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

Read the Original Tanks for the Memories  (free online at