Company 41st Tank Battalion
Compiled by William J. Zaher
The following compilations are actual occurrences set to print, but lacking the necessary candy-coating of an impeccable writer, consequently, it might not prove to be an adventurous story of an exciting type. It was never meant to be.
All we are trying to do is follow the progress of Company "B" 41st Tank Battalion from the time that it first saw action until, in this case, the end of the European War. Occasionally we might insert an amusing and quaint anecdote about happenings to certain members of that company - we hope it will not only help kill the monotony of a set routine, but also provide some of us with a happy reminder, even possibly a laugh.
And now a personal word to you. No doubt an occurrence, in which you personally participated in, memorable to you but obscure to us, may have been overlooked. I wish that I could say that it was overlooked by us because of a superfluity of material, but unfortunately that is not the case. What is more likely the reason is that we were never aware of its existence.
Knowing that you would like to get on with the story as quickly as possible, we shall try not to take up any more of your time than is necessary with this preface.
We would like to express our profound gratitude to 1st Sgt. Ammons for his infallible assistance in supplying us with the necessary data; to Tec 5 Bojarski and Corporal Benish for going out of their way to type all this for us; and to all the members of the company for the alacrity they displayed in complying with our every wish.
We are well aware of the mediocrity of this little history of the company, but in parting we would like to dedicate it, and this we do with all our hearts to the unfortunate members of the company who gave their lives.
They were: Capt. Robert L. Ameno, PFC John Spero, Cpl. Arthur J. Holup, PFC Galen E. Mattson, Tec 4 Albert V. Bates, Tec 4 Lewis H. Hansen, Cpl. Frank J. Yates, PFC Steve J. Krajewski, PFC Harry B. Stenerson, PFC Hubert J. Carey, Sgt. Francis H. Wood, Tec 4 John P. Eulosiewicz, Cpl. Rudolph E. Schmitz, PFC Kenneth Doerscheln, PFC Lawrence J. Oborn, Sgt. Joe Caputo, Sgt. John B. Robinson, Cpl. Louis R. Meredith, Tec 4 Everitt B. Hanley, Cpl. Andrew Bobela, and Tec 4 Clifford K. Mock
We would also
like to include in this list the names of S/Sgt.
Wallace B. Alexander, Tec 4 Edward L. Mattson and PFC
Dage A. Hebert. Their whereabouts are unknown to us,
but we fervently hope they are still alive
THIS IS POSTMASTER
We landed in Cherbourg on Dec. 21, 1944 unaware of the fact that plans, previously made for us had been changed.
Under ordinary circumstances we would, after landing in France, have gone down and more or less acclimated ourselves to battle conditions by trying to keep in check - or obliterate - the Lorient Pocket.
But Rundstedt's salient had materialized into a threat far more grave than the Allies had previously anticipated. It was imperative that all available forces be sent to check the greatest threat, to date, toward an Allied victory.
A change of plans, and the 11th Armored Div, (of which Co.B. is an integral part) was told to get to the scene of battle the quickest way possible. Thus the motivation for our mad dash across France, tanks, trucks, peeps, etc., moving swiftly on very unsure French roads, moving faster than any armored division had ever moved before.
By December 24th, we have reached Soissons, France. I'm sure many of us will never forget that first night in Soissons. A German plane better known to combat men as "Bed Check Charlie", honored us with a visit. Most of us were asleep at the time that he laid his egg but a few unfortunate ones were not. When the bomb exploded, and I reiterate, unfortunate one, actually defecated, while another did considerable damage to his countenance trying to dive under a tank and using his face as the sliding means of getting there.
That road march - I say road march, because at the time we were still thinking in terms of Louisiana and Desert maneuvers, although on the whole a tedious operation, also had its highlights, the greatest of which was our passing through Paris. To all of us that was the first glimpse of that city. The reception we received from the people was very heart warming. The way they cheered you'd think we had just liberated the city. I'm sure that every tank commander was secretly hoping that he would blow a bogie while we were passing through.
The night of December 29th found us in a bivouac area in the vicinity of Longleir. Somehow, although none of us knew precisely what was in store for us, we felt that this would be our last peaceful night for sometime to come. No one seemed surprised in the morning, when all we had time for was a short briefing at which we were told we were leaving for the line of departure.
We reached that line at approximately 0730 on the morning of December 30, 1944. All I could think of was that after two and a half years of army life in the United States and England both after two and a half years of intensified training, maneuvers - and yes, unmitigated drudgery, "this was it". How would we react? Would we be equal to the task before us? Would I live through it? My thoughts, its true, but I'll safely wager that many others had thoughts that were tantamount to them.
Looking through the notes of 1st Sgt. Ammons, I see that he lists it thus - I quote - "Engaged in a battle at 0730 let's go, the krauts are on the run", was heard over the radios and tanks began pouring over the hill. Two platoons in line and one in reserve - "still according to the book" - but not for long. One would have thought that it was still maneuvers were it not for the appearance of German soldiers, dead and alive. Stark realization that "this is it".
In the records, the progress made by the 41St Tank Bn. that day looked good. The objective was taken and held despite enemy artillery. But the private records of Co.B. told a more lamentable tale. Once again from the 1st Sgt's. records - Capt Ameno and crew missing S/Sgt Alexander and crew missing Sgt. Bickert's tank hit - 2 killed Sgt. Cordasco's tank hit - Sgt. Cordasco wounded Tec 4 Hansen and Pfc Galen Mattson killed.
Capt. Ameno's crew, himself, Cpl. Schmitz, Tec 4 John Eulosiewicz and Pvt. Doerscheln were all killed instantly, although we did not know anything of their fate for quite sometime. Tec 4 Ed Mattson, the driver, was reported to have been taken prisoner, although official word was lacking
S/Sgt. Alexander's tank also disappeared in weird fashion that day and nothing was known of the fate of the crew until reports began to trickle in months later. S/Sgt. Alexander, affectionately known as Alex to the entire company, was reported to have had part of a leg amputated in a German prison camp. The horrors of these camps were made known to us in a letter we received from Pvt. Ivan Goldstein, the bowgunner of that tank. He told us of the atrocities that he, Tec 4 Andrew Urda, Pfc. Hebert and Cpl. Peterman, all members of that crew, were subject to in the German concentration camps.
It was this same day that Sgt. Bickert's tank was also hit by an A.T. gun, in all probability our first battle loss. Pfc. Johnny Spero was instantly killed by the explosion and Cpl. Arthur Holub was fatally wounded. Pvt. Hugh Aaron was also seriously wounded by shrapnel, while Sgt. Bickett and Tec 5 Gould escaped with minor bruises, but a thorough shaking up. It was here that Sgt. John "Robbie" Robinson distinguished himself by his bravery in helping the wounded men in the face of withering enemy fire. For this and other facts he was awarded the Silver Star - posthumously, due to his death in a later action.
Our first day in battle - yes, it was quite an experience. To many of us it is a day we will remember for sometime to come.
The following is Sgt. Bickert's story:
"The company had become badly scattered not long after crossing the I.P, and communication was very poor. Lt. Bailey's tank and my own had entered the outskirts of a village we thought to be the objective. Sgt. Robinson came on foot to warn us of a kraut tank nearby in a position where I could move into a good spot to knock him off. We did this, but he was not alone. Just as I saw our third round of shot blast the kraut's turret off, we were hit by tank fire from the right. All I can distinctly recall is a sheet of blinding, searing flame, the thought that this was the end for all of us and a lot irrational crawling and running about. Through it all I can remember the wonderful effect of the comparatively calm and very effective assistance Sgt. Robinson gave us. It seemed a short time but was actually hours before we could get back and bring up the medics for Cpl. Holub whose leg had been shot off. His nickname "Champ" was earned a thousand times over that day in the incredible courage he displayed. Knowing full well the extent of his own injuries, his first concern was for the man he had worked with so long, Johnny Spero. We couldn't tell him that Spero had been killed instantly. The company's "D-Day" had been costly beyond measurement, even more so that I then knew."
Cpl. Edwards, a first day casualty for one, will never forget that first day. The authors agree that his story will express far more eloquently his feelings and no doubt, the feelings of many more, in regard to that heart-breaking day. We present his story in full.
"One thing that stands out in my mind is our first day in battle. It was not very long after we had started fighting that we got our tank stuck in a large creek. Lt. Williamson told the rest of the crew to go up a little hill in front of us and see if there was anything there. We never got very far because of the enemy Inf. and artillery that was set up nearby. We then decided to wait till dark before trying to get back to company. We ran into some engineers and were going to stay with them till they had fixed a bridge. The barn we decided to wait in was shelled and Tec 4 Louis Hansen and Pfc Galen Mattson were killed. Iíll never forget the way Louie looked and the way he talked knowing he was going to die.
December 31 was a better day for us. We held the town of Laviselle against possible counter-attacks. We suffered one casualty that day when Tec 4 Bates was killed in the turret of the tank recovery vehicle from an air burst.
The cold cloudy dawn of New Year's day saw us in another cross-country attack, this time a little more coordinated. We advanced ten miles that day, with the only casualty being Pvt. Ken Gerhardt, who accidentally shot himself in the ankle.
The next day found us in the woods outside Mande St. Ettiene, where we received a great deal of enemy artillery. It was here that Pvt. Lawrence Oborn was killed by a chance enemy hit. Later, during the attack, Lt. Williamson, our acting C.O. was critically injured by a shell fragment.
Cpl. Levin, a member of the crew at the time, considers that moment one he will never forget. It was there that he witnessed his first casualty. But wait, let Levin tell it in his own words. I quote
"There are hundreds of little episodes one witnesses in a war which impress themselves on one's mind. Why shouldn't they? Are they not the most thrilling, the most exciting, the most horrible, the most interesting things that ever happened to a person? Perhaps most impressive, at least to me, is the sight of the first casualty with which I was in direct contact. It was late in the afternoon of Jan 2, when were ordered to attack the town of Mande with less than three hours of daylight left. I kept reassuring myself that the proper people knew what they were doing. Somehow I couldn't rid myself of the feeling of a pending catastrophe. It happened!. It seemed to me as inevitable as death itself. Explosives were landing all around us when Lt. Wiliamson slumped forward with a gaping hole in the center of his forehead. Blood poured forth as water through a sieve. He did not fall but slumped forward and became entangled in the radio wires. Our crew eventually managed to get him on the rear end of the tank, but in the interim what were the thoughts and emotions that flowed through me? Consternation, grief, misery, self-pity. It seemed incredible that one could experience so many extremes in a split second. In the end there was merely a resignation to fate. When we returned after taking the Lt. to the medics, I found that henceforth, come what may, I knew how to accept it - for we must accept it"./p>
By nightfall we had the town and were holding. All of us breathed a huge sigh of relief when on the morning of January 3rd, we were relieved by the 513th Regt. of the 17th Airborne Div. We left the front looking over our shoulders, and journeyed to Berchaux, Belgium for a rest. Ironically enough, it was here that Pfc. Alvie Hackney was hit by an ambulance and then evacuated.
We interrupt the trend of the story to remind the reader that all of the aforementioned may seem morbid, but it is so of necessity, as our lighter moments were to come when we met a less determined and more disorganized enemy.
We arrived in Berchaux that night where we bivouacked in civilian homes. Most of our nine day stay there was spent doing maintenance on our vehicles and weapons and ourselves. Many beards that hadn't been hacked in weeks were painfully shaved off.
We left Berchaux on January 12,at 2000 and arrived at Villereux, Belgium at 2400. A distance of about 8 miles. The following afternoon found us north of Bastogne. The next day, January 14th at 0830, we attacked the enemy in the town of Corbu - which we succeeded in taking. Also taken was the town of Foy, which had fallen into the hands of the enemy, via counter-attack, that same morning. Ah! How easy things were going to be - so we thought. All we had to do was support the infantry for the remainder of the day. We set off with visions of an easy conquest in our minds. This illusion was short-lived, however, when an overlooked "88" put Sgt. Robbie's tank out of commission, killing him and the other occupants of the turret. Cpl. Frank Yates and Pfc. Steve Krajewski, Harry Meyer, the bowgunner were seriously wounded. Shortly afterward, Tank Commander Joe Caputo was killed by a shell fragment. Miraculously, Tec 5 Adolph Loeffler escaped death by inches at the scene of both these happenings.
We spent the rest of the afternoon in a line formation firing on enemy vehicles entering and leaving Noville. As night approached we received an order to rejoin the Battalion on the high ground on the other side of Noville. Assuming a column formation we blithely proceeded toward the town assuming that it was perfectly safe to go through it. Everything progressed as per schedule until the company was about half way through the village. Noville was a shambles, and we could see that the Air Corps and the Artillery had done their job well. Not a building was untouched and most of them were razed to the ground. As if out of nowhere sparks flew from the front of S/Sgt. Ready's tank. The column was then split in half. Those beyond the knocked out tanks, six in all, could not back up and the remaining tanks could not move forward. Sgt. Ready then took command of the five remaining tanks and withdrew them from the town. Pfc. Akers, who was uninjured, jumped into the bog seat of Sgt. Wood's tank and was offered magnificent hospitality by the crew. Cpl. Van dyke remained in the town with two wounded men. Tec 5 Lorence and Pvt. Leslie.
After much persuasion (threats of physical violence by the authors) Cpl. Van Dyke has consented to give his own account of that night's experience in this Kraut infested village.
"I was sitting in the gunner's seat when our tank was hit twice, almost simultaneously. The gun was in travel lock because we were unaware that the town was occupied by enemy troops. When our tank was hit there was a blinding flash and immediately before I knew exactly what had happened, I was crouched along the church wall with Sgt. Ready and Akers beside me. Pvt. Leslie and Lorence soon came hobbling to the wall. They were both wounded in the legs. Our morphine syrettes had been smashed in the day's combat, so Sgt. Ready sent Akers to Wood's tank about thirty yards away. A German soldier came around the church wall and upon seeing the four of us reached for his pistol. Cpl. Bobela, Sgt. Campbell's gunner, spied him however and began firing 30 cal. The German ran into a nearby building surrounded by tracers. Bobela fired the 76mm twice and the building came down. Campbell then ordered the remaining tanks to back out of Noville, as our burning tank prohibited passage through the town. I was ordered to remain behind with the wounded men until our medics arrived. The wounded men and I thought that our Infantry was in the town, but we received a great surprise when we saw a group of Germans walking toward us. We played dead, lying very still, hardly breathing, while they approached and stopped directly in front of us. It seemed like hours I lay there expecting death at any minute. The cold air made us tremble and our numb bodies ached. At last I could hear their receding footsteps. We knew then that all hope of rescue was gone. We lay very quiet and formulated our plans. A figure in a GI overcoat dashed by, then a few seconds later passed back. We thought that this was a German in a captured GI overcoat so we lay very still when he passed. As the flames from the burning tank began to die down Leslie and I helped Lorence over the church wall into the church. Lorence was in such great pain that he could not go on. He refused to go with us because he thought that he would be a burden. I never hated to leave anyone worse than I hated leaving him to what I thought was certain death. Leslie, regardless of the intense pain from his wound crawled through the snow with me until we were clear of the town. We then proceeded to the main road where we were challenged by the 101st Airborne outpost."
The tanks that were in front of the knocked out tank were trapped in the town and apparently had no way of getting out. The following account by Sgt. Robert J. Patey describes the plight of the trapped tanks.
"While moving through the town, the fifth tank in column was fired upon. The sixth was "Larsdomicile" did not draw any fire. The next tank was fired on and hit. It immediately burst into flames. The first six tanks that were already in the town pulled off the left side of the road and coiled. After calling back to the remaining tanks still outside the town for some Infantry to wipe out the gun, a second AT gun opened fire. Not being able to get Infantry support and not being able to fire at the AT gun on account of its position between some buildings, it was decided upon to make a break for it. Meanwhile, Sgt. Lawrence T. Hawthorne's and Sgt. Ettore V. Cordasco's tanks were hit by the second AT gun which was on the forward slope of a hill. Knowing that the sound of the engines being started would draw fire, we didn't turn ours over until the rest of the tanks were running. It was now just about dark. As soon as our engine was turned over we started moving. Sgt. William J. Zaher figured by outskirting the town we could possibly make it. Using the burning tank on the road as his guiding light we raced down a slight grade and cut left heading back toward our own unit. After running off an embankment we cut left again so we would eventually reach the road where the rest of our company was. We ran into a stream and bogged down. So our elements would not fire upon us, Sgt. Zaher went up the hill to make contact with Sgt. Ready who had charge of the rest of the company outside the town. After getting the tank out of the stream we joined the rest of the unit. "Larsdomicile" was the only tank to get out of the trap."
When Sgt. Hawthorne's tank was hit, the crew - driver Tec 4 William J. Aberer, bog PFC Kenneth E. Daniels, loader PFC Harry C. Stenerson and gunner Cpl. Donald F. Rickard immediately began to bail out. Daniels leaving the bog seat, was using his carbine to support his weight when another AT shell sheared it in half. It was a miracle that he wasn't killed by the blast.
We learned later that PFC Hubert J. Carey and Cpl. Sternerson had been killed, Cpl. Baudoin, PFC Daniels, Cpl. Anthony J. Bruno, Cpl. Joseph E. Warthan, PFC Paul C. Fleming, Lt. Wilbur A. Bailey and Lt. Lester T. Stauff had been evacuated to the medics.
The remainder of the tanks were than ordered to back out of the town and proceeded to do so. As soon as were out of town we found out that Van Dyke was in there with Lorence and Leslie and that they were not in a very healthy environment. Sgt. Francis H. Wood and Sgt. Gordon F. MacKinney than went into town in a peep to bring the men out but, as Van Dyke has already said, they were not successful in their venture. The night was quiet and uneventful for the tankers outside of the village but everyone was tense and worried not knowing what was going on inside the town.
The next day the five tanks moved out towards the Service Park for reorganization but after going just a short distance, Sgt. Campbell's tank hit a mine and was disabled. We then waited for a guide from the I&R platoon which took us to the Service Park. Here Lt. Thomas E. Tennant took command of the company and shortly after we went back on the line. The remainder of the day was spent in guarding the battalion's flank.
On January 15th the battalion attacked north of Noville with Company B in reserve. Although there were no casualties in the company on that day we did receive considerable anti-tank fire and artillery fire. After we had taken a defensive position for the night we received several salvos of Nebelwerfer (Screaming Meemie) fire and had some more of the same the next morning. That day was spent in holding and in the evening the battalion was again relieved by a unit of the 17th Airborne Div. Then began the move to Hemmelue under difficult road conditions.
At Hemellue we received official notice of the deaths of Capt. Ameno, Cpl Schmitz and Pvt. Doerscheln. There we also received some much needed reinforcements. Prior to our moving out, Lt. Grayson was put in charge of the company.
On January 20th we left Hemmelue and marched to the high ground east of Noville where, due to the fact that the enemy was retreating, we were held in reserve.
Lt. Stauff, returning from the 81st Medics, rejoined the company there. S/Sgt. Ready left for the rear area to receive his battlefield commission.
On January 24th we returned to Berchaux where the first battlefield decorations were handed out: Cpl. Van Dyke received the Silver Star Sgt. McKinney received the Bronze Star Cpl. Rickard received the Bronze Star Tec 4 Shirley received the Purple Heart
Our second stay in Berchaux was a comparatively long one. It wasn't until Feb. 7th that we left there and traveled on to Binsfeld, Luxembourg. For the first few weeks that we were in Binsfeld we were acting as security for the right flank of the Eighth Corps. Also we were in Division Reserve while our infantry units breached a hole in the Siegfried Line. The three weeks that we were in Binsfeld were monotonously uneventful. The guard was heavy but the food was good and everything considered, it was a fairly satisfactory rest. There were a few moments of suspense, such as the report that there were several German soldiers in the town and in the ensuing search Tec 5 Needham, while standing guard with Tec 4 Griffith fired at a truck which did not answer his challenge and the driver was slightly wounded in the shoulder. Lt. Baily returned to the company from the hospital.
On the 1st of March we moved out of Binsfeld, crossed the Our River, and went into an assembly position in the vicinity of Bleialf, Germany. We remained there for two days awaiting orders. The first night a few artillery shells landed nearby ~ and if ever S/Sgt. Cowan and Tec 4 Cannon wished that they were tankers, that was the night. A tank, if nothing else, offers wonderful protection from artillery shells.
We left the assembly area, crossed the Prum River and took up an attack position on the high ground on March 3rd. Once again this was tangible "this was it." Now the Bulge was a thing of the past. Looking through your binoculars you could see the enemy about 2,000 yards away. The loud reports of the 75mm and 76mm gave your ears a terrific beating, but you became accustomed to it.
We advanced 5 miles that innocuous day against light enemy resistance without a single mishap. The following day we added another four miles. We remained in position for still another day without any action from the enemy. A few rounds of artillery shells was all that came our way. "Not a single casualty, how very encouraging that was".
We left that position on March 6th and sped to Obtbettingen, Germany a distance of about 8 miles There we remained until March 8th.
Although we had no active participation in the developments of the following two days, we would like very much to elaborate lightly upon them. The type of warfare that followed was somewhat of an innovation to all of us. Previously, as you no doubt can plainly see from the aforementioned, we were accustomed to meeting a stubborn and determined foe. Consequently, one can readily understand why the following phase proved to be, although welcome and magnificent, also unbelievably shocking, in a very pleasant sort of way.
But let us get on with the story. As I said before, we had nothing to do with the progress of the next few days. What it actually amounted to was that we were occupants of ringside seats and we sat back and watched the development with delight in our hearts. We were riding far back in the column, in reserve, as the CCB task force practically flew across Germany and didn't stop until it reached the Rhine River. Town after town raced to the rear and prisoners were plentiful. Gone was their arrogance as they humbly marched to the rear with their hands over their heads. In just two days the task force covered over 80 miles. As a result the day of March 10th found us in the town of Brughbrohl, just a few miles short of the Rhine.
The enemy was so disorganized and nowhere to be seen, it was only natural that we should let our guard down. Unfortunately, it resulted in a mishap. Out of a clear blue sky an artillery shell landed near our tanks and Cpl. Louis Meredith was unlucky enough to be in the way of one of the pieces of flying shrapnel. The night was made more dismal by the incessant rain and cold.
The following day we began moping up little pockets that had been overlooked. Two days of that resulted in the capture of a few more prisoners.
On the cold and rainy day of March 12th we left Brughbrohl and took up residence in the town of Wehr, Germany. A very efficient billeting party consisting of Tec 4 William Aberer, Cpl. James Sullivan, Cpl. Leonard Mantowski, Cpl. Frank Hornyak and Cpl. Robert Langer, preceded us there and found us some beautiful accommodations. While there the predatory members of the company had a field day. Although the main item sought was eggs, some of the fellows did make quite a haul. No doubt you are wondering why one would hold the finding of an egg so highly. I believe Cpl. Gates can answer that for you. Here is what he had to say
"Whatever vitamin deficiencies we might have had due to practice of tossing unappetizing portions of our "K" or "C" or "10 in 1" rations to hungry refugees, the birds, or to no one in particular, must certainly have been made up to a great extent by the consumption of unusual numbers of eggs. The phrase used in asking for this food was among the first learned by the members of this company. (Need I say what the first phrase was?) In the seemingly never ending quest to make up for lost calcium and other minerals as we rolled through Germany, whenever the column stopped along the road or in a town, there was immediately dispatched to the nearest house or houses one or more of the crew members to ask of the hausfrau or fraulein, "Haben sie eier?" or "Ich mochte eier". As a rule they jumped to comply probably more through fear than through desire and said crew member or members would return triumphantly with helmets full. Sometimes there was a bit of difficulty when some tried to hold out by saying they had none or by bringing out an insufficient number in proportion to the number of fowl in the backyard, but that was quickly ironed out. The crowning of all efforts came at Cham when several 500 egg cases were "liberated" and just bout every vehicle in the company had a case reposing on the back deck. When time and facilities permitted the eggs were prepared in omelet fashion or were poached as a change from the standard procedure of boiling them on the gasoline stove. I remember vividly one night frying thirteen for supper, and try as I might, I could only do away with ten and a half. I went to bed not feeling too comfortable and what did we have the next day for breakfast, but eggs".
Reluctantly we left Wehr on St. Patrick's Day, March 17th and we arrived at an assembly area in Genevich, Germany the same day. We jumped off from there with the second platoon as the lead platoon and S/Sgt. McKinney's tank consisting of driver, Sgt. Cox, gunner Cpl. Kentsz, Bog Tec 5 LaValley, and loader Cpl. Sullivan, as the lead tank. In the first few hours we penetrated the enemy's lines for some fifteen miles without too much trouble. An occasional sniper, a lightly defended town, was all that stood in our way. As the day was nearing to an end we came upon a roadblock obtrusively blocking our path. It was finally eliminated when Cpl. John Maras a gunner in the second platoon blew it all to hell with two rounds from his 76mm gun. Just beyond the place where the roadblock had been, we were confronted by a blown out bridge. Progress for the day was held up while the engineers spent half the night repairing it.
It was at this place that Sgt. Robert Patey and Tec 5 Ray had the scare of their lives. Thinking that it would be a good time to add oil to their tank engine, they were suspiciously outlined on the rear of their tank when suddenly, and without warning, a German 20mm gun opened up. Patey and Ray both swan dived to the ground and crouched behind the tank for protection. Two minutes later they were back in the tank and joking about the whole thing. Unpredictable American soldier scared to death one minute and joking about it the next.
That also was the place that Sgt. Gould and a kraut soldier in the woods kept admiring each other through their binoculars. Gould's "he's looking back at me" had the company in hysterics.
The next day a deeper penetration was made into the enemy's lines. In fact, before we called it a day we had already reached the town of Bergan, Germany. While enroute to Bergan a very disastrous occurrence took place. Although it did not happen to anyone in the company, it still, I am sure left an indelible impression on the minds of most of us. S/Sgt. MacKinney was one of the very few eye witnesses to the catastrophe while it was taking place. His conception of it is as follows:
"That morning Sgt. Zaher and myself were running interference for the Combat Command (this is commonly known as being the point) with 3 armored cars and two peeps of the courageous 41st Recon accompanying us. Along the very narrow street of this specific town we were stopped by the fire of an AT gun. It seemed to be sitting in a narrow street that was virtually impossible to take under fire. We were held up for the better part of 2 hours until we all got up enough nerve to make a dash for it. Going past the supposed AT gun position we found that it had been abandoned. The enemy seemed to have moved only a half mile out of town to reset their defenses. The defenses consisted of one Mark IV tank set behind a blind corner, which was covered by 2 2Omm guns and farther up the road was a 37mm gun. This was located on the right side of the road. Suspecting but not knowing the exact place where the defenses were located, the Recon went around the corner, the first armored car was immediately knocked out by the 75mm gun from the Mark IV tank. Too late to turn back most of the men dismounted from the vehicles while 2 men remained in an armored car (the one that had been hit) and succeeded in destroying the Mark IV tank. About then the 2 20mm guns began firing and knocked off the remaining men and vehicles as if they were flies. Realizing immediate action was necessary to enable the wounded to be evacuated, Zaher and I moved to the corner and engaged the AT guns. After destroying the guns we fired on the Mark IV attempting to clear the road for our advance. We did this and continued on our mission. It was not, shall we say, a comforting feeling to have to leave our dead and wounded comrades in a spot like that, but such is War".
Before the day's chores were completed we were chosen to assist a light tank platoon in the taking of another town, no doubt, to insure the safety of the task force through the night. The town, we knew, would be easy so we expected no difficulty at all, but a very accidental happening knocked the props from under us. Sgt. Hugh Wood's tank hit a soft spot in the road and slid over the side turning over 8 times and falling to the valley below. Sgt Wood, one of the best loved men in the company, was crushed to death in the fall. It was a tremendous loss and believe me it was felt by all. Sgt Duda riding in the tank at that unfortunate time, his tank had been previously hit by artillery, was injured as was Cpl. Patrik E. McCue, Pfc Alvin M. Berns, PFC Harry C.Miller. Needham was the only one who escaped unscathed.
The following day we were relieved from the lead position by another tank company and that days work brought us to Nederschein, Germany
From there we again took up the lead position, this time with the first platoon in the lead and S/Sgt. Campbell's tank out in front. The aim was to reach the city of Worms before nightfall. It was while on this dash that Lt. Grayson's tank was hit by a bazooka, seriously wounding him and killing Tec 4 Clifford K. Mock, his radio tender. Cpl. Hernandez miraculously escaped injuries and Tec 4 Roy A Minnerly, although slightly hurt, was able to walk away from it. Cpl. Gerald A. Walther did not fare as well, he too was seriously wounded and with Lt. Grayson was evacuated to the rear.
I can still remember how just the day before we found a bridge intact. Night had already set in and Lt. Grayson, our Co. Commander, was trying tenaciously to contact higher headquarters to find out if they could supply us with some Inf. to protect the bridge throughout the night. He called every conceivable channel without a response. On top of that strange stations kept cutting in. He finally exhausted all his patience. He turned to me with a hopeless look on his face and blurted, "See that Sgt., you don't only have to fight the war, fight the enemy, but also have to fight this d-m radio." The radio succeeded in doing one thing that the enemy could never do.
This first platoon really distinguished themselves on this march by killing a terrific amount of krauts. S/Sgt. Campbell and Sgt. Van Dyke had a field day picking off enemy horse-drawn vehicles like ducks in a pond.
We entered Worms on March 220d and it was there that Lt. Bailey took over the company. Worms was such an inviting city and the homes that we stayed in were so beautiful, not only that but the cellars were full of every conceivable type of intoxicating beverages. While there, the company on the whole proved to be one prodigious headache to Lt. Bailey and 1st Sgt. Ammons. Often we wonder what Lt. Elliot"s first impression of us was when he joined the company there. I'm sure that it was not a very good one. At least we were not at our best, I know.
The surroundings were fine and the wine very good. "Why can't we stay here forever?" The sentiments of practically the entire company. We have Pfc Conzort to cut our hair; Tec 4 "Pop" Stelzner, Tec 5 Lonny Rust, Pfc Ernest Yerk, PFC J.Spransy, and PFC Frank S.Aloi to cook for us; S/Sgt. Arthur D. Fry to supply us with our wearing apparel, now if only T/Sgt Amos A. Smith and his indispensable maintenance crew, Tec 4ís John W. Hinds, Anthony Zivic, and Harold D. Griffith, Tec 5ís Edward T. Hartman and Robert G. Harden could change the track extensions without our help, this would really be heaven.
Yes, it was too good to last, on March 25th we left Worms and arrived at Framersheim on that same day, a distance of approximately 25 miles. It was here that Lt. Ready received his Silver Star and 1st Sgt. Ammons for doing a wonderful job of reorganizing the company after it had been literally torn apart in the Bulge, received the Bronze Star.
I'm sure that Sgt. John T. Myers, Tec 5 Davis, Cpl Cosgrove, Pfc Studzinski, Cpl. Shoopman, Pvt. John A Miller and many others didn't regret their stay in Framersheim. Food was plentiful and the chickens were laying their eggs regularly, and besides that, a wine brewery was found intact. A sober man was as difficult to find as a needle in the proverbial haystack.
Thursday, March 29th, one day before Good Friday, was the last day we spent west of the Rhine. We crossed the Rhine and traveled a distance of 70 miles without engaging the enemy, and at the end of that warm but rainy day, we arrived at Langendiebach, Germany.
The task force spent Good Friday voraciously eating up 32 more miles of enemy terrain and that night many GIís silently said his Good Friday prayers in the vicinity of Nieder, Germany approximately 80 miles east of the Rhine.
The Saturday preceding Easter, against light enemy opposition, we drove still deeper into the foe's lines, the drive finally terminating at Grobenluder, Germany.
A restless sleep and Easter was upon us. The thought that we must look upon this day as if it were any ordinary other day was an obsession to all of us. Probably more to the more religiously inclined members of the company. A war unlike other events, cannot be postponed because of adverse weather conditions, holidays or other such things that are usually the causes for postponements. We knew that, but still couldn't help the tug at our heart when the inevitable "move out" order came over the radio. Sgt. Gould, an ardent proponent of the above beliefs, had the following to say:
"During the weeks, preceding Easter Sunday, the chaplain had devoted most of his "sermonettes" , as I called them, to the meaning of Easter. In those few services I attended I found for the first time a real, truthful understanding of the events, which make Easter and Lent so dear to us. I say "for the first time" and strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true. One does not really recognize or realize the significance of such a thing until he has been close to death. We all had seen a lot of it, were fully acquainted with it and it's power and in our bewilderment had turned to prayers for an answer.
As I recall, our company was not in the point but was fairly close, a couple of thousand yards or so. I had hopes that on this special day, Easter Sunday, we would not have to witness bloodshed of any sort. It was in this frame of mind that I proceeded through the defile that lay on our axis of advance. A short halt, the sounds of firing, proved that I was going to be disappointed, that my wish was not to be fulfilled. We came around a bend in the road and upon the scene of destruction. German soldiers were dead and dying everywhere on the road, in the ditches, on the sides of the defile. What a contrast to the true peaceful conception of Easter. The lumpy GI blanket which covered the body of one of our men struck the final blow. My mind told me to strike from me the picture of this chaos. That I will never be able to do. I could not help then but see the futility of all we were trying to accomplish and it sickened me. I am positive that the Lord was not pleased with the evidence before Him that day, I am sure. He must have doubted man's ability to live peacefully together. Easter will hold a much more profound meaning from now on for this GI, and with good reasons!"
Easter was fast drawing to a close when we captured the town of Kalleredesheim. Forty miles more were added that unforgettable Easter Day. That night after Sgt. Lehner had inquiries about the condition of our guns and we had gassed our vehicles, we went to sleep thanking God for having been so good to us. The records undoubtedly would look like this "B" Co. - Easter Day - no casualties".
Monday, probably a Bank Holiday in the States, we were at it again. The repetition of the miles covered from day to day might tend to be very boring, but it is so necessary for how else can one keep listing the progress of such an advance. We had gone 12 more miles before a blown bridge halted us. It was finally repaired and April 3rd's advance carried us to Oberhof, where we learned later that we had missed capturing Hitler by a day and a half. We remained in position in the woods close to Oberhof for four days waiting until the enemy could be flushed out of the surrounding foliage. Each day a considerable amount was rounded up and shipped to the rear.
Our stay in this woods, accentuated by the marvelous chow efficiently concocted by our great artists (French pronunciation) of the culinary arts - who am I kidding, the food stunk - was very uncomfortable due to the very cold and clammy weather. You actually froze to death throughout the day and hallucinations of bazooka men entertained the men at night - the ones of course who were not busy regurgitating the atrocious "stuff" that took all day to consume. (The ears of one of the authors are burning yet.)
Our next stop was St. Bernard - 33 miles away. We left there on April 8th and against light enemy opposition ended up in Pfersdorth, Germany where we once again were introduced to the old practice of being indoors. Many shooting eyes were sharpened and when we finally left, there was an acute shortage of fowl. There were not only sighs of relief from the civilians upon our leaving but the few remaining egg producers also palavered about their good luck.
On April 11th, Coburg, Germany surrendered to the 11th Armored Division and we took up positions at Neida, just this side of it. We left Neida the following day and 25 miles later against hardly any enemy resistance we arrived in the vicinity of Redwitz. On April 13th Redwitz began roaring to the rear, and on this warm and clear day we kept on until we reached Schwarzach, where we were perpetually pestered by six enemy planes.
We stayed here for three days and changed tracks, that were badly needed on our tanks. Bayreuth, Germany, the home of Wagnerian Operas, fell to the division around this time so we moved our "newtracked" tanks there.
It is important to note that from the time we crossed the Rhine until now, how trivial our losses in men and vehicles were. We had become seasoned fighters responding with alacrity to the job or jobs designated to us and we were finally functioning like a well trained team. One could not help but be impressed by the unnecessary need of words or orders. Everyone knew their job and magnificently performed it.
On April 19th, we left Bayreuth and arrived at Grafenwahr, 35 miles away. Although enemy opposition was light, prisoners were plentiful. Incidentally if ever a town was completely demolished by air attacks, Grafenwahr was it. I doubt if even one building was left intact.
Who will ever forget the time at Grafenwahr that Lt. Bailey who had been watching S/Sgt. Campbell firing his 76 mm as if it were a machine gun. He finally called him up and asked him what he was firing at. Campbell said that there was a kraut in the woods trying to get away. "Holy Christ man" said Lt. Baily, "Don't fire all that big stuff at a single kraut." "I don't care" said Campbell "there were six to start with and this is the only one left." "And" added Campbell, "By God he is not going to get away." Boom! Went the 76mm gun again. The kraut didn't get away.
Up until the time that we left Grafenwahr many of us had read of the terrible atrocities that the enemy had committed, but to date we had witnessed none of it. I wonder if we will ever forget the pitiful scenes that we saw? Dashing madly down the road the first thing that one saw was a crowd of people, horrible in appearance, suffering from malnutrition, inadequately clothed, with a crazed look in their eyes. They were looking at us as we liberated them, with admiration and joy in their eyes as if we were gods. I like the way that Cpl. Whitley F. Shailer and Sgt. John D. Workman expressed the thoughts and feelings that possessed them at the time.
Cpl. Shailer's - "I think the most outstanding inncident of my combat experiences was the liberation of a large number of Hungarian slave workers from the Nazis. Though weak and nearly starved individually, their release was like opening the gates of a great dam, letting the waters burst forth to freedom and to flow on into making a new source of power. It was then more than at any other time I could see what I was fighting for."
Sgt. Workman's - "Perhaps the things that one wouuld remember more than anything else in combat would be close - in fighting or some experience presenting a narrow escape from danger. Aside from the many combat experiences with which a GI is faced, the one most imprinted upon my mind is one the many atrocities committed by our enemy. On this particular day our tank company was leading the column and in so doing saw things at first hand. The column proceeded cautiously along the highway and after passing through a large grove of trees and coming into a clearing we saw hundreds of refugees scantily clad and appearing ghost-like from long periods of hunger and hard work. Many were lying on the road side who were to weak to continue the arduous journey and had been put out of their misery by their barbarous guards. The nearby fields were dotted with crumpled bleeding bodies, which a few moments before had been alive. As the column proceeded the hundreds turned into thousands and the highway was jammed with happy, jubilant slaves. The expressions of joy displayed upon their emaciated unshaven faces are inexplicable. One old man expressed his happiness by kissing one of the tanks as it crept along the highway being hindered in its progress by the many people crowded around it. They were crying for something to eat and grabbing anything that looked edible. Our instinct told us to feed them but we know that we could not slacken our stride for victory. We had heard of such savage acts but found them hard to believe. Now we were witnessing such an incident with our own eyes. However, our task was to rout their captors so we proceeded on in our march for freedom. Now there is no doubt in my mind as to the cause for which we fight."
Yes, all of us had a better concept of what we were fighting for. The only thing in our mind was the destruction of the abominable hun. The abhorrence that we had for the German soldier after that sight was a hatred that we had never experienced before. Oh to make those filthy "bastards" (forgive the profanity but that is precisely how we felt) pay for such cruelty was uppermost in our minds.
And pay they did. Under ordinary conditions now dead Germans would have been prisoners of war instead.
Our determined march finally carried us to Cham, Germany. When the company entered the city of Cham the platoons were sent in different directions to clean out separate sections of the town. Each had its experience not soon to be forgotten.
As Lt. Bailey moved cautiously down a suspicious looking street he examined with care each corner leading into a side street or alley. Suddenly Tec 4 Minnerly heard his excited voice over the interphone: "Stop Murph - back it up fast!" Lt. Bailey turned to the doughboys riding the rear deck of his tank. "See that big gun muzzle sticking out at that next corner?" Yes, they saw it. Further words were not necessary. Under the circumstances it was a job for them and they moved forward on foot, tensely hugging the wall as they went. They were all sure it was at least a 105 mm kraut gun. Lt. Bailey confesses that there was serious danger of soiled underclothing. After being gone for many tense and puzzling minutes, the doughboys returned with a trace of a smirk on their faces. "Well, what happened?" was the urgent question. "It's the smokestack on a krauts field stove!" announced a doughboy, and the lieutenant nearly fainted. They say some loud guffaws were heard coming from Cpl. Bruno and Tec Charles E. Long, the gunner and loader, but don't think that a few minutes before they weren't as alarmed and ready for action as anyone could be.
Meanwhile Lt. Frank O. Elliot was taking his platoon in its assigned direction. There were lots of civilians enthusiastically waving white flags, so he drafted one to act as guide. This worked swell until suddenly the streets were conspicuously bare of civilians. The guide would go no further but pointed up a street and said "Deutsche Soldaten" For several more blocks all was quiet - to damned quiet. Then after the first two tanks passed an alley way, out stepped a couple of nifty looking babes. All kidding aside, they looked like Hedy Lamarr and Betty Grable. They were obviously scared to death, though and as the fourth tank, which was Sgt. John T. Myers' tank, drew opposite the alley way they ran back. (They probably got a good look at Johnny) Just then an SS man started lobbing potato masher grenades at the tank. The boys who had been stretching their necks for a better look at Hedy and Betty pulled them down in record time. But fragments hit Pfc Nicholas Augenti, loader in Sgt. Workman's tank and an infantryman riding on one of the tanks. As soon as the doughboys could take cover, the third platoon poured round after round into the nearby houses. Our own medics were with another platoon and kraut medics from a hospital across the street gave aid to the injured men until the familiar sight of "Shorty" and the medics' peep appeared in answer to the radio calls.
Our drive into Cham was a complete surprise to many a German - one truck in particular. Out of nowhere this kraut truck came roaring around a corner and only the quick application of brakes kept it from crashing into the rear of Sgt. Hartman's tank. The krauts in the truck surrendered, but they all had a very puzzled look upon their countenances.
We continued on from Cham on April 24th. Incidentally, all this time "B" Co. had been in the point against a much better organized foe. We still advanced 42 miles that day - largely due to the splendid work of the first and second platoons - and we were in sight of Regen, Germany where all hell seemed to have broken loose.
While Sgt. Campbell's tank was leading and trying to find a bypass to the town, necessitated by the fact that the bridge on the only road leading in had been blown by the enemy, it was hit by a bazooka shell. It killed the driver, Tec 4 Everett B. Hunley and the gunner. Cpl. Andrew Bobela, Campbell, Pfc Robert S. Dick and PFC William E. Hayes wee injured. Sgt. Wayne E. Burns' tank, consisting of driver, Tec 5 Patrick F. Needham, gunner, Cpl. Patrick E. McCue loader, PFC Harry C. Miller, bog, PFC Wilbur D. Maner, took over the lead from there and we started into the town. There was quite a bit of small arms fire at the outskirts of Regen so the company methodically proceeded to smash everything within range of their death dealing weapons. And they did a beautiful job of it too. Fires blazed all over the town and the streets were littered with many dead krauts. The animosity of the whole company was very evident. The general feeling of the company was expressed in the desire for revenge of Cpl. Bernard E. Foote, who is the type of guy who ordinarily gives chewing gum to little kraut children. He found great satisfaction in running about the already almost demolished town with a box of matches, setting fire to the few remaining buildings.
Tec 4 "Freddie" Hanneman, Lt. Stauff's driver, reminds us of another amusing incident. It was also here that Lt. Stauff lost his supper, probably his appetite too. He was eating the cheese from a "K" ration when it happened. He stooped down to tell his radio tender, PFC William J. McCormick to switch buttons on the radio. (Or maybe he was asking bog PFC Hill if the coffee was done yet) Unconsciously the hand that was holding the cheese was raised above the turret. When suddenly "Zing - and Lt. Stauff was cheese less. (Giving the unidentified sniper one cheese - probably)
Cpl Peterson, a fellow who had not been with the company during the Bulge affair, professes to have had his first real scare here. The following is his annotated description of how it affected him.
"Regan was a town which held many surprises for we fellows who were new to the company. I had my first real scare when my tank commander, Sgt Zaher was hit and fell with part of his weight on me. It was the first sight of a close-up of a man who had been hit by shrapnel. I shook so much from fright that the gunner's seat rattled. Sgt. Patey, the driver, took over as tank commander and Tec 5 Jack W. Ray moved into the driver's seat. Sgt. Patey proved to be a very competent commander and everyone felt safe under his guidance, but we all had moments of suspense with Ray behind the levers."
The first and second platoons moved straight through the center of town, while the 3rd platoon went across a small bridge to the outskirts. The first platoon with Sgt. Burn's tank in the lead, ran into some trouble and Burns' tank was knocked out. The only casualty was Burns, whose ear drums were punctured.
Probably, up until this date most of us were never conscious of the potential firing ability of our maintenance section. To be truthful I never suspected that they even had a gun on the recovery vehicle. Yet they were compelled to follow right behind, no matter where the company went.
A bazooka man made the fatal mistake of firing one round at them. Tec4 Anthony Zivic and Tec4 Morton Lehner bravely peeking over the hatch with two periscopic sights, pumped about 12 magazine loads at him. Lehner told me later, after his heart finally began to beat at a normal clip again - about 2 months later to be exact, that Tec 4 Harold D. Griffith was the best magazine supplier he ever saw.
That night we stayed in the town while the engineers were building a bridge so the rest of the column could join us in the morning.
From Regen until the termination of the war it was clear sailing with no opposition.
At Zwettl, Austria - Colonel Wesley Yale, CC "B" Commanding Officer, via radio to Lt. Bailay, personally commends the whole "Postmaster Outfit" and Major Hoffman - and also relayed the Corps Commander's commendation to both, for the excellent work done on this last phase of the operation.
Although our tale doesn't end until after the curtain had been drawn down on the war with Germany, we would like very much to end with a thought of the men to whom all this is dedicated. Consequently we must interrupt the continuity of this story to bring to light decorations that were awarded after the cessation of hostilities. We beg of you to remember that they were earned for acts of heroism accomplished before the complete capitulation of the enemy.
Lt. Grayson received the Silver Star & Bronze Star Medals, Lt. Ready received the Bronze Star Medal, S/Sgt. McKinney received the First Oak Leaf Cluster to the Bronze Medal, PFC Cozort received the Bronze Star Medal. The Bronze Star Medal was awarded posthumously to Tec4 Hunley, Cpl Bobela, and PFC Stenerson
We received the news of Germany's complete and unconditional surrender on May 8th at Gallneukirchen. The news, startling as it was, yet seemed anti-climatic. It has been foreshadowed in the obvious complete disorganization of the enemy and in the news of piecemeal surrenders. Now the knowledge that this was the day we had been striving for touched off no joyful celebration. Rather it brought out a strange new sense of detachment in most of us. The company had for so long been all of the daily life of each of us that no one of us could view it as a bystander might. Now our thoughts were no longer absorbed in minute to minute details of a unit in combat. As we looked about us we all saw a group of men different in some degree from the group which we had started out with when we first joined the company, yet, it was still the same company. The same, but added to it new bonds of common experiences, memories, regrets, triumphs and above all a debt beyond measurement to the men to whom this is dedicated. They died not just to achieve victory in war, but to establish a new world of freedom and help ring the knell of Nazism and any other form of government that imperils the peace of the world.