Akron In Action
I write this book with
apologies. It is very difficult, indeed, I find to write a story such as we
experienced and especially difficult writing in retrospect. It is a paradox to
even try to do such a thing here within the sanctuary of Krensmunster monastery
in Austria, a place primarily devotes to the church and to peace. How can it be
possible two and a half months after the war has ended to recapture the
emotions, the feelings, and the mental experiences we went through in that
bitter struggle. It cannot be done.
My object has been to record vivid events that are of a direct
relation to the progress of the company. I must apologize for all of the events
that must necessarily remain unprinted. In war there are thousands upon
thousands of individual experiences that are personal to you. Most of them,
probably, I have never even heard about. Perhaps this booklet will serve as a
basis for the part we played in the war.
There is one event in particular that sticks in my mind, but it is
one that I have not put down anywhere in the story. Yet to me it seems of vast
importance. I remember Lt. Burns speaking of a letter he received from the
mother of one of the men killed in action. “If you succeed in what you are
trying to ultimately do,” she said, “then I have no complaint.” What a
wonderful, what an unselfish woman she must have been. She could undoubtedly see
clearly the cause for which we are fighting-- a cause that we, being so close to
the actual fighting, are apt to confuse.
That ultimate goal surely is not just winning the war. The ultimate
goal must be the better world for everyone that good people like to dream about.
A world that knows not want, nor war.
Should this be accomplished then we can respectfully bow down to
those who fell and whisper, “It was not in vain.”
Journey To Hell - -
Race To The Front
Orders changed. Get the 11th
Armored to the front and get there in a hurry. The Bulge great is in danger of
breaking rough. It must be halted. Speed is the essential thing. Go as fast as
you can. Speed. Speed. Speed. You have over 500 miles to go. It will be a
grueling, difficult task for the men. But the mission must be accomplished.
December 19, 1944 ---- Weymouth, England. It was 1040, and the
Channel looked calm. The LSTs were there waiting for us, but it was not yet time
to go. We played ball and danced with the Red Cross girls at the port. And we
ate their doughnuts and drank their coffee. We were getting close to the war,
yet the war was still far away. We laughed when one of the Red Cross girls got
up on the tank and autographed one of our shells, “To Adolf -- From Sally.”
The trip across was pleasant. The channel gave us no trouble,
although some sick pills were consumed. We found that the sailors were tops; we
enjoyed the clean food and clean living conditions they had, and many of us
moaned the fact that we had not joined the Navy. Trading went on between the
tankers and the sailors, and when we landed, many of our olive drab sweaters had
been switched for that navy blue turtle-necked affair.
It was 1900 on the 20th when we saw the light of France. Everything
was still peaceful and quiet. What a contrast we were soon to experience in the
We disembarked at Cherbourg on the 21st of December. We did not
know where we were going. We did not know that originally we had been assigned
to clean out the Lorient pocket along the coast of France. We did not know that
orders had come down for us to be rushed to the front as soon as possible ---
The Bulge was in danger of breaking out. We did not know that we, a green and
inexperienced outfit, were to get our baptism of fire against von Rundstedt’s
best army i one of the most a crucial battles of American history -- a battle
that was to cost the US the most casualties it had ever sustained, 55,000.
We went through Falaise to Damville. The regular ritual on our
journey was waving and talking -- the waving being done to the pretty French
girls, the talking to the older men, and to those who had seen action. In Paris
we almost waved ourselves silly at all the girls. But as Pvt. Phil Bernstein was
to put it, “Nope, they are not waving to us. They are waving us on and on to
battle.” And on the tanks rolled. We did not stop. We began to realize that
there was some important mission that we were to fulfill.
Paris was one through in a couple of hours although Sgt. George
Newman’s tank did manage to get a blown bogie there, and so was detained for a
few hours. Sgt. Elmer Brown’s tank had engine trouble and so the two crews did
the town --- very fortunate fellows indeed.
Ever onward the tanks rolled and then on Christmas Day we found
ourselves in Soissons. A chicken dinner, a swell meal --- the last good meal we
were to have until January 3rd. A strafing Jerry plane located us one night in
Soissons but there were no casualties. We still knew not what action would be
Christmas Mass -- Father O’Connor gave the services. It was a
small hushed group that attended Mass. There were even some non-Catholics there
perhaps because these were the only religious services to be held and the men
realized what was coming. The services were held in a cathedral that was a mass
of ruins, yet its two towers were standing straight up toward the sky. They were
The men came out of the services with their thoughts spiritually
lifted. Perhaps they had found some sort of light shed on the reason for all of
this bloodshed. But the men also came out to face the stark reality of the war,
the cold, the tanks and the inevitability of battle.
And finally on the cold bleak morning of December 30th we woke up
to find that we had rolled close to the font. We were about to go into action.
Our call sign would be “Akron, Akron” because that was the home
town of out CO Captain Gene E. Sucharda. Both the company as a whole and the CO
would answer the call sign of “Akron”. Under that name we were to fight
great battles, we wee to have individual feats of heroism, we were to have our
sorrows and our casualties, but we were to develop into a fighting unit that was
not to know defeat. Akron was ready!!!
A Salute To Akron --
And then it came over the radio.
An excited voice, the speaker could barely control it. “Charlie’s hit.
Charlie’s been hit. What shall I do? Charlie’s been hit bad.”
We held our breaths. This was our first day in action and not more
than five minutes had passed since we had one up this ridge. The cool, calm
voice of the CO came over, “Now easy, Greenwood. Easy, and tell me what
Cpl. John Schreiber, loader in the tank, took over the radio and
spoke to the Captain. “Charlie has been hit in the head by a mortar. I think
he’s dead. We cannot do a thing in the tank now.”
“I’ll be right over,” the Captain called back. He left his
tank and hurried over, examined Charlie and then motioned for Sgt. Wilmer Brown,
tank commander, whose vehicle was nearby. Together they lifted the dead
Lieutenant out of the tank, tenderly placed him on the snow, and then called for
We definitely realized now that we are in battle. This was our
first casualty in action. Akron, the company, suddenly changed its frame of
mind. This was no desert maneuvers or garrison life. This was war, and besides
all of the other reasons for fighting, Akron now had a personal debt to settle.
Akron was out for revenge.
“You know,” Sgt. Harry Foote was saying, “today will tell
what kind of an outfit we really are. It will tell the value of all of our
training and maneuvers, and it will tell what kind of men we have.”
The sound of gunfire boomed in the distance. Snow covered the
ground. It was cold, but the sun was coming up. This morning we were going out
to meet the enemy for the first time. I looked at Sgt. Foote. He was young,
intelligent, well-liked and always happy, but now there was a look of tension in
his face and voice. It was that tension that always grabs a soldier, as he is
about to go into action. And then I patted my tank affectionately. I looked
calm, poised, and powerful, just waiting for action. A tank is a tanker’s best
friend. It is a monster of fire-power. It is his haven of safety. But it is also
his hearse. “An iron coffin” I mused to myself reflecting the way many of us
had joked about our tanks back in the States far away from actual battle. But
now the joke had a hollow ring.
It was the morning of December 30, 1944. Our tanks swung into line
formation on a small ridge just outside of LePrey, Belgium. We were lucky. C
Company was in reserve that first day. The radio began its activity early. “Akron,
Akron, this is White 1, over.”
“This is Akron, over.”
“Akron, there is stuff dropping all around us. I think they got
us zeroed in.”
“I know they have. It’s mortars. But we have to stay right
here. We’ve got to be here ready for anything that might come out of the
woods. Dodge those mortars and keep low. But here we stay. Out.”
The mortars played hell with us all day long. Before we knew it a
mortar hit Lt. Strothers. At the close of the day, three of our tanks had been
knocked out by those mortars. Sgt. Charles Loupee had caught a piece of shrapnel
in his head and was evacuated. Pfc. Raymond Holst wrenched a leg abandoning a
tank that had been hit and he too had to be evacuated.
But at the close of the day, Akron was still on the ridge, still
waiting for anything that might try a breakthrough, still holding its mission. C
Company did not just sit there and take it all day. Cpl. Greenwood tells of
knocking out a Panther tank: “S/Sgt. Herbert Jacobsen took over as tank
commander in my tank after Lt. Strothers was killed. We were sitting on the
ridge, and all of a sudden we saw one of the leading company’s tanks go up in
flame. Then we saw a flash come out of the woods, and another of our tanks was
hit. The lead company must have been down in a valley where they could not see
where the fire was coming from. But we could from the ridge. Jake saw it the
same as I and gave me a range of 2800. That was over but the next one at 2400
did the trick. That Panther started burning, and I kept pouring shells into it
to make sure.” That was Akron’s first kill. We were to get many more.
“Happy New Year,” called Poo-Poo when the First rolled around.
But it was not to be a happy day. Akron had the lead. Akron was pushing,
fighting and killing its way through the might of the German Bulge Army. The
11th AD was the only unit to advance that day on the entire Allied western font,
and Akron was doing he driving. Ten miles we covered through Houmont, Chenogne,
and stopped just oust out of Mande St. Etienne. Four tanks and hundreds of
prisoners fell to us that day, and Akron was out for blood. Its frame of mind
was changes from that of civilized men to professional killers. The mental
attitude is shown in the following incident.
We had just pulled up to the edge of the woods for a temporary halt
and regrouping. Tank commander Melvin Synovec called up S/Sgt. James McCleane.
“Hey Mac, there’s a sniper in a tree on your left flank. I can’t get a
shot at him from here. See what you can do.” Mac rogered. About five minutes
later Synovec was again on the radio. “Hey Mac, how did you make with that
“Well,” Mac came back, “funny thing happened. I put my
gunner, Cpl. John Lisiewski on the target and told him to wipe out the sniper.
Johnny was all set to send the Heinie on a quick trip to hell with the machine
gun but somehow he got mixed up and fired the 75 instead, The sniper is all gone
except for one leg left up there. I guess the Heinie got a quicker trip than we
expected.” Akron, the company, was in the right mood for this. Akron thought
this was funny. We laughed.
We lost one tank going through the woods. Sgt. Danny Lynch’s tank
was separated from the company, and then in the midst of fighting, the battery
and firing mechanism on the tank went dead. (This was the story that appeared in
the Blade as Johnnie was one of the occupants.) They were sitting there helpless
when the Jerry started dropping mortars down on them. Unable to move the tank,
the crew abandoned it and took refuge in some nearby foxholes. Everything was
quiet in about an hour, so Sgt. Lynch had his men get back to the safety of the
tank. This was no sooner accomplished than the mortars started flying thick
heavy again. Again the tank had to be abandoned, and the men had to lie amidst
their foxholes, because snipers were trying to pick them off. That evening under
the cover of darkness, the crew made it safely back to our rear area.
At 1500 on the 3rd of January we got the order to move out and take
the town of Mande St. Etienne. It was snowing. Visibility was limited to less
than 100 yards. But we had orders to attack. Capt. Sucharda took the lead
himself going through town, and the company was blasting away at anything they
saw. Soon the town was burning like a funeral pyre that it actually was. The
company spread out in line formation outside of town to assault the next ridge.
But the enemy was waiting.
Cpl. Raymond Imholt, who took over the tank when his vehicle
commander, Phil Bernstein, was hit in the head with shrapnel, told the story of
that tense night outside Mande:
Coming out of the town, we all hit this ridge just about together,
and we were met by fire that was terrific. The Jerries must have had a hell of a
lot of stuff over there. We called it 88 hill, but the Heinies had some
screaming meemies there for variety. You never saw 13 tanks hit reverse so fast
before in your life, when the CO gave the order to back down. We backed to the
edge of town and there we sat, making perfect targets, as the night grew darker,
for we were outlined by the burning town Mande. This was going to be a rough
night. The CO posted Junior Bartlett’s tank and Raymee Cohen’s tank on the
left flank for security, and then we waited. Except for a few infantrymen, we
were alone outside of Mande, tires, wet and cold. Imholt called up, “Akron, we’re
over here on the right flank, and we only have three mean in the crew. It’s
prey lonely out here with two of our five men gone. Got any extras? Over.”
“No, I haven’t,” the CO called back.
“Wait a minute, it’s okay,” Imholt said. “I just got a
couple of infantry boys in the tank.”
“What a company!” Cohen jokingly remarked.
“And what’s wrong with this company?” the CO was quick to
play along with the jest.
“Nothing, nothing, I say it’s a damn good company,” Cohen
“ You’re damn tootin’, it’s a damn good company. The CO was
proud of his men. Other casualties to the company due to artillery were S/Sgt.
Brown, T/5 Melvin Larkins, and Red Sivert.
About 2330, the CO gave us the warning that was to prevent everyone
from sleeping, tired as we were. His voice was hoarse, for he had a very bad
cold, but the CO had proven himself an able, brave, and intelligent fighting
man. Even now he was calm as he said, “Reports have just come over that an
enemy column is heading this way. It has tanks and other heavy weapons. Be
prepared for a counter attack at midnight. We must hold off until 0200.
Reinforcements will arrive then. This is Akron. Good Luck. ”We stayed awake,
doubled our guard and waited. But we were fortunate, for the counter attack did
not materialize. And how glad we were when the following morning the 17th
Airborne showed op to relieve us. We needed the rest.
But our relief came too late to prevent a tragedy. Early that
morning the ammunition arrived, and we were loading op. The enemy was still on
the other side of the ridge, and they were not bashful about sending us
artillery. We must have been in plain view of their forward observers. S/Sgt.
Ralph Harris was outside his tank bringing the ammunition over, when a burst got
him. He died being carried back to the hospital in the medic peep.
We rested back in Bercheaux, about 10 moles from the front. We were
quartered in an old barn, and you could still see flashes of gun-fire that
night. But it was heaven to us. We could clean up and shave, and get some good
food. The first night S/Sgt. John Karalekas, T/4 Robert Duede, T/5 Jack Collura,
Pfc. Albert Casey, and the rest of the kitchen crew provided us with real
steaks. But we were dog-tired after eating and knocked off to sleep. The nervous
strain of battle is the most fatiguing of any type of exertion. And to keep
going one must not only have the strength but also the will and the fight. But
as soon as a break came where we could relax our constant struggle, we found how
exhausted we really were. Sleep was not long in coming.
The Captain called a meeting the next afternoon. “Men,” he
said, “I want you to know what a wonderful job you did. The 41st Tank
Battalion really made a good reputation fighting out there, and most of the
advancing occurred when we were in the lead. I want you to know that I am proud
of you. And since I have to go into combat, all I can say is that I could not
ask for a finer bunch of men than you.”
The company looked at the Captain. They did not say it, but they
too, were proud of him. He had shown himself to be the bravest. And he had kept
a cool head throughout the battle. When one of the innumerable questions that
always pop up in the course of an action was referred to him, he always knew the
right and logical answer. He had proved himself the vest and a blest fighting
man we were to ever know. Little did we suspect what was going to happen on our
next step into action.
Sgt. Jon Jones had this to say about the CO “It seemed as if he
was out of his tank more often than in it. And he would walk around when
artillery was falling all over the place. If he could help it, he would go see a
man rather than have that man walk out in the open to see him. Why I remember
one time I was all buttoned up due to artillery fire, and I heard a knocking on
my pistol port. I opened it up and there was the CO Do you know what he was
doing? He was passing out cigarette rations.”
Time was spent alternating work on our vehicles and resting up.
Pfc. George Jacenko had to be evacuated when his shoulder became infected due to
a small piece of shrapnel that lodged there during the action. Pvt. Melvin Owens
was evacuated with frozen feet.
Our biggest problem in the rest period was the ever-present snow
and cold. On the tanks, the hatches, the sights, and the turret rings were
freezing up and it was not an uncommon occurrence to see a gunner pouring
gasoline in is turret ring, setting it on fire and melting the ice there. Cpl.
Freddie Schoenfeldt seemed to be an expert at that.
“Move out!” The order came at 2000 on the 12th of January. We
were going back into action again. It seemed that almost everyone dreaded the
thought of it, yet heaved a sigh of relief when the order came down. It was
dreaded, because now that we had our first taste of combat, we knew what to
expect. Our first engagement was new, and we did not know what we had to fear.
To face the unknown enemy takes courage; but to face a known and powerful and
brutal enemy takes the utmost of bravery. And we were to find that this was true
all through combat: That each time we went back into action, it was just a
little more of a mental struggle.
But the moment for moving out was also hailed with a sigh of
relief, for until then we had been sweating it out. Now we had something
definite, something that we knew had to be done. The relief soon gave way to
that tense feeling, and we were on the way.
It was a blackout road march from Bercheaux to Villeroux, a
distance of only 8 miles, but it took over 12 hours to get there. The roads were
covered with a slick layer of ice. Our medium tanks could not hold onto the
roads, and the slightest slant would force the tank to slide off the road. The
tracks could not grab. We were working like mad to keep the convoy moving and
finally someone hit on the solution. Light tanks were put in front of the
mediums, and the two were hitched together with a cable. The light could more or
less steer the Sherman, and in this manner we reached out objective.
On the morning of the 14th of January we blasted our way into the
town we thought to be Noville, but it later turned out that this was the town of
Cobru. And this town was to turn out to be out hottest spot of the war. Even
before starting out, an unlucky overhead burst caught Lt. Ernest Williams
between the eyes, and he had to be evacuated. The company strength went down to
12 tanks. T/4 Melvin Asbell, Lt. Williams’ driver, tells what happened. “Just
as we hopped off for the town, I heard the gunner, Sgt. David Thureson yell down
to me and I stopped. There was the Lieutenant, unconscious in the turret. We
finally got him on the back deck, administered first aid, and gave him morphine.
At first we thought he was dead, but later I heard he pulled out of it. I took
over the job as tank commander and T/5 Craig Stansbery did the driving. We were
yet to see a lot of action that day.”
We made it to the town okay, but the enemy seemed to be all around
us in concealed positions. All day long we were receiving fire, some of it from
pretty big stuff. Yet our orders were to hold that town and wait, for the enemy
was on the move for a counter-attack.
The mortars started falling and three landed on the back deck of
Lynch’s tank. Smoke started pouring out from the engine, and the tank had to
be evacuated. Sometime in the early afternoon, a direct hit from an 88 poured
into S/Sgt. Charlie Grill’s tank. Sgt. Calvin Cornell in a nearby tank saw it
“Immediately the tank seemed to burst into flames. It was as if
someone had thrown a can of lighted gasoline in the tank. I thought the men were
goners. But then after what seemed an eternity of time, I saw Grill make his way
out of the tank. He was wounded and must have ad some trouble getting the turret
open. Then his gunner Freddie Schoenfeldt came scrambling out, and you could see
he was burned about the face. From the loader’s hatch Pfc. Tom Waddelow
managed somehow to lift himself out, although it appeared that he had a broken
leg from the shrapnel. He couldn’t jump down from the tan, but rather just
fell off into the snow. In falling he broke his arm. T/4 Robert Howell and Cpl.
John Campora, the driver and the bow gunner, really did good work in assisting
the wounded to a place of safety.”
Meanwhile, Sucharda had sent Sgt. Bartlett up to the far end of
town to guard the bridge against a pending counter attack. Sgt. Cohen
volunteered his tank’s service right up there with Junior Bartlett, and the CO
was right behind them. And a good thing that they were there, for the counter
attack was not long coming.
Cpl. Vincent Morreale was gunning for Sgt. Cohen. A crack shot with
that 76 Morreale was soon having a lot of target practice. “First thing we
knew,” Morreale said, “the Kraut infantry was coming along he ridge on he
other side of the river. We opened up on them, knocking off quite a few before
they dispersed. It really was a sight to see Junior up there outside his turret
on the back deck of the tank, firing his 50 caliber machine gun like mad. He
really gave those Jerries a bad time. But the Heinie did not show up without his
armor. Soon 3 Mark IVs came over that ridge, and one of them came right into my
sights. It was a cinch, and he ended up burning. I got another one right after
that, but the third one backed down and got away. Then the CO gave the order to
move back. So down the main drag we went.”
The main drag was, as we were to find out, zeroed in. Captain
Sucharda’s tank was leading the company, as he was prone to do, and Sgt. Cohen’s
tank was right behind him. T/4 Johnny Latini, driving for Cohen, saw it happen.
“The Captain was leading the way as he always did, when the shell
came from his right flank. It must have been right in line with him, for
suddenly he fell, and slumped down into the turret. The tank started burning,
and Ramee gave me the order to back up quick behind a house. I saw Cpl. Armin
Stodolenak, the Captain’s gunner get out of the tank after he looked around
and saw he could help the CO or the loader, Pfc. Stan Chadwick. The bog and the
driver Pfc Clarence Busch and T/4 Key both got out of the tank but not before it
was hit the second time. And then suddenly our tank was hit, right in the back
deck which was sticking out past our shelter. No one was hit bad, and dodging
all of the mortars and artillery, we finally made it back to a house where we
were later picked up.”
The Captain and Chadwick must have been killed instantly.
Stodolenak had some nasty shrapnel in his hip, and he hopped into Sgt. Jones’
tank for safety and first aid. “That made six men in the tank,” Jones said,
“and before long there was a knocking on the tank. We opened up and there was
Pfc. Sid Meyer, loader in Cohen’s tank, so we took him too and sat him on the
transmission. Then the artillery started falling in town. Lt. Brendan Burns, who
was to lead us through the rest of our battles, was outside scouting around with
Captain Dick McCoy, from the battalion staff. They both hopped into the tank,
too, so we had a total of nine men there. Probably set some sort of record.”
T/4 Key saw the dangerous and heroic work that T/4 Azbell and his
crew were doing, and Key reported it thusly. “Azbell made about 3 trips along
the road, dodging all kinds of fire, so that he could pick up the wounded men
and safely evacuate them to the medics. There was still too much fighting going
on for the medic’s peep to get in, and Azbell was the only source for the
wounded to get back to the aid station. He picked up all of Grill’s crew and
part of Cohen’s and his quick and brave work really did a complete job.”
The night rolled on and it was a sad night for C Company. The men
began to talk in whispers and were wondering what the morrow would bring. And as
the sorrow for the men who had fallen welled up inside of them, so had their
hate for the enemy increased.
On the following day, the Akron unit assaulted the ridge on the
right flank of the town, and they blasted the hell out of everything in sight.
It was then that Sgt. Jones and his gunner, Cpl. Robert Roth were killed. T/5
Ralph Matthews, driving for Sgt. Mike Putcakulish in the adjacent tank saw what
“Jonesy was out leading. He really had a lot of guts. Suddenly
his tank stopped, and I looked over and saw that his 75 was canted in a crazy
angle toward the sky. I knew he must have been hit. After a few minutes, his
loader, David Kasavan came out of the tank with blood dripping from his head.
Waiting outside of the tank was the bog, Herbert “Doc” Burr, who assisted
Kasavan back to the medics.”
T/5 Burr was to prove himself one of the most courageous men we had
ever known. The action had ceased after Sgt. Jones’ tank was hit and after
taking Kasavan back to the medics, Doc came back to the company to see if he
could help out in anyway. He could. Lt. Burns saw Doc go into action:
“When Burr got back he saw the knocked out tank still where it
had been hit. He did not know at the time that the two men in the tank were
beyond help. Immediately he went towards it, creeping, crawling, and
camouflaging himself with snow ill he got up to it. I gave orders that should
anything happen to Doc we were going to wipe out any living thing in the woods.
But Doc made it to the tank okay, hopped in, found the engine still running, and
also found that the tank was on fire and might possibly explode at any moment.
But he went into action right away. First, he somehow managed to put out the
fire, before it got too close to the ammunition or the gasoline, then still
braving all types of fire, he drove the tank back off the front line.”
For his action, Burr was later awarded the DSC and a furlough to
the States. But that is not all in the army career of Doc. Before the furlough
came through Burr did another job, and he is now up for the Congressional Medal
of Honor. He proved himself to be a real man, and an exceptionally courageous
and level-headed soldier.
The next day, with Lt. Burns in charge of the company, the Bulge
was finally closed when contact was made with the First Army near Houffalize.
But, this too was not without incident. Getting a report from an infantry
Captain that an enemy tank was up in the woods, and knocking off plenty of our
doughs, S/Sgt. Newman immediately reported to Lt. Burns. Picking up S/Sgt.
Synovec’s tank along with Putcakulish’s and S/Sgt. Newman’s, Lt. Burns
placed his own tank in the lead and went out to meet the enemy. Looking back on
what happened, it is now funny, but at the time there was no joke to it. Here is
Rounding a curve in the road that went through a forest, Lt. Burns
suddenly yelled to his gunner, Cpl. Freddie DeFilippo, “Freddie, Jerry tank
right in front of me.” Freddie looked through his fogged up sights, could not
make out a thing, and told Lt. Burns so.
Meanwhile, Synovec, right behind Burns was frantically calling him.
“Burns, Burns. There’s a Jerry tank 50 yards in front of you ---why don’t
Lt. Burns was still trying to orient his gunner on the target, but
neither of them could find it through the fogged up sights. Synovec, unable to
stand the suspense any longer, maneuvered his tank into position and his gunner
Cpl. Ferdnand Rahe fired a shot into the tank. DeFilippo following the flash
from the direct hit the Rahe’s round made, put his round right beside it to
make a perfect double. Why the Jerry tank did not fire first, Lt. Burns and his
crew do not know, and much less care. Maybe the Krauts, too, had fogged up
The Bulge threat was now smashed. Akron took stock of its losses
for the campaign. Six men killed, fourteen injured. T/4 Robert Howell was
evacuated with frozen feet. The action had been costly, too costly, but the
mission was accomplished.
From now on Akron was to see a different type of action. Our rest
period was to last until March 2. During this time, Burns and First Sergeant
John Mensing did a fine job in regrouping the company, and getting them ready
for action once again. On January 24th, S/Sgt. Harry Foote received his
battlefield commission and could wear those gold bars. Four days later General
Charles Kilburn made a trip down to the battalion and presented Bronze Stars to
Burns, Foote, and our maintenance sergeant, Glenn DeLong for the fine work they
all did in closing the Bulge.
Reinforcements began to arrive to help out the company. The new men
included Raper, Staley, Thorsen, Shelmerdine, Tomas, Apodoca, Anthony, Bidus,
Soard, Greer, Aldridge, Albrecht, Ellis, Bogani Soustrusnik, Rhoades, and Pelis.
Coming back from the hospital to bolster the company strength were: Brown,
Bernstein, Loupee, Kasavan, Jacenko, and Stodolenak. Two new officers were
assigned to us. Lt. Jessie Wilson to take over the 3rd Platoon and Lt. Glenn
Porter to be the Maintenance Officer. Akron was back in fighting shape.
Carrying The Ball --
Spearheading To The Rhine
It means that the combat command lines up along a road, and one company is out
in font. One platoon from that company is doing most of the actual fighting, and
one section is the advance guard. And one lone tank is the actual point. That
one vehicle is the width of the battle front. It follows along a road known to
the Jerries. It bears the brunt of the fighting. As far as that vehicle goes so
goes the entire attached unit. It is the target tank. It is the suicide tank!
Spearheading! That means drive, drive, drive, and do not stop. Keep
going, no matter how or something that needs pulverizing before you go on.
Spearheading! It means going through woods or towns, or over bad terrain, where
the enemy will get the first shot in. But you must go on. That is spearheading!
“All Akron stations. This is Burns. Mount up and turn them over.
We are moving out.”
It was on the 4th of March early in the morning. The day before,
the battalion had crossed the Prum River; Objective--the Kyll River;
Opposition--crack Nazi 5th Parachute Division. Akron stations moved along at a
regular clip, until the order came from Arizona to stop on the near side of a
ridge. This ridge was to be known as “Suicide Hill”.
Jerry had his counter attack planned for that ridge, and began
dropping artillery all around us, and then under cover of fire, he tried to get
infantrymen up the hill. Armed with bazookas, these fanatical Nazis were trying
to get close enough for the kill.
“Those damn fool Krauts didn’t have a chance,” stated Sgt.
Ray Stroik, who at the time was gunning for Junior Bartlett. “We just let them
get close enough and then we’d knock them off like flies. No one even bothered
wasting the big stuff on them. The machine guns were good enough to do the
trick. Boy, they must have been full of that propaganda stuff to even try such a
The flame thrower incident still sticks, though, in the mind of
Sgt. Key and his crew. During the beak, each platoon had had one of its tanks
loaded with a flame-thrower, just in case such an item might prove necessary.
Sgt. Key’s tank was the lucky one that was selected. Lt. Burns, seeing the
Krauts were coming up the hill, decided that this would be a good time to both
give them hell, and also see how the flame-thrower would work. Key’s tank went
up to the edge of the hill, and his fog Pfc. Luke Soard went to work on the
contraption. Everything was set, the target selected, and Key gave Soard the
order to fire. The trigger was pressed, and the flame shot out --- a grand
distance of about one foot in front of the tank. Under this embarrassing blow,
the tank and crew stumbled back off the ridge, no longer to be known as the tank
with the flame-thrower, but rather the tank with the cigarette lighter.
Flame-throwers were never again used by C Company!
The Krauts had lots of stuff on the other side of the ridge, and we
sent them plenty of outgoing mail. But evidently we did not knock it all out, as
we were to find out upon going over the ridge into the attack. George Newman had
this story to tell:
“We were going over that ridge in line formation. All of a sudden
we were hit from the left side. The shell came in just under the two-inch
mortar, struck the gun shield, and had shrapnel flying all over the damn place.
My loader, Cpl. Bill Brady, caught some of the shrapnel and my gunner, Cpl.
George Cerrito was hit pretty hard in the head and knocked unconscious. I caught
a couple of hunks in a very embarrassing spot, and I couldn’t sit down and
bend over to the right for quite a time. The driver of the tank, Elmer
Gilchrist, suffered from a concussion. I am glad though that the bog, Pfc.
Clarence Busch was around, for he really came to our rescue. He was unhurt when
we got hit, and finding that I could not walk, he had me put my arms around his
neck, and he dragged me over o a foxhole. It is a lucky thing for us that he
did, for the mortars were beginning to fly all over the place. Busch went over
and got the medics for us, and then he raced back to the tank to check on
Cerrito who was still unconscious. Just about that time, three Krauts decided
that their will to live was stronger than their love for the Fuhrer do they came
out and surrendered. Busch was not long in putting them to work. He forced them
to lift Cerrito out of the tank and then with an improvised stretcher, he had
them carry Cerrito back to the medics.”
For his outstanding work in this action, Busch was later to get the
Led by Lt. Burns, the company set a small town on fire, and made it
up to the Kyll River. That is the whole company except Sgt. Key’s tank which
fell out just on the outskirts of town with a broken oil line.
“This was really a predicament” Key told us later. “Here we
were sitting all alone outside this town, and it had not been cleared out as
yet. The company went on with their tanks, and the situation was getting hotter
for us. In the first place, the other companies in reserve were scheduled to
come over “Suicide Hill” soon, and no telling what might happen if they
spotted an unidentified tank in town. I got out of the tank to fix our yellow
identification panel on the back deck. It had been blown around during all the
action. Just as I got to the rear of the tank, the snipers in town made it hot
for me, and I must have broken the high jump record leaping back into the tank.
And then the reserve companies came over the hill, and sure enough they began
firing at us. I burned up that radio getting hold of Arizona personally, and
telling him to inform the other companies to take it easy on us. Arizona was
right on the ball, But I still wasn’t breathing regularly until the other
tanks came right up to us. Then they couldn’t possibly mistake us for the
Tech Sergeant DeLong along with Sgt. Delay both from the
maintenance crew got into a little hot spot working on Key’s tank. Things were
going along fine, until mortars started dropping perilously close to the tank.
With sudden bursts of energy they found themselves face down in the snow under
the tank, calmly talking over the situation about missing parts until the
mortars subsided. I mention this little incident to show you what a great job
the maintenance section was doing all through combat. They were right up at the
front ready to help whenever they were needed. Lt. Porter along with DeLong,
Delay, T/4 Walls, T/5 Kinzer and the rest of the maintenance section were right
on the job.
We deeply regretted hearing later that night that T/4 Glynn S.
Lowery, another maintenance man who had been doing invaluable work in the
department, was picked off by a sniper during the day, and died later.
The day’s work ended up on the edge of the forest. It was here
that S/Sgt. Brown gave out with the equivalent of “nuts to this noise” when
some Jerry soldiers started taking shots at him every time he lifted his head
out of the turret. He foiled them one time when he came up with an M-1 rifle in
his hands. From then on it was a game of hide and seek, and when two heads came
up at the same time, they would see who could fire first. Brown came out the
victor winning three to zero, and after that you never saw Brown’s tank going
anywhere without that trusty M-1 riding on the turret right beside it.
Next day, we held our regular positions, and at supper time
Karalekas and company came up with a deliciously prepared meal. Just as he had
finished serving, our artillery and the Jerry artillery got into a little
battle. We were innocent spectators until Jerry started getting a little too
close to our area. There was a mad scramble to the tanks, and in many cased,
that which had started out to be a fine dinner, in the rush turned into a
mixture of that favorite Army food---stew.
Sgt. John Thomas’ tank had the lead on the 6th of March when his
tank ran across a new opponent as far as we were concerned--a mine. But somehow
or other the mine did not go off when the tank first struck it, but when the
engine got over it. The tank was completely knocked out and needing a new
engine, but none of the crewmen were hurt.
The prisoners started to pour in as we headed for the Rhine, with
Junior Bartlett’s tank doing most of the spearheading. On the 9th of March, we
came into the town of Burgbrohl on the Rhine, and we had 3000 prisoners sacked
in our bag.
Important to the big picture the 11th Armored had joined up with
elements of the First Army closing a pocket and cutting off 6 German divisions
west of the Rhine.
Burgbrohl was in for a little old-fashioned, American-made
celebration as the Akron stations started taking for themselves a short,
well-earned rest. Anything stored in a bottle and containing the slightest
suggestion of alcohol was considered legitimate and also palatable loot. Things
were going from good to better as the evening progressed along.
On the 11th we headed out for Wehr to wipe out some Nazi pockets
and to select new bivouac areas. Sgt. Floyd Delay had to be evacuated when he
broke his wrist in a fall. Bartlett also had to be evacuated when he met with an
accident helping to clean out the pockets. The hatch of his tank fell on his
hand and broke some of his fingers. We were all sorry to lose the “pernt”
for the time being. Meanwhile the tankers were getting a bit of dismounted
action cleaning out some woods on foot. Synovec and his raiders took a two-hour
trip through the woods and came back with the prize booty--two deer. Synovec
explained that somehow the deer got in front of the rifle sights when he and
Soard were firing at some Germans running over the hill. Synovec swears he saw
Krauts when they fired. Oh well, a little venison now and then never did hurt.
On the 18th of March, we took off again into action across the
Moselle through Merle, Zell, and Bergen. Stroik was taking over the duties of
the “pernt” with Sgt. Cohen right behind him.
The radio conversation was vivid. Lt. Burns calling Stroik. “What’s
the trouble Stroik? Why are you halted?”
“Bazookas, Burns, bazookas. Three of them just missed the tank.
Get him Billy, get him (Stroik was talking to his gunner, Cpl. Bill Sager.)
right over there on the left. Fire, Billy, fire.”
Cohen was talking. “We can’t go on right now, Burns. We’ve
got to get those bazooka men first. I don’t see how they missed Stroik in the
Stroik again: “Nice shooting, Billy. That takes care of them
Burns, we are moving out.”
That is spearheading. Always the enemy will get the first shot in.
Tour first shot must not miss.
It was the following day that S/Sgt. McCleane was killed. Akron was
still spearheading the attack and Sgt. Thomas had the lead at first, until a
sniper got him in the face, and he had to be evacuated. Cohen had been pushing
the attack along all the time, and the Jerries were falling by the hundreds.
Cohen had just spotted a whole enemy convoy on the run and was giving them hell
when he had his accident.
“There they go. I’m going after the dirty sons of bitches,”
Cohen shouted. And then his hatch struck an overhanging limb, and crushed down
on the fingers of his right hand. He had to be evacuated. T/4 Johnny Latini, the
driver, administered first aid and then took over command of the tank.
Lt. Jessie Wilson was right behind McCleane when Mac too the lead.
“We had to find a way through the town and Mac went right in to
do it. I was behind him and Burns was behind me. We ran into a dead end
roadblock and couldn’t find a way out. We were trapped in town, there was
danger from all sides, and we did not want the attack to stop for we had the
Jerry on the run, and could really wipe him out if we kept going. Finally Mac
found what he was looking for and had just said over the radio, “I found it,
Burns, I found the way ---.” And then I saw a bazooka whiz over my turret and
it struck Mac. Doc Burr took over driving Mac’s tank and led the way out of
Herbert Burr again distinguished himself in this engagement. Noting
the wounded men in the turret of the tank. Burr who was the bog took over the
driving and managed to get a route out of town. Had he not found the way, the
three tanks and all of the crew members might have been lost for the town was
hot with bazooka men and snipers. Doc first spotted an anti-tank gun pointed
right in his direction. There was no firepower in the tank, so Doc thought fast
and rushed his tank at the gun, knocking it out with pure crushing power alone
before the gun could even fire. Heavy bazooka fire was raining all around the
tank so Doc grabbed his carbine, came out of the driver’s hatch and plugged a
couple of bazooka men who were getting too brave. Still looking for a way out of
town, Doc next encountered a burning enemy half-track right in the center of the
road. Again he used the crushing power of the tank to get by this roadblock, and
then he found what he was looking for. A narrow trail led out of town and Doc
followed it with the other two tanks still following him. Burr got the wounded
men to the medics although it was too late to help Mac. Rahe and Emerson, both
in McCleane’s tank, had to be evacuated because of shrapnel wounds. Because of
his courageous action, Burr was put in for the Congressional Medal of Honor.
During that same day, Key had to be evacuated when his foot hot
caught in the turret ring of the tank, and he wrenched his heel.
On the 19th, Akron was still carrying the ball. As Akron went so
went CCB. We were going so fast that the checkpoints on the map had to be erased
as soon as they were jotted down. Foote’s tank took over the lead from Burns
saying, “Let’s go driver. Burns can’t win this war by himself.” All day
long the first platoon had the lead and Foote was doing most of the work. He
refused to relinquish the lead, preferring to go himself. Foote was always
volunteering for the dangerous jobs. He was doing just that when the bazooka
came in his tank and got him and his gunner, Cpl. Daniel Buckley. This was
indeed one of the saddest days for the Akron company. Lt. Foote’s loader, Cpl.
Billy Evich had to be evacuated because of shrapnel wounds in his legs.
But the spearheading had to go on. Sgt. Thureson’s tank took the
lead and almost immediately it appeared to go up in smoke. It was completely
engulfed by the smoke and we could not figure out what happened. But the smoke
cleared and T/5 Melvin Cook, Thureson’s driver, started out again. What had
happened was a bazooka had come under the tank, just under the transmission, and
hit the ground under the tank. But neither the tank nor its occupants were
injured, and so the tank went on.
Brown’s tank was behind Thureson, and Lynch’s tank followed
Brown. A burning roadblock was bypassed by the three tanks, but the rest of the
company was not able to get through. The three tanks were whipping merrily down
the road, not noticing that the rest of the armor had been halted and had taken
a different route out of the town.
Brown told about Thureson’s tank shooting up the Krauts.
It was funny. First a Jerry appeared on a bicycle on the road in
front of Thureson, and his gunner, Cpl. Woody Sutton took care of him. Then two
jokers on a motorcycle tried to get away. But again Sutton did not miss. And
finally we caught up to a car. Have you ever seen a tank chasing a car along the
road? The car is at a disadvantage, at least this one was, for it finally ended
up a burning mess turned over on the side of the road.”
About three miles down the road, the trio of tanks finally halted
and set up a defense waiting for the rest of the company that was not to come.
Just for good measure, they blasted up the next town and caught a convoy going
out of it, ripping it apart. After about an hour of this, the tankers decided
that the company was not coming back to them, so they turned their tanks around
and rejoined the company in the next town.
The 21st found us moving into the city of Worms on the Rhine,
another mission completed, and Akron showing the skill of its spearheading. The
Division had a total of more than 20,000 prisoners, many of them due to the
power and speed of the Akron attack.
We moved into fine houses in Worms. It was here that the company
learned all about new methods for opening doors when the keys were not readily
forthcoming from the owners. It is a very simple method and should be
incorporated thusly, in the book of Army Regulations with a dash of 1001 or the
“From the holster resting either below the arm or around the
waist, gently but firmly grasp the butt of the “acquired” foreign pistol.
Making sure that the weapon is ready for firing, carefully aim it at the lock
resting about half way down on one flank of the door. Stand about 4 feet from
the target, and then fire. The lock should disintegrate, but if you are
confronted with failure at the first attempt, remember that you have a full clip
of ammunition at your disposal, and also that the weapon is automatic. Of course
when returning to civilian life, it is advised that this method be discontinued.
P.S. The hand grenade method is not advised due to the fact that the door often
becomes a complete loss and cannot be closed again, thus possibly causing colds
in the future due to drafts.”
Lt. Swede Carlson was assigned to the company on the 21st of March.
We took a couple of looks at the Rhine, and then were assigned to Corps reserve
for the time being moving back into the town of Framersheim. The houses there
did not compare with our billets in Worms, but the wine cellars, though crude,
were far more plentiful. Another practice, which could possibly be of value in
civilian life, was learned here. The are of siphoning wine barrels was
diligently practices; in fact that might all of Akron had plenty of practice at
On the 28 of March, General Dager, now in charge of the 11th
Armored, came to town to present awards. Doc Burr received his DSC. Busch and
Jacenko were both awarded Bronze Stars. On the same day, Schoenfeldt and
Gilchrist returned from the hospital to the company.
In a sporty little coupe car that somehow managed to attach itself
to the company, Doc Burr took off for Paris the following day, and thence to
catch a boat heading for home and his 30-day furlough. Everyone agreed that he
had earned the break, and we were glad for his sake that he had the chance. Doc
had a list of telephone numbers a mile long sticking out of his back pocket for
all the fellows in the company, and he faithfully promised, and later actually
did manage to phone all of them in the States and deliver messages. We were to
head back into action the next day.
Chasing The Superman
-- Mass Retreat In Central Germany
Akron Company had a system for going through towns. We had learned from bitter
experience what to expect if the town was not reduced by firepower before
entering it. We had lost too many good men that way. When the lead tank had
reached the outskirts of the town, the tank commander would call back to Burns,
“Hey, Burns, I can now plainly see the town.”
“How does it look? Burns would call back.
“Well, I don’t know. It looks a little dangerous. Can you see
any white flags?”
“White flags, hum, no I can’t. There might possibly be a little
one over there, but that’s all, and now that I look at it through the binoks,
I believe it is only some laundry.”
“Well, can you see any civilians around?” Burns would ask.
“Nope, not a one. The whole town looks too quiet. Something must
”Maybe we better blast it down.”
“That’s just what I was thinking,” the tank commander would
After all this formality, Burns would say: “All Akron stations,
this is Burns. Pick up a line formation outside of town. Jessie, take your
platoon over on the left of the road. Synovec, you and Brown line up on the
right side of the road. Knock the town down. I am going to call up artillery for
some big stuff, and maybe we can get the “Angels” to help with this job.
We moved out of Framerschien, passed Oppenheim, over the Rhine,l
Darmstadt, Hanau and Budingen and finally into the outskirts of Fulda.
But this was not without incident, for in one mission Akron’s Red
platoon under Lt. Wilson was sent out to guard the right flank of the town.
Going over almost impossible terrain and as Cpl. Armin Stodolenak put it, “Just
about vertically climbing stone walls with our tanks. We finally reached the
position, but not before the hatch on Stroik’s tank fell on his fingers, and
he had to be evacuated.”
Swinging north from Fulda, Burns’ tank led the way into the town
of Grosenluder where we bivouacked for the night.
It was here that T/4 Jason Surowiecki proved his value as an
artillery mechanic in the company. After working all day as gunner in the CO’s
tank. Jason was called upon to fix a tank whose traversing mechanism was all
shot when its gears stripped. This was definitely a job for ordnance, but Jason
knew his business. Coming into town, he had noticed two abandoned American
tanks, which the Jerries must have captured, and then left there when they ran
out of gasoline. The tanks were not hit. Jason went in to one of those tanks
that night, took out the entire traversing unit, and started to work on the tank
that needed fixing. He had to work until the small hours of the morning, but he
completed his job, and when he left the tank, its turret was able to traverse
like new. Jason finished in time to catch a few winks and then climb back into
the gunner’s seat of his tank, ready for another day’s action. It was that
kind of teamwork by all members of Akron company that it always displayed
against the enemy.
The next day was Easter Sunday. To us of C Company it was to be
known in the future as “Bloody Sunday.” On this Holy Day that is supposed to
stand for peace and good will, we were to find instead at the close of the day
that the roads were lined with German dead, and that the blood of these Germans
was on our hands. Perhaps the paradox was in the fact that it was also April
Fool’s Day, for ironically, as
far as the Germans were concerned, Easter Sunday fell on the 1st of April. Never
had the 11th Armored Division killed so many, or captured so many as they did on
that day when they ran into regiments of the 11th Panzer Division. We found the
moral for which we were looking. To gain for ourselves and our loved ones that
peace and understanding for which Easter Sunday stands, we had to kill and
destroy that which stood in the way.
Akron was the lead company on Easter Sunday. Sgt. Leon Hummel’s
tank was in the lead in the early part of the morning. His gunner, Cpl. John
Schreiber had this to say, “We were going through a small valley when we ran
into hundreds of Jerry soldiers retreating in front of us. Immediately we cut
loose with our terrific firepower. Jerries were lying all along the road, along
the sides of the valley and in the ditches by the road. Many of them were
playing dead and would not surrender. We had to blast them and every tank was
firing as fast as it could. Everywhere enemy soldiers were moaning and dying,
and the sides of the hills were almost painted red with blood.”
Schreiber took over control of his tank after Hummel was evacuated,
and his cool display of courage enables the attack to keep going. For this he
was later awarded the Bronze Star.
The attack went on, and the Nazi blood continues to color the road.
Burns had this to say: “At 0900 that morning, I put Sgt. Kasavan’s tank in
the lead. We continued to move at such a fast pace that the attack had to be
halted at 1500 that afternoon, for word came down from headquarters that we were
further out in front than any other unit of the entire Western allies. We were
driving too deep and too fast into the heart of Germany.”
Working with perfect air coordination, hundreds of Germans died
that day, and over 2000 prisoners fell to us. Lt. Col. Wray Sagaser, commanding
officer of the 41st Tank Battalion, was jubilant over the day’s work, and
personally congratulated Burns for
the fine work the company did. Meanwhile the Chief of Staff, just transferred
from the 4th Armored Division, claimed that that day he had seen more enemy
vehicles and personnel put out of action than he saw at any time while working
with the 4th AD.
Kasavan had this to say: “It was a day of perfect coordination,
learned well y the hard teacher of experience. The platoon was giving me perfect
protection and covering fire all day long. Putcakulish and his crew were right
behind me all day long. His gunner, Cpl. Albert Fonti, was blasting to hell
everything that came up from the right side. Synovec’s tank was the third one
and his gunner. Cpl. Johnny Lisiewski took care of the left side of the road.
Cornell’s tank was #4 and he had his gunner, Pfc. Ralph Anthony, alternated on
both sides of the road depending on the situation. All their crews were
functioning like the veterans that they were, and the rest of the company still
had plenty of targets to help out a hell of a lot. Meanwhile I could not
possibly have asked for any better co-operation than I got from my own crew of
Campora, Stansbery, Casey, and Morinville.”
It is fitting, I believe, at this time to acknowledge the wonderful
help we were receiving through battle from our Armored Infantry Battalion, the
21st AIB, members of which were riding on the backs of our tanks all the time. A
tank has many blind spots, especially to the right and left rear, that cannot be
covered by the tank itself. But these doughboys showed plenty of guts and
courage in riding along with us and doing this job. Also show me the tanker who
would not prefer to have a couple of doughs riding on his back an time he goes
through a town, and I will show you a moron. How else could we be covered from
those second story windows that always look so ominous.
Even at that with all the bloodshed, there was still one humorous
incident. Putcakulish gives the story: “At one time we came to a road block
that had to be put back out of the way so we backed off about 20 yards from the
road block and I told my gunner to knock it down. But the gunner had a new
sight-in that was not bore-sighted yet. When the gunner fired, there was a big
burst of flame from the muzzle blast, and when everything cleared, there was the
road block, untouched. But the shot did some good, for I watched it clip a tree
down, and damn if a sniper didn’t come down with it. Not trusting the gunner
anymore, the tank commander had his driver push and shove the road block out of
the way with his tank.”
Despite heavy losses on the enemy side of the ledger for the day,
we registered only three casualties. Lt. Carlson and T/5 Kinzer both caught
fragments in the head when a mortar burst too close to them, and Pfc. Stanley
Pelis also was hit. None of these were serious and all three of them returned to
duty in a short time.
Our next stop turned out to be high up in the mountains in the
Thuringian Forest. The objective was Oberhof, but we stayed outside the city,
guarding the crossroads through the forest. This was to last for four days. And
our old friend from the Bulge, snow, was out to visit us again. Every day,
bedraggled elements of the once proud Nazi army stumbled in on us to themselves
up. Meanwhile we had our problems. Rumors had it that in Oberhof there was
plenty of that stuff which would help to keep us warm ---- and I do not mean
coal or wood either. We sent reconnaissance units into town. These were to be
successful under the guidance of the “Chief”, John Karalekas. Loaded with
bottles, he and his men came back to the forest, probably the most popular men
in the company. We kept reasonably warm, considering the snow and all.
We finally moved out and hit the town of Pfersdorf on the 8th of
April. But one certain tank seemed to have the jinx on it every time we moved
out. This was the tank, “Kingbird” which had belonged to Junior Bartlett,
until the hatch fell on his fingers. Sgt. Stroik took over Kingbird and the same
thing had happened to him. Kingbird was still acting up when Bill Sager became
tank commander. On the way to Pfersdorf, the same hatch sprung down on Sager’s
fingers, and he too had to be evacuated. Pfc. Abie Mallach, who was the fourth
tank commander of Kingbird was the only one who had no trouble with it. This was
probably due to the fact that Malloch was so small, if the hatch did fall it
couldn’t possibly reach him anyway.
Pfersdorf --- maintenance --- cleaning out the tanks. A few of the
tankers were surprised to find that quietly reposing in a couple of the enemy
ammunition racks were some strange looking bottles. These were quickly drained,
from hand to mouth, and when Burns came around to see how the maintenance work
was going on, he was sadly disappointed. But he was quickly pacified when
another one of those strange bottles was somehow miraculously produced.
Pfc. Marvin Aldridge suffered a wound in the mountains, and he had
to be evacuated. Before we moved out, we were bolstered with five new
reinforcements including Nance, Ortegon, Padilla, Peddy, and Price.
It was the 10th of April. Akron was doing the spearheading. Moving
out of Pfersdorf, a burning trail was left behind us, as Cpl. William Hasse’s
tank took the advance guard. On we went through Bedheim, Stressenhausen,
Steinfeld, Eishausen, Adelshausen, and Rodach. The enemy was being pulverized.
Hasse’s crew did wonderful work clearing out road blocks that were in the
direct path of the advance. The job they did would have put a bulldozed to
Hasse’s crew was still out in the lead when we headed out of
Rodach and into trouble. Loupee who was tank commander for the third vehicle in
the column was a close eyewitness: “Hasse along with the advance guard got
across the bridge okay. Malloch who was following Hasse also made it across. We
were just about ten feet from the bridge when all of a sudden there was a
terrific explosion, and when the smoke cleared we saw that the bridge had been
blown sky high. At first we thought a bomb had done it, but later we learned
that the bridge had a hell of a big charge of dynamite placed under it and the
Germans set it off. Evidently the Krauts meant to catch one of out tanks on the
bridge, and had we been on it wen it was blown, that would have been it for me
and my crew.”
We were now in a predicament. The column had been cut. We had to
get to the advance party, for if the Jerry had any force at all up there, they
would wipe it out. We plastered the nearby woods with everything we had, while
Burns and Wilson went into hasty conference to find another route across the
We set out directly to the left, parallel to the river with Lt.
Wilson’s tank in the lead. About three miles down the river we found a
crossing, and took it. Our route led us through another town, and in the battle
for it, Pvt. Jimmy Ellis, Wilson’s loader was hit by a sniper and had to be
evacuated. Stodolenak’s tank went on with the lead, and finally we made
contact with Malloch and Hasse. They had been busy setting up a tough defense
should anything come along.
We halted outside of Coburg, after making it the present of man of
out best high explosive shells. On the 1i6th of April, we arrived in the town of
Mainleus. There were intruders there. Jerry planes were continually hopping over
he town and dropping an egg now and then. One incident still had the company
It happened one afternoon when we were all working on our tanks.
Suddenly our artillery behind us cut loose with a terrific barrage for the town
in front of us. At the same time one of our P-47’s flew by overhead. One of
the fellows who must have flunked his airplane identification test thought that
this was a Jerry plane that had just dropped a bomb. Immediately he sprang into
action. “Man the machine guns.” he yelled. “Get onto those guns.” In the
meanwhile he was sprinting like mad for the nearest tank. Reaching it he deftly
placed himself under the tank, and kept yelling encouragement to the men to fire
at the plane. The company needed a good laugh at the time, anyway.
One more incident must be recorded. It happened one night after we
had reached our objective. It was still light and Burns took one tank and a
group of men about three miles down the road to insect the next town which had
not yet been taken. While Burns and the men were having a discussion over what
to do, a pretty fraulein came riding up the road on a bicycle, passed the tank,
and headed down the road towards the company. One of the men, who must remain
anonymous due to the fact that he is married, immediately flopped into the tank
and called back to the company. “There’s a girl coming down the road on a
bicycle. Halt and detain her. She is a Nazi spy.”
The company immediately became alert, and when Burns and his
scouting party returned, there was the girl being held hostage. As soon as Burns
learned of this he asked the guilty man what was up.
“Well.” said he, “I was a little lonely and just wanted
someone to talk to tonight.”
“Go on,” Burns said, as he set the girl back down on the road,
“you don’t even know the language.” The guilty man hungrily watached the
girl pedal the bicycle away.
Coming back from the hospital while we were in Mainleus were Key,
Morreale, and Owens. Also we received three in Pvts. Porter, Raburn, and Reed.
On the 17 we took a road march into the town of Bayreuth and
plunked out tanks there for awhile. Assigned to the company although they had
been fighting with us before, were the following: Brankley, Fisher, Green,
Lewis, Madden, Sax, Szvetecz, Herald, Covert, Everett, Bock, Smith, and Hutsko.
Bayreuth might have once been the home of the famous Wagnerian
operas, but a new music was being made in the town. It was the deep rumbling
bass of American tanks as they patrolled the town day and night. Somehow on one
of the patrolling missions one dark night, the patrols got mixed up and
accidentally ran into some of these were popular bottles, and a factory full of
Luftwaffe flying boots and gloves. Akron was dressed fit to kill when we moved
out of that town. The tanks also were decorated. Each tank had two 25-gallon
kegs of beer on the back deck purely for ornamental reasons.
We moved out of Bayreuth for 35 miles and on the 20th of April we
ended up bivouacked in Grafenwehr barracks---- or rather it was known by that
name before the Air Corps got hold of it. Now it could just be called
Grafenwehr, there was no more barracks to be seen. This once famous training
camp for Nazi Panzer was now harboring American “Panzer” Divisions.
Although uninvited, we spent Hitler’s birthday in this place. The
rumors were hot and heavy on what “mysterious weapon” Adolf might bring out
of hiding that day. But if he did have any mysterious weapon it must have been
just as mysterious to him as it was to us. The birthday party was quiet, perhaps
a foreboding to Adolf of the way he was to soon slide out of the big picture.
We were not in the lead from Grafenwehr to Cham. It was B Company
that must have had that feeling of inner satisfaction when they liberated
thousands of refugees from the hands of the SS troops. Coiled along the road we
got the story from one of these prisoners who could speak English.
“When the Americans came, the SS troops put us on a forced march
to get away. We had been marching for three nights and two days. We had nothing
to eat except a little rain. Whenever anyone got too weak to walk and dropped
behind, the Nazis would shoot them. There were 18,000 of us when we started out.
There are now 6000 of us left. It was awful.”
And it was awful, we had mute evidence of it all right before our
eyes. About every twenty feet along the road, you could see one of these
evacuated displaced persons lying along either side of the road, a bullet hole
through his head. They looked strange and small and helpless lying there in
their striped clothing and shaved heads. Here you could see a mass grave with
twenty dead dumped in it, there was a man in a pose of praying, with that
inevitable bullet hole. “Look over here,” one of the tankers cried, “a
living skeleton.” He was pointing to one of the prisoners who was changing his
shirt. The only flesh on him was only enough to cover his bones.
The tankers had an advantage over the infantryman---they could
carry a lot of food. But when we rolled into Cham, most of the tanks had nothing
left. It had gone to these refugees. They needed the food. They were starved.
We hot a slight bit of satisfaction watching the German prisoners
marching back along the mobs of displaced persons. When a group of these DP’s
got up enough strength, they would attack the Jerry prisoners. Seeing our tanks,
the Krauts would run to us for protection, but the rules were they must continue
down the road. They did---at gunpoint! After this we could encourage the DP’s
to go about their unfinished business.
April 25th--Lt. Burns in charge of the advance guard--Akron
leading. We had just headed out of Regan. We were to run into more hot stuff
than any we had experienced since that memorial day in Cobru during the Bulge.
All day long the sniper and bazooka fire was rough. More than one tank commander
told of the guns resting on top of his turret, that were shot up by snipers. The
strong Jerry counter attack came to life at 1500 just outside of Preying about 8
km from the Austrian border. Kasavan’s tank, which had been out in the lead,
was knocked out when three bazookas hit it within the space of three minutes.
Kasavan and his loader, Cpl. Orville Boch, both had to be evacuated with
It was here that Burns got out of his tank and made a personal
reconnaissance looking for a new route for the attack to go on. It was because
of his alertness and bravery that the company could go on. For this work Burns
was to receive the First Oak Leaf Cluster to his Bronze Star.
But we were still in for a lot of fighting. Putcakulish’s tank
took the lead, but almost immediately it lost both of its tracks when it tried
to bypass the knocked out tanks. Cpl. Schreiber’s tank took the lead, knocking
out many Kraut infantry, but a Heinie bazooka man sneaked up to within 30 feet
of the tank, and planted a round through the turret, right neat the radio. No
one was injured, but the tank could go no further. Stodolenak’s tank took the
lead, but he hit a soft spot in the mud, as did Wilson’s tank which was
following. The company attack did not stop; they went on the attack along the
alternate route Burns had selected.
Meanwhile, Lt. Porter’s maintenance crew had fixed Putcakulish’s
tank, enlisted T/5 Iacona’s tank and went out to help Stutz and Wilson. But
the Krauts were still making it hot for them Going down the road the three tanks
made a left turn only to find later that this put them at right angles with
enemy big guns. Three quick shots knocked out Mike’s tank, the recovery
vehicle, and one engineer’s vehicle. No one was hurt but Mike and his crew of
Apodoca, Matthews, Herald, and Bittle broke 18 world’s records in sprinting
away from the knocked out vehicle.
T/4 Ralph Denton, driver in Wilson’s tank, got out of the tank to
loosen the cables so that when help came, he could be pulled out. But the sniper
fire was all over, and Denton was hit through both legs by small arms stuff. He
fell right where he was hit. Pfc. John Kavenny, bog in the tank, leaped into
action. Braving all the Kraut fire that was still going on, he crawled to
Denton, dragged and carried him to the front of the tank that offered protection
and there gave him first aid. For this action, Kavenny was to be awarded the
Next day, “Pee Wee” Raburn during the action found his head in
contact with a flying shell case inside the tank. The shell won and Pee Wee was
evacuated, but he returned in a couple of weeks. It was some more of this sniper
fire that got Pfc. Claude Taude in the stomach, and he too was sent to the
On To Victory --
know, Joe, this thing is just about all wrapped up. I mean this war is gonna be
over pretty soon, but now I am beginning to get scared. I’m worried. I’d
hate to have anything happen now. With the end this close, it just wouldn’t
make sense to get knocked off now, after going through this much already. You
know, Joe, I’m going to be damn careful from here on out.”
We crossed the Austrian border on May 1. Patrols were being sent
out to meet the Russians. Meanwhile the prisoners were starting to come in, in
droves. Rumor had it that the war here in Europe was soon to cease. We held our
breath waiting for the moment that would end this horrible nightmare.
It happened at midnight on the 8th of May when hostilities
officially ceased. and as Freddie DeFilippo put it, “It was a wonderful day.
It would have looked wonderful even in hell.” But there was still a tense
moment to come. It happened on the night of the 9th, when we were at
Gallneukirchen. Stationed out on a roadblock guard were Fonti, Bock, and
Kavenny. They were to accomplish a feat that was of such magnitude that even
Sgt. York might feel justifiably ashamed.
Fonti, as only Fonti has the finesse to do, was in the turret of
the tank whipping up three cups of Nescafe. Suddenly Kavenny came running over
with the news, “Hey, Fonti there is a whole mob of Germans coming down the
road. There must be thousands of them.”
Fonti and Bock took one look at the German mob. There were
thousands of them! While Kavenny hightailed it for Lt. Burns and the rest of the
company, Fonti and Bock forestalled the mob. It turned out that the Germans were
coming in to surrender to the Americans to get away from the Russians who were
some few miles down the road. Burns had the Germans park in a field for the
night. Meanwhile all of Akron was processing the Krauts and each member of the
company finally ended up with at least half a dozen pistols. A later account
brought the total of Germans to 10,000 who came in that night. But Burns and the
company had the situation under control and what a sad looking lot of Krauts
there were the next day when the orders came down to deliver the prisoners right
back to the Russians.
Just before the war ended, Busch and Jacenko were evacuated to the
hospital, the former with an infected arm and Jacenko had foot trouble. On the
7th, Bartlett and Kinzer returned from the hospital.
on the 8th of May. And the mission for Akron had been accomplished. The war was
over, yet as I look over this narrative, I find that there are many events
missing. I failed to mention the work of Sgt. Seidel and T/4 Lawrence, both of
whom could be depended on to keep the company’s radios working. And what about
the “Chief’s” kitchen crew. Karalekas, Duede, Casey, Willey, and Madden
all found themselves at one time or another in the tanks helping out with the
actual fighting. Reyes could always be depended upon to get the kitchen truck to
where it was going. Smitty and his ever present peep, Schick with the supplies,
Hawes with the records, Semski the armorer, McNair and the recovery vehicle, and
Godfrey with an always helping hand under that hue mackinaw he appropriated from
some place. It was all one great team. Burns for his great leadership as a
soldier and his greater character as a man, cannot be forgotten. And oh
yes---Akron was pleased to learn that it is now Captain Burns, for the battalion
staff could not forget his work either. and then there is Synovec and his
ability to lead a platoon all through combat, yet not lose a man.
I could go on forever telling of the assistance the men gave each other, or of the fighting spirit, of the coordination between all of the units of the Akron company. But this booklet must necessarily be limited. Let it be to your own satisfaction to know what you did. All I can say is that the company, individually and as a whole, performed magnificently, never failing a mission. What could be more praise!