Though one of my fellow bloggers had written about it, it was not until recently that I read the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. While telling an out-of-town friend recently that I was reading about the famous Easy Company paratroopers, he informed me one of the main characters, Floyd Talbert, had been from my town of Kokomo. Since I still have not seen the miniseries where this is made more clear, I researched and learned the interesting tale about Talbert.
From landing by parachute near Utah Beach on D-Day to fighting in the Battle of the Bulge to being one of the first ones to reach Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest mountain hideout in Berchtesgaden, Talbert had many incredible adventures. He was considered to be one of the finest soldiers in the company. The main hero of Easy Company, Major Winters, said that there was no one he would rather have on a mission beside him than Talbert. Yet there is one particularly unfortunate incident about Talbert for which he was immortalized.
In the early morning hours of June 13, 1944, on the front line near Carentan, Normandy, Sargeant Talbert went out to relieve a fellow soldier named Smith who had fallen asleep in his foxhole. Trying to stay warm on this bitter cold night, Talbert had donned a German greatcoat that he had found. When he sought to awaken his friend, the sleep-deprived Smith did not recognize him, thought him to be an enemy soldier, and charged him with his bayoneted M-1 rifle. He stabbed Talbert twice in the chest before he stopped, realizing what he had done. Fortunately, he missed Talbert’s heart and lungs. After a few months of recuperation, Talbert was able to rejoin his company in August of that year.
One day after Talbert’s return, in a good-natured mock ceremony, a couple of his buddies presented him with one of their own Purple Hearts as they read a poem called “The Night of the Bayonet.”
The night was filled with dark and cold,
When Sergeant Talbert, the story’s told,
Pulled on his poncho and headed out,
To check the lines dressed like a Kraut.
Upon a trooper, our hero came,
Fast asleep, he called his name,
Smith! Oh, Smith! Get up! It’s time
To take your place out on the line.
And Private Smith, so very weary,
Cracked an eye all red and bleary,
Grabbed his gun, he did not tarry,
Hearing Floyd but seeing Jerry.
DON’T! cried Tab, IT’S ME!, and yet,
Smith charged, tout suite, with bayonet.
He lunged, he thrust, both high and low,
And skewered the boy from Kokomo.
And as they carried him away,
Our punctured hero was heard to say,
When in this war you venture out,
Best never do it dressed as a Kraut!
The concluding chapter of Ambrose’s book contains an update of what happened to each of the men after the war. It is here that possibly Talbert received another unfortunate “skewering.” Ambrose paints Talbert as a drifting drunkard who for years avoided all contact from his fellow soldiers. He then says Talbert ended up in California and, when Winters finally convinced him to attend a reunion, he looked like a mountain man. However, Talbert’s family, while acknowledging their brother was far from perfect, disputed Ambrose’s post-war portrayal of him. One brother wrote:
He attended Indiana University after his discharge from the service and immediately accepted a position with the Union Carbide (Haynes Stellite Division in Kokomo, Indiana). He then transferred with the same organization to Alexandria, Indiana, and worked there for several years. He decided to become a full-time farmer and purchased land in that area. Later, he became a plant manager for the General Tire and Rubber Company. He also was a successful car salesman both in Indiana and California.
At the time of the reunion, having been diagnosed with a terminal disease, Talbert’s appearance was more simply explained by his family as him wanting to live out his last days in the outdoors which he loved.
A lesson is to be gained here. Reading this account of Talbert’s life reminded me of how easy it is in the company of the church to hit others with “friendly fire.” Mistaking one who is actually on our side as an enemy, we can thrust and jab at him or her with knife-like tongues, skewering one of Christ’s own. How careful we must be! Paul reminded the church of Galatia of the chief commandment save one while warning them of the danger of its failure:
For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. -Galatians 5:14-15
(See the video below of spliced clips from the movie portrayal of the scenes of Talbert’s bayoneting and the reading of the poem.)