The day that  James "Jim" D. Newton passed away like many of my fellow Redhorsers I lost a very dear friend. Jim wrote his personal experiences while with "C" Troop, 125th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron down in an unfinished manuscript. I received it from his wife Rolleen and compiled it so others could read Jim's story too.  

                                                                                                                                              Arno Lasoe

 
 

 

James D. Newton

 

REMOUNT

 
 
 

REMOUNT started as an account of my personal experiences in World War Two. It was to be a brief account, just so that some record might exist. The brevity became lost in telling. As I progressed through the story, I slowly recognized that I was one of the last cavalrymen. No horses, to be sure, but nevertheless cavalry.

 

Cavalry, in one form or another, had been part of armies of the civilized world since before the year 6 B.C.  They rode for the ancient pharaohs, they were the hordes of Genghis Khan. They were the Uhlans, the Light Brigade, the Bengal Lancers and Cossacks. They rode chariots for Egyptians and Romans. They rode elephants across the Alps for Hannibal. They rode camels for Arab chieftans. They fought each other on horseback in the American Civil War. They opened the West for American settlers. They charged up Kettle Hill with Teddy Roosevelt. They were the elite when war was glory

 

All Cavalry committed to combat in the second world war was “mechanized.” Jeeps, armored cars, half-tracks, light tanks and assault guns replaced the old, colourful columns of horse-mounted troopers.

 

Cavalry units continued to use established terms of “Troop” and “Squadron.” Officers commissioned in the Cavalry branch still referred to their men as “Troopers.”

 

Cavalry appeared in a variety of organizations during the war. Infantry divisions were assigned a troop of about 150 men. Armored divisions were assigned a squadron of about 900 men. Divisions commonly referred to the cavalry compliment as “reconnaissance”, or merely “recon.”

 

Independent of divisional units, cavalry groups and squadrons served during the war. A group indicated an open-ended organization replacing the former regiment designation and consisted of two cavalry squadrons and a Headquarters Troop. The open-end formation of the groups allowed for an attached units of battalion-strength; usually combat engineers, tanks, tank destroyers or artillery. Selection of the attached unit depended upon the type of mission and what type of unit was available.

 

WW II Cavalry had the superfluous appendages of “Reconnaissance”, an inherent mission of cavalry, and “Mechanized”, which should have been obvious, tacked on to the unit title. The 125th Cavalry Squadron became 125th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized). Return addresses were shortened to: 125 Cav Rcn Sq (Meczd)

 

Squadrons consisted of a Headquarters Troop, three Reconnaissance Troops ( A, B and C ), an Assault gun Troop ( E ) and a Tank Company ( F ). The Tank “Company” was not allowed the dignity of a troop title –probably because of per-war animostity between Armor and Cavalry.

 

Cavalry’s role of long-range reconnaissance was correctly used, for the most part, for those squadrons that started from Normandy or Southern France. After the various Allied Armies came up to the Siegfried Line inside the German border in late September, 1944 the forward advance slowed and finally stopped. Army and corps commanders found themselves with cavalry that was too lightly armed and armored for the frontal attacks needed against heavily fortified positions. At the same time, they needed infantry, or dismounted troops, to form the 400 mile line from Switzerland to Holland. The immediate destiny of cavalry became obvious.

 

Cavalrymen were not the only soldiers to be used as infantry. Combat engineers found themselves in fox-holes when they weren’t laying mine fields or blowing pillboxes. In the squadron, the tanks and assault guns were used for indirect-fire support so that the job of filling foxholes was left to the troopers of the Reconnaissance Troops.

 

There is no argument that the need for dismounted troops was a necessary thing, but the role of a “mobile-reserve” would have been more suitable for cavalry.

 

The use of cavalry as a mobile-reserve was well illustrated during the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) Offensive by the German Army. Eight squadrons from First U.S. Army, six squadrons from Third U.S. Army and one squadron, the 125th, from Ninth U.S. Army were committed in one capacity or another to the Bulge. A total of 15 of the 18 squadrons in Europe at the time were sent into that battle zone. Two of these squadrons were on the line in front of the Germans and caught the initial assault.

 

This briefly describes cavalry and its role. Most Americans back in the didn’t  know cavalry was fighting in the war. Headlines in the newspapers proclaimed “Armored Thrust” or “Heavy Infantry Fighting”. Hardly anyone knew there was usually a squadron of cavalry spearheading the armored thrusts or that troopers of the squadron were in foxholes with infantry during the heavy infantry fighting. The flanks of the armored thrusts were screened by cavalry to intercept any attack against the main force. Infantry divisions were often two or three days behind cavalry screening their front on the drives.

 

In summation; the cavalryman had it no better and no worse than other combat soldiers. As with any good infantryman or tanker or combat engineer, the trooper took pride in his achievements. He followed a proud heritage of troopers before him and maybe added at least a footnote to the final chapter.

 

The events that follow may, or may not be typical of other World War Two cavalrymen. I have a hunch they are ( a pre-war friend was wounded while wearing a top-hat and driving point in another squadron). As with everything, when it is finished there are only recollections.

 

My recollections are, for the most part, enjoyable. In my mind, at least, my legs and heart are strong again, part of the young man’s body. My sight and hearing stand the test of survival.

 

I liked being a soldier – no one is supposed to admit that. I think I did my job well. That doesn’t preclude fear. In whatever way fear is measured, I pit mine against the most fearful, especially of incoming artillery fire.

 
There were times though when I became strangely calm; the times when we could see the enemy. There were times of exhilaration in the excitement of war. No one is supposed to admit that either, but I think most men committed to combat have felt it.
 

The spoken words in the story are only words I remember had been spoken. Because I had to write in the first person, “We” could often be substituted for “I”.

 

With the weaknesses and strength within me once more, my reveries put me in the places of war I came to know so well – maybe too well.

 

The reveries: I stand again on the deck of a troopship in the North Atlantic and feel the spindrift of mountainous, icy, gray waves blow against my face. I walk through February’s mud in Wales and warming sand of May in southern England.

 

I bob across the English Channel aboard the tiny Princess Maude to Normandy and wonder why this beautiful pastoral place was selected for war, even while swiping at bees collecting from June’s early apple blossoms.

 

I watch the newly liberated French and Belgian people crowd their liberators with gifts of wine and flowers. I feel the warm, gentle softness of goose-down mattress and comforter close around me, given up by a family in Holland so we can sleep off the ground one night.

 

I feel Ganley turn in his sleep as we lay, with just our boots and helmets off, in some dispossessed German family’s bed. I hear him whisper to me, and I to him, in our foxhole in the beet field. There was no one else in the world then; no mothers, fathers, wives or children  - just two cold, wet, scared young men waiting to die together.

 

I feel the pain of cold behind my eyes while we drive through December nights of Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, as someone later named it. I hear the muffled clinking of tire chains in the snow from the armored car behind us. Gerry and I drive through snowdrifts at night to get a case of beer – and sing Sweet and Lovely, the only song whose words we both know.

 

I hear the hollow-ringing from the guns of April, mounted on Mark IV German tank, at fifty yards – and smell the black smoke of burning gasoline and rubber from the tires. The heat and burnt powder of a German hand grenade blow against my face once more.

 

The Browning Automatic Rifle bucks in my hands again, chugging out its authority. I hear the one-of-a kind clang of empty Garand Rifle clips echo from rocks and pavement. I smell the pungency of cattle urine pouring over green-slime cobbles and the musty odor of old dusty wood burning. I hear the ceaseless wind moaning through broken windows in half destroyed ghostlike houses.

 

I sit behind the steering wheel of my jeep and watch the grotesque skeleton-men stumbling toward us. I feel their cold, slobbering kisses on my cheek – and understand it little than I did then.

 

I watch, as I have so often watched since then, while they carry back the Trooper whose head is covered by his poncho and pause with the same anguish.

 

When my reveries are interrupted, for whatever reason, I am no longer that young man. But those I knew through the long nights, or maybe for just a passing moment – the Cavalrymen, the Combat Engineers, the Infantrymen, the Tankers and Tank Destroyers and the enemy too, will always be young men because they have the benefit of being memories.

 

Time has blurred the faces of the men I write about, but they were the soldiers – the Troopers – who were mostly quiet men. Quiet, young men always teetering between courage and fear who, nevertheless, always, always obeyed the combat soldier’s ultimate and sometimes final command; “MOVE OUT!”  

 

When the story grew beyond the limits I intended, I decided it might as well have a title. REMOUNT is an old cavalry term. The noun describes a ‘fresh horse’. The intransitive verb means. ‘to mount again’. Mount again is what I had to do to recall those days so long ago.

 

Some of the things included in the story I never spoke of; note because of “the horrors of war”, but because they were private to me or were beyond the comprehension of anyone who hasn’t been there. Fear and happiness can be described and most everyone has felt those things, but how can you describe the enormity of an exploding shell or grenade within a few feet of your face? How can “battle-fatigue” be described to anyone who never had it? It certainly isn’t the raving, screaming maniac portrayed in movies – it’s a very quiet, personal withdrawal from everyone and everything about you. That raving maniac is just plain scared.

 

REMOUNT is part of the story of the 125th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron (Mczd) and, in particular, the First Platoon of C (Charlie) Troop. It covers the worst and the last.

 

There are no grand strategies or maneuvers explained because the military never confided such information to the dog-soldiers. If we knew where another platoon was located, it was usually enough. Only where I found pertinent historical record was that information included.

 

As I groped for words to relate these personal experiences of World War Two, there was a bothersome question that I had conscientiously avoided for all those years from that day I came home; can anyone – any sane person – really ‘miss’ war?

 

I never met anyone I felt was qualified to answer so I never asked. Then, after the words had already been written, I heard a psychiatrist, speaking about an entirely unrelated subject, explain;

 

“If you are beaten with a stick twice a day for two weeks and then the beating stop – you miss it.”

 

You miss it.

 
 

Part 1

 

 

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