Sunday, August 18, 2019

Conversation With a Tank Gunner

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

Monday, August 12, 2019

Never Salute an Officer With a Cigarette in Your Mouth

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

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Tale of Two Tonsillectomies

My father joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement in Normandy, but many of the battalion's original members were in the horse cavalry in California before the United States entered the war. Under the Selective Service Act, draftees were obligated to serve a year. Early in 1941 President Roosevelt asked Congress to extend the period of military service, leading to the acronym OHIO -- Over the Hill in October -- which became a popular saying among the recruits. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, many of those servicemen whose year was almost up, including Art Horn, who had just gotten married, found themselves in the service "for the duration," which would last almost five years. In this episode of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It, Art and Ed "Smoky" Stuever recall having their tonsils removed in a conversation both graphic and humorous.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Runaway Tank

There's no easy way to stop a runaway Sherman tank, as Sergeant Dan Diel learned at Fort Benning in 1943. But first, an introduction to Colonel Whitside Miller, the 712th Tank Battalion's original commander who inspired an insurgency among his officers. Check out this and earlier episodes of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Death of Shorty

Marion "Shorty" Kubeczko and Ed "Smoky" Stuever were buddies in the 11th (horse) Cavalry. They remained close when the 11th was mechanized as part of the 10th Armored Division and when the 712th Tank Battalion was broken out of the division as an independent unit. Stuever was a sergeant in the battalion's Service Company, and Kubeczko was the driver of his tank recovery unit. Shorty was killed during the battle for Hill 122 in Normandy. In this episode of "War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It," Stuever describes some of those first moments of combat, and the pain of losing a friend.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Sunday, July 7, 2019

This Old Horse

In this episode, Ed "Smoky" Stuever, a maintenance sergeant in the 712th Tank Battalion, shares some memories of his time in the horse cavalry in 1941 before the 11th Cavalry was transferred to Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of the cadre of the 10th Armored Division.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Fourth of July, 1944

July 4th came a day early in 1944 with a massive artillery barrage in preparation for an assault on the Haye du Puits sector of the Normandy campaign. The 712th Tank Battalion suffered numerous casualties on its first day of combat. Lt George Tarr became the first officer in A Company to be killed. Sgt. William Schmidt was the first member of C company to be killed. In this episode, Jim Rothschadl, a gunner in C Company, talks about the meaning of the Fourth of July, and Stanley Klapkowski describes the death of Sergeant Schmidt.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Pfaffenheck, Part 3: The telegram

Identical twins Maxine Wolfe Zirkle and Madalene Wolfe Litten, in a 1993 interview, talk about the day the telegram arrived informing them of the death of their brother, Billy, in World War II. On 16 March 1945 the second platoon of Company C, 712th Tank Battalion, went to the assistance of a company of the 90th Infantry Division that was taking heavy casualties in a battle with elements of the 6th SS Mountain Division North. The platoon leader, Francis "Snuffy" Fuller, described the battle in Pfaffenheck as his "worst day in combat." He had four men killed, three wounded, and lost three tanks. You can hear more of my conversation with the Wolfe sisters at my oralhistoryaudiobooks blog

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Friday, June 21, 2019

A Cow in a Tree

Normandy in World War II was not a good place to be if you were a farm animal. George Bussell, a driver in A Company of the 712th Tank Battalion, describes with wonder the sight of a cow that was blown into the air and landed in the fork of a tree. In a later interview, Joe Bernardino, also of A Company, describes what may have been the same scene, with a far more tragic twist.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Pfaffenheck, Part 2

On 16 March 1945 the second platoon of Company C, 712th Tank Battalion, fought a battle in Pfaffenheck, Germany, in what Lieutenant Francis "Snuffy" Fuller called "my worst day in combat." His platoon lost four men killed, three wounded, and had three tanks knocked out. In this episode Aaron Elson, whose father served in the 712th, presents accounts of the battle from several of its participants.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Monday, May 13, 2019

Pfaffenheck Part 1: Snuffy Fullers letter

"So long kids, and if I never see you again, goodbye." Those were Billy Wolfe's last words to his twin sisters Maxine and Madalene. Billy joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement on March 4, 1945. On March 16 Billy's tank was hit and burst into flames. His body was never recovered.He was 18 years old.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Saturday, April 27, 2019

A Barrel of Laughs

The 712th Tank Battalion spent more than 10 months on the front lines of the European Theater of Operation in World War II. In this episode of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It, Aaron Elson looks at some of the lighter moments of combat in a tank.

Podcast: Lieutenant Tarr's Platoon

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

A State of the Union discrepancy

Dachau -- Getty Images

   About 25 years ago, while I was writing my first book, "Tanks for the Memories," about my father's tank battalion, the 712th, in World War II, I turned on the television and saw a news segment about a book and documentary about a tank battalion in World War II.
   "Damn," I thought, "somebody already wrote my book!"
   As it turned out, that wasn't quite the case.
   The book was called "The Liberators," and it was about the 761st Tank Battalion, the first and only all black tank battalion in World War II. It was about how the men of the 761st really were fighting a war on two fronts, against the Germans in Europe and against the racism in the Army and back home. And the latter was more despicable than the former.
   The film was a shoo-in for the Academy Award for best documentary. The producers even brought I think two of the African American veterans to Buchenwald, where they were reunited with a Buchenwald survivor. Was the scene emotional? You bet.
   Only as the Academy Awards approached, there began to be ripples of doubt about its accuracy, especially among veterans of the 6th Armored Division, which is credited with liberating Buchenwald. I remember very clearly one of the African American veterans going on record as saying the 761st didn't liberate Buchenwald (it did liberate a concentration camp called Gunskirchen, and the unit deserves every bit of credit for that). The producers countered this claim by saying the veteran who made it had a piece of shrapnel go through his helmet and maybe it scrambled his memory. The reason that argument struck me is because the first time my father was wounded, a piece of shrapnel went through his helmet and thankfully failed to penetrate his skull.
   Eventually, the producers admitted to "massaging" the facts because Dachau was a much more recognizable (read that: salable) name than Gunskirchen. The documentary was pulled from the Oscars, and a few months later I was able to buy a coffee table type book called "The Liberators" at Barnes & Noble for two or three dollars.
   A year or two later, while I was visiting my brother in Minneapolis, he mentioned that there was a 6th Armored Division reunion going on in town, so I went over to the hotel just to hang out. What I learned was that the veterans of the 6th were livid over the documentary because it implied that another unit had liberated Buchenwald.
   Which brings me to the State of the Union address this week. Trump introduced three D-Day veterans and said that one of them, Herman Zeitchik, went on the take part in the liberation of Dachau. He then introduced a Dachau survivor and said the veteran may have been his liberator, or words to that effect.
   Now, the usual fact checkers were pretty busy, so I did a little fact checking myself.
   Zeitchik was a sergeant in the 4th Infantry Division, which landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The unit credited with liberating Dachau is the 45th Infantry Division. However, according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, the 4th Infantry Division liberated a subcamp of Dachau called Haunstetten, which was a labor camp for an airplane factory.
   Maybe I'm picking nits. I'm not a Holocaust expert and there probably aren't many 45th Infantry Division World War II veterans left, so I don't know if they would have been offended by the speech. If I were rating the statement on one of those truth-o-meters I'd probably give it a "mostly true." But it's been my experience that the accuracy of anything to do with the liberation of the camps in particular, and military history in general, is important.