Usually, on Wednesdays, I answer common medical questions. But so many of you keep asking me when my dad’s WWII book is coming out, I thought I’d both give you some great news and a preview of the book to come.
Many of you know I’ve been researching and writing a book about my father’s WWII exploits for over 15 years. THE BOOK HAS FINALLY FOUND A HOME! It will be published by Knox Press, an imprint of Post Hill Press, and will be distributed by Simon and Schuster. It is scheduled for release in March or April 2022, before Memorial Day and the summer beach reading season.
I thought you might like to see a draft of the Prologue. Now I must warn you, that this is a book about soldiers and war. So the language can be raw—but it’s real. Let me know what you think!
Phil and Maxine’s Wedding Day — June 21, 1949
Now to the Infantry— the goddamned Infantry, as they like to call themselves. They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have no comforts, and they even learn to live without the necessities. And in the end, they are the guys that wars can’t be won without. Ernie Pyle, American journalist and war correspondent
The Rottershausen Forest, Germany, April 8, 1945
AS HE CREPT FORWARD INSIDE A COLD, DARK FOREST, Lieutenant Philip B. Larimore, Jr. found the unexpected silence of the woods unnerving.
As a company commander who’d seen over thirteen months of intense combat and been wounded multiple times, Larimore constantly wrestled with the dread of “one lead pill” that would explode inside his body and end his life so close to the end of the war.
He glanced to the right, where his men stooped low, darting from tree to tree, most with fingers poised on their M1 rifle triggers, others silently signaling man-to-man. Death lurked throughout the German forest, where snipers nestled in massive trees and machine-gun nests hid behind a camouflage of tree boughs, prepared to annihilate his frontline troops in a hailstorm of gunfire. Another concern was well-disguised artillery firing its cannons into the tree canopy and raining white-hot shrapnel that could cut through their flesh like hot knives through butter.
Larimore had heard rumors that Germany’s dictator, Adolf Hitler, had ordered fanatical “last man” stands to give time for the German Army to mount final defenses in larger cities so that the High Command could retreat into Austria. With the end of the war in sight, Larimore’s men were beginning to surrender to optimism. They were no longer saying, “If I live,” but rather, talking more frequently of home and future plans.
Even though he was only twenty years old—and the youngest Infantry officer in the U.S. Army—Larimore was considered an “old man” in Love Company, as he had fought on the front lines since landing on the Anzio beachhead in Italy in February 1944. He had seen far too much violence and viciousness to grow sanguine.
Some called him and his men Dogface Soldiers; they called themselves “War Horses.” Every mile of the territory that his company—part of the 3rd Division’s 30th Infantry Regiment—had liberated on their march across Africa, Sicily, Italy, southern France, and now into Germany, was purchased with the blood of his men and his friends. He knew there was no way they would all make it to the finish line unscathed; no one was guaranteed to finish alive. He had been extraordinarily fortunate, suffering and recovering from wounds that resulted in him being pinned with three Purple Hearts.
Suddenly, the forest ahead erupted in gunfire, and his radioman’s SCR-300 backpack walkie-talkie sizzled with distress. The voice of a sergeant came through.
“Lieutenant, point squad number one. We’ve been ambushed in a glade!” the sergeant yelled. “At least 150 Krauts around us. Help needed now, sir!”
German potato masher grenades joined the cacophony, answered by American grenades and machine-gun fire. Projecting a calmness he didn’t feel, Larimore called orders to each of his platoons and radioed back to armor, “I need a tank now!”
Then he spread a field map on the ground and studied it with his Executive Officer (XO), Lieutenant Abraham Fitterman, and a field artillery forward observer (FO) who had just come up to the front.
“Our trapped squad must be here.” Larimore pointed to the northwest edge of the only nearby clearing. Turning to the FO, he said, “I need fires massed on the other side of the clearing.”
He ran his finger along what appeared to be a forest lane on the map. “Abe, the tank will need to go down this road to get our guys.”
No sooner had he said that than all three men heard rumbling. Larimore looked up and was delighted up to see three Sherman tanks advancing in their direction instead of one.
“Abe, I’m hopping a ride on the lead tank.” Larimore’s experience had taught him that when officers or NCOs didn’t accompany the tanks, they often got lost, which often resulted in more guys dying.
Before his XO could object, Larimore and his radioman leaped onto the back of the vehicle and squatted behind the turret of the massive tank. The lieutenant put on the headphones hanging on the back of the turret so that he could communicate with the tank commander inside. He ordered his radioman to hunker down behind him and the tank to move out.
As they approached the clearing, white tracer bullets from enemy machine guns laced the air from directly ahead.
“Our guys are fifty yards ahead! Friendly platoons on our left and right!” Larimore called to the tank commander. Speaking into the radio, he said, “Second Platoon, send up three squads, pronto! One behind each tank as we move up!”
His men sprinted from the forest to the shelter of the tanks. “Shermans, move into the clearing!” Larimore commanded as the two trailing tanks fanned out along the west edge of the clearing, one on his left flank and the other to his right.
Enemy fire poured in, churning up dirt all around them. Larimore quickly identified at least three machine-gun nests on the other side of the clearing. He ducked as the slugs of multiple snipers came from at least two directions, missing him by inches. He ordered the gunners inside the tanks to use their 75-mm cannons to lay down suppressing fire as he manned the turret-mounted .50-caliber Browning heavy machine gun, firing and taking fire all the way across the clearing. Seeing his besieged squad, he shouted into the radio, “I see our guys! Ten yards ahead. Let’s get ’em outta here!”
The men behind the protection of the tanks now emerged, running up and evacuating the wounded and the dead. Enemy fire erupted again, and Larimore emptied his remaining ammunition, killing several Germans and drawing more hostile fire as his patrols used the diversion to withdraw. His machine gun now empty, Larimore turned to direct his men as another hail of German bullets came in his direction. Suddenly the back of his head took a jolt as a sniper’s bullet blew his helmet off his head and knocked him from the tank. He landed on his butt, stunned, and seeing stars.
His radioman jumped off and carefully ran his fingers through Larimore’s hair. “Just nicked your scalp, Lieutenant, but it’s bleeding like hell.”
He reached into his overcoat and pulled out and tore the wrapper off a gauze bandage to press against the wound, carefully tying off the cloth as bullets ricocheted off the tank.
“You okay, sir?” the radioman asked.
Larimore refocused his eyes as he became more alert. “Yeah,” he said. “Just a scratch.”
“It’s more than that, sir, but we gotta get out of this hellhole!” the radioman exclaimed.
As Larimore and the radioman moved back among the tanks and retreating men, enemy fire from the far side of the clearing intensified, coming from three directions. They started running as fast as they could for the protection of the trees. Larimore was the last man to leave the clearing as bullets shredded the earth around him. Suddenly an excruciating sensation shot up his right leg, and he fell, writhing in pain. Despite unbearable agony, Larimore managed to roll himself into a shallow ditch.
From the safety of cover, he peeked over the edge. The three Sherman tanks were rapidly pulling away from him, and scores of Germans, firing as fast as they could while screaming at the top of their lungs, were giving chase. When the Krauts were only twenty or thirty yards from him and closing fast, Larimore lowered his head and played dead. Within seconds, the enemy soldiers leaped over the ditch and kept running.
Not daring to move, Larimore thought, They didn’t see me. Maybe I’ll make it.
The violent blasts of the raging battle around him began strangely to wane. His vision dimmed and rubbing his eyes didn’t clear his sight. Even the overwhelming pain in his leg began to melt away.
Larimore understood what was happening: he was bleeding out, and he didn’t have the strength to pull off his belt and apply a tourniquet. Soon the world around him was silent and his body completely numb.
So, this is what it feels like to die. Not as bad as I imagined.
Tired beyond measure, he closed his eyes.
He felt his breathing slow.
Maybe, just maybe, his long, grueling war was finally over.