In this episode Lieutenant Jim Flowers and his gunner describe the two days and nights they spent in no man's land waiting to be rescued and fearing they wouldn't. But first, we solve the mystery of how a fellow named Rothschadl grew up on an Anishanaabe Indian reservation in Minnesota. For more on the battle of Hill 122 involving the first platoon, Company C, of the 712th Tank Battalion, check out They Were All Young Kids in print or for Kindle at amazon, or order the audio epic "The Middle of Hell" in the ecommerce section of aaronelson.com.
Sunday, November 10, 2019
Thursday, November 7, 2019
This episode of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It begins with a description of a letter gunner Jim Rothschadl wrote to his younger brother from his hospital bed, and concludes with a statement Lieutenant Jim Flowers wrote from his hospital bed after being recommended for the Medal of Honor (he received the Distinguished Service Cross). There will be more from my interviews with Flowers and Rothschadl in the next episode.
Sunday, November 3, 2019
Tank commander Judd Wiley describes a harrowing week of combat leading up to the battle for Hill 122, in which nine members of the First Platoon, Company C, 712th Tank Battalion were killed. Among them were the tight-knit crew of Wiley's Sherman tank, a day after he was injured and evacuated. For Wiley's full interview, and interviews with several survivors of the battle, check out "The Middle of Hell" in the ecommerce store at aaronelson.com, or "They Were All Young Kids" in print and for Kindle at amazon.
Monday, October 28, 2019
On July 10, 1944, four Sherman tanks of the first platoon, C Company, 712th Tank Battalion came to the rescue of a 90th Infantry Division battalion that was surrounded by German paratroopers. After breaking through the German lines and leading an infantry company off of Hill 122, the four tanks kept going. The infantry, having sustained heavy casualties, dug in at the base of the hill. Soon all four tanks were knocked out, three of them bursting into flames. In this episode, we hear from Lieutenant Jim Flowers, the platoon leader, and Sergeant Judd Wiley, a tank commander. For more about Hill 122, check out The Middle of Hell at aaronelson.com and "They Were All Young Kids" at amazon.
Tuesday, October 22, 2019
The story of the First Platoon, Company C, 712th Tank Battalion in the battle for Hill 122 contains many universal themes that run through the stories of World War II veterans: survivor's guilt, fate, courage, heroism, irony, among others. Hill 122 Part 2 is excerpted from a 1993 interview with Louis Gerrard and his brother Jack. The gunner in Captain Jack Sheppard's tank, Lou lost an eye when his tank was hit and played dead while German soldiers searched him and took his watch. A 17-CD oral history "epic," The Middle of Hell, is available in the ecommerce section at aaronelson.com and in my eBay store. I hope you'll explore some of the other episodes of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It.
Friday, October 18, 2019
The destruction of the First Platoon, Company C, on July 10, 1944 -- four tanks knocked out, three of them "flamers"; nine of 20 crew members killed, several wounded, two captured -- was a defining moment in the history of my father's tank battalion. Lieutenant Jim Flowers would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross after leaving parts of both legs "on a piece of bloody French real estate." The next few episodes of the War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It podcast will include interviews with survivors and people directly related to the battle. Narratives from my interviews are in the book "They Were All Young Kids," are available in print and for Kindle at amazon, and a 17-CD audio epic, "The Middle of Hell," available in the ecommerce section of aaronelson.com. Thank you for listening.
Sunday, September 29, 2019
In this episode of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It, we take a detour from the hedgerows of Normandy and the banks of the Moselle River, and hitch a ride on a B-24 into the dangerous skies above Germany. This interview was recorded in 1999 and there is some background noise on portions of the tape. Running time: An hour and 25 minutes.
Monday, September 23, 2019
While visiting a village in Germany where my father's tank battalion lost several men near the end of the war in Europe, I learned of a spectacular aerial battle that took place in the area. Sept. 27, 2019 is the 75th anniversary of that battle.
Saturday, September 14, 2019
Thursday, September 12, 2019
Phenix City, Alabama was off limits, but that didn't stop tankers and paratroopers from going there. Tank driver George Bussell and tank commander Reuben Goldstein took part in a brawl at Ma Beachie's, an iconic establishment in a city described in a government report as the "wickedest city" in America. But first, a couple of anecdotes about a friendly fire incident and a mad gunner, both of which will be elaborated on further in future episodes of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It.
Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon
Following is an article that appeared in the Shelbyville, Tennessee, Times Gazette in 2005, which gives some background on what Phenix City was like in the 1940s:
Death, prostitution and the paper boy
Jack Culpepper's first run-in with the steamier side of Phenix City life occurred in the 1930s, at the age of 11, while he was making money like many boys did in those days -- delivering newspapers. He and his lifelong friend Joe Freeman would head across the river to Columbus, Ga., to pick up the papers for delivery in the wee hours of the morning.
It was a routine the pair would repeat for years: catching a midnight show at the movies, doing their delivery job and then in bed by 4 in the morning. This explains why a boy of that age would be in a sleazy honky-tonk at 3 a.m. on a Sunday.
"I was just a kid and they only messed with me that one time," Jack said. He would cross the 14th Street bridge on his bicycle, which led into where most of the criminal activity was centered. While Joe attended to his deliveries across the street, Jack entered the Blue Bonnet Cafe and was only there to collect his two dimes for the papers when suddenly he heard. "Look, it's a virgin, let's get him!"
Someone grabbed him and thrust him into the lap of a woman who obviously made her living with her body.
"Scared the daylights out of me," Jack remembered. Just as quickly, he heard "Leave him alone, he's just a kid," at which point other women of ill repute set upon the one who had grabbed Jack.
"I left a pile of 'em in the floor ... of women ... working her over, I guess."
But while it was the only time the criminal element would deliberately accost the young Jack, another early morning newspaper delivery at the age of 13 would leave quite an impression on him.
Entering the "Merry-Go-Round" to deliver his papers, Jack found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently, two drunken soldiers decided to reenact a scene that made the archer William Tell famous throughout the ages, except instead of using an apple and a bow and arrow, the pair chose a shot glass and a .45 automatic pistol.
However, the solider with the .45 shot a bit lower than he intended and Jack was splattered with brains, blood and pieces of skull from the unfortunate man with the shot glass on top of his head. "I didn't witness it, I felt it!" Jack said. "Part of his head hit my shoulder!"
His head and shoulders covered with the blood of the dead man, Jack fled the murder scene so quickly that he left his brand new Fleetwood Stream bicycle with chrome fenders -- "the Cadillac of bicycles" at the time -- containing over a hundred papers on the sidewalk.
He ran six blocks to his house where he lived with his half sister and her husband, the couple who were like a mother and father to him. His sister took one look at the bloodied Jack and dropped to the floor in a dead faint.
His brother-in-law ripped Jack's shirt off and got a bucket of water to wash the blood off. Then an hour later, he went back to the scene of the crime to retrieve Jack's bike, and Jack continued delivering the papers like nothing had happened.
Jack was close to another shooting in Phenix City some years later while he shared a 10 cent taxi ride with an unknown man. He has trouble recalling what year the shooting took place or what the circumstances were, but he definitely remembers they were riding through the 14th Street Bridge area.
"All I remember was a man on the sidewalk pointing a gun at the taxi. I heard 'Hit the ground!' and he went and bailed out the door and when he did, I went out the other side ... but I don't remember much after that," Jack said. "The cab driver, he sped away and left us there."
It was in 1940 when Gen. George S. Patton made his threat to level the town and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, after reading the classified reports of how some of America's fighting men were treated, gave the town its "wickedest city" label, a title it took Phenix City years to shake.
Gambling kingpins encouraged children to play with the slot machines and went as far as to install kiddie chairs. There were slot machines in nearly every business, including the post office. One factory produced loaded dice and marked cards, and there was a school that taught crooks how to crack safes.
When Jack was a teenager, there was only one of the infamous locations he ever entered, the business run on the west side of town by Beachie Howard, also known as "Ma Beachie." Ma looked and sounded like the stereotypical sweet little Southern lady, except she ran Beachie's Swing Club, which had strippers, gambling and liquor.
"Don't mess with him, he's with me," is what Jack's older friend told those inside during his one and only visit helping deliver bread. Across the street from Ma's club were three rental properties she owned. Ma would claim ignorance of what her renters did to earn their rent money, but ....
"It had a sign up there that said 'rooms for rent by the hour, day or week' ... so you knew what that was," Jack said.
Ma Beachie was actually known to be one of the kindliest people doing business in Sin City; she helped out drunken soldiers by keeping track of their money and holding it for them as they patronized her nightclub. They would wake the next morning to find a note in their pockets from Ma telling them how much they had and that she was holding it for them. Others in Sin City would simply keep it.
Women could be had for a dollar an hour or $20 a night by the eager, young soldiers, who would frequently lose every penny in the gambling parlors, due to all the games being rigged, or due to being drugged and robbed by the prostitutes. For those that were broke, short-term loan establishments and pawn shops could be found anywhere along 14th Street, all under the control of the syndicate.
Some of the small town girls that came to Phenix City looking for work might find themselves thrown in jail without charges for several days, and then a procurer for prostitutes would come calling and offer to pay the fine -- if the girl would work for them. If she refused, the girl stayed in jail and was charged as a criminal, either until she could pay the "fine" or accept the offer of "work."
Tuesday: Was Phenix City tied to a nationwide white slavery racket?
Thursday, August 29, 2019
Many veterans of my father's 712th Tank Battalion had stories about General George S. Patton, also known as "old Blood & Guts." The 712th, attached to the 90th Infantry Division, was part of Patton's vaunted Third Army. It was not uncommon to hear a veteran quote a Patton speech almost word for word more than 45 years later. As for his language, Arnold Brown, a rifle company commander in the 90th, said it best. His company was bringing up the rear on a road march, and had acquired several stragglers, when Patton drove up and asked "Who the blankety blank is in charge of this blankety blank outfit." You can fill in the blanks, Brown said.
Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon
A little bonus material to the podcast, the chapter on General Patton in Tanks for the Memories Only a few of the following anecdotes are in the podcast)
Sunday, August 18, 2019
Claude Pittman was a Sherman tank gunner in the first platoon of A Company, 712th Tank Battalion. In this conversation, he talks about a tank-to-tank duel, about fear, about coming back after being burned, about a close call, about being cooped up in a tank for days at a time, about a tanker who had combat fatigue, about humor, about liberating some American prisoners, but first, a story about going to visit a member of his company on his way home from a reunion.
Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon
Following is a conversation I had with Claude Pittman at the 1995 reunion of the 712th Tank Battalion. The recording in the podcast was from a different conversation.
Aaron Elson: Tell me about that time that you went to look up John Young...
Claude Pittman: Jesse Young. One time we'd been to the reunion, I forget where it was at, and I agreed to look him up. And me and my wife, we went in the mountains there, let's see, he's in the eastern part of Kentucky, I believe it was. Well, the address we had, the year before, we'd sent a Christmas card, and we'd got a Christmas card back from him. So we finally traced in them mountains there and finally found where Jesse Young lived. So we couldn't drive to his house, there was a big mud hole there, and a lady lived there close, I asked her if I could I drive through there, she said, "You probably could if you bust it wide open." She meant for me to go fast through it, and I was kind of afraid to, so she says, "It's just over the hill there." So I left my wife in the car and I got out and walked.
So then over there and he's out in the yard. Of course, Jesse Young she said lived over there, the neighbor of his there, so I had to make out like I knew him. I walked up to him and told him who I was, and how glad I was to see him and all, and I said, "You was down in Fort Benning, wasn't you, with us?"
He says, "No, I've never been in the state of Georgia."
But, I said, "Well, I sent a Christmas card to this address last year, and got one back from Jesse Young."
He says, "Yeah, I figured it was somebody was in the service with my boy," and he'd sent me back a Christmas card.
Aaron Elson: Now, did you know Jesse Young in the service?
Claude Pittman: Yes.
Aaron Elson: Was he in your crew?
Claude Pittman: He was in our outfit, in my company and all. Oh yeah, I knew him well then, but that's forty years later, I guess it was.
Aaron Elson: He wasn't the one who was a moonshiner, was he?
Claude Pittman: No.
Aaron Elson: That was somebody else you told me about.
Claude Pittman: A boy from over in Alabama was the moonshiner. He said he used to run whiskey over and the sheriff would get after him and shoot after him.
Aaron Elson: Which platoon were you in?
Claude Pittman: Well, I was in the first platoon, I believe, most of the time.
Aaron Elson: What day was your tank hit?
Claude Pittman: Well, it was hit on August the 17th.
Aaron Elson: In Chambois? In the Falaise Gap?
Claude Pittman: Yes. Now my sergeant was Marvin Melton, was my tank commander.
Aaron Elson: Who else was in your crew that you can remember?
Claude Pittman: When I got hit, let's see, it seemed like Jones was, Woods (Tom Wood) was in my crew some. I loaded, and was gunner too. [Marvin] Melton was mostly my tank commander and, it seemed like the day we got hit up there, I'm not sure who the driver was. But I'm pretty sure Melton was the tank commander, and a little boy from Maine, what was his name, that maybe was in our tank, little bitty feller, he used to box, That's about all I remember about it. I haven't got a very good memory now, if somebody asks me something now I still go back to my book I got back then, that old Hagerty and them printed up and sent out.
Aaron Elson: When you came back, which platoon were you in?
Claude Pittman: The best I remember, back in the first platoon. I'm not sure about that.
Aaron Elson: Do you remember when you came back?
Claude Pittman: I came back about the middle of December. And I know E.E. Crawford, I seen him when I come back to the company, and he and I are both from Georgia, and he was going home, and I was rejoining the company, and I remember asking him to, my mother lived there in Atlanta, to ask him to call my mother, and he did when he got home.
Aaron Elson: Did you have brothers?
Claude Pittman: Yes.
Aaron Elson: In the service?
Claude Pittman: Yes, I had two brothers in the service. I'm a twin, and my twin brother was in the service, he was in the 90th Infantry Division. Wait a minute, I'm saying that wrong. We fought with the 90th. He was in the, was it the 78th? And we were in France at the same time, but we never did get together, I never did see him. But I knew, one time, by what I knew of, we was pretty close, several miles from their division at one time, I never did get out to look him up.
... Georgia...well, I found his brother over at Calhoun, Calhoun boy's in the service, I forget his given name now, I found his brother over there close to Dalton, and Calhoun, there's a little town named Calhoun over there, and he didn't advise me to go out and see, so I didn't. Well, I just took it that he's pretty much of a drifter and an outcast, from what I got out of his brother.
Claude Pittman: In 1943 I was in tank maintenance school here at Fort Knox, and I went to the Kentucky Derby. Of course I went on the infield, seemed like it's two dollars or something to get in.
Aaron Elson: Who was the winner, do you remember?
Claude Pittman: I don't remember that. I should have looked down there yesterday, and seen who won.
Aaron Elson: Did you have a bet on it?
Claude Pittman: No, I had the two dollars to get in, and didn't have two dollars to bet. Well, I don't remember what it cost to get in. I remember, I didn't bet anything on that. He was telling us yesterday, the biggest crowd they've ever had there, and I don't see where in the world they park the people, 170,000, in
that neighborhood, he said 175,000, but I don't see where in the world they park them.
Monday, August 12, 2019
|Ed "Smoky" Stuever|
Ed "Smoky" Stuever, a maintenance sergeant in the 712th Tank Battalion, never missed a reunion. He loved to bring memorabilia from his days in the Civilian Conservation Corps and the horse cavalry. As I go through the digitized files of interviews and conversations I recorded some 25 years ago, I'm finding a treasure trove of stories from Ed and many others that I'll be sharing as the podcast grows. I welcome comments and questions and even relevant audio clips that listeners would like to share.
Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon
The following is an excerpt from "The Hospitality Room," my sequel to Tanks for the Memories.
"In Normandy," he said, "they liberated a young Russian. He was about 21 years old, and the Germans had him digging foxholes. 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 doing hard work, moving the tracks around. We had him from Normandy until we were in Briey, France. He was walking down the main street, 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 says, 'Oh, I go home.'
"'No, no, you no go home. Russky gonna cut you throat.' Time and 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 when I got a chance. And he said, 'I want them.'
"I says, 'No, you can't have them.'
"He says, 'Let me have your knife.'
This was still in Normandy. And the 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."
"In Service Company," Dick Greca said, "we'd go fishing with hand grenades. Throw 'em in the river, fish would come up. Big German brown trout. And we'd pick 'em up. I was on a little rowboat and I dropped one off the side of it, that's the last one I done with 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, and 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 says, 'Now what?' I got out of there real quick.
"Jim Cary 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. He was still walking, and the handle was still in his hand. He wasn't with our outfit. We just passed him. He probably went to look for a dozen eggs someplace."
"If I had it all to do over again, I'd probably do it the same way," Jim Flowers said. "Even knowing what I know right now."
"Like I always say," Greca said, "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, lifted a few. We always had some cognac or Calvados, or something around. I think that probably got us through better. You know what I mean."
|Check out The Whole Shebang: 25 themed and individual audio CDs|
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Another tanker's son brought a picture taken from German documentary footage of a disabled tank with 712th markings to the 1992 reunion, hoping to find someone who could identify the circumstances and the crew. Spoiler alert: The results were inconclusive. but the nearly hourlong conversation the image sparked went in several directions that give some insight into life as a tanker in World War II. The cover photo is a generic illustration taken from the battalion's unit history.
Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon
Following is a transcript of my conversation with Clark Mazure, whose father, Frank Mazure, was a mechanic in the 712th Tank Battalion; Mike Anderson, who drove a Headquarters Company Sherman tank with a 105-millimeter cannon; Paul Wannemacher, who was a loader in Headquarters Company; and Les O'Riley, who was a company commander, at the 1992 battalion reunion
|Check out Big Andy, a conversation with tank driver Bob Anderson, at Amazon.com|
|11 hours of interviews with 712th Tank Battalion veterans|