Visiting the Battlefield where Dad was injured – Bois du Hommet

by Kim on October 8, 2013

Telling-famly-stories-WWIIAfter my sister Jane and I and our husbands got back in the van from visiting the Douve River, Taking the Douve River , our guide Francois seemed to pick up speed traveling back roads that seemed to get more and more narrow. It seemed that he was on a mission to a new place. I sensed his urgency. We turned to the left and encountered gridlock with another car that wanted to turn where we needed to be. We maneuvered around the oncoming car and proceeded down a stone road that seemed to lead to nowhere. After several turns onto narrower roads,  Francois parked the van and turned off the ignition. We walked to a clearing and Francois announced that this was the location of the battlefield of Bois du Hommet near Tribehou, where our father was injured for the second time in the war.

We left the car and walked across the grassy field and I immediately felt this was hallowed ground. Could I really be in the same spot my Dad was in almost 70 years ago to the day? We stood near trees that were large and most probably present during this battle. I walked by one tree had a nick in it perhaps from getting hit with artillery fire. I thought of my Dad injured, laying in that field, already away from his family for just short of two years. His injury was a head injury, which grazed the top of his head and also resulted in shrapnel behind his ear. I always wondered how he could have gotten the shrapnel behind his ear if he was facing forward in battle. But after the seeing the scarred trees I surmised that the shrapnel from the artillery fire hit the tree, then hit my father. Was my Dad unconscious after the penetration of the shrapnel or did he realize the situation he was in? He told me when I was a child that when he was in the war, there was one morning that he woke and knew he was going to be hit that day. Was this that day?

It had rained quite a bit on the day of this battle, delaying and eventually canceling the air support that was to clear out the battlefield before they commenced. Dad was probably very wet from battle and from lying on the grass in the marsh after he was hit. It had rained much of our morning as well, so I could easily imagine that day for him.  I could feel him there and was honored that I could be in this place.

I stood where he was hit for a while with my sister and recreated the scene of where the Germans were shooting from and how the American soldiers had no cover in the open field. I tried to absorb the facts of the battle. I instead let the feelings of finding Dad in this place overcome me. Most importantly I felt gratitude that my father survived this, as difficult and scary as it must have been for him. That day, not too unlike every day he served our country, he was a hero. He almost gave it all so that we might be free. I stood in that place for quite a while to be with Dad.

My father didn’t know it at the time, but getting injured in this battle saved his life. Two months later on September 5th, 1944 , just a couple of days before he was released from the hospital for the second time, his unit was totally annihilated crossing the Muese River at Heer & Hastiere, Belgium (the border between Belgium and Germany) by German troops who perched on the hilltops as they crossed. Had he not been in the hospital for this injury, he would have been killed in that battle with men he fought with for nearly two years. Getting wounded at Bois du Hommet  – or the injury in Sicily and the one in Germany – may not have been the greatest of his WWII pains. Losing all the soldiers in his unit may have been worse.

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