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.

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