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July 13, 2007

More from “Recollections From Army Days” by Robert C. Brooks
Recollections of a couple of fellows in our company; Lester Hilbus was in the Reconnaissance Platoon. Platoon Leader was Lt. Robb, a tough, little “Gung-Ho” soldier. On maneuvers, at a stream crossing, Lt. Robb had a man climb a tree overhanging the stream and hang a rope there so his men could swing across. A couple of them did, but when Lester’s turn came he said, “Lieutenant, I can’t swing across there”. Lt. Robb said, ÝOU TAKE THAT ROPE AND SWING ACROSS”. Lester took the rope and got a start, but when he was halfway across he slipped from the rope and hit the water going fast enough to go to the other side. He went like a stone being skipped.

Jim McCormick had a fine tenor voice, and sang Irish songs for us at times. Some were old favorites, like “Kathleen Mavournen”, and “Mother Macree”. The USO put on a dinner party with orchestra for our company one time, in Nashville, and asked for volunteers to sing. The fellows volunteered Mac, and Hank Weidholder, who sang bass “Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep”. Both made a hit. They kept Mac singing Irish songs with the orchestra. We also had pretty girls to escort at the party. All behaved pretty well. On the way back to camp, in trucks, we sang –tried-some of the songs. Didn’t come near sounding like Mac or Hank, though.

One of my experiences – clearing some B Company boys out of a farmhouse in Germany, with a rotten egg. I had gotten in there with them at a little farm village after we had foraged for eggs. We were frying the eggs on a griddle. One of the eggs I dropped in was rotten, and did it fill the air. We all ran out gasping, some of them shouting, “Who in the hell did that.” I didn’t say a word as we dispersed.

During training we had some 25 mile hikes. One was in winter with snow and wind. Then one was in summer in the hills of Tennessee. We carried weapons and our field equipment. We kept up a steady pace, with 10 minute breaks every hour or so. That was mostly on a dirt road or a pathway through the woods. About halfway, at a break, when Groves tried to get up to go, carrying a machine gun tripod, he was wobbling and sat back down. Lt. Cavanaugh saw him, and was going to take him in a jeep, saying, “I can make it Lieutenant, I will make it”. But Lt. Cavanaugh made him get in, and we heard Groves still protesting loudly as they drove away. When the Lt. came back he said, “There’s a plucky guy. He tried to stop the Medics from taking him!”. Groves made the rest of the training all right. He became an expert with the Manual of Arms - he did some fancy things like the so called “Queen Ann Salute”, and made Expert on the rifle range.

When we learned, during training, that our platoon leader was to be Lieutenant Andrew Jackson Cavanaugh III, from Virginia Military Institute we through we were in for a hard time. He was a distant relation of General Andrew Jackson. But in a short time he gained our respect and trust. He was not a “Martinet’, and never put on “Airs”. He showed respect for the men. We would go to any length for him in training, and then in combat. He was wounded twice during our actions. Everyone I ever spoke to who knew him held him in highest regard. He was a natural leader, not a “Made” one. After the war I learned that he died, too young. He had become a teacher but continued to have trouble from a knee wound.

The artillery had small “spotter” planes – Piper Cubs – about the time we crossed the Rhine River. The weather was getting better. We were glad to see them – we thought the Germans would be less likely to expose themselves to fire at us when our planes flew over. But there were still some Luftwaffe planes. One of our spotters was flying high over our column during an advance, when we saw it suddenly go into a vertical dive, and a couple of seconds later a German plane streaked over. The spotter plane leveled off just above the trees. The pilot had seen the German plane, and reacted quickly. We kept watching, but the German plane didn’t come back. A great maneuver by the spotter pilot – it was the difference between being the quick or the dead!

Stu’s Notes This ends “Recollections From Army Days” by Robert C. Brooks. I am so thankful that he shared this special part of his life with us. It’s a Soldiers story. There are millions of them, most never told. When he gave it to me I couldn’t put it down. I’ve since read it 3 or 4 times. No, it is not anything Hollywood might want, but then I don’t care much for Hollywood. Bob tells it as it was, no glory, just a long hard war, with a personal touch. In telling his story he told some of the stories of those that never came home. They cannot tell their story. We need more Bob’s to come forward and do this. The names of those who never came home should be in print, if for no other reason. I do know from my little experience of writing that there are people out there that through the wonder of the internet, will find the stories, long lost of their loved ones. It has happened.