Put Your “Jack” Hancock There, Cont
On January 23rd, the 63rd Division marched on Hill 216 and took it after suffering heavy casualties. Next, the U.S. soldiers marched towards Jebsheim. Shelling kept them alert. Sub-zero temperatures and a fierce wind from the North whipped deep snow into a frenzy around the soldiers who huddled in fox holes. Movement was difficult and slow.
The First Battalion crawled through icy water and were soaked from the waist down. In the morning, several men had frozen hands and trench foot. The next evening, Allied forces fought in the streets, from house to house. When Jebsheim was finally taken, headquarters were amazed. Somehow, the American troops gathered the strength to battle victoriously despite insufficient numbers and men greatly weakened by fatigue, cold and hunger. When asked how the company mustered the strength to conquer, one soldier exclaimed, “If you think I was going to stay out in some foxhole full of snow while the Krauts were living in nice, warm cellars, you’re crazy!”
Next, the 254th camped by the Rhein and waited for the signal to cross the river into Germany. The “Watch on the Rhine” continued until February 17th. During the next few weeks, soldiers worked to breach the Siegfried Line, 390 miles of bunkers, tunnels, and tank traps. The Westwall, as it was called by the Germans, was well defended with trip wires and mines. A strong barrage of enemy artillery opened fire as the army moved through Hinterwald Woods. Troops quickly advanced, surprising the enemy, and a bitter fight ensued lasting almost three hours. Heavy battles erupted in Hartigshof, Eschringesn, and Ensheim. The race was on for Berlin.
The land began thawing and Jack’s thoughts turned home on his mother’s birthday, March 6th, 1945. He read her last letter and tenderly kept it in his pocket. On March 8th, Jack was sent to eat his first warm meal in a while. In the evening, he drove a jeep with two other soldiers riding shotgun. Six miles inside Germany, a patrol stopped Jack and warned him, “There are pockets of resistance ahead. Watch out for artillery.”
Jack continued down the road. A few moments later, he turned a corner and heard the whining screeming meemies. His buddy remarked, “That one is calling to me.” Suddenly, everything went black.
When Jack came to, he was on his hands and knees in the road. Something warm ran down his forehead. He put his hands up to feel. Blood! Looking down, he saw red staining his brand new fleece. “Oh no,” he moaned. He tried to wipe the blood off, but he only smeared more on himself. He looked helplessly and apologetically at his buddies who ran to help. They were soon joined by medics. Jack was placed on a gurney and taken to an aid station. He drifted in and out of consciousness as two doctors played checkers.
Twice during the night, they lifted a towel off Jack’s head and argued whether or not to do surgery. The gurney was cold and uncomfortable. In the morning, the two doctors got up and left for breakfast. Jack had endured enough. He stood up and walked away. He put his thumb in the air and hitchhiked a ride back to his unit. When his Captain saw Jack’s wounds, he immediately ordered Jack to the hospital. Shrapnel pierced his head right between the eyes and narrowly missed the brain.
As Jack lay in the hospital bed waiting for the surgery to begin, a nurse stopped to check on him. Jack reached in his pocket and took out a letter from his mother. The thin sheet had been folded over into its own envelop. “My mother is a nurse,” said Jack. “Would you read her letter to me?”
The nurse read the letter out loud. “I recently quit my job and took a position in an army hospital.
I thought about my two sons fighting in the war. I thought if they were wounded, I would
want a kind nurse to watch over them. So, I watched over other mothers’ sons and helped
them. It got me in trouble. The government has a rule that certain occupations are required
to stay in their positions, so I had to return to my former job…Love Mom”
There is nothing sweeter than a mother’s love. It influences the world to do good. The nurse wiped moisture from her eyes. “I will hold your hand throughout the surgery,” she declared. She took Jack’s hand and sat next to him.
Letters from home came in groups. It might take several weeks to find a soldier in the field. Jack had several waiting from his bride when mail caught up with him. He devoured the letters and penned replies. The actual letters never left Europe. The army collected soldiers’ letters and read them first. If anything was considered confidential or classified, the information was blacked out. Then, the letters were photographed onto microfilm which was much easier to transport, and shipped back to the states. The original letters were burned. Once the microfilm reached the U.S., a reverse operation took place. The films were reinvented on paper and mailed to the recipient.
Two months later, Jack was released from the hospital and sent back to his unit. That same day, the war ended when Polish and Russian troops captured Berlin. Jack received the purple heart and was soon deployed home. He enjoyed the army and served forty years. The high school drop out became Major Jack Hancock .
By the time he retired, he had earned a masters degree in Military Science and held enough points to be a General, but he was considered “too old and grey.” Major Hancock wanted to fight in Iraq but knew his aging body would slow the troops down and possibly cause someone else to get hurt. His heroic spirit shines through his aging eyes and school boy grin. Jack is now widowed and lives independently. He still has his driver’s license, enjoys family history research and cares for an adult child who was injured in a car accident.