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Connor's War

Chapter 1 - Awakening

 

All an army needs are comradeship, a moral imperative, and good NCOs. Generals do very little.

Major General Daniel Wellsbee

 

October 1944 – Aachen Germany

Nineteen-year-old Connor wanted to bury himself, dig below the level of exploding shells. The unending shower of dirt and rock pelted his back and helmet in this shell-punched hole. He tasted dirt, breathed in the dust of shattered bricks, smelled the acrid air of high explosives.

Since arriving on the European mainland, one soldier in a herd of several hundred thousand replacements, he’d yet to see a German face. There had been dark dots on distant hillsides, ants being shell-chased and strafed across the midlands of France. The enemy was retreating, scrambling back to their prepared stronghold along the border: the Siegfried Line, the German Western Wall.

Before taking the smaller defended towns around Aachen, Connor had last pulled his trigger in England on the firing line with a hundred others. His regiment was part of the Aachen encirclement, waiting while artillery prepared the ground for the infantry assault on the massive city. The smaller German towns, sparsely defended forward positions, had been relatively easy to take after artillery and tanks leveled the buildings, houses, and shops to waist-deep rubble. This was going to be different. Too many strong buildings, too many cellars, too many narrow streets. His regiment held back, waiting for this moment, for this attack. Someone slid in next to him, bumped him, shook his shoulder. Connor saw three stripes.

“Move up! Move up, goddamn it!” The sergeant’s muffled bellows barely reached Connor’s deafened ears. “We gotta move up. We’re getting pounded in the open. They got this area zeroed in.” He jerked Connor’s pack. “Move up, get in those buildings.” The sergeant belly crawled to the next group of huddled soldiers.

Connor didn’t see the logic, didn’t understand it. Unless a shell dropped right on top of him, he was safe. He wondered about the strategy in this maelstrom, but privates aren’t given privileged information held by battalion colonels. The shelling moved further down the line to fall on other luckless bastards. Connor peered over the edge and joined his platoon as they moved toward the sound of German guns. Ahead lay cover and shelter in the damaged buildings at the city’s edge.

Edges. Connor felt he’d been walking along them since leaving Kenosha, moving through a blurred boot camp then infantry training at Camp Wolters, Texas. He was now edge-walking into Germany. Connor hadn’t liked Texas, or at least what he saw of it. The sky was too big, ground dirt-packed by soldiers’ feet and army trucks. He missed Lake Michigan and the girls sporting midriff-baring swimsuits that clung to inviting curves. The sergeant’s tug and rough insistence reminded him of his drunk father’s harsh shouts, raspy from too much alcohol, more booze than his mind or body could take before it would kill him.

Connor moved up toward the angry guns.

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