Pain and Memories

Written by Franklin Blank for the VFW - August 1980

Eluding death by sheer luck and raw courage, Sgt. Toy Lark led his platoon of the 80th Division's 318th Infantry into capture of a Nazi stronghold until torn to fragments by enemy fire in a living hell of death he will talk about but would rather forget.

Sgt. Lark's fighting ability and intestines had earned him a Silver Star for capturing a German artillery piece and the Germans who manned it.

It was during the winter of 1944-45 when the sergeant's division, part of Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army, carried the fight to the enemy across France and into Germany with the combat skill that made the American fighting man a hero around the world.

His platoon trudged through the thick brush, the men holding their fire as they approached quietly, observing their opposite number guarding the banks of the river. A twig snapped with alert Nazi apprehension, a phosphorous flare shot into the sky almost as fast as the deadly arms fire burning white in the sky. The light and dark contrast silhouetted Sgt. Lark's platoon against the brush.

"It just gave him (the gunner) a perfect picture of me. It burned all the way through. It's a hot feeling when the bullets hit you," he recalled.

The projectiles entered his right hip and tore upward into his abdomen. American combat men called this a "gutshot." Several wounded gutshots endured until the insidious bacteria grew and grew, fever rising as fast as their minds danced in delirium, drunk with heat, into childish fantasies until death came.

Sgt. Lark's gutshot caused him only a healthy fear and a white rage. In the fading flare he saw the German who cut him down. He was standing 30 yards away with an automatic weapon. Forgetting his serious disadvantage, he wanted only to get the Nazi in reprisal at all costs. Seizing his grease gun, he fired solid pellets directly at the German. He followed through by emptying his .45 automatic pistol into the dead hulk of the enemy. Then the dying flare of light expended itself. The riverbank was silent except for the excruciating screams of his own comrades caught in the glare of burning phosphorous. Sgt. Lark turned in utter torment as the burning of fire turned to pain of demons. He joined others in maddening screams in a holocaust of suffering.

All around him, soldiers not gutshot or screaming were moving up. Engineers carried rubber rafts toward the river, holding their fire to conceal the number of Yanks and their positions. Tactical warfare means outsmarting mortal enemies. 

Tactics are planned and commanded by military leaders, however. Shortly afterwards the company commander hovered over the fallen warrior indifferent to his subordinate's suffering. Anger in him demanded why the sergeant fired when he wasn't supposed to fire.

Two words were uttered by Lark" "my belly!" A hint of compassion overtook the commander as he kneeled over his fallen soldier, reloading his empty pistol. He said he could spare no men to carry him to an aid station but there were 11 German prisoners and one of them was a medic. Sgt. Lark's eyes were just becoming adjusted to the darkness as he made them out in the long coats, disarmed. He steadied the weapon with his remaining strength.

"I guess they were scared as bad as I was. All I had to do was to pull the trigger and they knew it. But then, they were glad to be captured," he recalled.

The lone American in the dozen, he soon found out the medic could speak English, which was all the relief he had.

"I was hurtin' all the way through. That medic. I guess he felt almost as bad about it as I did. He gave me some morphine and it helped."

The American commanded two of the Germans to take off their coats and put them, one atop the other, on the ground.

He crawled with a torment onto the coats as the Nazis grabbed the garments. They picked him up as a wounded elk. As they started back, the sky was becoming light. With gunfire on the
riverbank, that was deathly. The sergeant was interested in one thing, however. His mathematics told him over and over: 11 Nazis, six rounds. The small party, captives and captor, proceeded slowly as the blood flowed freely on Lark's coat, the pistol getting heavier as the sergeant weakened. As the party arrived at a secure farmhouse, Sgt. Lark knew he solved the math problem. He told the captured Germans to take him inside lay him down and to scram.

Then he just lay there, not mindful of anything when the familiar sound of an American Jeep struck his weary ears. He fired his pistol only once into the ceiling and vehicle stopped. From then on it was nightmare of pain. Turning and crawling onto an aid station table, the airplane flight, the hospital and the pain that never quite led to death. At times it felt the easier way out.

"You want to forget," Lark recalls. "I wouldn't go through that again for a million dollars. Not for a million dollars." He lives in Landsdowne, Md.

He can't recall the number of times he has been admitted to VA hospitals. The pain and suffering he endured to defend his nation followed him into civilian life.