Sunday, November 10, 2019

Hill 122, Part 6: No Man's Land


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Hill 122, Part 5: Jim Flowers' statement


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Hill 122, Part 4: Survivor Guilt


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Monday, October 28, 2019

Episode 21: Hill 122, Part 3: The motorcycle (kettenrad)


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hill 122 Part 2: Louis Gerrard


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Friday, October 18, 2019

Hill 122 Part 1


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Episode 18: The Kassel Mission Part 2: George Collar


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Kassel Mission, Part 1


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.


Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Bookends


I was browsing through a folder of photos for my author web site when one of them stood out. It’s a photo of the second of two plaques on the 712th Tank Battalion monument in the Memorial Garden at the Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The plaque contains the names, in alphabetical order, of 50 of the 100 members of the battalion who were killed during World War II.
What struck me immediately was that the first and last names on the plaque were like bookends: Lt. Wallace Lippincott, Jr.; and Pfc. Billy Paige Wolfe.
I could go through the panel and tell you a story about many of the names engraved on it, and those I don’t recognize you can probably find mentioned in “A Tank Gunner’s Story,” by the late Louis Gruntz, Jr., who traveled his father’s combat route with his dad and recorded many stories of B Company. And there are some names that are a mystery, like Doye Smith, whose great-nephew Brian Smith knows only the date and location of his great-uncle’s death but has searched fruitlessly for further details.
But back to Wally Lippincott and Billy Wolfe. These are two of the tankers whose stories, along with that of Ed Forrest, whose name is on the first of the two plaques, have meant the most to me.
Wally Lippincott was killed at Sonlez, Luxembourg, on January 14, 1945, during the Battle of the Bulge. He was killed along with his tank driver, Quentin “Pine Valley” Bynum, whose name is on the other plaque, and his loader, Frank Shagonabe.
One day I received an email from Chris Bynum, who inherited his uncle Quentin’s dogtags. I went out to Springfield, Missouri, and interviewed Chris’s dad, James Bynum, Pine Valley’s brother. The tankers who remembered Pine Valley assumed that that was the town he was from, but there is no Pine Valley in the Ozarks where he grew up. There is, however, a resort town named Pine Valley in the mountains around San Diego near where they trained, so it was likely he had a girlfriend there during his days in the horse cavalry.
Frank Shagonabe was a Native American. I never met any of his kin but there was a deeply moving article in the Muskegon Chronicle in 2009.
A few years ago Vern Schmidt, a veteran of the 90th Infantry Division, returned from Europe with a canteen. His friend Norbert Morbe, a militaria collector, found the canteen in the woods in Belgium. It had Lieutenant Lippincott’s name etched into its side. He asked Vern to try and locate Lippincott’s family. I was able to put Vern in touch with Ted Nobles, Wally Lippincott’s great-nephew, and with the help of the Philadelphia Inquirer we were able to locate Elizabeth Pitner, Wally’s widow, who had remarried and was 92 years old.
The other bookend is Billy Wolfe. In 1992 I interviewed Maxine Wolfe Zirkle and Madalene Wolfe Litten, twin sisters who were 16 years old when their brother Billy, who was 18, was killed. Their mother, who never knew the circumstances of Billy’s death, saved everything from his short life, including an essay he wrote in high school.


Pfc. Billy P. Wolfe, killed at Pfaffenheck, Germany, on March 16, 1945
Pfc. Billy P. Wolfe

“If I were to be blind today,I would want to go off by myself in the mountains, climb to the highest cliff, and look out across the valley at the towns, farms and farmhouses.
“I would want to see the squirrels running and leaping from one walnut tree to another, and the birds flying.
“I would like to see the deer run and jump swiftly and gracefully and leap across the fences, and lie in a tree that leans across the water and watch bass laying under the rocks and dart out after a fly.
“I would go through the house from one room to the other picturing each piece of furniture, every corner and everything, in my mind.
“I would like to see all my sisters, brother and parents together as we were, and picture each as they look for future reference.”
I’ll go through the other names on this and the other plaque at a later date, but each of these bookends could inspire a book by itself.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Barroom Brawl


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


Monday, December 12, 2005
Second of a five part series of Jack Culpepper's memories of growing up in Phenix City, Ala., widely known for years until 1954 as the most corrupt city in the nation. Culpepper, 83, now resides in Tullahoma.
   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

The Patton Episode



   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)

Blood and Guts

 Clegg Caffery
The first time I saw George Patton was on a hillside in England where he assembled all the non-commissioned officers, right before we went into Normandy.
He gave one of the typical George Patton talks. By the time you got through listening to his speech, you wanted to go out with your bare hands and kill Germans.
He had a high-pitched voice. He said, “Let me tell you one thing. After this war is over, when you get home and are bouncing your grandchildren on your knee, you can tell them that you fought with George S. Patton, and you didn’t shovel shit in Fort Polk.”
He kept on and on in that vein. When you left, you just thought the guy was a born leader.

Wayne Hissong
I was taking three trucks with gas on them to A Company during the breakout from St. Lo when I came to a crossroad that wasn’t marked as to whether it was cleared of mines or not. So I was sitting there debating what to do, when all of a sudden I look up and I see all those stars shining. It was General Patton, and he wanted to know who was in charge of the trucks.
I told him I was, and he said, “Well, what the hell are you sitting here for?”
I said, “I’m taking gas up to A Company. I know where they are, but I don’t know whether that road is cleared of mines.”
And he said, “You take this goddamn truck and drive it down that road, and we’ll find out whether it’s cleared of mines or not, won’t we?”
So I went down the road, at about five miles an hour, every moment wondering if it was going to happen. Needless to say, it must have been cleared of mines or there were none there to begin with, because we made it. We found the tanks and got them gassed up.
That was my encounter with Patton.


Les O’Riley
Lester O’Riley, of Columbus, Ga., was a company commander in the 712th.

I was in front of the bulldozer tank cutting down a bank on the far side of the Moselle River. About every minute and a half a barrage would come in, and I would back up the tank. One time I backed into a scout car. And I turned around to cuss out the driver and there was General Patton, and a three-star general with him. And he jumped out of the car, went down and pinned a Silver Star on an engineer who was sitting in the shade, shook his hand, came over, got back in the car, and I tried to apologize for cussing him out, but he said, “You’re doing your job.” But when I turned around I could see those little first lieutenant’s bars floating right off my uniform.

Russell Loop
One time we had just pulled up on a four-way crossroad and were waiting for further orders, and here comes Patton and his jeep.
He got out, and he walked right by the officers and went around and shook hands and talked with nearly every one of the enlisted men.
While he was there, a German plane strafed that crossroads both ways, twice. And he just looked up and said, “They must know I’m here.” But what he wanted to know was, “Are you getting plenty to eat? Are you getting enough ammunition and gasoline? And is there anything that I can do to make it better?”
And of course we all said, “Yes, send us home!” But I got to shake hands with him on the front line.

Clegg Caffery
When we broke through in Normandy, the battalion was acting as a point and protecting the right flank of the 90th Infantry Division as we went down through Avranches. The Headquarters Company had an assault gun platoon.
We came to this bridge, and I was in charge of the assault gun platoon. I deployed the vehicles in what I thought was the proper method to protect the bridge site, and just about five minutes later, George Patton approached. He came up in his jeep, and I very quickly ran to him and saluted and told him what the situation was, and his words to me were: “Get the goddamn tanks across that bridge on the east side and do it now!” I saluted very hurriedly and did that right quickly.

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Check out "The Tanker Tapes," 11 hours of recorded interviews with veterans of the 712th Tank Battalion
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Red Rose
Walter Hahn, he was Colonel Randolph’s jeep driver, said Randolph came down with pneumonia somewhere on the road, and he wouldn’t turn himself in. Some of the officers reported him real sick, and the doctor checked him and ordered him to bed. And Hahn said when Patton found out Randolph was  in bed – “Now I was standing right there with the jeep, right next to the old building where they had Randolph in because he had pneumonia,” Hahn said, “and Patton went in, and he came out in a few minutes,” and he said Patton stood and looked at him and said, “You know, I’d give anything in the world if the Third Army had as much confidence in me as the 712th Tank Battalion boys do in Colonel Randolph.” And he said tears came into Patton’s eyes.

Emil Brayfield
Emil Brayfield was a truck driver in Service Company.

I had a load of ammunition. I was told to go up four miles and stop. The 105s were up there. So I drove up there and got to the woods, and I saw General Patton coming toward me. He came up to me and he said, “Hello, Soldier.”
I said, “Hello.”
He said, “Where’s my goddamn officers?”
I said, “That’s what I’m waiting for.”
He said, “I get the message.”
He walked by, and I said, “Sir, there’s Germans right up there.” He left and came back, and he said, “You’re going to have people here right away.” And there were people there, and that’s all it was.
I can tell you another little story about Patton. Before we went into the Third Army, Patton gathered all the officers from all the units that were going to go under the Third Army. The officers from the 712th Tank Battalion were part of the group, and everybody had to identify themselves. When it came to the 712th Tank Battalion, Colonel Randolph got up and said, “712th Tank Battalion,” and told him the officers.
And Patton said, “What are you bastards doing here? You know we’re about to launch an attack.”
I didn’t talk to him. I was sitting on a fender. It was just one of those things. You know, you’re there when it happens. You wonder why sometimes.
I was in Service Company, and I was an ammunition truck driver, so I was pretty close to the front. If you understand military and war, the soldier, the leaders, let’s put it that way, they were no better than you. They were your bosses, don’t get me wrong, you respected them. Colonel Randolph would come down to me sometimes and say, “We’ve got to move out.” I’d say, “Okay, I’ve got all the ammunition.” When we crossed the Saar River they needed ammunition. I got there in the first truck, and they had to build us a corduroy road. The ferry was knocked out twice before I went across. All this time I was thinking, “How am I gonna get across in this dark? If I get off that road, I’m stuck.” Paul Mowreader, my assistant, was walking alongside the truck, and the Germans sent up flares. It was like daylight. All of a sudden I could see. When we got to the front, the truck had a lot of holes in it. Colonel Randolph was right there. And he said, “Here’s a cup of coffee.”

 Order Encounters With General Patton on eBay

 Ed Stuever
General Walker from the First Army called Patton and asked him to send up a recovery crew to remove a gun that missed a curve in the road and went down a cliff. It was a 155 Long Tom, towed by a big truck full of shells that stood five feet high and were eight inches in diameter. This crew of five was on top of that truck when it rolled over, and there were five bodies under that mess. That was our first job, to turn that truck over, get the weight off, and bring those bodies up that hill.
I met General Walker in a little cabin up in the woods across the road, and we agreed that I could have the road for three hours. I wanted four. Then he said, “You have the road from midnight on.” So it was getting daylight. Removing the bodies and getting them up the cliff took longer than we expected. Every time the men would pick up a body they’d start vomiting. They had dry heaves. So I said, “Throw the canvas over them and roll them in it. Out of sight, out of mind.” And we dragged the bodies up to the road that way.
Just as I had the gun up near the edge of the road, a sergeant from the medics came to me and he said, “I understand you’re in charge of this operation. I’ve got 20 ambulances back there, and if they don’t get to a doctor in an hour there’s gonna be a lot of dead people.”
“Bring ‘em through.”
And this colonel that was in charge of the gun said, “No you don’t. You get that gun up first.”
I said, “Those men back there are more important to me than that gun there. Lower them cables, fellows.” So we lowered the cables and they lay flat on the road, and I moved the ambulances through. And this colonel said, “I’m going to court-martial you for refusing a direct order.” I didn’t hear him.
We got all the ambulances through and then we got the gun up on the road, and I said to the colonel, “Okay, do you want to see General Walker about that court-martial?”
He said, “Aw, go to hell.”
And I said, “The same to you,” and I saluted him. Then I went in and talked to General Walker. He had a bottle of Canadian Club on the table and I said, “God, can I have a shot of that?” I was shaking like a leaf.
He said, “What’s the matter?”
And I said, “Aw, there’s a redheaded colonel out there, he wants to court-martial me for refusing a direct order,” and I told him what had happened.
“You did the right thing,” he said. “Those men had to get through.” So I had a shot of Canadian Club, and he said, “How about another one?” Then he said, “If you see old George, give him my regards.”

Dan Diel
Of the three or four times that I had encounters with Patton, two stick in my mind more than the others. One time we were reinforcing the 4th Armored Division; at one time we were going to head for Berlin, before they made the agreement that the Russians would get Berlin and we’d go to Czechoslovakia. We were still heading north. The 4th was making a big charge, and we were doing their mopup. They’d take off down the road and the 90th Infantry would follow behind them and go out on each side for two or three kilometers, into any little town that was close there, and mop up. You’d call out the burgomeister and give him a proclamation to turn in all of their cameras and firearms, daggers, swords, anything that they could use, and anything that had to do with the military. This one day nothing was moving, and old George came up to see what the holdup was. He gets up to the front end of the column, and there was a congregation there. He stopped and wanted to know what the problem was. They started to explain, and he said, “Who’s in charge?”
Some guy jumped up and said, “I am, Sir.”
Boy, he got read off. And Patton’s closing statement was, “Captain, did you ever try to push a piece of wet spaghetti?” And he got the message. To get that kind of a dressing down in front of all of his brother officers, I imagine that he was damn glad to go to the front of the column and see what the problem was.
The other time that I came in close contact to Patton was after the war was over. The 10th Armored Division had their third anniversary celebration in July, and they’d sent word up to the 712th that anyone who wanted to join them was invited down. I think it was Vink and I who went. They put on a first class banquet in a great big hall. And part of the entertainment was Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe Dance Chorus. Every girl over six feet tall. There was a lot of leg there. They put on their show, and of course they had their speeches and old George, he gave a short speech. Then when they got through, somebody said that George would sign autographs. So right away, there’s a big line. The only problem was that some of those girls were up in front of that line, and one of them asked him something that he figured was a stupid question that was below him to answer, and he just huffed and puffed and turned around and walked off and that was it for the autograph signing.

Bob Vutech
I was invited to a conference in Austria. It was a critique, and we sat with a whole bunch of colonels and generals. I don’t know how I was chosen. I got to go, and maybe one more person from the battalion. It was after the war in Europe was over, but we were still fighting in Japan, and we didn’t know for sure whether we were going to go over there or not.
We discussed the war day by day, and the generals would ask us questions. “Why did you fire this type of ammunition?” “Should we change our tanks?”
General Patton asked us how many times we sighted a gun when we fired. The more we were in combat, you didn’t take the time eventually to fire like you think a sharpshooter would fire. You fired. You got the first round in if you could. You had a sense, you knew where it was gonna go, you didn’t have to be told. When I grabbed a machine gun, I never had to fire four or five rounds until I saw where the tracer was going. All the sights that were put on these guns cost money. In his eyes, the question was, do we need them? If you were a sharpshooter, yes, you would need one. But when the average boy fired, our answer was no. We critiqued the entire war that way.
At the end of the critique, Patton asked if there were any questions. And I asked him why the armored divisions got the first crack at the new equipment, why didn’t we get some?
He asked me what I thought.
I said we should have gotten some of the new tanks like the armored divisions were getting.
He paused and said, “Politics, son. Politics.” It was a good answer.

Afterward, we had a social. Patton’s niece had come over, she was a Red Cross girl. She attended the cocktail party, and a young major took a fancy to her. Then it came time that the general wanted to leave. Well, when the aide tells you that the general is leaving and he’s got his niece with him, you let the niece leave. But this major kept talking, and Patton had to wait. The major was doing all the talking, nobody else. The next day he was transferred to the Pacific.

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

Conversation With a Tank Gunner

Claude Pittman


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

Never Salute an Officer With a Cigarette in Your Mouth

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.

Russky gonna cut you throat

   On Jan. 29, 1993, in the hospitality room of the mini-reunion in Bradenton, Florida, Captain Jim Cary's first injury came up in a conversation with Dick Greca, a mechanic; Ed Stuever, the Service Company maintenance sergeant; and Lieutenant Jim Flowers. It began with Stuever telling one of his favorite stories.
   "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."
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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Bellied up on a hedgerow, and other stories



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

Mike Anderson: I forget what the number was. I know we were with Sam Adair, if Sam Adair was in it, that's his

Clark Mazure: How did it get, did you abandon it one day, or did you have to leave it at one time?

Mike Anderson: Yeah, we had to leave it that day because they knocked the track off.

Clark Mazure: Oh, okay. In the shot that I could see in that short piece of video, I didn't see a track was off, but it could have been on the back.

Mike Anderson: If it's the same one, and if you saw, did it have a short barrel on the big gun?

Clark Mazure: It's a 105.

Mike Anderson: It's the 105, that was the one, and they knocked the track off. They hit the uh, I don't know whether you're familiar with the tanks ...

Clark Mazure: I am.

Mike Anderson: The rear bogey wheel is where it hit, it hit a glancing blow.

Clark Mazure: That's why I couldn't see it then.

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Mike Anderson: And it just, it unrolled the track right there.

Paul Wannemacher: See, Aaron, this was the action that Wanda's father was killed. [Wanda O'Kelley, whose father, Richard Howell, was killed on July 3, 1944, attended several reunions with her mother, Lillian Howell, Richard's widow]

Aaron Elson: No, really?

Paul Wannemacher: See, Wanda's father was in the tank right behind them, when they got into this, they were leading the tank, Wanda's father's tank was second in line, and then, do you know Ronnie O'Shea, Veronica O'Shea, little gal from Chicago.

Aaron Elson: No

Paul Wannemacher: Okay, her husband Eddie was in the third tank

Mike Anderson: The driver Zygmund

Paul Wannemacher: They looked back...

Aaron Elson: Ziggy, he's here, isn't he?

Mike Anderson: Oh, no.

Paul Wannemacher: He's dead, he was killed on the 24th of December. But Sam Adair looked back from his tank and found out that Howell's tank was burning, and that O'Shea's ...

Mike Anderson: O'Shea, that tank was backing up.

Paul Wannemacher: I don't know what the hell happened, but he said O'Shea was hit too.

Mike Anderson: Zygmund was the driver, and he just ...

Paul Wannemacher: Well he flipped out.

Mike Anderson: Oh, sure he did. That's why, he said "My tank's only got reverse."

Paul Wannemacher: Well he flipped out.

Clark Mazure: What day was this, do you remember?

Paul Wannemacher: Third of July.

Clark Mazure: The after action reports, there's no mention of it in there. I'll take another look, maybe.

Aaron Elson: That's real early in the campaign...

Mike Anderson: That's the first day.

Aaron Elson: The first day? That's after Lieutenant Tarr was killed, that was in a different ...

Mike Anderson: Lieutenant who?

Aaron Elson: George Tarr.

Mike Anderson: Line company?

Aaron Elson: He was A Company.

Mike Anderson: That day, we were on a hardtop, macadam road, and we come by the farmhouse, they let us go through, the second tank, that's where Howell was, got hit first, and that's when Sam pumped them out of the window, and then we went into the orchard.

Paul Wannemacher: He said Sam Adair was the tank commander.

Mike Anderson: Well, we had, in fact we had two tank commanders, Sam Adair and Johnny Young.

Paul Wannemacher: Yeah, and Johnny Young. But he looked up, apparently when he saw Howell's tank, in the window of the farmhouse or the barn or whatever the hell it is, saw somebody there and he shot him and killed him. With his pistol.

Aaron Elson: Who, Sam?

Paul Wannemacher: Sam Adair. And that's the action, go ahead and finish the story.

Mike Anderson: After we passed the farmhouse, got into the orchard, and there were trees around, we went back and forth around the trees, and there was a German tank in the corner, and we were coming like that, he shot at us a couple of times I guess, the first one hit the ground, I think the second one knocked the track off, and that's when we fired, they fired back at them, and our first round went over, and we were getting so close to him that the gun I had, he just dropped the barrel of the gun as far as it would go and let the next round go and it just caught the German tank right under the big gun, right above where the driver was sitting.

Clark Mazure: Did it glance off the mantle and go through the top of the hull?

Mike Anderson: No, it just, we didn't have antitank guns in there, it was just the high explosive shell, and just concussion in that tank. After we got squared away and settled in, you walked over and looked and the driver of the tank was still in there, this is the German tank, he was dead, the rest of them jumped out and went back. But they had another round in the gun and that breach was almost closed completely, and if that had closed down I think that's the one that would have got us before we got them. Just fortunate.

Clark Mazure: Was there an antitank round for your 105s, I know you were primarily used as mobile artillery, weren't you, the assault guns?

Mike Anderson: What do you mean mobile artillery?

Clark Mazure: Was there an antitank round, or a concrete defeating round or anything that you could use against tank?

Mike Anderson: Oh yes, we, I think right after that or shortly after, they came through with a different point on there, you could unscrew the nose of the shell and then put an antitank one on there. I think they called it HEAT.

Paul Wannemacher: High explosive anti tank.

Mike Anderson: Anti-tank.

Aaron Elson: You would do that in the tank?

Mike Anderson: No, before.

Aaron Elson: How did Sam Adair, what happened to his shoulder?

Mike Anderson: When the tank was disabled, Sam went up in the, rather than leave everything there he was gonna shoot all the ammunition off. He just pointed the gun up and throw it in ...

Aaron Elson: You were with him?

Mike Anderson: Oh no, Sam was up there and I guess the loader and the gunner was in with him, and he leaned a little too far to the left and got his shoulder in the guard, the guard is behind him, and when that shell went off, the recoil of that 105 hit him in the shoulder and there's noplace to go when he's in that guard, and it just shattered the hell out of that ... He came out of the tank himself but he was as white as a sheet of paper. He went back, they sent him back to us, that's when Joe, Joe Drab took his place while he was in the hospital. Joe Drab was from upstate New York. Joe Drab is still around but I've never seen him.

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11 hours of interviews with 712th Tank Battalion veterans

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Paul Wannemacher: I've corresponded with him once in a while. Sam came back when, about Christmas?

Mike Anderson: It took him some time before he came back to us.

Clark Mazure: Did you have power traverse in the turrets in the 105s?

Mike Anderson: Yes, there was power in the turret.

Aaron Elson: And you were the driver of the tank?

Clark Mazure: How much ammo could you stow inside?

Mike Anderson: Geez, he's asking embarrassing questions. This is what, fifty years ago almost.

Clark Mazure: I know the rounds are much bigger, so you probably couldn't keep too much in there, thirty rounds, forty rounds maybe?

Mike Anderson: Thirty or forty, something like that, yeah.

Paul Wannemacher: 'Cause the M1A1 holds 44.

Mike Anderson: But the 105 was a good size gun. And it's two piece.

Aaron Elson: This was the light tank or a medium?

Mike Anderson: Oh, no, no. This was the medium tank.

Aaron Elson: Four man crew or five?

Mike Anderson: Five.

Paul Wannemacher: Everything was the same except the weapon. Instead of having a 75 they had a 105. I don't know any other differences, do you?

Mike Anderson: Just the size of the gun.

Paul Wannemacher: Everything else, I mean the sighting and everything as far as I know was the same.

Mike Anderson: Everything was the same, it's just your ammunition racks were a little different, they were spaced a little more.

Clark Mazure: I'm gonna run down and get my after action reports. Maybe they're not as complete as I think they are, because I don't know if I have that day or not.

Paul Wannemacher: That was a big day, there were a lot of guys killed that day.

Mike Anderson: Oh, yes.

Aaron Elson: And that was the very first day in combat?

Mike Anderson: The first day in action. Well, it's been a while since we hit the beach, because I know, when we got off the LSTs and got on the beach, got on the hardtop...

Paul Wannemacher: That was late June. Maybe the 29th or 30th of June.

Mike Anderson: Yeah.

Aaron Elson: Where was Isigny? Were you in Isigny?

Mike Anderson: Oh, you'd have to look at a map. We went through so many towns and villages and crossroads.

Aaron Elson: After that, where did you go?

Mike Anderson: Where did we go? We spent the night there with the tank. We dug foxholes, and we spent the night there. When we stopped we got up against the hedgerow where the German tank was positioned in, and there were hedgerows, there were some Germans still behind the hedgerows, but a lot of them took off. Then the next day ...

Paul Wannemacher: He was firing the 105, it's just like shooting a machine gun at them, as fast as you could a round in he'd pump it off and in comes another one.

Mike Anderson: I think that that night we stayed there with the vehicle, and then the next day I think Service Company came in and they put the tank on a flatbed or something, they pulled it back, patched it up.

Aaron: And then did they replace all the vehicles, all the tanks?

Mike Anderson: Oh, this one got patched up. They welded the bogey wheel back on, put another track on and that's it. Now why that sucker didn't burn I'll never know, because you look at it, that bogey wheel was bolted on, your engine is right there behind it, with I don't know how many gallons of gasoline and oil and everything in there, when that German shell hit, those bolts looked like somebody took a torch and cut them off, they're red hot, somebody was with us that day and didn't let it burn. But they welded it back on, it took a while, we got it back.

Paul Wannemacher: Who was your gunner and your loader, do you remember?

Mike Anderson: I want to say ...

Paul Wannemacher: Johnny was in your tank, he was the tank commander?

Mike Anderson: Johnny, sure, Johnny was the tank commander but Sam rode with us.

Paul Wannemacher: Sam rode with you because he was the platoon leader.

Mike Anderson: Yeah.

Paul Wannemacher: So then there were six guys

Mike Anderson: Six people

Paul Wannemacher: You had six guys in the tank then. Okay, who was the bog?

Mike Anderson: What do you mean, bog?

Paul Wannemacher: The bow gunner.

Aaron Elson: The assistant driver?

Paul Wannemacher: Assistant driver, whatever you call him.

Mike Anderson: I think the assistant driver was DeFrancisco.

Paul Wannemacher: Aquilino DeFrancisco. He was your assistant driver, he's dead.

Mike Anderson: He was the assistant driver. Our loader was, it's either Rich or DeGaetano. I want to say the gunner was Carlton, I think his name was Carlton. See, you weren't with us then.

Paul Wannemacher: No, no. I came in days later.

Mike Anderson: When we were at Fort Benning, Carlton was the librarian.

Paul Wannemacher: Roy Carlton? Was it Roy or Ray?

Mike Anderson: I forget what his first name was, but he was the librarian at the main post at Fort Benning, and then when we went on maneuvers, he came with us, and we had him for a while. And then, I don't know how long he was with us and what happened to him after that I don't know.

Paul Wannemacher: So when Sam got hit then apparently Johnny got out of his tank along with you and DeFrancisco.

Mike Anderson: Oh yeah.

Paul Wannemacher: So the three of you guys were along the hedgerow and DeGaetano and whoever the gunner was and Sam were in the turret.

Mike Anderson: That's right.

Paul Wannemacher: So that's the way it worked.

Aaron Elson: Did you later have other tanks ...

Mike Anderson: Oh, yes.

Aaron Elson: knocked out ...

Mike Anderson: Oh, yes. After they pulled this one away, they took O'Shea's crew out of that, and took our crew and put them in that tank, and sent that crew out somewhere, I don't know, back to headquarters.

Paul Wannemacher: Well was O'Shea's tank banged up or not?

Mike Anderson: No, O'Shea's tank didn't get anything. Zygmund just flipped.

Paul Wannemacher: He went backwards, he got the hell out of there.

Mike Anderson: That's right, he went back.

Paul Wannemacher: So then how did Eddie get knocked off then?

Mike Anderson: Eddie didn't get knocked off.

Paul Wannemacher: Oh, I thought you said Eddie got knocked off that same day.

Mike Anderson: Oh, no, no, they took that crew out and they sent them back to headquarters somewhere, and they put our crew in their tank. Now they sent us out again.

Paul Wannemacher: So it was only Howell that was killed that day.

Mike Anderson: That's all. Howell was in Number 2 tank. O'Shea was in Number 3 tank, and he went back, the tank couldn't go anymore. So when they put us in that tank, we were working with the 90th, I forget which regiment of the 90th, and we were going too easy I think, we're just plowing right along, and we get down a hill, hit a hedgerow, and when we hit a hedgerow I didn't hit it square, a little angle, and it pivoted. So I'm bellied.

Paul Wannemacher: Oh, good.

Mike Anderson: I'm bellied up in a hedgerow. Oh, that was terrible, bellied. One of the line companies was with us too in this little operation, so the line company backed a tank up and they were gonna, one of the guys says get the cable off of the tank with the eye hook, we were within two feet of hooking it up, guys from the 90th holler, "You better get your ass out of there we're moving back! And you're the last ones down here." So the kid heard that, he dropped his cable and got back in his tank and he took off and here we are sitting there, so now what do you do? We can't move. He said, hey, piss on you, fella, and away we go. That's why I say this Carlton was our gunner, because he stayed in there and he was gonna shoot some more rounds and then take the breach out of the gun.

Aaron Elson: When you're in the belly up position, can you do that?

Mike Anderson: Oh, yeah, you could flip the breach right out, so the gun is useless after that. So we, it was a hill and we run like hell, jumped on the last tank that was going out, and finally Carlton, I guess, got a little sense in his head and he came with us. And we're all sitting on the back of the tank, and you're looking out, here comes the mortar shells, pop, pop, and then POP. And there was another one that came close, and there were five of us sitting on the back of the tank and out of the five there isn't one that would tell you who was first in the turret. So then we got back to headquarters ...

Paul Wannemacher: That must have been a pretty damn crowded turret.

Mike Anderson: Oh, it sure was. So when we got back, the colonel who was in charge of the operation, maybe it was our colonel, I don't know, he got ticked off that we left a perfectly good vehicle down there. And this was getting dark, at night time, he said here's a two and a half ton truck, get your crew in the truck and go get your vehicle. Well, we didn't get within three miles of that place. The Germans let us go in like this, and then they pinched it off. We got out just in time. About a week or so later we go by that same area, and we found where the tank was. They blew it up. A big hole, and it flipped over, and the turret went one way and the rest of the tank is upside down. Just like a bomb.

Paul Wannemacher: And that was originally O'Shea's tank.

Mike Anderson: Oh yeah. And we lost that one. So then when we get back ours was patched up and we finished the rest of the skirmish in that one.

Les O'Riley: I've got a question, if you remember, I've got a copy of the TO (table of operations) in there, and I keep trying to remember what the headquarters company, it's been so long ...

Mike Anderson: We had three assault guns and three tanks.

Les O'Riley: Yeah, we had three tanks. One  of them was for the liaison air raid officer, one was for the colonel and I can't remember who the other tank was authorized for.

Clark Mazure: Maybe it was the executive officer, I don't know.

Les O'Riley: Somebody asked me how many we had, and I said, Well, now we had three tanks, or two tanks at least, and then we had three assault guns and a couple halftracks in the assault gun platoon, but then we had assault guns that were authorized to the medium tank companies, and at one juncture we took those assault guns and put them, added them to the assault guns for headquarters and we had an artillery battery. We did that in back of Metz, firing one time as artillery or something, but I couldn't remember without digging out that damn TO.

Mike Anderson: We had three regular tanks and three assault guns. Then we had the mortar platoon.

Les O'Riley: They had four halftracks, three gun sections ...

Clark Mazure: It is in there, it's on the first page, right there.

Paul Wannemacher: It's the very first entry.

Clark Mazure: That's the after action report.

Mike Anderson: The 359, okay. The guy must have been standing on the wrong side of the tank. I would say it's the right track that got knocked off, but that's a minor details.

Les O'Riley: Well this is what David Barker wrote in the first sergeant's report which later was incorporated.

Mike Anderson: Yeah, but where did the first sergeant get the info?

Les O'Riley: Well, recon platoon brought this back, but in a company, the first sergeant, he would write down who reported, who was demoted, who was killed, this sort of stuff, then this was all given by company to the headquarters and they in turn consolidated it in a journal. So what I said, this all probably came from something  as nebulous as the first sergeant's report, so it could have been the left side of the tank or the right side of the tank, and he didn't give a damn, you lost one track.

Mike Anderson: Like I say, that's a minor detail but that's it.

Les O'Riley: I'm amazed that we kept, that we had any kind of a ... Now we had a, Clark [Mazure] got a picture of German footage of this German soldier, probably a sergeant, running by Headquarters 6, 105, something. This is German footage. And the assault gun was kind of in a ditch on the side.

Mike Anderson: When you say in a ditch, you don't have our 90th book, do you.

Les O'Riley: No.

Mike Anderson: I'll tell you where that one was, too. When we got off the LSTs, and got on the beach, got on the hardtop road, and then the Germans had everything flooded, so when we were driving along the hardtop road, coming back, opposite us, were the Ducks (DUKW)s. You know what a duck is...

Aaron Elson: What's a duck?

Mike Anderson: It's an amphibious ...

Paul Wannemacher: It's an amphibious personnel carrier.

Mike Anderson: They were coming back this way now when we got off and the hardtop isn't too wide, you've got a shoulder, then you've got a lot of water. Now when we're driving along, this Duck seemed like he was a little over too far, and we were gong to have a little collision. So I moved the track over a little bit, and I moved it just off the hardtop, and then the whole bank gave way, and there we were.

Les O'Riley: You drove Headquarters 6? I can't figure out how this German reel ...

Mike Anderson: That's when they were taking prisoners. Your Rangers were on the beach and they had a coolumn of prisoners.

Clark Mazure: This guy's carrying a machine pistol, he's not a German prisoner. You can see the pouches on his ...

Les O'Riley: There were a couple of places where this could happen, now you remember ...

Mike Anderson: If he had a machine pistol and all, that's not the area

Les O'Riley: Now you remember when we were up at Mayenne and we had to pull back, and we had either a tank or an assault gun that was in the ditch, and we had a medic, and we had some infantry out in front, and we had a recon man who was hit, and one of the medics went out and got this guy back, for that he got a Silver Star. And then we had to leave an assault gun or a tank out there, we pulled back from Mayenne, went around through Laval and Le Mans, we didn't have time, we just left the stuff there. That was another place where we might have left a tank or an assault gun so that there could have been a possibility of a German coming up and going behind it.

Aaron: Was there another time later on where your tank was disabled?

Les O'Riley: I can't think of any point from that point on where the Germans came in over where we were, except up in the Ardennes, and I don't know of any incident up there where they pushed us back. We were always pushing them. i don't know of any place where a German squad, platoon or whatever would have been going by one of our vehicles.

Mike Anderson: The only other incident I remember when they ...

Paul Wannemacher: Let's come back to what you said earlier, you and Johnny and DeFrancisco got out of the tank, went over in the hedgerows, okay, while Sam and DeGaetano and ...

Mike Anderson: I would say Carlton ...

Paul Wannemacher: ...whoever the gunner was were firing the rounds, okay, then Sam got banged up. Okay, so then they got Sam out of the tank ...

Mike Anderson: Well he got up and then he needed help getting down.

Paul Wannemacher: You stayed in the hedgerows ...

Mike Anderson: We were all in the hedgerows for a while.

Paul Wannemacher: And did you stay there that night?

Mike Anderson: Oh yeah, we spent the night there.

Paul Wannemacher: So then you had the tank within your view that night. And then they came up and pulled it back the next day?

Mike Anderson: It was either the next day or the day after.

Paul Wannemacher: Then you were with it until they pulled it back?

Mike Anderson: Oh yeah.

Paul Wannemacher: Well then it couldn't have been the Germans running by there. That couldn't have been the incident.

Mike Anderson: We spent the night there.

Paul Wannemacher: What I'm saying is if there was a German running by in this video with a schmeisser, you guys would have seen him if that had happened, so that couldn't have been the incident then. Unless they faked the film.

Mike Anderson: I'd like to see that film clip. I could tell you better.

Clark Mazure: I have it.

Paul Wannemacher: He's got it with him.

Clark Mazure: The hotel doesn't have a VCR.

Mike Anderson: How about in here? Is there anywhere in here where it showed that the, they took us away from you people and made a ...

Les O'Riley: Battery. An assault gun battery.

Mike Anderson: Well, it wasn't ... We were very mobile.

Les O'Riley: Remember Task Force Weaver and Task Force Speiss(?). I talked about coming back from Mayenne, when we crossed the river, and formed two task forces, one toward Lavalle and the other going toward Le Mans, and we converged back over here with the infantry those two task forces to pinch off the area there at Chambois, in that operation. In one of those we had the assault guns massed as artillery in support, I distinctly remember that. It fell to me to take the column of kitchens and everything else and to make the big swing and loop and come in at the tail end of the column and I went down about five miles and drove right through the German army that was hiding out in the woods. I shot at them, but they never fired back.

Mike Anderson: We got tangled up with, oh it's like a recon outfit. The only thing I can remember, there was a Greek lieutenant that was in charge of this thing and he wasn't with our outfit.

Les O'Riley: Polish or Greek?

Mike Anderson: I think Greek. Maybe he was Polish. We had infantry, we had anti tanks, we had light tanks, and we'd just get on those autobahns or whatever and go, and if we could break through something without getting tied up too far we just kept going. There was a time ...

Les O'Riley: Now that would have had to have been after we crossed the Rhine River.

Mike Anderson: No, I think this was before the Rhine River because we'd hit the Rhine River and then stop,

Les O'Riley: And then come back?

Mike Anderson: And then come back, and then hit another point.

Les O'Riley: That was before the river crossing where we crossed the river at Mainz. Now that would have been, let me see, what would the dates have been ...

Paul Wannemacher: In March, wasn't it?

Les O'Riley: Actually, when we were doing that, that was after Bastogne.

Paul Wannemacher: Because when we got into Triere it was somewhere around the first of February, remember?

Mike Anderson: Before we went to Bastogne, where were we, right outside of Metz. We stayed outside of Metz for a long time.

Les O'Riley: And then we got across the Saar river at Dillingen.

Mike Anderson: That was an awful battle.

Les O'Riley: We crossed the Saar River at Dillingen. Above us we had an area that was covered by some cavalry unit, now at that time there may have been some screening probing actions above us that did not go across the river.

Mike Anderson: There was a cavalry involved in this too. This was a pretty good sized ...

Paul Wannemacher: Our recon outfit, we got attached temporarily to a cavalry unit, but that was, I think that was either late February or March, for about ten or eleven days, we didn't even know it, it was all done on paper.

Les O'Riley: Now let's take a look at this portion of the history: 21 March, the assault gun platoon attached to the sub task force Wagnon, see, now see, in March we were way the hell and gone up into where we were Oversaulheim(?), "crossed the  Rhine River at 2200," now that's where we crossed the Rhine River. Now this again was with either Task Force Dye or Task Force Wagnon. And the light tank company plus the assault gun platoon.

Mike Anderson: Oh yes, we had that and there were anti tanks there. That's the time where, I remember, one of our little light tanks, 37 millimeter, hit a German 88 right in the barrel and peeled it like a banana. I think you could stand out there for a million years and shoot at it, you would never do it again.

Les O'Riley: Let's back up to where the TDs got involved in this thing. Now this is back around the first part of March, this is when we were doing a lot of the screening crap up here. "Task Force Spiess crossed the Moselle," and this is when we were doing this probing action toward the Rhine.

Mike Anderson: That's when we got detached from our outfit and were in a task force. Oh, I remember that.

Aaron Elson: What happened then?

Mike Anderson: What happened after that, if we ran into something we couldn't handle, we would try and consolidate until somebody came up and relieved us, and then we'd pull back and try somewhere else.

Aaron Elson: Now if you say "if," obviously you did run into some things.

Mike Anderson: We took...

Les O'Riley: This action here was a typical thing in that probing, "and got eight prisoners, [sent] them back ..."

Mike Anderson: How many that didn't go back. That's why I say that officer that was in charge of this little task force, what the hell happened, there were a pair of 88s that were over a hill and, oh, I don't know, we lost some light tanks and some, oh, he was a tank destroyer, he was with a tank destroyer. That's when one of his tank destroyers got hit and he lost quite a few people in there, and they look over and there's two huge 88s focused in on them.

Les O'Riley: To clarify this for you, the TDs had better guns, but

Clark Mazure: The turrets were open

Mike Anderson: Yeah, they had the rifle on them.

Paul Wannemacher: They had a better gun, they had 76s

Mike Anderson: But it was a rifle.

Paul Wannemacher: It was a 76 rifle.

Les O'Riley: When they formed these tak forces, they would then send this thin-skin TD section along with our assault guns, and maybe a couple tanks, whenever they could get them.

Clark Mazure: They had ammunition you couldn't too for those TDs, it was hotter.

Les O'Riley: But that's the area when we're doing all that damn stupid probing. Somebody got scratched with this hot ass needle that said we'll form task forces. This task force stuff would drive you mad.

Clark Mazure: Did you have any of that - HEAP-T?

Mike Anderson: Oh, we had that.

Clark Mazure: That's a souped up round they put in the M-10.

Mike Anderson: Oh, you weren't here when I was saying ...

Les O'Riley: That's a tungsten carbide core in the middle of this thing, and when it hit, the soft carrier would sort of stick to the mietal and the tungsten carbide burns a hole in it.

Mike Anderson: We put 'em on our 105s. We unscrewed the end of the shell and then you put ...

Aaron Elson: And what did the HEAT stand for?

Mike Anderson: High Explosive Anti Tank.

Clark Mazure: Is that a hollow charge like a bazooka round?

Les O'Riley: The armor piercing round that we got with a tungsten carbide core.

Clark Mazure: That's a solid, then.

Les O'Riley: The tungsten carbide was about that big around. The regular shell was about like this. Inside this is the tungsten carbide, so when the soft metal hit, it would stick to the tank, it wouldn't ricochet, but then the tungsten carbide then would bore on in, but if you just shot tungsten carbide against the side of a tank, you'd get a lot of this, see, but with a soft carrier on it, it would burn on through.

Aaron Elson:  You'd get a lot of this meaning it would bounce off?

Les O'Riley: Well, we were always bouncing off the German armor. You know, it scares them inside when you hit it with a hammer.

Mike Anderson: That's like taking a .22 rifle and trying to put a tank out.

Clark Mazure: The reason you never got better guns, I think, in that book there it says the guy that was in charge of tank design, his name was General McNair, and he was in artillery ...

Les O'Riley: Leslie MacNair.

Clark Mazure: He felt that tanks were supposed to be used to support the infantry and if a tank ran into another tank, then you were supposed to call for TDs and wait for them to get up there.

Mike Anderson: You'd be dead by the time they got there.

Clark Mazure: That was his official doctrine, and he resisted upgunning the tanks, he said there was no reason for it.

Mike Anderson: If you fought the war by the book nobody would come back.

Les O'Riley: I can tell you, if you sit in a tank long enough under some of these circumstances and somebody came up and hit  the side of that damn tank with a ball peen hammer you'd just about come out of there. WHAM!

Mike Anderson: It's an awful noise when you get hit. I know we got strafed a couple of times.

Aaron elson: Did you ever get hit with flak guns? Anti aircraft, did they ever shoot those at the tanks?

Les O'Riley: Oh, hell, that little, it was about .50 caliber, .56 caliber, something like that, antiaircraft that they, and they harassed us with those, they'd fire them into the trees.

Paul Wannemacher: Here it is, "On the 6, 7, 8 of October the bulldozer tank and the tank section of one platoon of C Company tanks supported the Second Battalion of 357 in an attack on Maizieres Les Metz. The bulldozer tank cleared roadblocks in the town and fired direct fire at enemy installations and personnel in the town." I was in that one. And that's the one that, you remember the pistol ports that we had in the tanks? Well, I was the loader at the time and I didn't know anything about, I forgot all about the goddamn pistol port and it was wide open, and it was right at my back. Right behind me, and this pistol port was open and we're going down clearing out these roadblocks that they had set up in town, and the Krauts are down in the basement and up on the second and third floor and just raining all kinds of crap at us, and I don't know how they missed that hole, thank God, or I'd have been gone. But that was it, Maizieres les Metz, "The bulldozer tank cleared roadblocks in the town..."

Les O'Riley: What I mentioned, being over in Mayenne, one of the things that happened to us, we take this bridge, we're gonna hold this bridgehead in Mayenne, and hell, half the German army's right there ahead of us. We just stopped and pulled in an orchard, I'm talking about the battalion headquarters moved into this orchard, see, and the tank companies were scattered out with these task forces whatever, and here we sit in this orchard, and they set up there with those anti-aircraft, 20 millimeters, and there were trees all around where we were in this orchard, and wham-wham-wham-wham-wham, and it'd just be a barrage of this stuff coming in. And that little knife cutting flak was all over the damn place. I mean, they punished us with that, but that's what they had available, and they were making it hard to live there.


1992 Clark Mazure, Paul Wannemacher, Mike Anderson, Les O'Riley

(?) Black powder...

Paul Wannemacher: Yeah, well wasn't that the one where Fetsch was up there with his truck delivering gas at the time...

Les O'Riley: Was that when we lost Forrest, Sergeant Vinson, he got the Soldier's Medal for pulling these people out of the damn building that had collapsed around them.

Clark Mazure: Diorio got killed there. Private Diorio. That's what it says here.

Les O'Riley: My memory's better than I thought it was.

Aaron Elson: Fetsch was wounded.

Paul Wannemacher: I'm pretty sure that's the one, because he kept talking about this crazy boxcar that nobody knew was loaded with ammo or something, and they hit this thing, he's got this whole six by six (truck) loaded with gasoline.

Les O'Riley: Well, when you think about the Saar operation and what we did, Clark, we sent gas trucks and ammunition trucks up to the platoons that were with the infantry. Now the infantry's fighting out here and there's a lull in the storm and here sits a tank up there and it's running low on ammunition, and it needs rations and it needs water and it needs gasoline, we don't pull the damn tanks back. We brought the truck up. And then these heroes gotta get out of the tank and go back there and carry their gasoline up there and load this thing up.

Mike Anderson: Five gallons at a time.

Les O'Riley: Yeah, five gallons at a time.

Paul Wannemacher: And Joe drove for A Company, and Emil I think was for headquarters.

Les O'Riley: Yeah, and it wasn't parked 100 yards away, they drove the damn truckload of gasoline up there behind the tank, throw so many cans, went over to the next one, threw em so many cans, and the same thing with water, and whatever else the guy needed.

Mike Anderson: We never drank water.

Les O'Riley: You had to wash.

Mike Anderson: You had the water can but you never had water in it.

Aaron Elson: You a few minutes ago, Mike, were about to say something about the task force, when you were ...

Mike Anderson: I remember some of it, I don't remember all of it, we were with a task force for some time. And I don't know how many times we got up to the ...

Aaron Elson: You were talking about the two 88s.

Mike Anderson: Ohhh, yes.

Aaron Elson: And then we changed course.

Mike Anderson: I shouldn't even tell you the ending. Well, all right. They captured the German crew that was in the 88s, and, they don't take prisoners out there, that's all.

Les O'Riley: We had too many incidents that happened up in that probing action, for example, here a tank was, I can't remember who this was, at night, they're stopped, and your tank crew, one guy stays in his turret, alert. Everybody else is snoozing, but this one guy it's his turn to be in the damn turret, alert and looking, and we had a man in the turret and his arm was hanging down inside the guard around the breach of the gun, and a German came up and shoved probably what was a potato masher grenade down his tube. When it blew up, the gun recoiled. I can't remember who that was, of course he had to be evacuated, it screwed up his arm. But this is the sort of thing that ...

Clark Mazure: Sergeant Martin.

Les O'Riley: Anyhow, you had things that would happen.

Aaron Elson: I'm having trouble visualizing. He's sleeping?

Les O'Riley: No, he just didn't, you don't see everything, it's dark as hell, mostly you're just listening. And this guy can sneak up, hell, I've been in a foxhole and had 'em crawl right by me. And I've done a little crawling by people in foxholes too. So as far as being able to do this hell yes, if you're persistent enough, that's what you want to do, you can do it. So the guy crawls in front of this tank, raises up real easy, shoves this damn potato masher in there and about three seconds later, POW! That gives him time to ...

Aaron Elson: And he put the grenade into the gun barrel?

Les O'Riley: The breach is closed, there's a projectile in the, usually a high velocity, HE round, in the chamber, but since it had not been fired and the safety pin had not come out, it wouldn't detonate. But the breach recoiled and hit his arm.

Paul Wannemacher: Here we are: "April 3rd. The gasoline truck attached to A Company driven by T5 Joseph Fetsch was knocked out by enemy bombing. Fetsch was transferred to an evac hospital. One truck from the platoon was sent to replace it. The kitchen truck from A Company which was knocked out, it was necessary to call in an ammo truck from each A and C companies for hauling gasoline."

Mike Anderson: I remember seeing one of the line company tanks that was hit. Remember that little armor that they used to armor plate that they would weld in the front, extra armor."

Paul Wannemacher: It was square, wasn't it?

Mike Anderson: They would weld it in front there. Well, the Germans would shoot at the weld, and there was one line company somewhere, they hit the weld and that shell was right here in the driver, it's still there, the shell didn't go off, didn't explode, the shell just penetrated that. Got him right in the ...

Les O'Riley: We got tanks, replacement tanks, that had been hit, evacuated to ordnance, repaired and returned to us. It was kind of a damn morale problem when somebody comes up to you with a tank right out of ordnance painted all in green and all that sort of crap, and you look up there on the side of that damn turret and there's a hole that big around, where they welded in a plug, big deal, or down on the front where it's been hit, they put on a one inch of armor plate down here slightly over the front of them, then you've that one inch of armor seam sticking up on top of this. All sorts of stuff like that but that's what we got back from replacement. Patch 'em up and send em back up. When you get in one of them things you know the damn thing has been hit one time, you wonder if they're gonna hit it again.

Aaron Elson: Was there ever a shortage of tanks?


Les O'Riley: Yes. When I took over A Company in the Falais Gap, we were down to seven tanks, out of 17. Personnel wise I was down to where I was using my cooks and cooks helpers, and I stripped the company headquarters to man those tanks in the Falais Gap. And then we got replacements within a couple days, and those people went back to cookin' or whatever. But in the meantime Sergeant Vinson and I stripped the company headquarters, made us both unpopular for a while. And lots of those cooks said "I can't do that." Well, you learn how to fire that machine gun in basic training.