Saturday, March 17, 2018

How Sergeant Warren Lost His Stripes

Hank Lochowicz and Jabos
   Two years ago, Don Knapp sent me some photos from the war, but they were in pdf form rather than jpg. As I was looking through them, now that I have the ability to convert them, I discovered this picture of Hank Lochowicz, of Milwaukee, with a dog. This was the caption on the back of the picture:

   This story, however, is not about Hank Lochowicz, and it's not about Don Knapp, who I assume took the picture. Incidentally, you might have seen Knapp interviewed in "The Color of War," a documentary that aired on the History Channel a few years back. But this story is about the dog Jabos and Sergeant Jim Warren, and illustrates the kind of discrepancies that arise when stories are told secondhand. In this case, there are two strikingly different versions of how Sergeant Warren lost his stripes, but they both lead to the same conclusion: that Jim Warren was busted from a sergeant and tank commander to a buck private.
   The two different accounts were from Bob Rossi, a Pfc. in the third platoon, and Lieutenant Jim Gifford, who was Rossi's tank commander and platoon leader until Gifford was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge.
   Rossi joined the battalion as a 19-year-old replacement in November of 1944, shortly before the battalion's first crossing of the Moselle River. Sergeant Warren was one of the many characters he told me about.
   "I started to tell you one of the many Warren stories," Rossi said, "why he hated General MacArthur. The way he told us, Warren was in the Marines in Hawaii first, but he was getting discharged and his records were being sent to San Diego. In the meantime, he told us, he got into some trouble, and the sheriff of the island,. Duke Kahanamoku, he was a famous athlete, he was gonna come to grab Warren. Now Warren technically was a civilian, so the only way he could beat the rap was if he joined the Army. So he stayed in the islands with a searchlight outfit. And as fate would have it, MacArthur was the general in charge of the islands at that particular time, and they're going to have a big inspection. So he said they spent weeks polishing up the equipment, painting this and painting that. He was like a battery sergeant. And he says here comes MacArthur, and he says 'Ten-hut!' And he said he gave MacArthur the biggest highball [salute] you could ever give an officer. MacArthur says, 'Sergeant, how do you cut your toenails?' Warren says he was mystified. MacArthur says, 'Show me how you cut your toenails.' He made Warren sit down on the parade ground, take his shoes and socks off, and as he's sitting there, he made the whole battery crowd around Warren, and he says, 'Now this man is going to suffer from ingrown toenails, because he doesn't cut his toenails properly.' And Warren's sitting on the ground, everybody's razzing him, he took some razzing for weeks. That's why he hated MacArthur, for making a fool out of him."
   Sergeant Warren's name came up in several stories told to me by veterans of C Company. The consensus was that he looked after his men, he drank heavily, and was the kind of reliable tank commander you would want backing you up in a tense situation.

From left: Ed Spahr, Jim Gifford, Tony D'Arpino, Bob Rossi
     At the 1992 reunion of the 712th in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I sat at a table with four veterans --  Rossi, Gifford, Tony D'Arpino and Ed Spahr -- who were in the five-man crew of a tank that was knocked out on January 10, 1945, in the vicinity of Wiltz, Luxembourg, during the Battle of the Bulge. Sergeant Warren's tank was behind their tank. When the crew abandoned it, Lieutenant Gifford, who was wounded, told Sergeant Warren to fire into his tank and set it on fire, so that it wouldn't fall into the hands of the Germans.
   "Sergeant Warren was the type of guy, he was really military," D'Arpino said. "I mean, his tank crew wouldn't eat unless he said so. He was that kind of guy."
   "When I joined the third platoon," Rossi said, "I arrived with Koon Leong Moy, who we called Chop Chop because of his Oriental heritage. [Moy was a second generation Chinese American from New York City, and political correctness had not yet been invented]. "Right away, when Lieutenant Lombardi was assigning the crews, Warren says, 'I want him.' He thought Chop Chop was gonna cook for him. "Chop says, 'The hell with you, you cook for yourself.'"
   "But I'll tell you one thing about Sergeant Warren," D'Arpino said, "Sergeant Warren, and we weren't used to it, Lieutenant Lombardi even told me this himself, he wasn't used to having a guy like Warren in the Number 2 tank because if Lieutenant Lombardi had something hot in front of him, Sergeant Warren rode up on his backside. You could count on him. Very dependable. He wasn't one of these guys who would sit back 400, 500 yards."
   "He was a good tank commander," Rossi said.
   "The only trouble Sergeant Warren had was he liked his 'tea' a little much." D'Arpino looked at Gifford and said, "I think, from the time you were with us you could probably say the same thing, Sergeant Warren was one of the best Number 2 tank, when you were in trouble, he was right there."
   "He was dependable," Gifford said.
   "If you had a fast tank like I had in reverse, you'd always bump into him," D'Arpino said.
   "There are more Warren stories than you can shake a stick at," Rossi said. "He had pots and pans galore on the back of his tank. I used to say his pots and pans make more noise than the tank itself coming down the road."
   "Now this is toward the end of the war with Warren, one of the other  stories," Rossi said during my 1992 interview with him at his home in Brick Township, New Jersey. "They were giving us a pep talk on how we're going to go into Czechoslovakia, and how to conduct yourselves, these people are our friends, not our enemies. And to make it impressive, they gave us all new helmets. The war was gonna be over.
   "And as we're all sitting around laying on the grass, Colonel Kedrovsky is giving a talk, there's Warren on the ground, playing with the dog, Jabos. He was playing with the dog's penis, and he's laughing.
   "Colonel Kedrovsky sees this, and he's pissed off.
   "So they let it go. And no sooner had this happened, than the war ended.
   "Now we go into occupation. We went to Mincen, Malybor, then we went for miles, we traveled to Amberg. That was a mess. It took forever to clean those barracks up, because everybody looted it before we got there.
   "I can remember that night. We had a choice. I don't know how many miles we traveled, with the dust and everything, a column of tanks. We had a choice, either wash or make coffee. We had half a jerry can of water. So right after that, they broke Warren. It didn't go unnoticed. They let him continue as a tank commander. As soon as the war ended, they broke him from a buck sergeant to a private."

   When I interviewed Jim Gifford at his used car dealership in Yonkers, New York, in November of 1992 -- only a couple of weeks after the group interview -- he brought up the incident, which he didn't witness personally, as we were talking about Stanley Klapkowski, the gunner on the crew, who was not at the reunion.
   "Klapkowski was a nice looking kid, he almost looked German," Gifford said. "He had that wavy blond hair, and he was a handsome kid. But he had a Polish background, and he didn't like the Germans for some reason. The boys could probably tell you more stories than I could about him, because I didn't see him raising hell, just like I didn't see Warren when he threw a bottle at some general. Got himself demoted from sergeant to nothing. And that made me feel bad. He was drunk, and when he was drunk, he was another person, forget about it. Some general was up there, some minor general, not a big general, and he was in the area, and Warren threw a bottle at him, and the general had him demoted. But they didn't throw him out of the Army or put him in the stockade. I guess [Jack] Shepherd, who was the captain at the time, probably said, 'Look, the man was drinking, he's been through a lot, give him a break.' But there were a lot of things, so many guys could tell you stories that you probably wouldn't want to see printed."

   I never met Sergeant Warren, who passed away before I began interviewing veterans of the 712th Tank Battalion. But there's one more notable story Rossi shared.
   "This is at Christmastime," he said. "We're at Kirschnaumen [France]. Up on the hill the bulldozer tank dug out all the ground, and our turrets were just sticking above the dirt. We're in a holding position. This is just prior to the Bulge. It was miserable cold out there, and we were doing guard duty, four hours on, eight off.
   "So this one day, we're standing around, the house we were in had a blanket covering a hole up on the second floor where a shell had hit previously. We had to sleep up there. And the mother, father and daughter slept in the one room downstairs.
   "So we're in the other room, like the gathering place, it had a stove in it. We used to gather around the stove, oh, it was so cold. This one day Sergeant Warren, we had a kerosene lamp hanging from the ceiling, this was in the evening and Warren was drunk, and he's sparring at the lantern. We're all laughing, because he was really a card. He throws a haymaker at the lantern. He misses the lantern and hits me on the other side, and I went flying across the room. And I come up with the biggest fat lip you ever saw. And when that was over, we went to bed.
   "The next morning, I'm in one of the other rooms, and I hear somebody, they were talking, and I hear, 'Ahh,' he says, 'I never touched the kid.' So I went in and showed him my lip, and he believed it."

   "Several years ago," Rossi said a little later in the interview, "I got one of the newsletters. Milford Anderson and Warren had died about the same time. I just filled up. These are the guys I was in combat with, they're both dead. I wrote to Anderson's wife, I think I sent her a picture. And I wrote to Warren's wife and I told her what a great guy he was. In combat he was the type of man that you wanted behind you, because he was right there. He drank a lot, but he was a good soldier. I wrote to his wife and I told her about the incident where he gave me a shot in the mouth."

- - -

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Friday, March 16, 2018

T-4 'Wac'

T-4 Wesley Harrell, 2nd Platoon, C Company, 712th Tank Battalion. Photo courtesy of Don Knapp.
   I received an email yesterday from the nephew of Wesley "Wes" Harrell, who was a tank driver in the 712th Tank Battalion, and whom I interviewed in Hobbs, New Mexico, in 1994.
   "My uncle served in Company C of the 712th from Normandy thru Germany," the nephew wrote. "He was a Sherman tank driver and lost two tanks in battle that I know of that you wrote about. He never spoke about his service. I only learned about it shortly before his death back in 2003. I am putting together a shadow box for future generations of my family to remember him as both of his sons (my cousins) have already passed -- neither of them ever had children. His wife (my father's sister Laverne) is now in a nursing home in Hobbs, NM. I want to finish the shadow box so she can see it. It will have the flag from his military funeral as well as the medals he was awarded, photos, his dog tags, T/4 patches, a certificate from the 712th Tank Battalion Association, etc. ...
   "I wish I had spoken to Uncle Wes more about his service but like so many it just wasn't something that he spoke of. My childhood was spent reading military history books of those that served in WW2. I was in my late 30s before I even knew that I had a hero in my own family. I know Uncle Wes never would have considered himself a hero, but he always will be one of mine.
   "I look forward to hearing back from you -- and thank you for both your father's service and your efforts on behalf of these supremely brave men."

    T-4 Harrell, a.k.a. T-4 Wac, was of special interest to me because he was involved in a battle that took place on March 16, 1945 -- coincidentally, his nephew's email arrived on the eve of the 73rd anniversary of that battle -- in the village of Pfaffenheck, Germany, which his platoon leader, Lieutenant Francis "Snuffy" Fuller -- said in a letter to Hubert Wolfe, whose brother Billy died in the battle, was his "worst day in combat."
   It was Harrell's tank commander, Don Knapp, who gave him the nickname Wac.
   "We had access to coveralls which I liked," Knapp said when I interviewed him at the 1994 battalion reunion in Cincinnati. "They were all one piece, and it enabled you to crawl around because sometimes if you had to crawl through the basket in the fighting compartment down into the driver's compartment, you didn't get caught on things. But I guess he liked the two-piece fatigues that were made more for infantry. They had baggy pockets on the side to keep things in, and in the process of getting out of the driver's compartment he sometimes got his pockets caught. And he was a little broad in the beam, he was just a heavyset, well built young man, but I said, 'Man, you've got a butt on you like a Wac.' [WAC stood for the Women's Army Corps.] So the name stuck. And he didn't mind, because he was that kind of a person. He resented nobody.
   "I remember one time we were clearing out from some woods and he caught the 75 a little bit on a tree and he almost put the gun out of battery, and I went down and I guess I kind of stomped on his head, and that night I said, 'Babe, I'm sorry, I just got mad at you.' And he said, 'Oh, that's all right. I shouldn't have done it, it's a dumb thing to do.'"

   The battalion crossed the Moselle River on March 14, 1945. On the night of March 15, C Company's 2nd Platoon was in the village of Udenhausen when it learned of the battle taking place in the nearby village of Pfaffenheck. Lieutenant Francis "Snuffy" Fuller said he would proceed to the village in the morning, as it was too dangerous to travel at night.
   Harrell was driving one of the platoon's five tanks. His tank commander was Sergeant Lloyd Heyward of Decker, Michigan, who took Knapp's place after Knapp was diagnosed with "combat exhaustion" a couple of weeks before. The gunner was Johnny Clingerman of Zanesville, Ohio. The loader was Pfc. Billy Wolfe of Edinburg, Virginia. The assistant driver, or bow gunner (also called the bog), was Koon Leong Moy, of New York City, whom the platoon had nicknamed Chop Chop.
   On the morning of March 16, the second platoon approached Pfaffenheck through an apple orchard, as Fuller preferred to avoid the road leading into town.
   "When we went into town," Harrell said during that 1994 interview, "they told us to drive up beside this building. They told us they were firing at hidden guns. There were a lot of guns in town.
   "They'd already got the first tank. Then they told me to move out, and I started to pull out from behind that building. And when I did, why, that 88 went through the side, and we had about 180 gallons, maybe 200 gallons of gas in that thing. And man, it caught fire just like that [he clapped his hands loudly]. Of course we had drills before to see how fast we can get out of them tanks in case of fire. Me and Chop Chop, I don't know which way he went, but when I got out, they were firing with small guns, machine guns, at me because they was hitting pretty close to me. And I crawled to a hedge, a pile of dirt, and I hid behind there.
   "And then they quit. I don't know whether somebody knocked him out or what, but they didn't fire no more."

   Of Harrell's crew, Pfc. Billy Wolfe and Sergeant Hayward were killed. Johnny Clingerman lost an eye, Moy was burned on his hand and face, and Harrell's eyebrow and hair were singed. Jack Mantell of Milwaukee, the loader in Lieutenant Fuller's tank, was killed, and Sergeant Russell Harris, one of the other tank commanders was killed.
   One company of the 90th Infantry Division suffered heavy casualties in the battle. The village cemetery is the final resting place for 100 members of the 6th SS Mountain Division.

Front Row, from left: Russell Loop, Indianola, Illinois; Joseph Rickel, Racine, Wisconsin; Lloyd Seal, Orange           , Texas. Back row, from left: Jack Mantell, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, KIA; Lt. Francis Fuller, Tonawanda, New                     York; Carl Grey Jr., Oswego, Kansas; John Zimmer, Macedon, New York; Otha Martin, Leguire, Oklahoma.                     Photo courtesy of Don Knapp.
Billy P. Wolfe, Edinburg, Virginia, KIA Pfaffenheck, March 16, 1945.

Russell Harris, Decker, Michigan, KIA, Pfaffenheck.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Coming Soon: Tanks for the Memories 2, The Hospitality Room

"This is the only loving I get out here" -- Art Horn in a letter to his girlfriend.
  It's been a long time between posts. I've been working on a new book, "Tanks for the Memories 2: The Hospitality Room." This is a collection of stories, interview and conversation excerpts from the many reunions of the 712th Tank Battalion that I went to in the 1990s, until they stopped having them because the last few veterans were too frail to make the trip. It didn't help that two of the four who were at the final reunion were treated so badly in the airport where they had to make a change on a flight from Boston to Florida that they decided it would be their last reunion. I forget what year it was, but in the early 2000s, I think.
   Please keep an eye on social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, my email newsletter, which gets posted on Facebook anyway) for further progress on the book. In the meantime, since I had such a wealth of material from which to draw, I'll be posting some "outtakes" from the many transcripts which have been hiding on my computer's hard drive for nearly two decades.
   The photo above is of Art Horn, who became a mechanic in D Company of the 712th Tank Battalion. Art sent the picture to his girlfriend Margaret, whom he would later marry, in Chicago, and it wound up in a newspaper, I'm not sure which one.
   While he was training in the horse cavalry, Art had a bit of a mishap on a horse. It was not the horse pictured above. During an exercise in which the trooper had to ride in a figure 8, shooting at targets at various points, Horn fell off the horse, struck his elbow on the ground, the pistol fired and the bullet struck the horse in the chin. The horse survived. I had heard about this from a couple of other former cavalrymen in the 712th, so I asked Art about it. This is what he said:

   "That was after six to eight months of training, the company commander gave an order to the stable sergeant to take certain horses away, we were gonna be firing on the range, and he says to put those in the corral and don’t let them on the line so that anybody could take one. But I think I got one. And I waited my turn. The biggest problem was that the rest of the horses were in the distance, they would stay there and each one of us would make these figure eights, run the figure eight, and this horse that I had, as long as I fired away from him, when I went around the other way to fire crossover is when it got too close to his ear and he bucked and he threw me on the ground. And when I landed on my back, my elbow hit the ground and I still had my hand on the pistol. The bullet went straight up. Because they always said when you’re on the firing range, when you’re not firing, always hold it straight up, because if I’d have held it off to the side I might have hit one of the men that were standing around.
   "So I did that. The horse stopped, and I got up and I looked and I noticed that there was a little blood coming down from his throat. And I looked at it, and I said, oh, the bullet hit the horse. But I also noticed on the halter on the horse there was a double leather thong that was underneath there. The bullet went through that, and then I found out later that the bullet only entered into the horse’s mouth, and when they got to the vet they were able to take it out and it healed up, and he was back in the saddle again."
Art Horn

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge

   I started going to reunions of my father's tank battalion in 1987. I always had a small tape recorder with me, and I would sometimes plunk it down in the middle of one of those round tables where maybe two or three veterans and a wife or companion would be sitting, and I'd record a sometimes casual, sometimes animated conversation. I would also conduct brief interviews with individual veterans, or be lucky enough to get two or three together to talk about the same event.
   The 712th Tank Battalion spent 311 days in combat, and its veterans had stories that ran the width and breadth of the human condition.
   Because the conversations were spread out over more than a decade, it sometimes was years before, in reviewing the transcript of an interview from one reunion, I would discover a detail that contradicted or corroborated a story from another.
   One of the first veterans I interviewed, in 1991, was Ed Spahr, at the battalion's Detroit reunion in September of 1991. Ed was of medium height, thin, wore glasses and spoke with something akin to a Philadelphia accent, although he was from Carlisle, Pa.

Ed Spahr

    In later years I would ask questions with a laserlike focus, like "Do you remember a tank that had to be destroyed when the battalion retreated across the Saar River from Dillingen?" However, with Ed, my questions were more generic: Were you scared? How was the food? Were you wounded?
   "These scars on my hand I got one time, they had anti-aircraft guns," Ed said, "I think they were 20 millimeters, and they hit our tank. They didn't penetrate, but on the inside of the tank a little round spot would get cherry red, and the paint would sometimes catch on fire. That's what made these little white spots on my hand.
   "I was wounded on the inside of my left arm. Lieutenant Gifford, he was our tank commander. Our tank got knocked out and luckily we all got out of the tank. After we got hit, Lieutenant Gifford stuck his head out, and a machine gun bullet struck him around one eye. He had blood all over. When he got out of the tank, I don't think he thought he was hurt as bad as he was, and he stepped behind the tank, away from the incoming. They were firing machine guns on us, but we were behind the tank. Lieutenant Gifford tossed me his camera, and said, 'Take a picture of me.'
   "So I'm standing there with my hands up taking the picture, that's the only way I could have gotten hit in a spot like that, I had to have my arms up. It just felt like a bee sting. It was no big deal to me. I didn't think I was hit until the medic asked to see my hand because when I dropped my arm the blood would drop off my fingers. And then he said, 'It's coming down your arm. Take off your shirt. And there this was, I was bleeding like a stuck pig.
   "I haven't seen Lieutenant Gifford since. He was all right, but he never came back to the company after that."
    That was in 1991. The following October, the reunion was held in Harrisburg, Pa. Spahr was there again. And who should walk into the hospitality room, but Lieutenant Jim Gifford!
   Not only were Spahr and Gifford there, but Tony D'Arpino, who drove the tank on Jan. 10, 1945, the day it was knocked out just outside of Wiltz, Luxembourg; and Bob Rossi, the loader, were there as well. And I was able to get the four of them around one of those round tables, with the tape recorder in the middle.
Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge

   Following is a partial transcript of that conversation:

   Jim Gifford: I was a lieutenant at the time, a first lieutenant.

   Bob Rossi:  I was a loader in Lieutenant Gifford's tank. I was a private first class.

   Ed Spahr: I think I'd better be classed as a utility man with all of C Company because I served in every platoon.

   Tony D'Arpino: I was a driver, first tank, third platoon, and towards the end I was a tank commander for a very short period.

   Aaron Elson: Where did you come together as a unit?

   Bob Rossi: Just prior to the Battle of the Bulge, Jim was brought in as our new tank commander.

   D'Arpino: He was our platoon leader.

   Rossi: We were in the Number 1 tank. We wound up in the town of Kirschnaumen in Belgium [France, actually]. I can recall so vividly how we wondered where Lieutenant Gifford was all day. We were in a hayloft, and he came up the ladder, it was a footladder, he said, "Come here. I want to show you something." He had draped the tank in white sheets. There was snow all over the ground, so he scrounged these white sheets from all over and he draped our tank so we'd have camouflage. That same night, he had gotten a package from home, and he had some canned chicken. He shared his package with all of us. We were talking about home, and he said to us, 'You know, I'd rather lose an arm or a leg than lose my eyesight. There's too much to see in this world." And the next day, he got hit in the eye. It was a hairy situation because we had gone into a pocket to flush out the Germans, and as fate had it, our left track was knocked off.

D'Arpino: Wasn't that the time that we just took one section of the tanks, just us and the second tank? We were almost ready to eat supper when we had to go out.

Rossi: We only had two tanks, us and [Sergeant Jim] Warren's. There was concentrated machine gun fire. Lieutenant Gifford got hit in the right eye, the bullet lodged in his cheek. I thought he might jump out of the tank, and I yelled to him to keep down or they would blow his head off. He said, "I don't want to jump out. I want Warren to come forward to help us." Then he said, "Rossi, how bad am I hit?" And I lied. I said, "You don't look bad, Lieutenant." But he looked like somebody hit him in the face with a sledgehammer.

D'Arpino: I remember something else about that. He was great for having a camera around your neck, right?

Rossi: I'm gonna get to that. So he says to me, "Fire the smoke mortar." And this is the joke. In my excitement, I forgot to knock the cap out of the top, and when I fired the first mortar it went like this [motioning straight up and down]. And then I fired some subsequent mortars to give a smokescreen. As we were abandoning tank, Lieutenant Gifford was firing his .45 and pulling Spahr out by one of his arms. Spahr's leg was locked."

Spahr: I had a little blood coming out, something had hit me. I went along with him back to the aid station.

Rossi: Ed was the assistant driver. His machine gun was firing by itself it was so hot. And I said, "Twist the belt! Twist the belt," so he could stop the bullets from feeding into the machine gun. And Klapkowski, who was our gunner, he and I were running in a zigzag, we could see the snow being kicked up around us. As we were running, a recon truck came toward us, and Lieutenant Gifford said, "Fire that .50 and protect these boys!" And the guy yelled out, "It's our last box!" He says, "Fire it anyway, you sonofabitch!" And that's when they started firing the .50 to give us cover. As we got out of the line of fire, he handed his .45 to me, he says, "Hold this for me till I get back." And with that, he says, "Take my picture." I says, "Lieutenant, I can't take your picture."

Spahr: I took it. That's the only way I could gave got hit, right here, when I was holding the camera up. It felt like a bee sting.

Rossi: And there he was, having his picture taken. He had gotten a Bronze Star that morning, he had the ribbon, his face was all puffed up, blood all over his combat jacket, he says, "Take my picture."

Gifford: I couldn't see out of my right eye, but I didn't know how bad it was. It's a funny thing, I didn't feel any pain when the bullet went in.

D'Arpino: I can remember plain as day one thing about that night, that evening. We were about ready to eat our meal, and they said that there was a small pocket, it was holding the infantry down, they wanted the tanks to clean it out. You took two tanks. It was just supposed to be a small pocket, and it turned out to be a little more than that, I guess.

Gifford: It was bad news.

Rossi: After we were knocked out, Sergeant Warren's tank came forward, and under  Lieutenant Gifford's orders, he set our tank on fire.

D'Arpino: We had ruined the radio. We put a grenade in the gun barrel. We did everything we were supposed to do.

Rossi: So the Germans couldn't turn the gun around and fire on the town.

Gifford: I had Warren shoot into the back of our tank, because the Germans were stealing the tanks. They'd use them against us. The track was blown off, so it was useless anyway.

D'Arpino: But the gun was still good.

Gifford: So we immobilized it by hitting it in the back.

D'Arpino: We had the best working escape hatch of anybody in the platoon. I used to oil that thing up good, so that when you touched the lever it would really fall out. Sometimes that was the only way of escape. If you're inside the tank and the hatches are down and the gun is traversed over your hatch, you can't open it to get out, you have to go out the other way. I can remember always telling Klapkowski, he was the gunner in the tanks that I was in most of the time, I always told him, "You sonofabitch, if we ever get knocked out, make sure that gun is in the center because if I can't get out because you've got the gun traversed over my hatch," I says, "I'll haunt you. I'll come and pull the sheets off of your bed."

Gifford: I'm sure there's a few guys that aren't here today because of that gun being over their hatch.

D'Arpino: That used to be my biggest worry.

- - -

   This conversation went on for two hours, and included many harrowing incidents both before, during and after the Bulge. I had interviewed Ed Spahr in 1991 and Bob Rossi earlier in 1992. I subsequently interviewed Tony D'Arpino and Jim Gifford individually, and I visited Stanley Klapkowski at his home in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. All five interviews as well as much of the group recording are included in the audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge" in my eBay store, where I hope you'll check out that and the many other oral history audiobooks, all in the veterans' own voices.

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Saturday, January 13, 2018

S***hole Story No. 2 (no pun intended)

Bob Rossi, 712th Tank Battalion veteran
   Another story with a very contemporary theme from my World War II Oral History archive. Bob Rossi was one of my earlier interviews, back in 1992. He was a source of many stories in my book "Tanks for the Memories," and his full-length interview is included in the audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge." He joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement in September of 1944. In this excerpt he recalls an incident shortly before he joined the battalion.
   Bob Rossi: "We wound up, this is a funny story, we wound up in this replacement depot. Now this is my life, living in barns, stables. We were all replacements, and the way they fed you, a section at a time, they would throw all these C rations together, they made like a stew out of it, and you were allowed one scoop of this meal, a canteen cup of coffee, a slice of bread, and a pack of cigarettes. And a tropical hershey bar, or we had some other bar that they gave us which was like a fruit bar. And this one time I wound up with a pack of Lucky Strike green cigarettes. The phrase was 'Lucky Strike has gone to war.' I wound up with Lucky Strike green cigarettes. I was a celebrity. 'Let me see that, let me see that.'
   "They had a mound of cigarettes on a table. As you went by they gave you the cigarettes. You could get Chesterfields one day and Camels the next. The first pack they grabbed they gave you.
   "We had to clean out these stables first to make them habitable for us to live in, and we got our bedrolls on the ground, and finally they assigned us jobs while we were waiting to be shipped out. And they assigned me to be in charge of this latrine. Now it's a little distance from where we're staying in the stable. And what it is, I have to keep this 55-gallon drum full of water, make sure there's toilet paper, they had toilet stalls, no seats on them. And as the guy came in, there was an old slate urinal with the disinfectant powder. And I have to keep this place clean. Hose it down and what have you.
   "Now I'm doing this for two days. And as the guys would come in, they would take their steel helmet off, grab a helmet full of water, use one of the stalls, then flush it down.
   "Now the third day I'm on the job, I've got everything cleaned up, a detail is coming toward me. They're walking toward me, they've got buckets. So I'm standing in the doorway, and one of them, I don't know if it was a sergeant or an officer, says to me, 'Okay, soldier, you want to get out of the way?'
   "Underneath me, I was standing on a trap door, is all the crap in God's world. That they're flushing down. These guys had to scoop it out into the buckets. I said that was a real s*** detail they were on.
   "That's the type of latrine I was in. Further away, they had what looked like sentry boxes, but they were on a platform. And the guys would take a crap, and it would go into cans, and they'd just keep changing them.
   "We were all ready to leave, we've got the full field pack on, we're not allowed to take our stuff off, because we don't know when the trucks are coming. And who pulls up in a staff car, Marlene Dietrich. And she looked like hell. She had the helmet on, olive drabs. So maybe ten, fifteen minutes later, she comes out on stage. She had a beautiful red gown, a shimmering gown, she sits down, pulls up the gown, she shows off those famous Dietrich legs. Then she sang. Then we got on the truck, we had to leave."

 - - -
   Bob Rossi's full two-hour interview is included in the World War II Oral History audiobook "Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge," along with a group interview with four of the five crew members of a tank that was knocked out on Jan. 10, 1945, and individual interviews with the other four crew members.

Once Upon a Tank in the Battle of the Bulge


The Captain of the Head: A Shithole Story

Bob Hamant, "A Marine on Tinian"
   A certain word has been much in the news lately, and it reminded me of a story I recorded several years ago during an interview in Cincinnati with Bob Hamant. Bob spent a year with the Marines on the island of Tinian during World War II.
   The story, one of many Bob told during the interview, which was arranged by his daughter, began with a discussion of the atomic bomb.
   "Toward the end of the war," Bob said, "they issued us wool socks, wool pants, jackets, wool sweaters, gloves. Hell, it's 90 degrees on the average [on Tinian], what are they gonna need that for? And nobody knows anything, but they gave you all this survival training for the winter. Hell, the only place they could take would be Alaska and we already owned that. But one thing we did have while we had that stuff, one of the guys says, 'Hey, there's a big plane up there on the airfield,' and he says, 'They're doing something to the bomb bay doors.'
   "Somebody says they're going to take a bigger bomb.' [The Enola Gay, which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima, took off from Tinian.] "Well, if you want to keep something a secret, you put guards around it, so then everybody comes up and looks. And we asked the guards. They didn't know. They just said they're doing something to the bomb bay doors, and that's it. 'We're supposed to keep everybody away.'
   "Hey, the bigger the better that you could drop on them. Well, nobody knew what an atomic [bomb was]. And so we found out. They notified us that they dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, and in the area where it dropped nobody will be able to live for 45 years. And we thought if they drop a couple more, we'll go home and everything will be fine. I don't know how many days it was later on they dropped the second one, and they came down and said, 'Turn in all your winter gear.' And then they told us we were supposed to make an invasion on northern Kyushu, which has snow, and they expected like 85 percent casualties because the Japs were gonna fight to the last man and old woman, and the cold. They said we'll lose almost half the guys from the cold alone, with frostbite.
   "So we were really glad we didn't have to go. But anybody comes along and says we were horrible for dropping the atomic bomb needs their head examined. There are thousands and thousands of guys, maybe millions of them, that are living today because they dropped it. And probably in Japan too, it probably saved a lot of their lives."
   "You mentioned the prospect of frostbite," I said. "What about malaria?"
   I'm not 100 percent sure what made me ask that, but I thought since Tinian was a tropical island, it might have been a problem.
   "That was more or less in the Philippines," Bob said. "There was no malaria on our island."
   "Even with all the mosquitoes?" I asked.
   "No, we had mosquitoes," Bob said. "There's something I forgot to mention was flies. You can't imagine the amount of flies. At night the flies would go and land on a tree, and a little twig would wind up to be a big branch because the flies were on top of flies. And when you went to eat, when you opened that can, the flies were on it like that. Your food disappeared, so we had to figure something out. We had mosquito netting, you'd pull it over your head and try to eat, but after a while you weren't so persnickety, you'd eat flies. When you went to the john, there'd be maybe ten million flies in there and you almost didn't have to wipe your butt because the flies were so thick. It was pitiful.
   "Oh, that's another story I could tell you. I got put on as captain of the head. That means you've got to clean the heads. So I had an oxcart that I would bring around and it had gasoline on it. I'd throw a cup full of gasoline down each one of the holes and roll up some toilet paper, set it on fire, toss it in the hole, step out the door, and it'd go 'Whooooff!' And it would kill all the flies.
   "Well, I ran out of gasoline, so I told the truck driver, 'I need more gasoline.'
   "He said, 'Okay.' He brings out a 55-gallon drum, and we put it on the oxcart, and I went in there and I threw a cup full of gasoline down each one. This was different, it's an eight-holer, and I rolled up the toilet paper, lit it, threw it down there, closed the lid, stepped out, and there was the biggest explosion you'd ever want to see. I got hit by the door, and about two or three hundred feet up in the air there was toilet paper flying. Here they gave me aviation gas. I was just getting the regular old gas. I blew that thing all to hell. But I was just lucky the door hit me, and nothing else. I was clean. That was funny. And they gave me another name for that, I forget what that one was. 'Don't go to the john when Hamant's around!'"

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Bob's interview is included along with three other interviews in the audiobook "Four Marines."