Skip to main content

Marshall Continued

July 2024
1min read

For anyone who has experienced ground combat, there is no great secret about a rifleman’s not firing his weapon very much in a battle. Even a lead scout seldom sees the enemy ! This is why a rifle platoon or company uses scouts: to find the enemy, or at least the enemy position, and to draw enemy fire. And it is not a job that attracts a great many volunteers.

Further, it is sometimes the case that men on the line do not have ammunition to waste. It certainly was true for me and my combat infantry regiment in World War II. When we went on the line north of Strasbourg on Christmas Eve, 1944, there was no ammunition for me or others carrying carbines. That’s right—no ammunition! I went on the line with an empty weapon. Our riflemen borrowed from the outfit we were relieving. “Hey, buddy, leave me a clip, will ya?”

Ammo belts supplied to our machine gunners were rationed. They were not going to spray their ammo at emptiness.

It was not cowardice or timidity that caused a combat soldier to restrain his fire. It was because the enemy (if he was wise) kept under cover. And the GI rifleman quickly learned to do the same thing or he did not survive.

All that dramatic bullet spraying committed by Errol Flynn and John Wayne (and more recently by Sylvester Stallone) is the product of scriptwriters who never have lain in a foxhole staring into darkness, listening for unaccountable sounds, or moved stealthily through a woods, searching for what danger may be camouflaged ahead.

I remember a couple of officers from Division G-2 questioning an infantry patrol when it returned to our lines. Each man was asked, “Did you fire your weapon?” The G-2 officers were disappointed and critical when they received negative replies. But they did not ask the members of the patrol, “Did you see the enemy?”

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.