Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hill 122: Jim Rothschadl

I'm about to embark on my most ambitious audiobook yet, the story of Hill 122 as told by the survivors of Jim Flowers' platoon.

Some of you are familiar with Flowers. His three-CD interview is included in "The Tanker Tapes." Flowers was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions on Hill 122 in Normandy. But he paid a terrible price: the lives of nine members of his platoon, and the loss of both of his legs.

Flowers and his wife, Jeanette, were two of my favorite people. I would see them at almost every reunion. Despite having two prostheses, he would drive from Dallas (excuse me, Jim, "Richardson, you know, that place where Dallas is a suburb of") to Bradenton, Fla., for the battalion's annual mini-reunion, or to whichever city in which the main reunion was held.

Flowers once said I should interview Jim Rothschadl, his gunner, who spent two days in no man's land with him. They never saw each other after the war. Flowers said Rothschadl was an American Indian, while a little voice inside my head said "Huh?"

When I looked up Rothschadl's home town of Waubun, Minn., there it was, smack dab in the middle of the White Earth Indian Reservation. When I called him, I asked how he was an Indian with a name like Rothschadl.

Oh no, he said, he was the son of a Czechoslovakian immigrant. His father was swindled into buying land at an inflated price from Indians who in turn were swindled into selling it for a couple of dollars an acre with the help of an act of Congress. He knew because he was a town official and had looked up the records.

Jim and Jeanette Flowers are both deceased now, as is Jim Rothschadl. There's no going back and asking them to clarify a point here and there. But I have their voices on tape, as well as the voices of Judd Wiley, one of the tank commanders in Flowers' platoon; and Louis Gerrard, who lost an eye on Hill 122; and Kenneth Titman, another tank commander; and Michael Vona, one of the crew members in Titman's tank; and Myron Kiballa, whose brother Gerald was killed in the battle; and Jack Sheppard, the company commander who filled in for one of the tank commanders in the tragic battle. I don't know about Vona or Kiballa, but all of the others are deceased.

Bob Levine, an infantryman who was wounded and captured in the battle and is a neighbor of mine, is very much alive, and I plan to include his voice in this audiobook as well.

I've already digitized my three-hour 1993 interview with Flowers, but I have several shorter interviews I hope to draw from for the audiobook. First I'm going to tackle my Oct. 21, 1993 interview with Rothschadl.
I'll keep you posted on the audiobook's progress and include sound clips here and there.

Thanks for reading!

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