Sweet Music Man
By James K. Richardson
Company B, 272nd Inf Reg

The trip from camp Kilmer to England was not the most pleasant one ever taken; aboard the S.S. John Ericson. We were stacked in like sardines, on E deck, what I described as the "bilge".  There wasn't too much to do, except little exercise on the main deck, or playing a few hands of cards and standing in line for our two meals a day.  One evening I was asleep on my bunk (or hammock, whatever you call those things on ship) when I heard the most beautiful sound of violin music I had ever heard.  It sounded too good to be recorded music, so it must be live.  I got up, and to my surprise, there was Tech Sgt John  Spencer cradling a violin as lovingly as he would have a newborn child.  It seemed almost a paradox, this rugged crusty old Sgt playing a violin as if it were his lover.  I'm not talking fiddle here, I am referring to a real live honest to goodness violin playing classical music. My respect for this old Sergeant grew after that. 

The next time I saw Sgt. Spencer was in England setting up and displaying the technique of handling boobie traps.  The whole 1st battalion was watching him, and Sgt. Vasilopolous setting the traps, and then exploding them.  But something happened that was not expected.  Sgt. Vasilopolous was holding a roll of primer cord and 2 lbs of TNT in his hands when a sympathetic explosion set it off, seriously injuring him.  To this day, I never heard of his fate after that.  I know that Sgt. Spencer was terribly shaken by the experience. 

For some unknown reason, Captain Moore, Company B commander thought I could do about anything, so he appointed me "demolition Sgt" on top of my duties as communicatons Sgt.  I did a pretty good job until one day near the Rhein River I attempted to demolish some left over ammunition and to clear boobie traps from a man made cave.  I was using  German fuses and caps, and didn't realize the length of time it took to set off an explosion.,  I waited and waited, thinking that the fuse was no good and had gone out.  I went back to examine the fuse, when the whole thing blew up, burning me pretty badly.  I was taken to a hospital in Aachen Germany, and never saw Sgt. Spencer again.  The reason for this preamble is that Sgt. Spencer was interested in communications, map reading and the other chores assigned to the communications platoon in a rifle company.  He was assigned to my job as communication Sgt.  For some reason Capt. Moore wanted the men in the Communication squad assigned to the point, probably because of their ability to read maps, and to communicate back to him if we were fired on.  I don't know exactly the circumstances surrounding the capture of Benterode, but in the process, Sgt John W. Spencer with the beautiful music in his soul became a casualty that day.   Another member of my old group was, Pfc. Schulke, who  joined the long gray line that day. I have wondered to this day if Sgt. Spencer might have survived the war, had it not been for my poor handling of explosives. I felt so guilty that when I was offered a Purple Heart while in the hospital, I refused to accept it, as my injuries were of my own making. When Germany surrendered, I had 84 points toward being discharged, but 85 points were required.. Had I accepted the Purple Heart, I would have been home about 3 months sooner.