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Chapter 36

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Chapter 36

Strasbourg

We got a break. How about that? They wanted to give us a rest but didn’t have anybody to relieve us completely. They had moved in another Division, (the 79 th ), but were still having to leave the “hard stuff” to the veteran divisions. The 3 rd Division had been in a holding position at Strasbourg. They were still in contact with the enemy but the sector was quiet so they switched the 3 rd to our area and moved us into theirs. We were moved just a few at a time in order to keep pressure on the Germans. It did give us five days of comparative quiet. We took over the 3 rd installations and they had set up complete wire communications. Guess what? We turned off the radios they whole five days. They sent the radio car to a holding area and our driver stayed with it. Stack, Tuten, and myself moved into a

house with a French family.

Strasbourg had been both French and German occupation. The family consisted of a man, wife, and little girl about six years old. In the past, the family had been larger so there was lots of room. They were wonderful people and made us welcome. We even had a nice, soft, warm bed apiece. We thought we were in heaven. We were doing but very little firing and the enemy wasn’t firing back. We were there Christmas Day and shared food and presents with the family. We were glad to share and so were they. In fact, Strasbourg was said to be where the Christmas tree tradition started. The boys chipped in and had some parties for the children of the town. For some reason, the little girl took up with me and followed me everywhere I went. That didn’t hurt my feelings too much.

Anyway, to us it was a wonderful Christmas; it just didn’t last long enough.

Odds and ends

Hap, I am sure will verify how the services sometimes could foul up.

Phil McClendon, an old country boy from out around Poolville in Parker County, was a few years older than most of us. He also had been around more. He even had made a trip to Turkey with a boatload of mules for a Weatherford banker. He had been in the National Guard several years and was good on the 105’s. So when we mobilized, they made him a Sergeant over a gun crew. Later, he was a S/Sgt. over all the guns, a rank he held all through the States and up to Casino, Italy, until this incident happened. When we were at Camp Bowie in the States, they gave all of us an I.Q. test. Phil only made 80 on it, not because he was stupid, but because he thought the whole thing was nonsense. Somebody looked at his service record and said that his IQ was too low to be a Non-Com so he was reduced to Private. Captain Curtis had to get Colonel Green to go with him to Division Headquarters, the Division HQ contracted Corp HQ, and finally got his S/Sgt. stripes back for him.

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Because of longer service and his age he got sent home on the point system. Instead of letting him stay in the States, they put him in a new Division and right back overseas he come. The new Division assignment was mostly holding areas already captured and cleaning up behind the combat zone.

Fraternization with the Germans was strictly forbidden but nobody paid much attention to it. Phil was telling me this incident after we got home. They were to keep crews on the guns 24 hours a day in case of emergency. He would to out at night to check his crews and there wouldn’t be enough crew there to fire if they needed to. He stayed back and watched and would see part of them slipping off. They were going to fraternize with the civilians—mostly the women. So Phil got a German rifle laid out where he could see all the guns. When he would see somebody leave, he would shoot over their heads. He said after two nights, he never had a bit of trouble keeping full crews on the guns.

As I said, Phil wasn’t stupid. He did more to run the gun crew than the officers did. When our First Sgt. was away from the Battery, he would be acting First Sgt. The men all respected him and he would have made an excellent First Sgt. on a permanent basis.

In fact, in thinking back, the First Sergeant, S/Sgt. McClendon, and S/Sergeant Wingate were depended on by our officers a lot and had a lot to do with running the Battery. Wingate was HQ S/Sergeant and worked reconnaissance and helped pick out Battery positions and etc. Usually promotions weren’t even made without calling them in for recommendations. That is until Phil was transferred and Wingate got badly wounded.

Big deal, although I was a T/4, same rank as a Buck Sergeant, I was considered a “Chief of Section” and they wouldn’t give anybody in my section a promotion without my okay.

In another letter with this I was telling you about Phil McClendon shooting over his gun crew with a German rifle. He didn’t tell anyone about it until he got home. His crew reported being shot at by snipers. He caused so many sniper hunts he was afraid to tell anyone that it was him doing the shooting.

Guarding German monastery

Another detail I remember well was a huge monastery. The Germans had stored “art objects” there they had looted from a lot of the countries they had occupied. The monastery was very old and I am sure there were underground passages and etc. that may still not be found. There were a few monks there and you could be

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going down a passageway and one would appear like he had just stepped out of the wall. If they had on the robes, we had to assume they were okay.

We had a room near the main entrance for a guardroom. The orders were for two men to be on each post at all times. Three of the posts were inside and seven more were around the outside. As Sergeant of the Guard, I had two shifts of twenty men each and three corporals. We were under very strict orders. We were assigned to the Military Governor of that region and answerable to him. Our orders read that no one was to go farther inside than the guardroom unless it was the Military Governor or someone was accompanied by the Military Governor personally. Written permission could not be accepted. They told us verbally that that applied to General Eisenhower himself. Of course, the General never showed up so we didn’t have to use that authority. We did refuse entry to quite a few people.

The Officer of the Guard checked us pretty regular. My orders were to spot check all posts at my discretion. My discretion didn’t send me out to check the late shifts. For one thing, some of the boys we had were fresh over from the States. We tried to pair each of those with a veteran where we could. I didn’t want to go prowling around there late a night and get shot by somebody all hyped up and scared by all the orders.

One of the orders were that no one was to go farther into the monastery than their guard post. As Sergeant of the Guard I did have a little more leeway. But I didn’t dare go into the monk's part as they deeply resented our being there and would have reported it immediately. But to put a bunch of Americans to guard something and tell them they couldn’t look at it was like waving a red flag at a bull. I will admit I did some peeking, as I am sure others did too. In spot checks I often got lost on purpose. All the art objects were under protective covering. I wouldn’t’ t have known what I was looking at anyway. I did sneak a peek at the original “Mona Lisa". I did know about it.

As I said, I know there were secret passages from some of the places the monks would show up. I will bet there was tunnels that come up outside the walls. Things could have been carried out of there without our knowledge. As for the monks, they could have been anybody with a robe on.

In a way, the whole thing was quite interesting. We were there a week and I was glad to be relieved and out from under the pressure.

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Odds and Ends

Cherry, we only won the war, mainly by cutting off supplies from the Germans.

Mostly by capturing and stopping their fuel supply.

Their roads were the best found anywhere in Europe. A lot of their highways were autobahns. In going through a big forest before we hit Austria, I got shook up. They had cleared the middle and painted the middle green on one of the highways. From the air you couldn’t tell it had been done. They used it for a landing strip. They cut areas just wide enough for planes under the tall trees. They pushed the planes into these and they couldn’t be seen from above. In one strip I saw at least 150 planes, both fighters and bombers. If they had had fuel and pilots for them, the war would have lasted a lot longer. In fact, if they had had fuel for all their vehicles I am not a bit sure we would have won. Anyway, a lot more lives would have been lost. Another way we won was that we out-produced them on war material.

As I said, I saw this area with at least 150 planes stored and I am sure there were many others like it.

Italy: Odds and Ends

  • I had forgotten this incident until I started thinking back. We drew some

replacements back in Italy. One was a boy from Colorado named Charles Haskell. When he come to us things were fairly quiet. Charley told Phil McClendon, Gun Sergeant, that he would like to see some action. He was bored. Phil said, “ I will get you some action.

He went to Captain Curtis and had Haskell put on the F.O. the first night. Our officer he was with was killed. Charlie had to lay beside him all night and play dead to keep from getting killed or captured. He told us later that was the longest night of his life and he didn’t want another one like it. Charlie made a good man and did go back on F.O.’s several times after that. But he sure never volunteered again.

Concussion

  • I keep writing you about WWII. but at least you can censor out what you don’t

want. As I told you before, after 425 days of combat I was very lucky. The nearest I ever come to getting it was being knocked out by concussion. That happened later in the war.

We were advancing with the Infantry under friendly fire. The artillery would lay down a barrage just over your heads while you hit the dirt. Then they would raise

elevation and drop another barrage some 150 to 200 yards farther.

You knew it

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was coming and would hit the dirt again. The idea was to help knock out or soften the opposition you were to hit.

  • I never knew whether it was an enemy shell that hit or whether one of ours

dropped short. I do know from the hole it made that it was about a 105 mm. When

  • I come to, I could reach the edge of the hole it made with my hand. It was very

hard ground, which threw all the fragments over me and hit several people farther away. I was in sort of a “dead space”. They left me to get the others out as they thought I was a “goner”. I come to and stumbled down to the others. They grabbed me and would talk to me but I couldn’t hear. Bloods was coming out my nose and ears. They were going to take me to the hospital but, like a damn fool, I wouldn’t go, so it isn’t even on my Service Record. By the time they got the others out I got my hearing back and we were short a bunch of men so I stayed. For several days, the least jar would give me a bad headache and it blew dust particles through my clothes and several days later I had festered places on my side. Cherry, as you know, you have a “damn fool” for a father.

Once a shell hit and knocked out the windshield of the radio car and blew out a back tire. Red Stack was in the front and I was in the back. We didn’t get a scratch but were some shook up.

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