Crack! and Thump
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 19 May 2007
"Do you know what crack and thump is?" Asked retired US Army Captain Charles Scheffel at the Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX, United States book signing for Crack! and Thump on 28 Apr 2007.
"Not really. Snipers?" Responded the officer on active duty, who was on his way to Iraq.
Scheffel gave him a signed copy of his book. "You need to know this. It could save your life. It saved mine more than once, and survival's the name of the game."
If you think that sounds like an exchange you may have with your experienced neighbor down the street, you have it right. Crack! and Thump is Scheffel's honestly written memoir recalling his experiences fighting in North Africa and Europe. Whether it was the exhilaration of battle victories or the shame of leaving wounded men behind, nothing was censored. There are plenty of shocking things, too. Did you know that the US 9th Division, 39th Regiment operated a whorehouse in Sidi-bel-Abbes in Algeria, with Army money? The intention was good; Scheffel's commander knew that soldiers would go whoring regardless, so he might as well provide a place they could go where they could control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The logistics of running a whorehouse with the capacity to service up to 1,200 men per day was not something you will find in Dwight Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe, that's for sure.
Throughout the book, Scheffel also avoided the glorification of war, while remaining critical of the decisions he had made in battle.
As the book progresses, you see Scheffel maturing into an inspiring leader. He recalled once in North Africa when one of his young soldiers was afraid to pull his trigger:
The fog continued to lift and we saw three Germans on the forward slope get out of their holes and begin setting up a machine gun. We watched them work hard, digging the gun in solid, orienting it to face us.
I eased my Springfield [rifle] into a firing position and looked at my new troop. "What are you going to do?" I said.
"I don't know."
"What should you do?"
"I guess I should start shooting."
"Well," I said, "why aren't you shooting then, soldier?"
He stared at me. "Sir, if I shoot at them, they'll shoot back."
"Look," I said, "are you going to wait for them to get set up?" I kept my eye on the Germans because I was going to unload my rifle at them if they started to get behind their weapon.... "Do you know what's going to happen if you don't start shooting?... They're going to pick you off. What are you going to do now?"
"I guess I'm going to start shooting, sir." He raised his rifle, squeezed one off, and a German with his back to us crumpled.
"You got him!" I said.
"I did! I did!"
That episode of Scheffel offering gentle guidance to his young soldier is also one of the many passages where he gives you the feel of the war on the front line. The grand strategies you read about in other books become somewhat meaningless. It really mattered little to the daily lives of the Army grunts if the German supplies into Tunisia were waning or if the German armor movements were being limited by Allied air superiority. Instead, what mattered to infantrymen was surviving the mission taking the next farmhouse or digging two-man foxholes so the riflemen could support each other.
In his plain language, Scheffel offers his experience of the war as a front line infantry officer, something that is unique and priceless. "Each person's life, if truthfully told, would make a great story", said Ernest Hemingway. With the help of Camroc Press' Barry Basden, Scheffel's experience made Crack! and Thump among the most candid and insightful pieces of work that gave hint to the ground war in WW2.
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Lt. Gen. Lewis B. "Chesty" Puller, at Guadalcanal