Scarlet Fields: The Germans, 1933-45 by John Lewis Barkley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Scarlet Fields is the American doppleganger to the French “The Price of Glory.” It is the simply-told tale of an American farm boy who fought a stutter to be accepted into the Army. He won that battle and was sent to France. He had a rather unique experience as he was assigned scouting duties due to his skills in the woods and countryside. He teamed up with a couple of Native Americans in his company and they all helped keep each other alive through some of the brutal fighting that occurred in the short few months the American Army was in action in France.
He was a modest man and tried to do his best in the war. Ultimately, he did pretty well, receiving the Medal of Honor from Black Jack Pershing, himself (who accidentally pinned it right through the skin under his blouse–this was back before it was a neck-hanger, apparently). Barkley got the award months after it was earned. In the closing days of the war, as both armies heaved and tumbled in no mans land in desperate attempts to force a conclusion to the war, Barkley, sent to scout, found himself right in the line with a company of Germans approaching. He grabbed a deserted German machine gun and climbed into a knocked-out French tank–and these were just little things, not much bigger than an over sized pickup truck– and got to work on the crowd. He gives no estimate of how many he killed that day, and his citation just says “many” but it must have been over a hundred. From his writing, I suspect he was embarrassed and a little ashamed for having sent so many men, even the enemy, to their maker.
He fired that machine gun until it overheated and froze up. Just as he was exiting the tank to make a run for it, he found a can of oil, so broke down the gun, oiled it, poured the rest in the water jacket and went back to work. He was shelled and one explosion flapped the tank tread onto the hull where it hit the protruding machine gun barrel sending the stock crashing into Barkley’s chin, knocking him out. He came to, tightened up the now-loose stock, and went back to work. It didn’t help that he had mustard gas burns on his head from an earlier battle.
Barkley had a hundred adventures before and after his MoH effort and the book is a wonderful read for a snapshot of life during that struggle.
After the war, Barkley returned home, was touted around America a bit, and settled right back in Missouri, where he spent the rest of his life, dying in 1966.Wonderful tale by a humble, honest man, the kind that fought out two wars for freedom before the turn of the century. John Lewis Barkley, you are remembered. I hope you are in the arms of your Valkyrie, and that Jesse and Floyd and Tom and Mike are all there sharing a fire-roasted chicken and a canteen of brandy. -Mr. Cracraft
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