Friday, October 25, 2013

A Crock of Hooey

Ed Stuever

   More from the hospitality room at the 1993 Orlando, Fla., reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion:

                      Ed Stuever

   At Fort Jackson, South Carolina, when we became the 712th Tank Battalion, we had to go for a physical before we went up north. And we stripped naked, walked up to the desk of this doctor, and as I approached him, he says, "How in the world did you ever get here?"
   And I says, "I walked here, Sir."
   And he says, "Don't get cute with me. You're not fit for this man's army. You've got the flattest feet I ever saw. Did you ever make a five-mile hike? Did you ever make a mile hike?"
   I says, "I made 'em all, even the 30-mile hikes, and I carried my buddy in the last couple of miles so that we could all get a pass to go to town."
   And he says, "Aww, you're not fit for this man's Army. We can use you in a hospital carrying bedpans."
   And I says, "Why, I'd be on my feet more than ever."
   He says, "Don't get so cute with me. I'm going to send you back with this report."
   And when I took it back to the office, I didn't even knock, I just walked in there and threw it on Sergeant Bennett's desk, and he says, "Get out of here and come back in here like you're supposed to."
   I says, "I don't give a damn what you do to me."
   And then the captain says to me, "What's this all about?"
   And I says, "Here's my medical report. The man there says I'm not fit for this man's army."
   So the captain says, "Why, you're one of our best soldiers."
   And I says, "This report is a crock of hooey," I says, "There's nothing here I can't do."
   He says, "You're up for sergeant. Didn't you put it up on the bulletin board, yet, Sergeant Bennett?"
   And he says, "I was just about to."
   And he says, "Steuver, what do you want to do? Do you want to carry bedpans or do you want to stay with us?"

   And I says, "I sure as hell don't want to carry bedpans."
   So he tore up that medical report, and he says, "Congratulations. You're gonna stay with us." And then he dropped it in the wastebasket. And then when I was ready to leave, I apologized for the way I came in and I saluted him. Then I reached down and I picked up that report out of the wastebasket, and Bennett says, "What do you want to do with that?"
   And I says, "I want to remember that S.O.B.'s name so if I ever see him again, I'm gonna avoid him, or I'll run over him with my tank."
   That's the end of it.
   Oh, when we got to England, I didn't care to make some of them overnight affairs that we had, so I'd say to Sergeant Bennett, "Boy, my feet are killing me."
   And he says, "You son of a gun, you still got that report? I'm gonna shake you down till I find that thing." So he says, "You stay in the office here and run the office overnight." So I had to stay on duty all night. I didn't get away with it.
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Monday, October 21, 2013

More from the Hospitality Room

Bill Doyle

   In 1993 I returned from the Orlando reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion with a dozen tapes of interviews. Some of the material was used in my first book, "Tanks for the Memories," which I self-published in 1994.
   Most of the interviews were recorded in the hospitality room.
   Bill Doyle was a member of D Company, which had 17 1/2 ton light tanks.

Bill Doyle

   I'm 75. My fiftieth anniversary is coming up in February.
   Our job in D Company was to just go out there and find out where in the hell they were, to sneak up, then get the hell out and let the big guys go after them, because our little tanks, they only had little 37-millimeters, and they bounced off of them Tigers like it was kids shooting marbles, you know, you'd hit one marble and the other one would bounce, it's gone. You'd do no damage.
   Paul Wanamacher over there, he was in an area that was overrun with Germans [Mairy ... see "Destruction of the 106th Panzer Brigade]. We were all around the same neighborhood. They could see us shooting at the Germans. I guess we were where we weren't supposed to be. Some broke through the lines, and you could see our 37-millimeters didn't mean nothin', it was just like swatting a fly.
   None of them (the light tanks) got lost. It was just, there was an observation point up there and he called for artillery in the same place, so that helped us out a hell of a lot.
   That gentleman coming around the corner there [one of Col. Vladimir Kedrovsky's sons ... Kedrovsky was the battalion's third and final commanding officer], his father, you couldn't meet a finer man. He never asked you to do anything that he wouldn't do himself, that's the kind of guy he was. I don't know if I can put it in much better words. He was never too busy that you couldn't talk to him.
Carl and Tim Kay, sons of Col. Vlad Kay (formerly Vladimir Kedrovsky) at the 1993 reunion.
    We were reconaissance. We'd just go out, get a mission, if it was too rough, we'd just back up, get out of the way and let the big guys take care of them.
   He either shoots at you or you see them first and you run. But before you run, before you do anything else, you're always on the radio talking to whoever's behind you.
   After that deal there (at Dillingen), a bunch of us got the Bronze Star. Every time the kids would say something to me about it, "Oh, I hit a lieutenant." I said, "I punched a lieutenant in the mouth and got away with it." I never spoke to them about it or told them what happened, until they cornered me. Then I had to tell them about the river crossing, going up and getting the guys [wounded] and bringing them back. But to name names, the names are forgotten.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Thimbleful of Moldy Sugar

Lou Putnoky

   Lou Putnoky called me on Saturday afternoon. Since his wife passed away a few years ago Lou tends to call every three weeks or so, usually on a Sunday or on Memorial or Veterans Day. He always asks me if it's a bad time to call, and I always tell him it's never a bad time to call. Those of you who've read my book "A Mile in Their Shoes" should be familiar with Lou, a World War II veteran of the Coast Guard who was a radio operator on the USS Bayfield, the flagship of the Utah Beach invasion fleet.
   It was rare for him to call on a Saturday, but Lou suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and perhaps depression as well. He wanted to tell me his birthday is going to be in a few days, I forget how many days he said, but he's going to be 90. I told him to hold on while I placed an order for several shares of stock in a candle company. Then he asked me if he'd ever told me the story about Andy Baumgartner.
   I told him he hadn't.
   Before he enlisted in the Coast Guard, Lou said, he took part in some kind of a four-year program in which he trained during the summer, and if you succeeded in the program, at the end you would receive a commission. The program was cancelled in 1940 after Lou had spent two summers in it.
   He said there were two units that took part in the training, one was the 18th Infantry and I forget what the other one was. And he said Andy Baumgartner, who ran a hardware store in Carteret, where Lou grew up, was in the 18th Infantry on Corregidor when it fell and that Andy took part in the Bataan death march
   He said Andy lived across the street from a very good friend of his, so he would see Andy from time to time, although Andy was a little bit older and they were never that close. But one day Lou called Eli Holtzman, a writer for a local paper with whom he was friendly, and asked if Eli would be interested in doing a story about Andy.
   Andy had suffered a stroke, and was not in good condition. He sat hunched over in his chair and could barely make himself understood when he spoke, and his daughter Nancy helped out and filled in a lot of his story.
   Andy was a cook while he was a prisoner, preparing what little food there was for his fellow prisoners. When they captured Corregidor, the Japanese confiscated a supply of Carnation evaporated milk. Andy would carefully remove the paper labels from the cans, and he used the blank inside part of the labels as a diary.
   Lou noticed that there were several names in the diary with diagonal lines drawn through them. He asked what they meant.
   I don't know if Andy told the story or his daughter told it for him, but Andy had discovered a bag of moldy sugar, and he hid it from the Japanese. He also had a thimble from a sewing kit. He would fill the thimble with moldy sugar, and one at a time he would take it to his fellow prisoners. He would tell them to hold out their hand, and he would empty the thimble full of moldy sugar into it. They would ask him what it was, and when he told them, they would hurriedly raise their opened hand to their mouth and gulp down the thimbleful of sugar. Then Andy would put a little chit by their name.
   What was the chit for, Lou asked.
   He said Andy struggled to get the words out, but he said that he told the prisoners that if they ever got out alive, they would owe him a dollar for each thimble full of moldy sugar.
   Lou said he could see a tear rolling down Andy's cheek. And then he kind of smiled, and said that after the war, at a reunion of the survivors of the Bataan death march, one of the other former prisoners came up to him and gave him two dollars.
   Happy birthday, Lou Putnoky!

Lou Putnoky aboard the USS Bayfield
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Saturday, October 5, 2013

"Russky gonna cut you throat"

Ed Stuever
    More from the Hospitality Room. I first recorded Ed Stuever, a sergeant in Service Company of the 712th Tank Battalion, at the battalion's "mini-reunion" in Bradenton, Florida, in January of 1993. Dick Greca, also a member of Service Company, was seated at a table, as were a couple of other veterans.

Ed "Smoky" Stuever
     In Normandy, they liberated a young Russian. He was about 21 years old, and the Germans had him digging foxholes. So when he heard the Americans were coming he hid out, and he waited till we came along. Then they told me to take him with me, he's a good worker.
     I had him with me doing hard work, moving the tracks around. We had him from Normandy until August, when we were in Briey, France. He was walking down the main street over that little bridge, and he saluted a colonel of the MPs in a jeep with a cigarette in his hand, and they hauled him away. We never saw him again.
   In all this period, he would always approach me and he'd say "Sergeant, what you do when Russia and America come together?"
     I said, "I go home. I can go home tomorrow, I have enough points."
    "'No, no. You no go home. Russky gonna cut you throat." Time and time again he would approach me with this, "Smoky, what you do when America and Russia come together?"
    I couldn't sleep with that guy around. I had a real sharp dagger, and I had an extra pair of boots on the truck. They were all worn and I wanted to exchange them whenever I got a chance. And he said, "No, I want them."
    I said, "No, you can't have them."
   He said, "Let me have your knife." This was still in Normandy. And next day he comes back with a shiny pair of Nazi boots on, and he gave me my bloody knife back. So I could never sleep with him around.

Dick Greca
    In Service Company, we'd go fishing with hand grenades. Throw 'em in the river, fish would come up, and we'd pick 'em up. Big German trout, brown trout. Hey, you know, I was on a little rowboat and I dropped one off the side of it. That's the last time I did that, because that water wasn't too deep, and you could feel the concussion.
     One night we went up to check the tanks, and the crew heard us talking. They got scared and thought it was the Germans out there, and they threw a hand grenade out. Two of us got hit, but not serious. We all walked away.
   I jumped under the tank, so I wouldn't get the shrapnel, and the doggone tank started to move. I said, "Now what?" I got out of there real quick.
    Jim Cary [Capt. Jim Cary was the C Company commander] remembered me going up on the first day of combat. His tank was acting up, and I came up and took care of it. I can remember that real well. I can remember after he got hit, what do you call them things, booby trap, his raincoat was all shredded. And he was always one to preach, "Watch out for booby traps." The guys got a kind of a kick out of it, not that they laughed at him, because he was so strict.
     I seen a guy come out of a barn, and he had one of these things in his hand, one of those potato mashers, but he was all slaughtered up. But he was still walking, and the handle was still in his hand. He came out and I'll never forget. He wasn't with our outfit. We just passed him. He probably went to look for a dozen eggs someplace.

Jim Flowers
    If I had it all to do over again, I'd probably do it the same way. Even knowing what I know right now.

Dick Greca
 Like I always say, I wouldn't do it for a million, what I done before, I wouldn't do it again for a million either. We done our goofing off. We always had some cognac or Calvados, or something around. I think that probably got us through better. You know what I mean.

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