It was the smell that struck him at first. LeRoy motioned to the wounded Forceman to lay still as he reached for a bit of rope from his backpack. He thought he recognized the young Canadian man but he couldn’t be sure. As he looped the rope around the soldier’s shattered leg he looked around for a something to tighten the tourniquet. It was the smell; the mortar smoke; the steaming mud; the blood and the burnt flesh. All around were the chaotic sounds of mortars, burp guns, bullets singing and a young man’s cries of pain, but it was the smell that had Roy’s attention. This was Roy’s first true battle and he was separated from his platoon.
After setting the tourniquet, LeRoy had little choice but to continue with his backpack. He marked the spot as best he could in hopes that members of his regiment coming back down the slope would find the wounded soldier and take him back to the supply staging area. As he negotiated the flats below the mountain slopes, he avoided following other Force members into the trees. He had already seen some of his buddies cut to pieces when a mortar round turned trees into deadly swaths of jagged splinters. No, even though he was in plain view of the German spotters above, it was better to be out in the open where the mortar rounds would sink into the wet ground before detonating.
Above him were the slopes of Mt La Difensa. The clatter of weapon fire was intense from the summit; the 2nd regiment, had scaled the northern cliffs to the summit the day before and surprised the Germans from behind their defenses. Now it was the 3rd regiment’s job to haul supplies and ammo up the slopes to the base of the cliffs in support of the mission; it was too steep for the mules. LeRoy strained for each and every step, fighting the ever increasing slope of loose rock and slippery thick mud. More than once he went down to the ground only to have that 80 pound pack beat him and drag him back down that awful slope.
Only hours after the battle had started returning Forcemen from the 3rd announced that the summit had been taken. Shouts from the 3rd could be heard all over the hill side as the news spread up and down the slopes. But there was little time for celebrations; the Germans would counter attack and this ragged supply chain consisting of men and heavy packs was vital to holding the newly won summit. And so they kept hauling, one pack at a time. LeRoy turned and leaned into the hill; the cliffs were just a bit further ahead; he could get rid of this hateful pack for his trip back.
Late that evening LeRoy was headed back down the slopes; by this time he had lost count of how many trips he had made up that hillside. He never found out what had become of the Canadian Forceman he attended to. If he survived he undoubtedly would be headed back home without most of that leg; A life long wound.
It was getting dreadfully dark. At least the night provided a bit more cover, but it also brought an sereal intensity to the fight with flashes of artillery, tracers and flares. The darkness also made the trip back down the mountain paths treturous under the cloud shrouded skies. As he walked he realized he hadn’t seen another Forceman for some time. To make matters worse, a bitter cold rain kicked up. Roy decided to try and get some rest before continuing back down. There was no comfortable place on that slope; just a rocky and barren ridgeline with little cover. He pulled his jacket up and tucked his cold wet hands underneath. As his head lay back, his helmet found a slot between two rocks to cradle his head. By now he hardly noticed the sounds of weapon fire and the percussion of mortars; totally drained, he drifted off to sleep.
The approach of the mortar round pried Roy’s eyes open to the sting of cold rain. The flash and concussion of the blast found him rolling in a desperate attempt to take cover. Instantly he felt his left foot go numb as rocks and shrapnel ricocheted all over the ridge line around him. As the deadly shrapnel slowly turned back to the torcherous rainfall, LeRoy realized he was afraid to look down at his foot. Is this how he would go home?… foot blown off while napping? He slowly sat up; his heart was racing and he still couldn’t feel that foot. For the longest time he didn’t want to look. As the cold wind whipped another squall of rain up the mountain side he finally heard the voices of other Forcemen. He had to get back to the mission.
Slowly Roy lifted his leg to look at his foot… it was still there – numb, but he still had a whole foot. What was missing was the bottom of his boot. It appeared the mortar round had cleanly blown the sole of his boot away leaving a good portion of his foot exposed. The faint light of morning was beginning to highlight the mountains to the east so Roy cut a chunk of his jacket pocket and tied the material to the bottom of his boot. He then proceeded to hobble down the mountain, into the misty, rain soaked, smoke and fog… to get another load.
LeRoy taught me a great deal about carrying loads. He was not my real father but Roy became, and always will be, my Dad. LeRoy was my step dad, but the reason we share the same last name is because he started out as my uncle… He was my father’s half brother. At some point during my parents failing marriage, Roy fell in love with my mom. It was not a pretty process but trust me when I tell you it couldn’t have worked out better for myself and my siblings. This man stepped up and took on the 5 children of the woman he loved. He often told me that’s when his life really started.
For me, it was a turning point too; but I was too young to fully realize the importance of that juncture. I was caught in the swirling emotion of our family struggles and I risked losing my way many times. Through it all Roy became the steadfast anchor in my life. Through it all he was there to take me aside and calm me with that steady, soft voice, that was like a blanket – warm and safe. “No matter what’s going on around you son, it’s important to keep your wits about you.” he would say. “It’s all too easy to despair”.
Roy knew a little something about despair. For years after the war he wandered… from job to job and relationship to relationship. During the days he was simply my uncle, he would visit our home in Toledo and help my father with the ongoing construction of our house. In those years it was common to see him carrying a gallon wine jug throughout the day. He never talked about the war unless someone else brought it up… even then he wouldn’t say much. I didn’t see it then but now I know, he was hurting from that war.
I do not know exactly when my mom and Roy fell in love. Frankly I’ve never really cared about the timing. All I know is that after the divorce of my parents, Roy asked mom to marry him and the wine bottle disappeared. I suppose in a way it was much like that day when the mortar round blew off the bottom of his boot; finally deciding to look at the wound, he discovered he could continue. He realized he had a new family that desperately needed a steady supply line of love and stability… something he needed too. All he had to do was, pick up the load.
For LeRoy, my Dad
© 2016 Darrel Boyd