Second World War: Baptism of Fire

A soldier describes his unit's baptism of fire in France, 1944 during the Second World War.

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Christmas Eve 1944, I entered the Second World War in France as a light machine-gun ammo bearer in a rifle company. I was 20, and hadn't been away from the farm at Thief River Falls in northwestern Minnesota for any length of time before. I was in the 70th Division, 274th Infantry Regiment, Company I. During the three months I served in combat, I saw enemy soldiers killed and wounded by artillery and small arms fire, as well as many of my own buddies. We all had a glassy-eyed, dazed-and-drawn look; that's probably where the name "dog-face soldier" comes from. We were physically and mentally beat. 

As we received what is termed "the baptism of fire" during our first attack and other battles, too, our emotions were such that we emptied our bowels in our pants. Afterwards we cleaned up as best we could with handkerchiefs or whatever we had. No baths on the front line, we wore the same clothing for weeks without a change. This was war in the Vosges Mountains. We took turns sleeping in dugouts and two-man foxholes.

When about 80 percent of a unit had been in a battle with small arms, each man became eligible to receive the Combat Infantry Badge and an increase in pay.

Each man automatically prayed when pinned down by enemy fire. At times like that we felt as if we could pull our entire body inside that little steel helmet.

We took over the Germans' positions sometimes or dug fox-holes ourselves; since it was wintertime, my feet got frozen. The medic said, "Cal, you should go to the hospital." But the company exec officer said, "Nobody who can walk is leaving, 45 percent of the regiment has either been killed or are casualties."

Calvin Anton
As told to Lucille Anton 
Circle Pines, Minnesota

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.