Remembrances: Wood

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The following stories are excerpts from a collection of life experiences written by Morton “Pete” Wood Jr. of Bethesda. He served with the U.S. Army in World War II, where he was awarded a Bronze Star, and in Korea, where he was awarded a Purple Heart.

A familiar face

Late one afternoon in 1945, we were in our platoon-headquarters chateau on line in the “Jim” positions, a label we used rather than “hill” or a similar designation. Things were relatively quiet that day, with only an occasional whirring artillery shell passing overhead.

Our phone back to the Company I command post had been dead for a while, and we wondered if the wire, which ran along a dirt road, had been severed by artillery fire. Or could it have been snipped by a German patrol? We considered sending our runner back to the command post but feared he might be intercepted by the patrol, if there was one.

While we sat there pondering, we heard footsteps behind the chateau and were sure Germans were out there. We decided on the old infantry maneuver of encirclement.

Sgt. Edward Buckley and I grabbed our weapons and snuck out the front door. Buck crept around to the right and I to left. In back of the chateau, we were much relieved to find a GI checking out our phone line. He identified himself as Sgt. Harold Hickson from the battalion communications platoon and said he had just fixed a break in our phone line.

We went back in and found the phone was working OK. Harold Hickson? Why did that name sound familiar? I asked him if by any chance we had been in the same grade at Fillmore Elementary School in Washington, D.C., back in the 1930s. He said maybe so because that’s when he was there.

I soon forgot about the incident, but some 50 years later, while looking through the 264th Infantry Regiment World War II publication, I came across the name and photo of Harold M. Hickson. I found his name and address in the Fairfax phone book and wrote him a note. He verified that he was, indeed, that person, and we began an exchange of memories and photos of school days, school kids, Army days and Army buddies.

His training and experiences in the war had led to a lifelong career with - what else? - the local telephone company.

Maneuver in a meadow

In early April 1945, our Company I, 264th Infantry, was in battalion reserve. Two lucky truckloads of us donned our cleanest uniforms and caps and took off for a day in Quimper, France, a quaint river town about a two-hour drive up a road paralleling the front lines. I was the unlucky one in charge of things, so I had to ride shotgun in the lead truck.

The trip up was peaceful enough except when we reached a free French army roadblock a mile or so into the drive. The drivers had made the trip many times and had the habit of racing right through. As we approached at full speed, I asked the driver, “Aren’t we gonna stop?” He said, “Nah. All they want is cigarettes.” So we tore on through as the French soldiers shouted and brandished their weapons. So much for my status as “convoy commander.”

The road crossed a couple of hills in full view of the German lines, which called for even more speed. We came to a village, where we took a couple of turns. No sweat. Scatter the chickens, hit the turns, skim paint off the corners of houses, and charge on to Quimper.

In town and turned loose, the guys did what soldiers always do: They headed for the bistros and other establishments of entertainment. Me? I did some sightseeing; beautiful bridges, churches, you know, like that. (Yeah, sure!)

At sundown, we regrouped, climbed aboard the trucks and headed back. Soon, the road began to look unfamiliar, narrower; then there were just tracks, then ruts and finally pure meadowland. I think the driver and I hollered at each other at the same time when we figured we were headed for the German lines. All decked out in our Sunday suits and no weapons. Yikes!

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