Armed and Ignorant

I’m finishing up my next article, due this week, another piece for America in World War II, this one about the history of the two most used U.S. weapons of the war, the M1 rifle (or ‘Garand’) and the M1 Carbine. (The Springfield Armory, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, and a number of other manufacturers turned out almost 11.6 million of these two models during the war.)

A story that doesn’t seem to be fitting into the article concerns Lt. General Omar Bradley, who during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, was almost shot by his own carbine. Bradley, as he tells the story in his 1951 memoir A Soldier’s Story, was

nearing the outskirts of Scoglitti [when] a soldier in an oversized tin hat called a warning from the side of the road.

“Better watch your step, General,” he said, “there a Kraut sniper in town.”

“Thanks, son,” I called, and with a carbine under my arm I walked into the village square.”

As he walked toward a nearby captain, Bradley handed his carbine to one of his two aides, Chet Hansen, who — in the same motion as he grabbed it from the general — flipped off the safety and pressed the trigger. The bullet flew over Bradley’s head, and all the men nearby scattered, thinking it was the sniper.

Bradley’s only comment:

“Chet,” I said, “be careful with that damned thing, please.”

* * *

Reading elsewhere in A Soldier’s Story (much more fun than writing), I come across a fantastic story from mid-December 1944, at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, when English-speaking German soldiers, wearing American uniforms, kept trying to infiltrate the Allied lines, putting everyone’s nerves on edge.

Bradley, traveling in the area, was stopped three times in succession, first by a sentry who — in order to see if he was really an American — asked “What’s the capitol of Illinois?” He answered “Springfield,” and then was detained briefly as a suspicious character because the soldier insisted it was Chicago!

Stopped a second time, the general correctly identified the position between center and tackle on a football line of scrimmage as ‘guard,’ but then had no idea when a third, different kind of guard, asked him to name “the then current spouse of a blonde named Betty Grable.”

The answer (I looked it up): famed trumpeter Harry James.

Bradley writes,

Grable stopped me but the sentry did not. Pleased at having stumped me, he nevertheless passed me on.

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