Saturday, April 17, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

"The real heroes," a World War II veteran once told me, "are the ones who didn't come home." This second annual Memorial Day audio CD contains several stories, told in the veterans' own voices, about crew members, colleagues, even the enemy, who made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for their country.

John Sweren

Bob Cash

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Reflections of a tank company commander

Harlo J. "Jack" Sheppard went overseas in World War II as the motor officer with the 712th Tank Battalion. When Captain James Cary was wounded by a booby trap on the battalion's first day in combat, Sheppard took his place as commanding officer of the battalion's Company C. The company had three platoons of five medium Sherman tanks, as well as its own maintenance section.

On his sixth day as company commander, July 10, 1944, Sheppard filled in for an injured tank commander during the battle for Hill 122 in Normandy. A shell struck his tank in the gunner's periscope two feet from where Sheppard stood with his head outside the turret. He was patched up in an aid station and made it through the rest of the battalion's 11 months in combat, minus a week in the hospital for "battle fatigue." He re-enlisted after the war, was in Germany during the Berlin airlift, and also served in Korea.

I interviewed Jack Sheppard in 1993, for my first book, "Tanks for the Memories: The 712th Tank Battalion in World War II."

A couple of years before I interviewed him, Jack began writing a memoir because his children kept asking him to put down the events of his life. Two weeks before the interview, he took the memoir out and began adding to it, working almost night and day.

During the interview, I read the memoir into my tape recorder, and Jack kept interrupting with  comments. Also, he showed me photographs and described them. I can't reproduce the pictures here, but I felt his explanations of what the pictures were were both descriptive and significant enough to include in the audio excerpts of the interview.

The interview spanned two days, and filled five 90-minute audiocassettes and about 20 minutes of a sixth. I transcribed the first two tapes in 1993, and I didn't even listen to the rest of the interview until recently.

My initial thought was to include the interview in an audiobook about the battle for Hill 122, which was the "bloody piece of French real estate" where Lieutenant Jim Flowers lost both of his legs. (Jim's dramatic account is included in my first audiobook, "The Tanker Tapes.") But because the interview contained so much information of a technical nature that would be valuable to any history buff -- for instance, Jack explained the various parts of a tank and the differences between the M4A1, M4A2 and M4A3, not to mention the M4A4 -- I decided instead to present Jack's interview as a separate, five-hour audiobook.

Jack passed away more than a decade ago, and his wife, Betty, died in 2005. A narrative drawn from the two tapes I transcribed is at my original web site, Here are some excerpts from the new audiobook, "Reflections of a Tank Company Commander."

Order "Reflections of a Tank Company Commander" from for $9.95 plus shipping.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Of Cars and Cigarettes

I'm working on the fifth tape of my 1993 interview with retired Colonel Harlo J. "Jack" Sheppard. When I transcribed the interview for my book "They were all young kids" almost 15 years ago, I stopped after two tapes.

This interview is different from many of my interviews in two ways. One, it's somewhat longer than most of my interviews, as I spent two days interviewing Jack in Bartow, Fla. And two, much of the interview is actually me reading a memoir Jack wrote into the tape recorder, while he made comments along the way. I'm not going to win any awards as a reader, so I hope you'll bear with my sometimes monotonous voice.

Today's sound clip, from the fourth 90-minute cassette of the interview, includes stories about two things that appear frequently in my conversations with World War II veterans: cars and cigarettes. Sheppard reenlisted after World War II and spent time as an officer with the occupation forces.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A mystery solved

Harlo J. "Jack" Shepard was one of the veterans I interviewed back in 1993, when I was writing "Tanks for the Memories." Trouble is, the interview filled six 90-minute cassettes over two days, and when I got around to transcribing it, I stopped after the second tape. That was 17 years ago. Jack and his wife, Betty, are both since deceased, and until a few days ago, I still hadn't listened to the third cassette.

I'm one of these people for whom stories go in one ear and out the other, so that when I listen to a tape -- especially after nearly two decades! -- it's like hearing the stories for the first time. Jack has already cleared up one mystery for me that I thought I'd never solve. It may not rank with what happened to Raoul Wallenberg, but to me it was a question I never thought would be answered: Why did Colonel Whitside Miller make his executive officer, Baxter Davis, doubletime in front of the whole battalion?

It was an episode that contributed greatly to Colonel Whitside, as he was known, being relieved of his command, and was described to me by several officers in the battalion. But none of them could remember just what it was Major Davis did that got him reprimanded in such a matter.

And then, there it was, right on tape 3 of my interview with Jack Sheppard.

Here are two sound clips -- this is, after all, an audo blog -- from my interview with Captain Jack. Although he went on to serve in the Korean War and retired as a colonel, he was a captain and company commander with the 712th Tank Battalion. In the first clip, he describes the incident with Whitside Miller. In the second, he talks about the Silver Star he was awarded with the battalion. The faint background music is provided by Jack's wife, Betty, who was listening to music in the next room during the interview.

Whitside Miller

Silver Star