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A Letter Home

After the battle of Rittershoffen-Hatten, I wrote a letter to my minister in Knoxville, Tennessee, describing an incident that took place during the fight. He used the letter as his sole text on Easter Sunday, 1945. My parents and sister were in attendance. In Louisiana, my grandfather had the letter published in the local newspaper under the following heading:

John S. Clayton, somewhere in Alsace, to the rector of his church, Rev. Eugene Hopper, of St. James Church, Knoxville, Tenn. Young Clayton is the grandson of Mr. H. P. Warden, of Delhi.

The letter:

Alsace, January 27, 1945.

Dear Mr. Hopper,

I received your card and manual the other day and greatly appreciated both. The manual has been a great comfort already. From the church members I now have a small calendar, which is perfect for carrying around and has the advantage of denoting the religious days of feasting, festival, and mourning.

In the past days I rather imagine I have prayed more than all my eighteen years put together. It is perhaps unfortunate that men seem to accept religion more readily after the "hell" has been scared out of them. Or perhaps it is only that knowing we are in deadly peril we call on God's help more frequently. I know that prayers over here are very frequent, and very sincere.

Perhaps you may be interested in the story of a miracle in answer to a prayer. For a miracle I believe it was, and I certainly prayed.

We were pinned down by sniper fire at close range. Prone in the snow for what seemed eternity, I was firing my B. A. R. while behind me my buddy passed up ammunition. A mortar barrage began and for a while it seemed we were lost. One burst so close I could have reached the crater with my weapon. Someone called that my buddy was hit. I crawled to him and found that he had been shot through the head just above the left ear. A medic (they are wonderful men) ran the gauntlet, handed me a bandage,. went after a litter. I removed the helmet and wool hat and bandaged his head. The mortar was still heavy and we were ordered to withdraw. It meant worming along on stomach for two hundred yards. We had to leave him.

I cannot tell you how it hurt me to do this. A buddy over here is not a man you happen to like. You dig the same hole with him, huddle next to him for warmth in the cold, swap your chow, share your blankets. You know him as you never knew a brother. He's your buddy!

The medics tried to get him -- the Jerries beat them back with fire. Our ambulance was shot out. I lay in a ditch while he lay out there -- for hours. I prayed hard. I prayed he would get back -- and I had hardly finished when a tanker called down from the turret, "There's a G.I. out there walking!"

 We peered over the ditch and out there in that field, with mortar blasting and burp guns firing, he was walking in. Carrying his helmet in one hand, he wandered towards us, STANDING up. How impossible that is you cannot believe. I called and called and he came stumbling In until we could grab him and pull him down to safety. He was dimly conscious.

"A" Company prayed for that kid! And he is not only alive, but will return home normal, with a helmet that daylight shines through for a souvenir.

When I got back I hunted up a church. It happened to be Catholic. A church is a church. I went in and had a good deal to give thanks for. I still have.

When I get home it will be one of my long-looked-forward-to pleasures to attend St. James' again and to visit the Hopper family. May this New Year bring to you and yours the promise of a world that is a little happier, a little quieter, and a little more willing to put its faith in brotherhood rather than fratricide

JOHN CLAYTON

NOTES

Warren Valenze (sp?) from Staten Island was my ammunition bearer. At the time I wrote this, I believed he had been shot, but it later proved to have been a mortar fragment. The medic who tried to reach him (I regret I no longer remember his name) was driven back by the intense fire. He tried several times, but it would have been suicidal to continue. He came to me where I was huddled in the ditch, but he was so emotionally torn up by what he felt was his duty as a medic and the impossibility of success that he lost his ability to speak. He tried to tell me and finding he couldn't, took out a piece of paper and a pencil, wrote something on it, and looked at me with pleading eyes as he pointed to what he had written. It said, "I tried."

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