Saturday, July 28, 2012

General Patton at the Crossroads

Suella and Russell Loop

   In my Oral History Audio CD "Encounters With General Patton," I included an anecdote related by Russell Loop when I interviewed him at his home in Indianola, Illinois, on Oct. 24, 1993.
   I might note that I almost didn't get to interview Loop, who, in his mid 70s at the time, was a farmer. I have somehow managed to get lost in almost every state in the nation. I even got lost in a parking lot, but if you've ever been to the Drawbridge Estate in Fort Mitchell, Ky., you might not be judgmental. And once in my travels when I was visiting my brother in Minneapolis and proceeded to visit a cousin in Madison, Wisconsin, I got off the highway to get a cup of coffee and managed to get back on headed west. The first few times I saw signs telling me how many miles it was to St. Paul, I thought, gee, I didn't know there was a St. Paul in Wisconsin.
   I can't think of a time, however, when I've been more lost than when I was on my way to visit Russell Loop and hs wife, Suella.
   He told me to get off the highway, look for a certain convenience store, take a road all the way to the end, make a right, and take that road to the end.
   This was farm country, and somehow the first road I took didn't end until I was probably in the next county, but what did I know, there was the end of the road and I made my right and drove for several miles until I finally came to a house with the number of Russell's house, and it's not like there were any streets signs along the way. I rang the buzzer, and a young couple with a baby came to the door. This must be Russell's son or daughter and grandchild, I thought. Except they had no idea who I was talking about. But they explained that Indianola was back the way I came, so I doubled back to the convenience store and called Russell, and this time I got it right.
   All that, of course, is not on the CD. What is on the CD is the part that follows my asking Russell "Did you ever see Patton, up close?"
   "Yes," he said. "Real close. We had just pulled up on a four-way crossroad, which was a hard road, and pretty nice roads for back that time. And we had not met any resistance there. But we had just pulled off and was waiting for further orders, and here comes Patton and his jeep, and his driver, and he just more or less walked by the officers and went around and shook hands and talked with nearly every one of the enlisted men. And while he was there, there was a German plane that strafed that crossroads both ways, twice. And he just looked up and said 'They must know I'm here.'
   "That's all he said, about that. But what he wanted to know was, 'Are you getting plenty to eat? Are you getting enough ammunition and gasoline? And is there anything that I can do to make it better?'
   "And of course we all said 'Yes, send us home.'" -- Russell kind of laughed when he said that -- "But I did, I got to shake hands with him on the front line.
   "He was I suppose by far the best officer we had. He got the job done. He didn't give them time to get set up and ready for us. He kept them out of bounds. And I think that was the whole deal, really, myself. I think that's the reason we got as far as we did as quick as we did. Of course, we were clear across Germany and Czechoslovakia when the war was over."

   Another time I got lost was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, looking for the home of Lex Obrient. Come to think of it, this one may even beat my search for Russell Loop, because I never did find Obrient's home; he lived in a cul de sac in one of the communities that seem to ring Albuquerque, and I drove around for a couple of hours before finally abandoning my quest. This, too, was in 1992 or 1993. I did keep in touch with Obrient's son, however, and in 1999 when I went out to Albuquerque to interview Vincent "Mike" McKinney, whose interview is included in my audiobook "The D-Day Tapes" and my Kindle book "Conversations With D-Day Veterans," I finally found Obrient's house.
   It wasn't until today, however, 13 years after that interview, while reviewing material for my forthcoming book "The Armoured Fist," which will be published by Fonthill Media, that I realized that Lieutenant Obrient (he later was a colonel with an engineering unit in Korea) was Loop's platoon leader for a while. Obrient was in D Company, the 712th Tank Battalion's so-called "light tank" company, while Loop was in C Company and my principal reason for interviewing him was because he was one of the tankers involved in the battle at Pfaffenheck, Germany, on March 16, 1945. But Loop started out as a gunner in D Company and later transferred to C Company's second platoon.
   As in many of my interviews, the subject of General Patton came up, and Obrient related one of the many colorful anecdotes I've been fortunate about front line encounters with Patton.
   "At Mortain," Obrient said, "my platoon was right there at the crossroads at Mortain. Lieutenant Godfrey's platoon went around where the cross-section was and he went down that way, and then Harry Coe (Eugene Godfrey and Coe were the other D Company platoon leaders at the time) went down even further. So we're sitting there, and just playing a flank guard for anything that was coming because they were getting ready to move the 2nd Armored, I was told, the 2nd Armored Division was getting ready to come through. But before that, here comes Patton down the road with his whole staff of officers, and three or four jeeps behind him. So he’s coming my way, and when I got up there and I reported to him, he returned it and said hi, and shook hands real quick, but he didn’t want to talk to me. He wanted to talk to my sergeants with the other tanks. And what he wanted to know was if they really understood what was going on. And he was very satisfied with what he heard. I mean, they told him, we’re here, and this is what we’re here for, and this is what we’re doing. He immediately left and I called on the radio and I told Gene about this. I said, 'Gene, you’re about to have some very special company. It won’t be more than two or three minutes.'
   And he said 'Thanks.'
   Sure enough, Patton went on down there, he talked to Gene, and he went down and talked to Coe, as I remember. But then we saw him come back. And then a funny thing happened. We got strafed. I don’t know how the Germans would have found this out, but I kind of feel like somebody had tipped them off that hey, I guess you couldn’t miss it, I mean gee, Patton with his brilliant, shiny helmet and dressed to perfection. Okay, that’s the second time I met Patton. I’m glad you brought that up. That’s what happened. Did Andy (Schiffler) tell you anything about that?"
   "No," I said. "You know who told me about that? Russell Loop. Do you remember him? He transferred to C Company, but he said that once Patton came up and spoke to the enlisted men. He was a sergeant, and you know, he bypassed the officers. So that would have to be the same, because he started out in D Company."
   "Russell Loop?" Obrient said.
   "Loop," I said, "From Indianola, Illinois."
   "Ah, yes, I remember him," Obrient said. "But you know something else that I don't know if Andy told you about, there was a woman there with her children in a house close by. And of course, this is one thing Patton insisted on, "Don’t you take any food from any of these people. You have what you need. Leave it alone." So I felt real sorry for this woman and her children. And we had fruit, we had some apples and we had oranges, and those children, they hadn’t seen any candy at all. Well of course all the candy we had was that D-bar, that highly concentrated chocolate, so I tried to tell her, listen, these are for your children, because I knew they hadn’t had any food there, I was told that they hadn’t had any oranges or apples, they didn’t know anything about any of that. And above all, they hadn’t had any chocolate. So I think Andy was one of them that gave her the chocolate.
   "So you know what she did? She was so grateful, she went and killed a couple of chickens, and boy, I thought, no ma’am, don’t do that, uh-uh. But she did anyway, and they came out there, and this is just before Patton showed up. So what we did, they had it on one of these oblong plates and cut up, I said 'Jesus Christ, we’re all gonna be in trouble.' So we took it, and thank God he didn’t get close enough to notice it, but we pushed it in under the bogey wheels and the track and covered it with jackets and so forth. Of course he wasn’t there long. Thank God he wasn’t. He just was in and out. So when he got out of there, I took that chicken and said, "Ma’am, please, for God sake, take that back, don’t do that." So we made her take it back. But if he’d have found out, I hate to think what would have happened. But he was real fast. He came up, and I bet he was gone in less than a minute and a half. But that’s what he wanted to do. He wanted to talk to the sergeants and the other enlisted men that he could talk to.
   "So that’s the second time I saw General Patton, right there. The first time was on the hills in England, and then the second time I saw him was there. And then we saw him again up in the Battle of the Bulge, but I didn’t really get to say anything to him. I just saw him, and he went right on. It was fast. And then the last time I saw him, the war was over and we were in the theater at Amberg, and he came around and he talked oh, maybe ten, fifteen minutes, with as many troopers as could get in that theater. That was the last time I saw him, of course you know what happened to him after that at Mainz. No. Yeah, Mainz, that’s where it was [actually near Mannheim]. He was in his staff car and he was waiting for a train to go by, and these guys had been drinking, and they drove a two and a half ton truck into the back of him and broke his neck. You know that part, I’m sure."

   Watch for more information about and excerpts from my forthcoming book, "The Armoured Fist," from Fonthill Media. That's Armour with a "u" because Fonthill is a British publisher, besides, I do seem to have a small following in England and Australia, although I have no idea how Australians spell armor.
   My original Oral History Audiobook "The D-Day Tapes" is available from for download or on CD from eBay, and "Conversations With Veterans of D-Day" is available for Amazon Kindle.

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