Excerpt from Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Citizen Soldiers

The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945

by Stephen Ambrose

Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose X
Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose
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  • First Published:
    Oct 1997, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 1999, 255 pages

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There were some at the front, not many. In most cases they were visitors who didn't belong there. Captain Colby led an attack down a road in the hedgerow country. His company got hit hard and dove into the ditches. A firefight ensued. After a half hour or so, Colby looked up to see his regimental commander standing above him, "nattily attired in a clean uniform, and his helmet was clean and sported a silver star. He was the picture of coolness."

"You can't lead your men from down there," he snapped. "Come up here and tell me what happened. Try to set an example of how an officer should behave."

"Come down here, sir, and we can talk about it," Colby replied.

"Come up here," the general replied. "That's an order."

To Colby's relief, a mortar round went off a few meters from the general. "He joined me in the ditch."

Most chickenshits were rear-echelon. There are innumerable stories about them. Sgt. Ed Gianelloni remembered the time in Luneville when his division was temporarily out of the line and the opportunity came to take the first showers in two months. For the officers, there was a public bath, where Frenchwomen bathed them. For the enlisted, there were portable showers in the middle of a muddy field. Everyone undressed, piled up clothes and weapons, and stood around shivering, waiting for the hot water.

"All right, you guys," the engineering sergeant in command barked out, "you got one minute to wet, one minute to soap, and one minute to rinse off and then you get out of here."

A private standing near the weapons pile reached in, grabbed an M-1, pointed it at the sergeant, and inquired politely, "Sergeant, how much time did you say we have?"

The sergeant gulped, then muttered, "I'll tell you what, I am going to take a walk and check on my equipment. When I come back you ought to be done."

General Patton had more than a bit of the chickenshit in him. He was notorious for being a martinet about dress and spit-and-polish in Third Army. He ordered -- and sometimes may have gotten -- front-line infantry to wear ties and to shave every day. Bill Mauldin did a famous cartoon about it. Willie and Joe are driving a beat-up jeep. A large road sign informs them that "You Are Entering The Third Army!" There follows a list of fines for anyone entering the area: no helmet, $25; no shave $10; no tie $25; and so on. Willie tells Joe, "Radio th' ol' man we'll be late on account of a thousand-mile detour."

But it was no joke. Patton's spit-and-polish obsession some times cost dearly. It not only had nothing to do with winning the war, it hurt the war effort.

Twenty-year-old Lt. Bill Leesemann was in a reconnaissance section of the 101st Engineer Combat Battalion, attached to the 26th Division. On December 18, the 26th, along with the 80th and the 4th Armored, got orders to break off the attack in Lorraine, turn from east to north, and smash into the German southern flank of the Bulge. This required frenetic activity. Leesemann's job was to go from division headquarters in Metz to the Third Army Engineer headquarters in Nancy, to pick up maps -- no one in the attacking divisions had any maps of Luxembourg. It was a sixty-kilometer drive. Leesemann and his driver took off late on December 19, as the 26th was forming up to head toward Luxembourg. It wouldn't be able to move out until the maps arrived.

It was raining; the road was muddy; troops moving north caused delays. It was full dark by the time Leesemann got to Nancy. He stopped at a crossroads, where "a real spit-and-polish MP was directing traffic." Leesemann asked directions to the Engineers HQ. The MP took one look at the dirty, unshaven lieutenant and driver and ordered them to the MP post. He said they could not proceed into Third Army area until they had washed the jeep, shaved, and put on clean uniforms. Leesemann replied that such things were out of the question and explained the urgency of the situation. The MP called his corporal.

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.

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