Sunday, May 13, 2012

'I gotta tell you guys a story'

   Lately I've been reviewing transcripts of interviews I did in the 1990s, while I'm working on a narrative book about the 712th Tank Battalion, with which my father served. The story at the end of this blog entry inspired me to self-publish my first book, "Tanks for the Memories: An Oral History of the 712th Tank Battalion," not because it's a great story, which it is, but because in the newsletter that followed the 1993 reunion, at which it was recorded, I learned that Budd Squires had passed away. Upon returning home to Minnesota from the reunion he learned that he was in the advanced stages of cancer.
   Budd was a replacement in A Company and Neal Vaughn was an original member of A Company. I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think this particular tape was recorded while I was out to lunch with four A Company veterans. I had asked them if they liberated any concentration camps.

Budd Squires

Not our platoon. There'd be a platoon here, a platoon there. But we had a lot of D.P. (displaced persons)  camps, they were bad enough. But not the concentration camps.
I remember one D.P. camp, I don't know where the hell it was, but when we liberated it, they had those big water reservoirs built around the camp, where they retained water, for fire purposes. And these D.P.s were out there digging the dike, to drain it, because there were a lot of big carp in there. And I remember saying, "You guys just back off, I'll get the carp for you." So I went to the tank and got some concussion grenades and threw them in there. The carp all came up. They were getting carp. But that was a D.P. camp, it wasn't a concentration camp. It was damn bad, it wasn't good. But I threw those concussion grenades in and all them damn carp came up on top, and they didn't have to dig all that bank out. And they were grabbing the carp and going with them, because they were hungry. ..

I went back and got a new tank, and came back up. And then when I came back up that's when you got hit, and Steuck's tank got hit. And I didn't know anything about that, because I was back getting a tank. And when I came back up, there were only, I think, two tanks in the platoon. And then when I came up we had three again. We came up with a 90-millimeter, I think it was the first one in the outfit. I wish George Sutton was here, because he could probably remember more than I do about it, because me and George went back for the tank. When I was back there, there was a mail call, I must have been back there a couple of weeks, how the hell there was a mail call I don't know, but anyway, they call out Squires. So here, I went and I got my mail, how the hell they knew I was there. So anyway, another guy came over to me, and he was a tech sergeant, he said "Do you know a master sergeant named Squires?" I said, "Yeah, that's my brother." "Jesus Christ, him and I were together all the while. I knew him well." That's the only guy I knew over there or met that knew anybody.

Where was your brother?

He was in the engineers. But he never got overseas. Before the outfit shipped over, they were putting up some cables across the river, and he went up a tree with spurs, and the whole sheet of bark and everything came off. He broke his legs and back and I don't know what the hell all. He was in before the war, he was a master sergeant, he had a permanent rank of master sergeant. But he never got overseas because of that. There were five of us in the service, five boys, we were like the five Sullivan boys. And we were all sergeants, we all came home sergeants.
Brother Jack was beat up pretty bad. The other three were all in the Pacific. Brother Bob was a first sergeant; brother George was a staff sergeant in the telephone communications or something in the artillery; Dave was in artillery, too, post artillery. He was a buck sergeant. My mother had five stars in the window. I often wonder where they went, I would like to have that. There were eight boys in our family. Five of us were in the service. The older boys were too old.
I was the only one in the ETO, the rest of them went to the Pacific.

Neal Vaughn

Well, I don't believe I'd have wanted to have been in the Pacific theater, either.

Budd Squires

The worst, to me, the worst part of that goddamn war was the cold. Those tanks were so goddamn cold, you can't imagine how cold they were to sit there. You sit there, you'd kick your feet, you couldn't feel your feet or your hands, and there'd be frost that would be how thick? Like that (a couple of inches) on the inside of the tank. It was like sitting in an igloo. Cold. That was the worst part of the, for me, I don't know about you. And then when it got warm, the sonofabitch would melt and rain on you, get you wet. They didn't give us the right clothing. We should have had clothing like the Air Force had, that sheepskin-lined stuff. That's what we should have had. We sit there, we don't move, you know. That's what we should have had. You'd sit there and just cold, Jesus Christ, that was the worst. And then at night, you'd sit in there and try to sleep when you're cold. Trying to sleep...

Did you sleep inside the tank?

Well, you stayed right in the tank. Sometimes for days you never got out. We used to shit in a box and throw it out the turret.
It was cold. That was the worst to me, I think, well, then the nights were bad.

Neal Vaughn

That Battle of the Bulge, there was one period of time, I think, as I recall, about 16 days and nights we didn't hardly ever get out of the tank. We had these shell casings, we'd pass one of them around to all of the crew members to urinate in, and then throw it out.

Budd Squires

One time there we had to go back and carry the ammunition up by hand.

Neal Vaughn

Sometimes you had to carry gasoline, too.

Budd Squires

I gotta tell you guys a story, though, you'll enjoy this. We were in a little town, I don't remember where the hell it was, just a little town we fought to get in, and took the town. And we were behind a building with our tanks. And the gas trucks came up and we were gassing up the tanks. But the infantry was still going through the buildings, sorting out stuff. And there was this one infantryman, he went in what was like a basement entrance, when you open it up and go into. And I was filling my tank, I was holding the gas can, and I watched him go in there. I watched him for quite a while, pretty soon he came out, and he had his helmet in his hand and he was dragging his rifle like the goddamn was was over. I thought he was hit, so I jumped off the tank and I said "Are you okay? Are you okay?" He said, "You wouldn't believe it. You'll never believe it. You would never believe it!" Just like the goddamn war was over, there was shooting going on and stuff, and we were behind the building there, and I pulled him in. I said, "What the hell happened?" He said "You wouldn't believe it," and he just kept shaking his head. I said, "What the hell's the matter, what happened, are you hurt?" "No." But he went down in this building, and he came back out, and there was a couple of nuns down there, and a woman having a baby. Now that was an experience, you know, for a guy, and he was just out of it when he came out of there. He was just out of it. He didn't give a damn if the war was over or what.
That was something, and I thought he was hit or something, but he wasn't hurt. But he had his helmet off and he was dragging his rifle like the war was over. And shooting was going on all over, snipers, and going through empty buildings. There were a couple of nuns and this woman down there having a baby. It was a hell of a time to have a baby. I remember that clearly, it's something you don't forget. I was standing there pouring gas in the tank, from cans.

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