The Children's Crusade


Eric Ferguson © 2002
5732 Bossen Terrace #2
Minneapolis, MN 55417
phone/fax: (612)726-6364
eric@celticfringe.net
http://www.celticfringe.net


CHARACTERS:
Pvt. Richard Arnold, ASTP
Pvt. Michael Devon, conscript
Sgt. Ralph Jackson, veteran


(The soldiers are speaking to an army survey team about their experiences with training and combat. The audience is the survey team, meaning the soldiers speak to the audience directly. Each speaks his first line as he enters.)

ARNOLD
When I was pulled out of college, I was sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. An officer gave us a welcome. He said, “With your ability and background, you are something special, and we are therefore going to give you a choice.” So what would the choices be? Some kind of staff clerk would keep me out of trouble. Or maybe I could be a mechanic. Or a cook. Quartermaster. Construction. As we moved to the assignment table, the officer looked up at us and inquired, “What will it be, rifle, machine gun, or mortar?”

JACKSON
We had a platoon that had just been thrown together in the Repple Depple. That's what soldiers called the Replacement Depots. They were led by a captain who was obviously fresh from the states and here they were thrown into the Bulge. They were close shaven, clear-eyed, and wearing clean uniforms. Their bayonets were fixed. They seemed completely out of place--like a bunch of actors on the wrong stage.

DEVON
Being a replacement is just like being an orphan. You are away from anybody you know and lost and lonesome. (They move to their positions on the stage.)

ARNOLD
I was an ASTPer. That stands for Army Specialist Training Program. You haven't heard of it? Well, it didn’t last very long. The army took those of us with the high test scores, who would have gone to Officer Candidate School or some other cushy job in the rear, and offered us free college educations. We gave up the other stuff and had to major in something the army thought would be needed during the war, but we got free room and board, tuition, and $50 a month private's pay. And who knew, by the time we got done the war could be over!

JACKSON
We heard about the ASTP program. We called it "All Safe Till Peace." I suppose we all would have jumped at the chance. And the ASTPers didn't do any worse than the other replacements.

ARNOLD
Then they decided they needed grunts instead and that was that. But my rifle squad turned out to be the best guys I ever met.

DEVON
I was drafted at 18. Basic training was close order drill and military courtesy. The only time I ever used any of it was when I was in a Repple Depple. We were just numbers, we didn't know anybody, and I've never felt so alone and miserable and helpless in my life. We were herded around like cattle at roundup time.

JACKSON
I spent long hours when I was literally showing the replacements how to feed bullets into the gun. Could they shoot straight? They couldn't even hold the gun right! Right there in the toughest fighting of the campaign I was teaching men what I had learned in basic training.

DEVON
I got off the ship at Le Havre, and went right to a reception depot, which was just a big bunch of tents. Then a stockage depot, where I got a rifle, a lecture in hygiene, and the only useful training I ever got. Someone showed me how to shoot my M-1. Then the ride to the front was cold and raining, and the artillery got louder as we got closer. Finally we were dumped out in the middle of some town that was already half blown up.

ARNOLD
Not that the veterans took to me at first. My first day on the line, my squad moved to a bluff hanging over a river. Everything seemed quiet on the other side. I stood up to get a better look and a mortar shell hit just a few yards away. The sergeant screamed at me, "Jesus Christ get down!. I've got a wife and kids at home!" never mind what I might have at home. He didn’t know and didn’t care to.

DEVON
I arrived with a guy who used to be a mechanic, one used to be a quartermaster, and the rest of us were fresh out of basic. The mechanic got some sort of fever right away and got sent back. The quartermaster got sick too and he got sent back. I never heard what happened to them. The other guys out of basic volunteered to go back to battalion HQ for rations and on the way back got hit by a shell. I don't think their names even got on the platoon roster. I was the only one who made it that far.

JACKSON
The replacements, oh sorry, "reinforcements," changing that word fixed everything, they didn't know anybody. Maybe not even each other. Put 'em on the line and they cluster together. Veterans died singly. Replacements died in bunches. They'd be so bunched together that they drew fire and one mortar shell would get 'em all. One day five of 'em arrived and promptly got themselves killed by one shell before they were even assigned to platoons.

ARNOLD
I did survive and got to know the men. I still didn't know why that took so long until a few weeks had passed and I became a veteran myself. A bunch more replacements arrived and one got put in my foxhole. I knew I needed to show him the ropes but I didn't want to say anything to him. What for? He was just going to do something stupid and die in the next couple days anyway. That's when I figured it out.

JACKSON
In the first battle, they usually died in heaps.

DEVON
They talked too much and they lit cigarettes at night.

ARNOLD
I figured out something else too. I used to get angry when I saw replacements arrive. It meant our unit was staying at the front.

DEVON
When replacements first get there, the talk gets louder to make an impression. When I first got to the front, a patrol came in and said, "This man got his head blowed off, this man his arm blowed off," you know, like that. I thought, "what the hell am I getting into here?" They shouldn't have told us new guys that. They scared the hell out of me before I even got started.

JACKSON
That's not to say the replacements were completely stupid. One time the captain got a bunch of replacements together when they first arrived and gave them a little speech, trying to give them some confidence. He told them they were joining the finest combat unit in the whole U.S. Army. When he dismissed them, he asked me if he made sense or if he sounded like he was full of crap. I said, "You sounded sincere enough, but they know the only reason they're here is because someone else got hit or killed. Otherwise they wouldn't be here."

ARNOLD
One time our division was supposed to be relieved, and we spent half the night shivering in the rain and dark. Right around midnight our contact patrols finally found the relieving company and brought it up to us. We'd been afraid to talk above a whisper for fear of bringing a mortar or 88 barrage in on us, but they were talking loudly, wanting to know where their foxholes were, shining flashlights, and making quite a racket.

DEVON
We'd always been careful about not getting exposed on the road leading to the rear. We didn't use but one jeep at a time, and that would drive at top speed to avoid being a target. Then as we were leaving the front, the replacement division was there with their vehicles bumper to bumper. What can you do? We figured they'd learn on their own pretty quick.

JACKSON
I was a BAR man before I made sergeant, and once my sergeant saw a bunch of replacements being dumped in a village and he told me to go get another BAR man. Browning Automatic Rifle. I found a guy who looked older than the rest of them and asked him if he knew anything about a BAR. "Hell no," he said." I don't know anything, not even about this rifle they just gave me." It was an M-1. I figured everyone had qualified on the M-1. He didn't even know what it was! He was a mechanic in the artillery who just got dumped in the infantry. He had basic training back in 1941 and he qualified on a 1903 Springfield. At least he knew how to use some kind of gun. I took him.

DEVON
So they came in, a bunch of good boys with the strength of mules and the ignorance of old maids. We pitied the scared youngsters. They were awe struck around us old boys. Me? I was nineteen.

ARNOLD
I was twenty.

JACKSON
I don't think I ever saw a replacement older than my BAR man. I think he was 24. The rest of 'em were all eighteen, nineteen, twenty. None of the ones I saw had any training, none of 'em had any experience, most of them had never really been part of a unit. It was a goddamned Children's Crusade.

ARNOLD
Once this green captain was leading a platoon towards a hut that might have had Germans in it. You never know. But instead of working his way through the woods and coming up on the flank, he led his men right across a field with deep snow on it. The Germans let them get close, then opened fire and killed every man. We were more mad at whoever put them there than we were at the Germans. Bunch of dumb bastards. All those good men dead. It couldn't have happened to us. We knew better.

JACKSON
Whose idea was it to throw almost a million men out there like that? If they'd let the Germans come up with our replacement system, they couldn't have done a better job. They didn't just lose men, they wasted them. Lots of 'em died before they ever got a shot off at a German, just because they didn't know any better.

DEVON
I remember another replacement saying to me "When the war is over, I'm going to attend the war crimes trial of the men responsible for this system. I want to watch them shoot the bastards!"

ARNOLD
My training? My weapons training was pretty good. I could have been told more about combat. No, nothing can really prepare you for combat. You can't know it without being in it. But veterans can pass on some things and the army has to make sure that happens. Like the Germans leather equipment has a particular smell when it's wet. Or the Germans would fire machine guns with tracer bullets aimed high so we'd think we could maneuver underneath, and then they'd start shooting at our level. We could have been taught aircraft identification.

JACKSON
How would I change the training? How about having some training, that would help.

ARNOLD
I did finally become a clerk after the war. I saw the casualty figures for lots of divisions. Lots of casualties. The sixth armored had 120% casualties. That means they replaced every man and then some. And lots of the infantry divisions did even worse.

DEVON
I never threw a grenade, never fired a bazooka, or a machine gun, or a mortar.

ARNOLD
The 36th infantry had 185% casualties, and they weren't even in D-Day.

JACKSON
Train 'em to fight from a foxhole, not march in a nice neat line.

ARNOLD
The first had 205%, the 29th had 204%.

DEVON
I never heard of trenchfoot before I got it. Couldn't somebody have warned me about that?

JACKSON
Keep 'em together after basic. At least as a squad. A company would be better so they get to know their officers.

DEVON
Somebody could've said don't shine a flashlight around. Don't talk above a whisper. How was I supposed to know that?

ARNOLD
The fourth had 250% causalities. That means they replaced every man twice, and then did half of them again.

DEVON
I didn't know anything about the German weapons. I didn't know anything about mines.

JACKSON
Build up some stamina. Use some live ammo. Save the salutes for the parade ground.

ARNOLD
If I could ask the generals one thing,

DEVON
there's one thing I'd want to know,

JACKSON
Why the hell didn't you ever find out what things were like on the front line?

End of Play

Material for this play came from Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose.



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