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Citizen Soldiers

Rumors and Wisecracks

Converted for the Web from "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany" by Stephen E. Ambrose

Rumors and wisecracks help men endure the unendurable, which is why they are integral to every war. In ETO, thousands of rumors circulated. Some were frightening ("we're going to jump into Berlin" among the paratroopers, for example), but most were hopeful. They promised an end: Germany is in revolt; the war will be over before Christmas; Hitler is dead; and so on, endlessly. Or the rumors promised reward: every paratrooper (or combat infantry, or artilleryman, or medic, or whatever) was going to get a free car from Henry Ford when the war was won. Others promised relief: our division is being withdrawn from combat and returned to the States to train new troops. In POW camps, it was that an exchange of prisoners is imminent.

Pvt. Harold Snedden of the 28th Division marched through Paris on liberation day. As he paraded down the Champs-Elysées, he heard a rumor, one that spread almost instantly up and down the long columns: "The brass has decided to keep us here to police the city." Sadly, Snedden was quickly disabused.

Pvt. Ed Jabol of the 1st Division had the satisfaction of getting a reward from a rumor he started. In the hedgerow fighting, he and his buddy told one other person each that the local water was contaminated, just to see how long it took to get back to them. The following day, word came down from headquarters to drink only wine until the water could be treated.

Wisecracks and clichés abounded in ETO. Most of them were coarse, sexual, and punctuated by the vilest language. But some were directed to specific complaints and were heard almost as often as the words "GI" or "dogface." They included, "You never had it so good," "You've found a home in the Army," and "What more could you possibly want." Others were teasing: "Too bad you were asleep when the girls came by" or "I hear you are getting promoted." Some were just devilish: "I hear you are going to reenlist."

Copyright © 1997 by Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

This text is from Chapter 14 of Stephen E. Ambrose's book "Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches, To The Bulge, To The Surrender Of Germany." To read another online chapter, "Expanding the Beachhead, June 7-30, 1944," click here. Click here for purchasing information from Amazon.

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