh. Thoughts buzzed, What could I do to make him see me as a friend? I found no answer. Without a functional left knee, my arms now did double duty as I tried desperately to crawl to a trench twenty yards away.
The gunner saw me crawl -- adjusted his sights and fired again. Lead thundered into my left ribs. Words raced through my mind, Oh no! This must be it! Why am I even thinking -- or, why am I not thinking about the big events -- the meaningful happy times in my life? Isn't that what people do before they die? Think -- yes, play dead. That's what he wants. Don't move. Just breathe -- and hope.
Seconds passed -- perhaps a minute. The gunner didn't fire.
After two minutes I found myself still breathing but bleeding profusely. The gunner looked for new targets. I needed to find help but couldn't carry my gun and ammunition. Off came my ammo belt and trusty M-1. My good arms and right knee helped me crawl to the trench. I slid in and crawled another twenty yards to a vacated tank bunker.
There my platoon medic, Bill (Doc) Garman, treated other wounded soldiers. "Les, where is it? Where are you hit?"
"Look at this one first," I said pointing to my left side. Doc slashed my field jacket and shirt to expose sandpapered ribs.
"That's not bad at all, Les. Look." I saw a two inch wide scrape over seven inches of skin, left to right. Amazed, thankful and confused, I asked Doc to patch up my left thigh and right foot. The bleeding subsided.
It was hours before the area was secure enough to pick up even the critically wounded. At dusk they placed my stretcher on a jeep at the Battalion aid station in Boslar. At the Regimental aid station in Tetz, medics carried me into a large dimly lit tent with many other wounded GI's. I reached in my pockets to see what possessions I had salvaged. In my left chest pocket I found a small broken manicure scissors. I reached again, looking for the 30 caliber slug. It was not there. I pulled out something else -- my small New Testament. The scissors had flattened the slug, and the 2.5"x4"_book spread the impact energy.
We reached the Roer River late that night. On the pontoon bridge I looked up at the stars cluttered with anti-aircraft bursts, tracers and search lights -- and began to cry for my buddies. I realized I may not be seeing them again! Gone! No goodbyes. Are they still alive?
I've asked myself many times why the machine gunner failed to execute his misguided plan. It has always been clear that a higher power took control of the physical results, for which I'm thankful. Inside -- I boiled with fury at my out-of-controll tank support comrade.
I stayed away from veteran reunions prior to 1993, partly because I didn't understand my military experience and because I couldn't trust my reaction to meeting the soldier from our 701st Tank Battalion. I had not fully forgiven him for the blind battlefield error.
It took many years to fit the pieces together. Remembering my 2/12/45 question to Smitty, I found it easy to ask others, What can I do to help?. However, I didn't like to talk about my 2/24/45 battle injuries.
After my discharge in 1946, I became sensitive to the actions of a few Christian friends who used their positions of power to manipulate others. I didn't relate my military and civilian experiences, perhaps dismissing the inner turmoil as a type of God's anger at sin. I soon learned to face brotherly conflicts without fear of personal harm to body and reputation. When conflicts exposed familiar failures of trusted Christian friends, some amazing battles erupted. Retaliation often became a workable option, requiring extra strength and God's grace to resist. There have been many spiritual wounds, but truth always prevailed when counterattacks were pushed aside. I was not always so inclined.
Many wonderful friends continue to stand by me, but some keep their distance. Can I forgive those who were blinded by personal ambitions? Absolutely. Have I been blind? Yes, too often I've had a firm spirit that didn't reflect love. Our Church Body includes many who differ with my specific understanding of truth. I've needed God's grace many times to resist the temptation to retaliate.
My brother, Mel, was killed in action on Attu May 29, 1943. In early May 1993, because of a serious stroke, Admiral James Russell gave me his seat on a chartered plane to visit Mel's battlefield. Americans and Japanese celebrated the 50th anniversary of the WW-II battle. I had my eyes opened. There I met and shook hands with Yasuyuki Yamazaki, the son of the Japanese commanding officer. I listened carefully to Laura Tatsuguchi-Davis, and saw her cry as she spoke (in English and Japanese) of her medical officer father, trained in a California SDA school to save lives -- until that final kamikaze night when he killed his patients and finally took his own life in fierce battle.
Today, if I met my battlefield friend, I would not merely return the lead removed from my right foot. I'd wrap my arms around him and say, My dear friend, thanks for your marksmanship and for whatever motives drove you to give me the best experience of my life. I'm indebted to him for the unsolicited lesson on how to live by God's grace.
Are you out there, forgiven friend?
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(c) 1994 Les Nordlund
BEST OF LIFE
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