Excerpt from "My American Journey"
By Colin Powell
with Joseph E. Persico
I got a foretaste of what hot war could be like if the Cold
War ever ignited. It was a morning after payday in the summer of 1960. Our
brigade had gone to Grafenwohr for field training. The troops were to be
billeted in over six hundred general-purpose tents. Our company had not yet
arrived in force, but a sister unit, the 12th Cavalry, had come in the night
before. Its tents were full of troops, still asleep at this early hour.
I was returning from a bartering mission with another company's exec, bringing rations I had traded for back to our mess hall. My ears pricked up at an odd, whistling sound overhead. In about a nanosecond, I realized it was an artillery shell that had strayed wildly out of the impact area. I stopped, frozen, and actually saw the 8-inch round come in. It struck a tent pole in the 12th Cavalry's sector, detonating in an air-burst. The roar was deafening, followed by a terrifying silence. I dropped the food and rushed toward the blast as dismembered legs, hands, and arms thumped to the ground around me. Money from payday came fluttering to earth. Some other soldiers joined me, wading through the acrid smoke and fumes. Inside the tent, I zipped open a sleeping bag, and what was left looked like an illustration of viscera in a medical textbook. In an instant, a dozen lives had been snuffed out and more men wounded. The tragedy was later found to have been caused by human error in aligning the gun, and the battalion commander and other officers were relieved of their duties. I had seen a hundred war movies, but nothing had prepared me for the sights I saw that day.
Source: 3rd Armored Division History Web Site