From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

The True Face of Humanity

All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us. . . . They can’t get away this time.

Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller
(when surrounded by eight enemy divisions)

The 1950s and 1960s were interesting times, especially for a white boy coming of age in the South. The Selma marches, the Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins, Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus, Governor Wallace openly defying the law and federal troops—these events weren’t just stories on the six o’clock news; they happened in places we knew, to people we knew.

I understood what was going on around me, why there were “civil disobediences” and why the civil rights movement gained strength and momentum. I understood why certain segments of our society didn’t feel included in the benefits of that society. The only thing I couldn’t understand was why the situation existed in the first place.

Being unable to comprehend bigotry and hatred wasn’t due to any moral superiority on my part, and had nothing to do with my being smarter or wiser. In fact, it had nothing to do with me at all but, rather, had everything to do with the clear-sighted example my father set.

And what made a boy like my father, raised in rural, depression-wracked Texas, defy his own racist upbringing and teach his children to accept every person on his or her own merits? Maybe that had something to do with a summer night long ago, a night that opened the eyes and heart of a born and bred Southern boy.

The Allied Army fought its way across France and Belgium, liberating Europe foot by bloody foot in the summer of 1944.

The Third Armored, the Spearhead Division, was in its customary spot at the head of the advance. Out in front of the rest was a big Sherman tank with the ace of spades— the death card—arrogantly painted on its turret, and stenciled under that, “In the Mood,” the title of the Glenn Miller hit.

Hanging half out of the turret, as was his habit, rode Staff Sergeant L. G. Pool. He had been—before the war—a bull rider in rodeos around South Texas. Riding this particular thirty-ton bull that same way seemed only natural.

As the day wound down and the fighting slacked up, the column turned and began to regroup for the night. Pool’s crew wanted to take just one more field, liberate one more farm before turning back. Everybody knew that was Pool’s way.

While Pool was frequently chewed out for not staying in formation, everyone knew that his kind of soldier didn’t come along very often. Certainly, General de Gaulle had recognized that trait when he made Pool one of only a handful of American GIs whom de Gaulle would personally decorate with the French Medal of War.

Sergeant Pool was the first acknowledged ace of tankers. After the war, major studios would vie to make a film of his exploits. When the tank commanders would assemble the night before an attack and draw straws to see who would lead, Pool would grab the entire bunch of straws and drawl, “I’m leadin’ this one.” Then he would grin and look around, daring the others to take the straws from him. That was also Pool’s way. So, no one seemed particularly surprised that Pool’s tank hadn’t turned with the rest of the column.

This night, however, would be different from the rest. Darkness was settling in when the radio crackled in the headquarters tent. Pool’s tank was five miles from bivouac, five miles behind a heavily fortified enemy line, out of fuel.

Consternation was the best word to describe the reaction at division headquarters. One of the top fighting men in the entire European theater of war was stuck with his crew in a totally untenable situation, and sending the column back out to rescue Pool and his men was unjustifiable.

For Sergeant Pool and the others, the same bitter realization dawned as they grimly calculated that by hoarding their shells and choosing their targets wisely, they might live to see reinforcements, to see morning.

The tank’s big gun split the night with its thunderous roar; the fifty-caliber machine gun mounted on the turret chattered to life every now and then—all in an attempt to keep the German Army from claiming what looked like an easy prey. Hours passed in this deadly standoff.

Then, in the glaring daylight of the muzzle flash, Pool’s men thought they saw movement near their vehicle. Sighting down the barrel of the fifty-caliber, Pool challenged the intruders. Softly, he growled the day’s password, “Brooklyn.” Softly, across the darkness, came the correct response, “Dodgers.”

Two men from the division had volunteered to crawl those five treacherous miles through enemy territory in the dark. Two men crept with exquisite care, dragging five-gallon cans of petrol with them, guided only by the sight and sound of gunfire from Pool’s tank. They crawled toward a team of men they didn’t know. They knew only that fellow American soldiers were in need of fuel.

They saved the lives of five men that night, including Staff Sergeant L. G. Pool, my father.

I don’t believe Dad knew the names of the young men who had risked everything for total strangers. If he did, he never told us. We only knew one of them was Native American and the other was African-American.

Thomas Lafayette Pool

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