Friday, September 28, 2012

Darrell Petty Part 3: Patton's speech

Darrell Petty

I met Darrell Petty, of New Castle, Wyoming, at the 1997 reunion of the 90th Infantry Division in Omaha, Nebraska. This is the third and final installment of our conversation.

Darrell Petty Part 1

Darrell Petty Part 2 


Darrell Petty: I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my experiences. I wouldn’t give a nickel to go do it again. But if they ever start getting over here, they don’t have to call me, I’ll grab my own gun and go. That’s the way I feel.

Aaron Elson: And what about the Nuremburg trials?

Darrell Petty: Oh, it wasn’t too much different than the ones at Dachau as far as that goes, except they were bigger names. Of course, old Goering, he cheated them, he cyanided himself. I don’t think they ever figured out where he had it hid, they thought maybe he had it hid in a glass capsule in his rectum because he was checked pretty well. He had a real deep belly button and he might have had it in there, but I think they would have checked it.

Aaron Elson: Now did you have any contact with these prisoners?

Darrell Petty: Just watching them. Standing guard there, watching them. And my folks saw me on a newsreel one time. My folks lived about 47 miles out of town. Anyway, the guy that had the place leased from them, I don’t know if you remember it or not, I don’t know how old you are...

Aaron Elson: I’m 46....

Darrell Petty: They used to have what was called the Pathe News and the film running over the screens at the movies, and it was on Nuremburg, and old Harry saw me there. Well, he drove clear to the ranch that night, and told my folks. He said, "You get in there tomorrow. Darrell is on film." And they came in and saw it.

Aaron Elson: Did you have brothers and sisters?

Darrell Petty: Yeah. There was five boys and two girls.

Aaron Elson: Were you the oldest, or the youngest?

Darrell Petty: I was the fourth child. Two brothers are older than I was, and a sister.

Aaron Elson: Did your brothers go in to the service?

Darrell Petty: My oldest brother served, spent the wartime in England. He was in the 844th Aviation Engineers. They built airfields. And when he came over to France, they built airfields. Then he spent a couple of months in Vienna. It was Russian-occupied, and we kept two battalions of Americans there at all times to protect the people of Austria, Vienna, from the Russians. Yeah, our allies. And they needed it. He could tell a few things that happened up there. But anyway, then he shipped for home, and he come right back pretty near to Munich, a place called Erding, about 17 kilometers out of Munich, and there was a German airbase there. And I came in off pass one night, I had a class A pass, I came in and the charge of quarters said to me, "Your brother’s here." I said, "What?" He said, "Your brother’s here looking for you." I said, "Well, where in the devil is he at?"

He said, "He’s based out at Erding but he had to catch a truck and go back out." So I got me a weekend pass and went out there and saw him. Then, after that, we got together about four times before he shipped on home. He came home ahead of me. Of course he went in ahead of me, too.

Then my second brother, he lost his left eye in a gun accident. Didn’t lose the eye but it took the lens out. His eye looked pretty normal. Then he had a small hernia, and they wouldn’t take him. He tried to go when I went, but they turned him down. Then the first brother younger than I am, he was in Korea. Then my youngest brother was in Vietnam. He was 20, he put in 23 years, the youngest one. He was in Germany several times, he was in Vietnam several times. Got shot down over there. He was with a helicopter gunship, part of the 101st. And he got shot down one time, he got out of it pretty lucky as it turned out.

My two oldest boys, they were in the National Guard, but they were in between Vietnam and Korea. Then the youngest boy ...

Aaron Elson: When did you get married?

Darrell Petty: My wife’s from England.

Aaron Elson: Did you meet her there?

Darrell Petty: I met her there, but we didn’t get married, she came to the States and we got married in ‘46.

Aaron Elson: How did you meet her?

Darrell Petty: Oh, just out on pass one time I met her, and we got to corresponding and we kept track of one another. She wrote me letters in Germany when I was there. I didn’t write her many back, because we couldn’t, and especially when they had blackouts, we couldn’t even correspond, we had to get our mail and read it and burn it.

Aaron Elson: Really? You had to read your mail and burn it?

Darrell Petty: Read it and burn it. Couldn’t wear insignia. And if we were gonna write a letter we had to write it when they could send it right out.

Aaron Elson: Why was that?

Darrell Petty: Censorship. Under blackout conditions. Because the Germans said one time that they knew where we was at, they knew where everything in the Third Army was. We never knew where we were. We’d be here, they’d pull us out of here and we’d be up here. That’s the way it was. Interrupted some meals I was trying to fix a few times, and pulled out. But anyway, after I got home, Elaine came to the States.

Aaron Elson: Did you ever ride on the back of tanks?

Darrell Petty: Yeah, I did. Whatever. You’d ride any way you can get. Sometimes the little ten and a halfs that pulled the antitank guns, 57s. I rode on them a few times. We’d jump on the tanks, halftracks, or whatever we could get on. In fact, when we went into Czechoslovakia the first time, I might have been one of the first ten GIs in Czechoslovakia. I’m sitting right astraddle that 76 gun on a Sherman. And the border was just a little ditch. It was about as wide as from here to the wall, just sort of halfway between here and that ...

Aaron Elson: You were straddling the 76 gun? And you could tell the difference between the 76 and the 75. A lot of the Shermans had 75s. But the lead tank, the lieutenant’s tank, often had a 76. So you were on the front tank?

Darrell Petty: Yeah. Oh, yeah, you could tell, you got to where you could tell the difference.

Aaron Elson: And that was on MacFarland’s tank?

Darrell Petty: I don’t think it was.

Aaron Elson: Do you know the name of the village?

Darrell Petty: We weren’t at a village at the time we crossed the border. We weren’t at a village, where I first went in. But we sat in Hof for quite a long time. And the irony of it was that the Germans sent word that if we’d come take Berlin, they’d send all the trucks that they could to help us take it. They didn’t want the Russians to have it. They wouldn’t let us go. Patton wanted to go, they wouldn’t let us go. Eisenhower said not to. Bradley, of course, told us that. Patton told Bradley, he said, I’m quoting from stuff I’ve read, but he said, "Hell, tell him you couldn’t find me and I went." And Bradley said, "No, he’d know that was one of your tricks." And he said, "You can’t do it."

I’ve also got, somewhere, I’ve got a shed and I’ve got stuff stored in it, I don’t know whether I can go through it and find it, somewhere I’ve got a magazine that’s got photocopies of two letters from Truman to Eisenhower. He gave him three options. He said, "I didn’t sign the line of demarcation. Roosevelt did." He said, "You can sit and hold, you can go into Czechoslovakia or you can go to Berlin." Yeah, we wanted to go. But then we went into Czechoslovakia. But I suppose, actually where we went in is close to Hof.

Aaron Elson: Were you in Hof when it was shelled by the railroad gun?

Darrell Petty: Yeah. I was shelled before we got into Hof, too. But we also went out and got a crew of a B-17 that blew up right over the line, and bailed out just before it blew up. I guess that was actually the first foray into Czechoslovakia, because they were trying to kill them in the air, shooting at them.

Aaron Elson: Really?

Darrell Petty: Oh yeah. Watching white tracers go up. And the tail gunner and another guy, they had come down on the wrong side of the line. We got on a jeep and went out there...

Aaron Elson: When you say the line, was this the border line or the...

Darrell Petty: Well, the Germans were dug in on one side and we were on the other. They weren’t crack troops, they were the trooops they just throwed in there for the last thing. And we grabbed a jeep with a .50-caliber on it, and I forget how many now, there was about probably six or seven of us hanging on that jeep all over. We went out through there and I was fortunate enough I got behind the .50-caliber, and we got both those guys. We got the tail gunner. He gave me his jacket and his flight suit. And they wouldn’t let me bring it home. They took it away from me when I tried to bring it home. But anyway, we got ‘em out of there. And we got our butts chewed a little bit. Our company commander got chewed out for us going across there, and he chewed us out, and then he turned around and said, "And I’m proud of every damn one of you." Anyway, yeah, we sat at Hof waiting there, getting ticked off because they wouldn’t let us go there, but then we eventually wound up going into Czechoslovakia. And when the war ended, when they officially stopped us, we were in a little village and I can’t think of the name of it in Czechoslovakia.

Aaron Elson: It wasn’t Susisce?

Darrell Petty: I don’t know. I know one of our kids, his grandparents had come from the town and they made him the honorary mayor, and throwed a hell of a celebration. But that’s where they stopped us. And we were on our way to Prague, supposed to go up there and help the patriots, but the Russians beat us in there. So they stopped us, and that was it. Then we pulled back across, and then we of course, we were in garrison just a little ways from the border, and we had outposts. We’d go up to them, in different spots. One little town we had an outpost in, half of it was in Czechoslovakia and half was in Germany.

Old Patton, our headquarters was in Weiden, we did a review for him. And a parade. He come down off that stand and he went down through the ranks, and he stopped and talked to every damn man. And if you had decorations, he asked what you got them for, and so forth. And his voice didn’t fit his stature at all, he had that high, squeaky voice. And he was a big man, and boy, decked out the best...

Aaron Elson: And what decorations did you get?

Darrell Petty: I’ve got three Bronze Stars, a Bronze Star and two clusters. And the V for valor. I’ve got a Purple Heart, or a Purple Heart and cluster. And I got the Victory medal and the Occupation medal, and the American defense...

Aaron Elson: Now the three Bronze Stars were for what?

Darrell Petty: Well, one off of that Hill 451. And one ... I’m gonna wear your tape out ...

Aaron Elson: That’s all right.

Darrell Petty: I got volunteered to take a jeep, a Red Cross jeep down to one of our sister companies and bring out some wounded. The guy that was the main medic on it couldn’t drive, I don’t know how, that was always weird to me, he had a driver, and the driver, I don’t know if he went AWOL or what he did, but he just disappeared. And he was looking for somebody to drive a jeep.

Aaron Elson: Now, when you say you "got volunteered..."

Darrell Petty: Well, Lieutenant Kelso was standing there. And he said, "Can you drive that jeep?" to me.

And I said, "Well, I never drove a jeep. I’ve drove a lot of trucks and a car, and I bet I can drive it."

Well, he said, "Go with him and take that jeep. Drive it." So I got volunteered. So we went down and we were coming out with those three guys, and that damn gun was trying to hit us, and we brought them out. So they turned me in for that one. And the other one I never figured I should have got.

Aaron Elson: What were the circumstances of that?

Darrell Petty: Well, I didn’t figure I’d done any more than anyone else.

Aaron Elson: But where was it?

Darrell Petty: It was just before we went into Czechoslovakia.

Aaron Elson: That was for going in and getting out the fliers, or something else?

Darrell Petty: He said he was turning us in for that, and I think that’s what it was. I just felt like that was something I should have done, anyway, and it’s probably a good thing we did. When they seen us going, they cranked up those TDs and tanks and come with us or we’d have been in trouble.

Aaron Elson: They went with you?

Darrell Petty: Yeah. But, you know, you do what you have to do. We was reviewing, like I said, for Patton, and he did that, and then he got back up on which it looked like a big prizefight ring, only about four times as big. And he said, "Now, men. You all are men or you wouldn’t be here." I was an 18, 19 year old kid there, I wasn’t 19 yet at the time. September, right after Japan surrendered. If they’d have stayed in the war two weeks more, we’d have been on our way to the States, 90-day leave, and then to the Pacific.

Aaron Elson: And what’s your birthday?

Darrell Petty: May 27th. And, anyway, he said, "The damn parade’s over." He said, "And I’ve got a lot to say to you, and I want you to hear me." He said, "You fall in just as close around me as you can." And I was probably from here to that post. And he told us things I won’t begin to try to tell you all, but some of the high points, he said, "We should go and whip Russia right now." He said, "We’re here, we’re equipped." He said, "We’ve got the bomb, and they don’t." He said, "Let’s don’t wait till they have it, and they’ll get it." He said, "All we’ve got to do is turn these German troops we’ve got loose and they’ll help us do it." And they would. And that got him in trouble, too, for saying that. Not then, but later. And he said, he just went right down the line why they’d always caused us trouble and this and that, and why, it was like having a fire department, which you didn’t have to have but you had to have it. You know, things like that. And he said, "The Russians will never do anything but cause us trouble." He said, "They will try to keep us out of Berlin." He said "They won’t succeed but they’ll try." That was the Berlin airlift. He said, "Communists will take over China and Russia will be instrumental in them doing it, but in the long run China will become one of Russia’s worst enemies."

Aaron Elson: He said that?

Darrell Petty: Yes. He said, "We will have these little brushfire wars, mostly in Asia, that we will not be allowed to win."

Aaron Elson: He didn’t say that, he said that?

Darrell Petty: You bet he said it. And he said Ike has political intentions, he said he intends to be the president of the United States and he’ll run for whatever party can put him in there. That’s what he said. That was September of 1945. You’re damn right.

Aaron Elson: That’s incredible.

Darrell Petty: You better believe it is. I watched it happen. And he said, "You know," he said, "Ike would back me as long as it didn’t look like I was endangering his career or his political intentions." And that’s when he said he had political intentions. He said, "As you well know," he said, "I always had my ass in a jam." He said, he’s a good soldier, he said, "I’m not saying Ike isn’t a good soldier," but he told us that right there, those were some of the highlights. And he also, I’ve read the books on him, "Before the Color Fades," and "The Last Days of Patton." And he told his family that he wasn’t gonna come home. Yeah, he said, "I won’t be coming back," and he also wanted to be buried over there with his men.

Aaron Elson: Do you think he was murdered?

Darrell Petty: No. I did for a while. But I read the accounts. He got in trouble, and they relieved him of the Third Army and put him in charge of the 15th, paper army we thought it was, cadre and paperwork. That was over his remarks about the Russians. Then he planned to go bird hunting, him and another general, and the other general come there and then he got called back in the middle of the night. That sounds kind of like maybe it could be a conspiracy and I’ll tell you the Germans, an awful lot of Germans think he was, think it was like Rommel, you know, and the admiration was terrific from the German people. Anyway, he completely changed his plans. He still was going bird hunting, but he was going a totally different route. He wanted to go past two or three of the battlefields. He wanted to go see the ruins of this one place, he believed he was an incarnation, and he changed his route around completely. There was no way they could have known that. But up to that time, I thought yeah, they did. But it wasn’t, I’m sure it wasn’t. In fact, I’m glad it wasn’t. But what a hell of a way to go after all he went through. And I had a guy trying to tell me the other day, oh, he was a crazy, bloodthirsty SOB, a couple of months ago. And I said, "Well, maybe in your eyes he was, but I’ll tell you something. I fought my war under his command." And I said, "If I had to do it again that’s exactly the kind of person I would want to command me." And I would. Because he knew how to fight a damn war. His theory was when you got a SOB, only he didn’t say it that way, running, he said you keep kicking him in the ass just as hard as you can kick him and then he said he can’t turn around and hit you. But he said if you let him slow down and turn around, he’ll hit you. He said, when Joe Louis had a guy in the corner and was gonna knock him out he didn’t back off and let him get cover. That’s the way he was. And one time when he was talking about his men, one time they asked him, "Why do you call your men sons of bitches?"

And he said, "Because they are." He said, "They’re my sons of bitches." But he said, "By the very same token, they know I’m their son of a bitch." He knew we cussed him. And we cussed him, but we didn’t let nobody else cuss him. When you’re hungry and cold and dirty and lousy and everything else ...

Aaron Elson: Speaking of which, did you ever get lice?

Darrell Petty: You’re damn right. And you know what they give us? You know, they talk about agent orange and that stuff? Okay, you know what they gave us to keep the lice off of us and kill them? Coming from little squirt cans like a Johnson baby powder can? DDT. We sprinkled it in our hair, we sprinkled it on one another’s necks, and we got a change of clothes once a month if we were lucky. No bath, but a change of clothes. We wore that stuff. We’d get sweaty and the pores would be open, then they’d cool down and they’d close up. We wore that stuff. DDT. I never heard of anybody getting anything out of that.

Aaron Elson: And where did you pick up the lice from?

Darrell Petty: Who knows? It seemed like France they’ve got them. It seemed like you’d get them there. Then if we could take over a house and sleep in a warm bed or something, we did. Whatever we can do.

Aaron Elson: The Germans all had lice.

Darrell Petty: Well, yeah, and yet they’re a real clean people. And it might sound funny, but being over there, I didn’t get to know the French very well till after the war was over, because I was too busy with other things. But I got to know the Germans pretty well after the war was over too, and personally, I prefer to be around the German people than the French people.

Aaron Elson: And why was that?

Darrell Petty: The morals, for one thing. I was standing in one of them underground tubes, the trains there, in Paris. I went back to see my brother, who was stationed there a little bit. And I got, about a 12 year old girl riding my leg propositioned me, right there in the middle of that damn train in front of everybody. That was just one incident. And not only that, they had their piss spots along the wall, and they’d be standing there holding their girlfriend’s or wife’s hand and talking to somebody else, taking a leak. And my dad told me they did it in World War I, I thought surely it wouldn’t be like that now.

Aaron Elson: Wait a minute, was your dad in World War I?

Darrell Petty: My dad was in World War I, 88th Division. Browning automatic rifle.

Aaron Elson: And did he ever talk about it?

Darrell Petty: Some. He shot the propeller off of a German Fokker plane one day with that B.A.R. There was three of them after a little French Spad, and the Spad was out of ammunition I guess, and they were coming in, teeing in on him, and they come pretty near straight in on him, and he just pulled down and emptied that 20-round clip and took that old wood prop right off that, and down it went. I don’t know what else all else he got into. He didn’t talk too much about anything else.

Aaron Elson: Did he get gassed?

Darrell Petty: No, he was lucky there. He didn’t get no gas. Well, I seen one of my old buddies, I’d better go find him.

Aaron Elson: All right, I really appreciate your talking to me about this.

Darrell Petty: Well, I don’t want any, you know, I’m just trying to tell you straight facts, like it happened, like I knew it. Someone else might disagree, I don’t know.

Aaron Elson: I think it’s important to get a little bit of this down, recorded.

Darrell Petty: Well, our kids, I’m a member of the VFW, and we’ve been trying to go to schools and talk to the kids, present a little of this stuff to the kids. And you know, man, they’re full of questions. They’re curious. They want to know about it, when it’s over they’re all around you. They’re not being taught this. They’re not being taught this at all. One guy reviewed his daughter’s history book, not from New Castle, there’s another history book, I think she’s in college now. It’s got two and a half pages on World War II. Can you think of anything that’s affected this world any more than World War II has in the past fifty-something years? I don’t. About two paragraphs on the Korean War and nothing on Vietnam.

Aaron Elson: Unbelievable.

Darrell Petty: Yeah. See, it kind of makes you look sick. You know, but you wonder what you went to war for. I’d do it again if it had to be done. I wouldn’t be very good anymore, I had a new knee put in, this left knee, on the 8th of July, and I’ve got to have this one put in the 10th of October. So I don’t get around so good.

Aaron Elson: And how old are you now?

Darrell Petty: Seventy, I’ll be 71. Yeah. I never thought I’d live to get this old. I used to look at people and thought they were old, now here I am. I’ve got to find old Coffey and see what he’s doing. Thank you.

Aaron Elson: Thank you!

Darrell Petty: I didn’t mean to...

Aaron Elson: No, please! When I get this typed up, it’s gonna take a while because I have a backlog, but I’ll send you a copy of it.



Monday, September 24, 2012

Darrell Petty Part 2: The Death Camp Doctor

Klaus Schilling

    At the 1997 reunion of the 90th Infantry Division, I met Darrell Petty of New Castle, Wyoming. My tape recorder missed the beginning of our conversation, but at the start we were talking about the crossing of the Moselle River in November of 1944. The river was at flood stage, and the infantry crossed before the heavy equipment, including the tanks of the 712th Tank Battalion, could cross on a bridge. The fighting was intense, and the infantry was at risk of being pushed back into the river when the tanks finally did get across and helped to turn the tide of the battle.
From there the conversation turned to the division's second crossing of the Moselle River, in March of 1945. Initially I made two separate stories in Darrell's words out of this interview, but here I'll post the interview itself, with a brief postscript. (See Darrell Petty Part 1: Machine Gun Hill)

Darrell Petty
Omaha, Neb., Sept. 1997
 Aaron Elson: Were you wounded?
Darrell Petty: I was wounded twice, actually three times. Once I didn’t even, the line medic patched me up and that was it.

Aaron Elson: Where were you wounded?

Darrell Petty: Just outside of Chambois, when we closed the Falaise Gap, the first time. The second time I got it was in the Siegfried Line. And the third time that I got a minor wound was about two weeks before the end of the war.

Aaron Elson: And where was that?

Darrell Petty: Getting pretty close up to Czechoslovakia. I don’t remember just where, what town.

Aaron Elson: Before the liberation of the concentration camp?

Darrell Petty: After we went to Flossenburg.

Aaron Elson: Were you with them at Flossenburg?

Darrell Petty: Yeah. Flossenburg was the last one that we took. You won’t find it in the books or nothing, but the 4th Armored and part of our unit went to Buchenwald, too. But you won’t find it in any history book, because we were stopped at Merkers, where the gold reserves were. And Patton said it doesn't take us all to watch Merkers, and there was a little place called Ohrdruf or something like that. It was supposed to be a work camp. But we got there and there were bodies stacked up. A lot of them had come from Buchenwald. They were stacked up. First encounter. And we went to Buchenwald. The Germans were gone, the prisoners had apparently taken Buchenwald over by that time, but we saw what was there. And of course, that old camp commandant’s wife, she was called the Bitch of Buchenwald, because she liked tattoos, she made lampshades.

Aaron Elson: Ilse Koch?

Darrell Petty: Yeah, I guess. I don’t know, I don’t remember her name, I just called her what they called her. But anyway, the one unit...

Aaron Elson: Were you with that unit?

Darrell Petty: Yeah. And we went to Buchenwald, but you don’t find it.

Aaron Elson: Had Buchenwald already been liberated?

Darrell Petty: No. But the Germans knew we were going to overrun it and most of them had fled, and they took quite a lot of the prisoners from Buchenwald to Flossenburg. Then they tried to take them from Flossenburg to Dachau. So, like I said, most of the Germans were gone and the prisoners were actually about in charge of Buchenwald when we got there. But it was still in enemy territory at the time.

Aaron Elson: So you actually went to Buchenwald before it was liberated?

Darrell Petty: As it was liberated. The 4th Armored and a unit from our outfit and another outfit.

Aaron Elson: Did you go into it?

Darrell Petty: Oh yeah, we went in there.

Aaron Elson: And what did you see?

Darrell Petty: Bodies. Everything you can imagine. It horrified us, and we’d seen those bodies at that other one, I couldn’t say its name, and most of them had come from Buchenwald, so we were kind of prepared for it, but still it was...

Aaron Elson: Were any of the German guards captured at the time?

Darrell Petty: The prisoners had got some of them. The prisoners had killed some of them, they caught them, they killed quite a few, the ones that hadn’t got out of there. Once they got control, they went hunting. A revenge thing, and I couldn’t blame them. But where they were shipped to, down there at this other place, they had heavy equipment there and they were supposed to have dug trenches and got them buried before we got there, and they didn’t get it done.

Aaron Elson: And it was just the emaciated bodies?

Darrell Petty: Yeah, I’ve got a few pictures at home. So many times you’d take pictures. I got ahold of a camera, and you always got a moment to stop and snap a picture. We’d have to cross a river or something, you’d get the film wet, it was the old roll type, 120s and that. I’d have had more than I got. I’ve got some from Flossenburg, and Dachau.

Aaron Elson: Did you take any at Buchenwald?

Darrell Petty: I took some, but I lost them, before I got it. And then, after the war was over, I was still enlisted for a while. I enlisted, and instead of coming home with the division, I stayed over there in the army of occupation and they transferred me back to Munich, and I was attached to the 508th MP battalion in Munich. And when we weren’t doing the other stuff we just pulled regular MP duty. But we were at Dachau, at the war crime trials, and at Nuremberg, we were part of them.

Aaron Elson: Were you at Dachau for the war crimes trials? You never ran into a fellow named Clifford Merrill, did you? He retired as a colonel, but he had been a captain, but he was in charge of MPs at the Dachau...

Darrell Petty: I probably saw him, but you know, so many times, like I said, we didn’t know names. Didn’t bother with names. And if you didn’t know the guy, why, he was just another GI. I most likely saw him, I probably saw him there.

Aaron Elson: He was an officer of the MPs. He had contact with that Ilse Koch, and also there was one famous prisoner there, Otto Skorzeny, he was the commando who tried to capture Eisenhower, and who had freed Mussolini the first time, he was one of the prisoners there.

Darrell Petty: I don’t remember the name, but, you know, one that stands out in my mind was old Dr. Schilling.

Aaron Elson: Why does that stand out?

Darrell Petty: Because he did so much experimenting on the people and that, you know, he was the camp doctor...

Aaron Elson: At which camp?

Darrell Petty: Dachau. And he experimented on those people. Even when we took those places it was horrible to see what was there, but we still didn’t know about all the experimentation until the trials. And, uh, I come within an inch of shooting him.

Aaron Elson: Really?

Darrell Petty: That’s one of the reasons he stands out, I guess. Because we’d just been on his case, and I wasn’t at all the trials of Dachau, because they switched us back and forth. But we had some guys that had never seen an ounce of combat, who came over there later. And we had one new guy in there, and I won’t mention no names, I don’t want to implicate anybody, but anyway, he’d never seen combat. And he had a little .30 carbine, that was just semiautomatics at that time, and 15-round clips. But there would be a clip in the gun, and two clips on the butt of it. That’s 45 rounds. Okay. He’s standing there gawking around and he wouldn’t be protecting that gun. I got on him several times. I told him, "You protect that firearm." I said, "These guys don’t have anything to lose." Well, these guys that lived such a high muckety-muck life, it was kind of satisfying to see them sniping cigarettes off the floor, and they were eating some pretty thin soup that we brought for lunch, and they were in a soup line. That day it was some pretty thin soup. And this kid was standing there gawking around and he’s got the butt of the rifle grounded on the floor, and gawking around and not looking at them at all, he was looking around. And I just about went over and said something to him and I didn’t. And by golly, old Schilling was in line, and I, I just loathed him for what he’d done to people. And all at once he made a dive toward this kid, and the first thing flashed in my mind was he’s going for that carbine. I had a .45, and I always had it full loaded, the hammer on half-cock and the safety on. And he dove like he was reaching for that rifle. Well, as it turned out there was a cigarette butt about that long, boy, that was a prize, between that kid’s foot and the butt of the rifle. That’s what he was going for. But I didn’t know that. And I grabbed the old ‘45 and I dropped the safety, and cracked the hammer full, and when he came up with that cigarette, I was about from here to there ...

Aaron Elson: About six inches?

Darrell Petty: That half-hole looks awful big.

Aaron Elson: From his face?

Darrell Petty: And he just drained, his color just drained. "Oh, nein! Nein! Bitte! Bitte! Zigaretten, Rauchen! Rauchen! Bitte, nicht schiessen!" Don’t shoot, you know. Please. Rauchen is smoke. I never had a feeling like that in my life, before or since. But I wanted to pull the trigger. And I couldn’t hardly keep from pulling the trigger. And I finally just pushed my finger off of it. And I dropped the safety on, and I grabbed him and boy I throwed him back in the line and I told him to stay there, and he’d complained to me before about having to go to the bathroom a lot of the time, he’d had surgery, I suppose, prostate, I don’t know. But anyway, I thought, "Yeah, you, I sure feel sorry for you, you ..." And when I got done, I was mad. I throwed him in that line, and I done a pirouette and I kicked that kid just as hard as I could kick him right in the hind ...

Aaron Elson: The kid, the other MP?

Darrell Petty: Yes. And he lost his grip on the rifle and I grabbed that before it hit the floor, and he went down. And I stood above him, I had that butt of that rifle right in his face. And man, I told him in no uncertain terms what I’d do to him if I ever saw him, and I said, "Much as I wanted to do it, you almost made me kill a man without a reason." And I was just hyper, I was just, you know...

Aaron Elson: About how old were you at the time?

Darrell Petty: Nineteen. I went in at 17. And I was overseas at 17.

Aaron Elson: How’d that happen?

Darrell Petty: Well, my folks signed for me to go in, and when my unit shipped overseas, they didn’t say I couldn’t go, and I didn’t tell them I wasn’t supposed to go, and I went. I left New York in January of 1944 and was in England seven days later, well in Scotland seven days later. And then I went down by Cardiff, and the 90th hadn’t got there yet. I was assigned to the 90th about the middle of April. But I’ll tell you what, from that time on that kid was like this, he was looking at everything, with that carbine. I never saw him even look like he was gonna put it down after that. I could have got courtmartialed, I suppose, but at the time it did not matter. I was mad. I said, "You didn’t only pretty near make me kill him," I said. "He had nothing to lose. He could have grabbed that little carbine and started spraying us." It’s a pretty deadly little weapon at close range, I’ll tell you.

Aaron Elson: How old was this Dr. Schilling?

Darrell Petty: Probably middle age. At the time he looked quite old to me, but you know, they do when you’re young like that.

Aaron Elson: Was he executed, or what happened to him?

Darrell Petty: I don’t know whether they executed him or not...

(Coming soon: Darrell Petty, Part 3)

Got Kindle? My book "Tanks for the Memories" is available for a free download today (Sept. 25) only, a savings of $3.99 over the Kindle price and $13.95 over the print price. And I sure could use a couple of reviews at amazon, where a disgruntled reader just gave it a measly one-star review, and another gave it two stars. Phooey. If you enjoy reading these blog entries, which are similar to the source material in my books, I hope you'll make your enthusiasm known via a review at amazon. Thank you, Aaron

Postscript: According to testimony at the Dachau War Crimes trials, Dr. Klaus Schilling conducted malaria experiments on 1,200 inmates at Dachau. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The sentence was carried out in 1946.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Darrell Petty Part 1: Machine Gun Hill

Darrell Petty
   I met Darrell Petty, of New Castle, Wyoming, at the 1997 reunion of the 90th Infantry Division in Omaha, Nebraska. My tape recorder must have missed the beginning of our conversation, but at the start we were talking about the division's crossing of the Moselle River in November of 1944. The river was at flood stage, and the infantry got across two or three days before the first tanks were able to cross on a bridge. The fighting was intense, and the infantry was at risk of being pushed back into the river when the tanks finally did get across.
   From there the conversation turned to the division's second crossing of the Moselle, in March of 1945, under greatly different circumstances.
Darrell Petty, G Company, 358th Regiment, 90th Infantry Division
Omaha, Neb., Sept. 1997
  Darrell Petty: ...Anyway, it didn’t sound like a German tank. But imagine that sucker coming around that corner into view, the first thing I saw was the end of the barrel on that muzzle break, I thought, oh, man, they got tanks behind us. Boy, I was sure glad to see that old white star shining on that sucker, I’ll tell you. It made a whole bit of difference, I’ll tell you.
Aaron Elson: They got one platoon of tanks across the Moselle, just in time from what I understand.

Darrell Petty: Well, I’ll tell you. It was a lot different the second time I crossed it. I crossed on a bridge. But then we ran into quite a firefight on Hill 451.

Aaron Elson: Where was that?

Darrell Petty: We were supposed to be in reserve. F Company had pulled up on the line and we were in reserve, and we left, I can’t think of the name of that town, just right on the banks of the Moselle on the other side. We billeted in houses. We took over houses, we felt pretty secure by that time in the war. So we started marching up in reserve, and we could hear digging. We knew somebody was digging in, but we didn’t know who. And we went up a hill, a pretty damn steep hill, and a guy by the name of Gene Miller and I, we helped another guy up. His name was Prey. He was a private first class, and if I knew then what I know now he was having a heart attack. But we didn’t know it. He carried a little 536 radio. I was packing that, and they’re pretty heavy those little devils. And Miller was packing his M-1 rifle. We were lightening the load up for him as much as we could. And just the day before that we’d chopped his hair off, it had gotten long, it looked like the devil.
   But anyhow, we got to the top of the hill, then we sat down for a break. We could still hear these guys digging in, whoever it was, and it turned out it was F Company. And we were just setting there, and about that time here comes a machine gun burst.
   The Germans shoot white tracers, ours were orange, so we knew that it was definitely German. By the sound and by the tracers, they shot just about twice as fast as our Brownings did. And man, we whirled around and headed for cover. And this kid, this Pfc. Prey, he let out a groan and collapsed. We figured he was hit. We got over the hill and then hollered "Medic!" And a guy by the name of Doc Roberts, Thomas Roberts, a field medic but everybody called him Doc, he came up, and he and I crawled out there to Prey. We got ahold of him and dragged him back behind cover. And he was gone. And he had a classic look of a person with a heart attack, in his face, the coloration of his face. We tried to find where he was hit. We couldn’t find any blood. He didn’t have a bullet mark on him. He died of a heart attack. And we lost him. He was the only dead one. We had some wounded. And Lieutenant Colonel Cleveland A. Lyttle was leading us, he was the battalion commander, and he went right up that hill with us.
   All we know is they said there were machine guns on the hill, well, that was standard. If we’d have known what was on it we probably wouldn’t have tried it. They pinned F Company down and they had killed 25 men in F Company and wounded some others. There were five companies of German SS, they were dug in, and they had 40 ground type machine guns on that hill. And F Company had just buggered into them. They weren’t supposed to be there, by all the reports there was nothing there. And Lyttle came up and he said, "We’ve got this hill to take, it’s got some machine guns on it, we’re gonna take it."
   Okay. F Company’s pinned down. So, we called in artillery, everything they had, and boy, they were tossing them in there close to us. So we had to go down the hill, under trees. And we had to cross the valley, that’s where they pinned F Company down.
   We went through F Company, and we headed up that hill. But when we got underneath that canopy where we could look up under there, man, it looked like an anthill. There were Germans running all over that hill. Well, hey, you couldn’t do anything but go forward. If we turned around and retreated, we’d have been just like F Company. So we just kept going, and they’d taught us use that march and fire, every time your right foot hit the ground, if you had a carbine you fired it, and we got good shooting from the hip. Heck, I could throw a small bucket out and fire when I throw it and hit it five, six times out of eight out of that M-1 Garrand. And that’s the way we went up that hill. And that colonel, he went up the hill with us. Our watches were all synchronized when the artillery was gonna stop, so we knew what time to hit the hill. And when we got to the top, we only took one German prisoner.

Aaron Elson: Just one?

Darrell Petty: One. He was a sergeant, spoke English, and he said, "You damned Americans are crazy. You don’t know how to fight a war." He said, "When you’re fired on with full automatic weapons you’re supposed to hit the ground and take cover. That other unit did and you guys didn’t. You just kept coming at us. We couldn’t get our heads up to shoot back straight." And it made "Army Hour," and was broadcast all over the free world.

Aaron Elson: You know, that’s what they told me. I’ve met some of the Germans who fought there, in one of the villages, and one who spoke English said the Americans didn’t know how to fight.

Darrell Petty: Oh yeah. He said we took war for sport, because we laughed at things. Sometimes it was either laugh or cry, so we laughed. And by golly, it’s an awful thing to say, but we shouldn’t take prisoners, because if you stand there guarding that prisoner you’re gonna get shot. And some, most of them tried to fight, but a few tried to surrender. You couldn’t stand there and guard him because you’re going to get shot. Plus we needed everybody up the hill. So you just had to do what you did.

Aaron Elson: The Germans on top of the hill, were they killed by the infantry or by the artillery?

Darrell Petty: Infantry. We took a kid by the name of Speaks, he had a B.A.R., and I had an M-1, and old Thomas [Doc Roberts] was like a squad leader. He was right up there on the front end of that thing with us, that medic, and by golly, we overran the CP, the command post up there, and a full German colonel came out of there and his cadre, and they were running and we opened up on them with a B.A.R. and that M-1 and it just folded them up. There was one still alive, and Roberts went down and was gonna try to help him, and I heard a Schmeisser bolt click and I hollered "Doc! Look out!" I looked up the hill and he was taking aim on old Doc, and Doc just fell down among the bodies and he sprayed him and he finished killing the German, but he didn’t get Doc. And about that time Speaks and I opened up on him, with the B.A.R. and the M-1.
   He was gonna kill Doc, and Doc was trying to help a German, wounded. He killed the German, and Doc fell in behind the bodies and he didn’t get him. Then we nailed that guy. And my M-1 was so hot it wouldn’t quit firing, it was setting itself off. And on the way up, a kid by the name of Phyllis, in F Company...

Aaron Elson: Phillips?

Darrell Petty: Phyllis, just like a girl’s name, his last name was Phyllis. He was mad, and he jumped up, and he said, "I’m going with you!" He went through basic with us, this other kid and me.

Aaron Elson: He was from F Company?

Darrell Petty: Yes. And he shouldn’t have even went with us, but he did. And halfway up the hill I got a bunch of machine gun bullets through the pant leg, and they cut him down. And I thought my leg was gone, it felt like somebody knocked it off. I looked down, it was still working, it was okay. But if he hadn’t went with us, a kid out of Prescott, Arizona, by the name of Billy Bacon and I, we would have run out of ammunition halfway up the hill. We went back and got his ammunition and finished it up, and when it was done I had 18 rounds left. We split it, and I had 18 rounds left, and we were expecting a counterattack. We were setting there with dang little ammunition, but as it turned out, this German sergeant, he'd seen what was going on and he played dead, he smeared blood on his face and lay there. When we discovered he was alive, Lieutenant Kelso said "I want to talk to him," because old Sergeant Will was about to kill him. Lieutenant Kelso said, "I want to find out what they’re doing here." As it turned out, they were supposed to let us bypass them, and then they were going to hit us from the rear that night, and the 11th Panzer was going to hit us from the front. And when we found out, we called artillery in on where the 11th Panzer was gonna come in and we foiled the whole thing.
   We were put in for a presidential unit citation for that. And it was on Army Hour, broadcast all over the free world. And I have the little article, I’ve got it at home, where it says Colonel Lyttle and G Company of 358 outmaneuvered and destroyed five companies of German SS, and I’ve had people look at me about those holes. I had seven holes in the pant legs. And my officers tried to figure out how they could miss my leg and make those holes. And I got a letter from a buddy that was there, he got married after we came home, and he said, "I sure would like to have you meet my wife. I’ve been telling her all about you and what we did over there." Then he said, "Well, not quite everything." But he said, "I even told her about the seven holes in your pant leg."

Aaron Elson: Now, the German sergeant that was captured, he had smeared blood on his face?

Darrell Petty: He'd seen what was happening. He saw we weren’t taking any prisoners, his comrade was dead, and he just got some blood and smeared it on his face.

Aaron Elson: Was he wounded at all?

Darrell Petty: Not touched. He just lay down and played dead.

Aaron Elson: And somebody was going to shoot him, and then who said that they wanted to talk to him?

Darrell Petty: Sergeant Will was gonna kill him, and Lieutenant Kelso, he was our executive officer, he hollered at him, "Will, don’t you kill him, I want to talk to him."

Aaron Elson: And after they talked to him, then what happened?

Darrell Petty: Then he went back to a prisoner of war compound. But, oh yeah, we called it Machine Gun Hill. We figured we were kind of justified in doing that. The official number is Hill 451.

(Coming soon: Darrell Petty, Part 2)

Read more interviews like this in "A Mile in Their Shoes," by Aaron Elson, available in our eBay store as well as at (where you can order a "used" copy directly from the author at a discounted price). It is also available as an e-Book for Amazon's Kindle.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"You Could Build 88s, Why Couldn't You Kill Lice?"

Walter "Red" Rose
   Back in the 1990s, I would take my Sony Walkman style tape recorder with me to reunions and mini-reunions of the 712th Tank Battalion. Sometimes a group of veterans would be sitting around a table in the hospitality room, and I would record the conversation.

   When I wrote my first book, "Tanks for the Memories: An Oral History of the 712th Tank Battalion," I transcribed many of those recordings, as well as tapes of individual interviews. There was a lot of background noise on some of the hospitality room recordings, which rendered them difficult to use in an audiobook until a better sound engineer than I processes them, so the transcriptions pretty much languished in a series of computer files, along with backups of most of them in various places. Some of the backups are on floppy disks, that's how old they are.

   I spent the summer writing two books. The first, "Conversations With Veterans of D-Day," is available for Amazon's Kindle, but I'll probably withdraw it soon to rewrite the introduction and add some more photos I found, and then release it in a print version as well. The second, "Inside the Turret: The 712th Tank Battalion in World War II," will be published by a prestigious British firm, "Fonthill Media," in the near future.

   Much of the research for both books involved reviewing the transcripts of my interviews and hospitality room sessions, some of which I hadn't looked at in years. Over the next few blog posts I plan to include some excerpts of those conversations, which, if my own reaction is any indication, make for great reading.

   Here's an excerpt from a conversation I recorded on Jan. 26, 1995, at the battalion's "mini-reunion" in Bradenton, Fla. Every year the 712th would hold a formal reunion, usually somewhere in the Midwest because a large portion of its personnel came from the central states. But as the veterans began to retire, with many of them moving to Florida or spending the winter there, a small group of them got together and held a less-formal mini-reunion. Jack Roland, a veteran of Headquarters Company whom I never met because he passed away before I started doing this, moved to Bradenton for health reasons and soon became the mayor of Bradenton. Sam Adair, another veteran I never had the fortune of meeting, organized the first mini or two elsewhere in Florida, but Roland was able to get the group a good deal at a local Days Inn on Route 41, and the minis were held there until the motel changed hands and the perks evaporated. But because their time in the battalion was so special to so many veterans, some of them would come from all over the country -- Forrest Dixon from Munith, Mich., Jim Flowers from Richardson, Texas -- so they could be with the other veterans two weekends a year instead of just one.

   Walter "Red" Rose, who was a sergeant in Service Company, would drive down from Ahoskie, N.C., with his wife Dorothy and stay in a camper in the parking lot.  Clegg "Doc" Caffery, who wasn't a doctor but owned a plantation in Louisiana, was descended from a Caffery who went down the Cumberland River with Andrew Jackson, and took over the kitchen at the motel to make a big pot of shrimp etouffe for the Saturday night dinner, was another.

   There will be more in future posts, but here is an excerpt from a conversation I recorded at the 1995 mini. It begins with Red Rose relating a conversation he had during a trip to Germany:

   Red Rose: I talked with some of the Germans up there, and they all say that they weren't guilty, it was another organization. See, they had so many organizations over there, each one wants to blame it on the other one, all the atrocities. There's an old fellow living there in Freiburg, Germany, and I'm sitting there talking to him. He was a prisoner of war in Ahoskie. I said, "Let me ask you, why did you Germans let Hitler get ahold of you, and the Nazi party, like you did? You're smart people. Why?"
   He said, "Rose. I can remember as an 11- or 12-year-old, I was hungry." He said, "When you get hungry, you're gonna follow anything." And he said, "I remember seeing those boxes coming down with bouillion." And they said "If you join our party, here's what you will have." Well, they were against the Jews, they were against the communists, they were against anything if you wasn't pure German. And they just kept going. Finally they got ahold of him. And he said he was a great believer in the beginning. But he said, "It was like this. Once they got you by the throat," he said one day, he closed his fingers like that, "you couldn't get out. And you didn't want to talk to nobody. Even your best friend, if you didn't like what was going on, they're like to come and get you tomorrow night." And he said, "We lived under a noose, a complete noose, regardless of whether we wanted to or not."

   Doc Caffery: Everybody was afraid.

   Red Rose: Everybody was afraid. And he said you didn't have no friends. You couldn't go to a friend and say, "Let's do something." You didn't know who you was talking to. You didn't know whether you was talking to a Gestapo agent, or what. That's the way he put it. He said "I never fired..."
   Doc Caffery: They didn't want to trust anybody.

   Red Rose: No. And he said, "I'll tell you something else. The happiest day was when I got captured." And he said, "I'll tell you something else. When you all invaded Normandy, I never fired a gun." And he said, "I didn't fear all the shells near as bad as I did the lice." He said, "Hell, I was eat up with lice. We couldn't control it. We was down in there being eat up." And he said, just to get out from underneath was ... Isn't that something, the lice?

   I said, "You could build 88s, why couldn't you kill lice?"

   He said, "That's what I don't know. We could build some of the best guns, but we couldn't kill lice." He said they had leather shoes, and leather coats, and when they got damp, that created those lice.

   Doc Caffery: And they didn't have insecticide, no DDT or anything like that.

   Red Rose: No. He said, "A lot of times I thought about just running out the top, letting one of these shells hit me."

   Doc Caffery: Because he was so full of lice (laughing). That was a condition to get into, huh?

   Forrest Dixon: Doc, how are you? [While Clegg "Doc" Caffery wasn't a doctor, Jack "Doc" Reiff was: He was one of the battalion's two medical officers. He was born in Muskogie, Okla., but was retired and living in Lady Lake, Fla.]

   Doc Caffery: Doc Reiff.

   Doc Reiff: Okay.
(Some of the tape was not transcribed, probably due to excessive background noise, but here the conversation, which picks up in mid-sentence, has shifted to the voyage across the Atlantic aboard the SS Exchequer)

   Red Rose: ...after it went off, he started spewing...

   Aaron Elson: Who was this, Captain Laing?

   Red Rose: Captain Laing. That's what we went through over there.

   Aaron Elson: In the middle of a speech?

   Red Rose: Yeah, he was telling us what we should do if we got captured. I thought I was gonna do real good, I was standing on the deck, and here comes up out of the kitchen a big tub of chitlins. And I was trying my best to keep from getting sick. He started dumping them overboard and I seen 'em fly, and from that day on I was sick, too. Chitlins. Can you imagine dumping right beside an old seasick boy. Ohh, lord. Somebody said "Sink this sonofabitch, I don't care!"

   I said, "Well, buddy, I feel about like you do, but I don't want to go down right now." That was Joseph Hopper. He was the one that hollered, I'll never forget those words, here I am, sick as a dog, and he said "Sink this sonofabitch, I don't care."

   Doc Reiff: The ship was pitching end to end and tossing straight up and down, and the captain said, "But it'll never break apart in the middle like those Liberty ships." And I thought, oh shit.

   Joe Fetsch: I took heat on that boat. The Exchequer was built in Baltimore. And everybody said, "Christ, you come from there, look at this lousy ship."

   Aaron Elson: Was that a Liberty ship?

   Doc Reiff: No, it wasn't. But that fellow, he was really proud of it.

   Joe Fetsch: The sister ship was ahead of us, and he was doing this and that and everything else in that water.

   Doc Reiff: The captain was really proud of the ship. He said it would never break apart in the middle -- we'd never thought about that (laughing) -- like Liberty ships. Something else to worry about. But talk about being sick. I don't know where the Army got the idea, but they had to have that short-arm physical inspection, and here I was, looking at guy's mouth, skin, seeing if he had a skin rash, or any discharge. And the ship was going all this way and that. (laughing).

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Tanks for the Memories

A Mile in Their Shoes

Conversations With Veterans of D-Day

Nine Lives

They Were All Young Kids


Love Company, by John Khoury (edited by Aaron Elson)

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