Italy, December 1944. Writing about this time of the year so long ago stirs memories of home, parcels, and letters, and how much they meant to all of us. The hours loved ones spent wrapping parcels and sewing the cloth covering, mailing them and with the hope the parcels would get through to us without being sunk by U boats or shot down from the skies.
Some parcels did arrive soaked in fire extinguisher fluid where a fire had occurred on board a ship and the flames put out. The contents were saved except for cake or cookies, canned food survived. Now as a family we did not eat sauerkraut, but I had a yen that I would like my Mum to send me a can of Sauerkraut and in due course it arrived. Now we had a few sauerkraut eaters and two or three come to mind, Bassham, Lou Gravem, and Torgunrud. Here is where it got interesting as I pulled the can of sauerkraut out of the parcel, out of the air it seemed that Bassham arrived with a can opener and Lou Gravem and a couple more all descended on me with forks and spoons. Needless to say this was a scene out of somewhere and I find that words do not describe the emptying of that can of sauerkraut.
To some this was a moment that brought home and family right into that old barn loft in Italy. The can emptied and we all sat back as great smiles wreathed the faces of the kraut eaters. Some said how did your Mum ever think of sending such a treat over to you? All the great fellows that shared that sauerkraut survived the war but have all passed away since. RIP old friends we will never forget you.
I mentioned Lou Gravem in the sauerkraut classic well Lou comes to mind at a later date. Some time before Christmas 1944 we were not far from the Lamone River. Fox troop command post Lt Ross received a call from Easy Troop Lt Rollie Ellison asking Lt Ross to send Sgt Major Bannerman over to easy troop to pick up one of his gunners who was drunk. He was Gunner Lou Gravem.
Receiving the message I struck off across the field to Easy Troop thinking that Lou Gavem would never make a nuisance of himself. On arriving at Easy Troop here was Lou out in the yard of Easy Troop house and along with him was Lt Ellison and E Troop Sgt major Shkwarek. Lou came towards me and I said what is up Lou are you raising hell over here? He replied, no Boss I'm okay. Lt Ellison spoke up Sgt major Bannerman put this man under arrest for being drunk while in action. My reply was he does seem drunk to me. If you want him arrested you or Sgt Major Shkwarek better do it as Gravem is in good shape as far as I'm concerned. Well I remember Sgt Major Shkwarek slipping away in the darkness, so that left Gravem, Ellison and I standing out in the dark yard. Again Ellison said are you putting him under arrest and I said no. Ellison then remarked it looked like I was the kind of a Sgt major who stuck up for the men but not the officers and as we left his parting words were, you will hear of this in the morning. Which we did. We were notified that indeed Ellison had charged Gravem, and this was a serious charge. Something about drunk in the face of the enemy. Well this spurred me to do something right now so onto my motor bike and down to regimental Head quarters where I had a few words with the adjutant regarding the charge against Gravem and what a hard working trouble free type of fellow Gravem was, plus anything else, all good I could say. Gravem might not have been the most spit and polish gunner but he was the type to have with you when the chips were down.
This was a grave charge and the colonel was to deal with it that afternoon. Back I went to Fox Troop and picked up Gravem on the bike and we appeared at RHQ. I could not go with him before the colonel, but hoped that the ground work I had laid with the adjutant paid off for Gravem's sake. The RSM marched Gravem into the colonel. I waited outside about ten minutes or maybe more and out marched the accused who was halted by the RSM then dismissed. I was all ears to find out how Gravem made out. Was he to go before the brigadier or what?
Here is Lou Gravem's story. He was marched in and the charges laid, drunken in the face of the enemy or some such phrasing, the colonel looked at Gravem and said had you been drinking? Gravem said yes he may have had a glass or two of wine. The Colonel said could it have been three or four glasses of wine? Gravem said well it could have been. Now at this Gravem said the Colonel started to chuckle so Gravem thought that a good idea and laughed too and noted that the RSM and Ellison were chuckling too.
The next thing the Colonel said was case dismissed and a Merry Christmas to you. Gravem answered and the same to you sir. Colonel Rankin recognized the type of gunner that Gravem was and he knew Gravem was not a troublemaker or a drunk. I thought my trip to the adjutant before the trial helped some too. Rest in Peace Lou Gravem. You were a great fellow.
Captain Lucky Fair was our adjutant for some time and had the ear of the commanding officer. Lucky was never lacking when it came to good common sense . I never saw Lucky Fair after the war and like so many more he is no longer with us. RIP old friend.