Sloppy George

The odds finally caught up with George when a German machine-gunner did him in. It happened at Anzio, thirty years ago in February 1944. I can't remember the exact time of it now, but it may have been on the same day that our group was captured while trying to evacuate a bunch of wounded through the German lines. Actually, I didn't hear about it until four months later when a couple of 2nd Battalion men, picked up later in the Italian campaign, turned up at our POW camp in Poland.

George was sloppy. He didn't make an impressive looking soldier. His uniform never fit; his permanently wrinkled shirt hung loosely from sloping shoulders and bunched at the wrists; his trousers, always dirty, half in and half out of erratically laced leggings, bagged in all the wrong places. His clumsy GI shoes stayed scuffed and dusty. Except for an unkempt thatch of pale straw hair poking out over owlish eyes that peered through steel-rimmed spectacles, his head practically disappeared within his combat helmet.

It probably never occurred to him, but George had to be the most educated and intellectual soldier in the Regiment. He had gone to Phillips Exeter, graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, and had just finished law school there when he volunteered for basic training. Whether he had considered (or could have been considered for) officer candidate school was doubtful.

At any rate, George seemed happy as an enlisted man and, for two years, served uncomplainingly as the intelligence corporal in our Battalion S2 section. He was methodical and diligent in his work, and there was never a hint of disdain, superiority or antagonism in his relation or attitude toward any of the officers who headed his section from time to time. He was pleasant and even-tempered, and his quiet, philosophical manner made him seem almost shy. His good mind and his great language fluency in German made him invaluable to the Battalion; his thorough and unemotional interrogation of prisoners produced results. He never shirked an assignment, and on patrol and reconnaissance missions he appeared oblivious to danger and, on occasion, even reckless.

Although he was always friendly and often humorous, it was extremely difficult to draw him out in conversation. The only man in the Regiment who really got to know George was his last boss, Jack Weiner, the officer in charge of our Battalion Intelligence. Weiner, a product of Chicago's Southside and a University of Michigan football scholarship, was dark, heavyset, handsome, energetic, loud and extrovertish; a constant comic with an unending store of Yiddish jokes. (It always tickled George that Weiner was married to a redheaded, Irish nurse from Murphy, North Carolina.) In the months of combat through Sicily and Italy, a deep bond of affection had developed between them.

When the Battalion earned its Presidential Unit Citation during the Battle of the Caves on the Anzio beachhead, George stuck to his work and did an outstanding job. There were only two hundred survivors of that ten-day ordeal, and the stories of individual heroism were so plentiful it wasn't unusual that the one about George, cut down by a burst of machine-gun fire while trying to rescue Weiner, got overlooked and quickly forgotten.

But there must have been a touch of irony and a twinge of bitterness when the official notice of his having been killed in action was delivered to his family in the States. Especially to his father, George Sylvester Vierieck, Sr., the famous, anticommunist, pro-German intellectual, spending the war in the federal penitentiary at Atlanta, where he had been jailed for years as a suspected Nazi sympathizer.

(c) The Doctor's Lounge, Muscogee County (Georgia) Medical Bulletin, Vol XX, No. 1, 1963, p20

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