Life in the infantry related by veterans

The infantry was marching along the sides of the road, as it always does, in two long, thin lines…. It was two long lines, thin lines as far as you could see and then it was faces looking into yours. There was one face and then another face, and there were ten feet between them and they kept on coming … round faces and long faces and rough faces and smooth, and they all looked the same. They all had the same expression because they had no expression at all, because the one looked into yours and was gone and the other took its place, and it was that way for a mile….”

— W.C. Heinz, war correspondent for
the New York Sun newspaper.

Those in the infantry — in the Army and Marines — endured hardships and horrors for which no training could ever have prepared them. The infantry was the workhorse of the military, not only faced with battling the enemy but also often asked to do physical labor at the front lines transporting the food, clothing, weapons and medicine needed to win the war. They experienced the war as no one else did.

 “Morale, I thought, kept up because you were with people,” Herndon Inge said. “That as long as you were with other GIs in the snow and in the misery, if you had somebody next to you, you figured, well, if they can handle it, I can handle it. And it was a comradeship in the units. The men on ships fighting together are a unit. Men in an infantry company are a unit. They know their officers and their non-comms and they’ve trained together, and they know each other.”

As in many other units, the men in the infantry griped about the food, the conditions and their superiors.

“Lots of our equipment wasn’t very good,” Burnett Miller said. “We always had frozen feet because our shoes were really very, very poor for keeping out [the wet] when you’re in the snow particularly. Also, we went into combat in the Bulge in the same overcoats we went to London in. They were big, bulky miserable things that would get wet and pretty soon we were looking for German prisoners or German dead because they had nice white bunny fur jackets that were just terrific — not only comfortable and warm, but were white and camouflaged. So, that was very good.”

“You had no possessions at all. You would cut everything down to the simplest ‘cause you had to carry everything,” Fussell said. “When we were marching from one horror to another, I had shoepacks on because the ground was always wet or frozen. I had two pairs of woolen socks. In my pockets. I carried probably a couple of boxes of K-rations. I had never had a toothbrush at all. I didn’t take a shower for six months. No change of underwear at all. No change of clothes at all for months. And I had a sleeping bag which I carried with a rope over my shoulder like a tramp. And that’s all I had.”

We were in combat for about two weeks, and raining every day,” Robert Kashiwagi said. “And we were soaking wet. And were sleeping in our own soaking wet clothes. And most people received a lot of trench foot because their feet is wet. And they didn’t take care of it. But I knew enough to always carry an extra pair of stockings under my vest and another pair under my helmet. And I would take my shoe off and massage my feet and wash that stocking and change to a warmer pair, and then put the wet pair under my helmet.”

“There’s no way, whatever, to escape it by technique or care or attitude or fast movement or by athletic skills and so on. You’re just lucky,” Fussell said. “The shell hits somebody who is not yourself.”

We spent a great deal of time in combat carrying this heavy ammunition on our shoulders to places where it was needed – spots often totally inaccessible to all types of vehicles,” Sledge wrote. “This was done under enemy fire, in driving rain, and through knee-deep mud for hours on end. Such activity drove the infantryman, weary from the mental and physical stress of combat, almost to the brink of physical collapse.”

You know, you get hardened to it,” Miller said. “I can remember one or two in the beginning sort of stand out. I stayed in a hole for an hour and a half or something like that – it seemed like that, anyway – with a dead German. And, it’s kind of an eerie feeling. But you’re so worried, really, about yourself at that time that you didn’t think too much about it. Later on you think about it. But you get really hardened to seeing a lot of gruesome sights. And that worries you as much as anything. You think, ‘My gosh. I saw so-and-so get killed today and then he got run over by a tank and just a horrible mess.’ And it didn’t bother me at all. But about a week after the war ended, I saw an automobile accident and I got sick as I normally would before the war.”

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