The first day former Sgt. Mike Labick arrived in Normandy in September 1944 he wound up in a front line foxhole at Saint-Lo as a newly-minted member of Gen. George S. Patton’s 3rd Army.
Patton’s units were in the bloody process of breaking out of the hedgerow country along the cost of France.
A resident of Kings Gate in Port Charlotte, Fla. Labick served as a platoon sergeant in Company C, 1st Battalion, 319th Infantry Regiment of the 8th Infantry Division.
“I remember when I first arrived I was in a foxhole with some seasoned soldiers in a wooded area late in the afternoon, waiting for the Germans to counterattack. It didn’t happen,” the 87-year-old former soldier said. “But during the night, the Germans sent a patrol into the forest. It was headed right for where I was dug in. All of a sudden, someone opened up on them, killing a couple, and the rest retreated.
“The next morning, we were taken by truck and dumped off outside a little French town and told to capture it. I started toward a hedgerow that surrounded the village when the Germans began firing at us. An enemy shell blew up in front of me. I could feel my legs being peppered with shrapnel as I went down,” Labick said.
“I was lying on the ground and my kneecap was hurting so bad, I yelled for a medic. When he arrived, he looked me over and asked if I thought I could get myself to an aid station a couple of hundred yards away. He said he had more serious injuries to tend to.
“I hobbled to the aid station, where I was seen by a doctor who eventually pulled the shrapnel out of my legs, bandaged my wounds, allowed me to spend the night in the aid station and sent me back to the front lines the next morning,” he said.
“By then, we were near a town called Saint-Michel, France. The Germans had cleared out and we were given passes to go into town for the weekend. I was walking down the street when an older French lady invited me to go to church with her. After church, she asked me to come to her home for some refreshments. She was very appreciative of all we were doing to liberate her town.
“I was touched by her kindness, so when we got Red Cross packages from home I brought her my package which contained soap, cigarettes and socks,” Labick recalled. “She couldn’t believe I would give her my Red Cross package.”
Eventually, he and the soldiers of Company C moved on to face the Germans at the next French village in their path.
“That night, I was included in a patrol that was sent out to a clump of trees a couple hundred feet outside the village at a forward observation post. We were to wait and watch for the German attack we expected was coming,” he said. “When it came, we were surrounded by the enemy who didn’t know we were there. After the Germans retreated, we got back to our line without any injuries.
“The next night, another patrol went out to the same clump of trees to do the job we did the night before. The Germans had figured out we used the trees as a lookout post. They hit the second patrol with artillery and mortar fire that killed or wounded every man in the patrol,” Labick said.
As fast as possible, Patton and his army moved farther and farther eastward, pushing the Germans closer to the Fatherland.
“The Germans held the next town we came to. We pushed them out of a field into the village, where we dug in for the night. A Sherman tank that was with us got hit by enemy artillery. The tankers escaped, but they left the vehicle running,” he said. “As night fell, our lieutenant yelled, ‘Can somebody shut that damn tank off?’ I got up, ran toward the Sherman and dropped inside. I had only been in a tank once before, but I knew how to turn off the engine.
“As I climbed out and got into my slit trench again, incoming German artillery started coming down on us. I happened to look up just as the third round hit the lieutenant’s and sergeant’s foxhole next to mine. Arms and legs were flying in all directions. It was the worst experience of the war for me,” the old soldier said as he shook his head and grimaced more than six decades later.
Lavick ‘s outfit was told their next battle would be on German soil. The Battle of the Bulge changed all that. Patton’s army was diverted toward Bastogne, Belgium, where the Germans were slamming into Allied units on the Western Front in a desperate bid to deal them a crushing blow and end the war.
“Twenty miles west of Luxembourg, my outfit was marching toward a little town near Bastogne the Germans had been pushed out of. To retaliate, they shelled the town, and that’s where I was hit by shrapnel the second time.
“It was pretty scary. I was hit in the back with a big piece of shrapnel, which could have killed me or caused me to lose my ability to walk. I ended up in a base hospital behind the lines, where I was operated on. From there, I was taken to a bigger and better hospital in Orleans, France, outside Paris, for more operations. Finally, I was moved to a hospital in Harrogate, England, that specialized in these types of injuries,” Lavick explained.
A couple of months after his fifth operation, Labick was back on his feet. Instead of sending him back into combat, he eventually headed home.
“I was told the quickest way to get there was to join the 8th Air Force. A lot of Air Force recruits were being transferred to the infantry to serve on the front lines,” he said. “I was switched from the Army to the Air Force and became a lecturer at a base in England. My job was to tell a bunch of scared Air Force guys who were going in the Army what it was like being an infantryman on the front lines.”
Two months later, Lavick got aboard a troop transport and sailed for home. He arrived in Baltimore, was given a 30-day leave, and by the time he returned to duty the war was over. He took advantage of the G.I. Bill, graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in economics and went to work for Ford. He later switched to American Motors and spent the next 26 years with the company until he retired.
He and his wife, Rosalie, moved to this area in 1992. When she died in 2006, they had been married for 55 years.
Mike Labick received the following commendations:Two Purple Hearts with oak leaf cluster, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Bronze Star, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater ribbon with four bronze battle stars, Overseas Service Bar and Good Conduct Medal. He served in the Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central European campaigns.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 10, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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