The Bridge at Maxonchamp
#1

maxonchamp.jpg

The Bridge at Maxonchamp

 

The Champagne Campaign was drawing to a close. Our advance slowed and casualties mounted sharply.

 

I was 2nd Lt. Platoon leader of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon in 7th Inf. Regimental Hq. Co. 1st Lt. Stone was executive officer of Hq. Co. With high casualty rates and an inadequate supply of replacements, Lt . Stone was reassigned to Company K as a rifle platoon leader and I became Hq. Co Exec “in addition to my other duties.â€

 

The next major obstacle was the Moselle River. It was not particularly wide, but the banks were lined with stone walls about 12 feet high. It promised to be a costly crossing.. There was a narrow bridge still standing, but it was sure to be fiercely defended and blown before we could cross it. As luck would have it, it was in Lt. Stone’s zone of advance. Three men were lost in the first attempt to take the bridge. Sensing Stone’s reluctance, his Company Commander, 1st Lt. Lauderdale, asked for volunteers to join him in an attempt to cross,. Tech Sgt Leonard Jones, Stone’s platoon sergeant and four others volunteered. They lost two more men to heavy MG fire, but Lt. Lauderdale, Sgt. Jones and two others made it and dug in on the far side.

 

Lt. Lauderdale called back for Lt. Stone to bring the rest of his platoon over while he maintained a base of fire on the enemy positions. Stone refused! Lt. Lauderdale then sent the sergeant back to bring the platoon across and to tell Stone that he was under arrest. Sergeant Jones rallied the men and led them across the bridge. In the battle to expand the bridgehead, Sgt Jones was killed by a burst of enemy machine gun fire. Two weeks later, Lt. Lauderdale was KIA in another action. Both were awarded Silver Stars. (posthumously)

 

It took several weeks to form a court-martial board and Lt. Stone remained under tent arrest at the rear CP. He sent word asking me to appear as a character witness at his court martial and I went back to see him. He was not at all contrite! Actually he was rather cocky. His attitude did not sit well with me.

 

At the court-martial, Stone’s defense was that the order he refused to obey was not a legal order. It demanded conduct above and beyond the call of duty as evidenced by the Silver Star citations given to Lt. Lauderdale and the platoon Sgt. Jones. In fact, the order was suicidal, he maintained as evidenced by the death of those two men. For the Army to accept that argument was to invite a debate on the legality of every order, something not likely to happen. The prosecution’s case was weakened somewhat by the fact that the two key witnesses were dead. And the Division was not anxious to have this officer’s misconduct besmirch its reputation. A plea bargain was offered. Being critically short of junior officers, the court offered to drop the charges if Stern would accept a rifle platoon in a different battalion. He agreed!

 

Next morning, when Stone was supposed to go forward to his new assignment, he refused to go!!

The court martial board had been disbanded and no one wanted to start up the whole procedure a second time, so Stone dropped out of sight and I never learned where he was sent. I assume he was given some disagreeable rear echelon job like laundry officer or supervising a crew of GI stevedores on the docks.

 

I can’t help but wonder what I would have done, had I been in Lt. Stone’s position, which could easily have happened had he been chosen to remain in Headquarters Company and I had been sent to K company. I believe I would have followed orders, in which case I would now be lying in Sgt Jones’ grave.

 

There is a strange sequel to this story. About 2 years after the War ended, I was sent by my employer to coordinate a joint project at Lockheed’s Burbank plant. While walking between buildings, I noticed a familiar figure walking on a divergent path. It had to be Stone! Same height, same chunky build, same cocky walk, same black curly hair, And Stone was from California! I was curious to know where he went after leaving the Regiment and I considered calling out to him. But then I felt a wave of revulsion and I turned away.

 

Russ Cloer - 3_7_I_Recon

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#2

Hmmm. Always extremely difficult to put one in someone else's shoes, but I think most men would have done it. Thank God you weren't put in that position, for as you stated, you would not be here today. Scary thought yes?

 

It's the attitude that takes the bite. For Pete's sake, why not just say I'm was scared as hell. Did he think the cocky attitude would be persuasive. I think he got really lucky that he didn't get a dishonorable discharge, etc. Not to show up for his re-assignment was the real catcher here.

 

Yes, I wonder too what he wound up doing and if that cocky attitude got him more than he bargained for later in life. Probably.

 

Can't say I blame you for not calling out his name. Better to walk away from that scenario and leave sleeping dogs lie.

 

But, that was definitely a scary situation. Just thinking about it makes me heart race. Those poor men. :(

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
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