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1. Personal Introduction: The events that I will describe in these tapes occurred from 54 to 56 years ago; hence, one might understand that memory has dimmed a bit,and therefore there may be errors in my story. However, I have made an attempt to document as much of this as I possibly can.
There are several sources for this: There was a history of the 191st FaBn published at the very end of the war, while we were still in Europe. I've used that to check dates and to pick up some of the information that I needed to expand on a little bit. (See Website - History and Operations of the 191st Field Artillery Battalion.)
In addition to this, several years ago I had the opportunity to spend three or four days in the Library of Congress. At that time I did some extensive research in books and documents located there. Much of the information that I took down has been incorporated into the data that I'm now using.
The general framework for this information will be the Operation of the XII Corps, which was a part of General Patton's Third Army.
The 191 FaBn, of which I was a part, was actually attached to the XII Corps on paper, that is, as of May 16th, 1944, almost three months before our unit went to Europe. The XII Corps was being prepared with units to be used once it went into combat. From that point on we were a part of the XII Corps, and did not leave it until April 6th of 1945, just a month before the victory in Europe, VE Day.
I have in my possession a XII Corps map, showing its general route across France and Germany during the war. This map was published just after World War II, and probably still during 1945. Although the map shows the XII Corps' route, one must remember, if you have access to the map (See Website - Battle Route of the XXII CORPS in the European Theater of Operations), that this marks the route taken by the headquarters of the XII Corps. The various divisions included in it, and the units supporting those divisions, were scattered over a very wide area.
The route of 191 FaBn, therefore, is not necessarily identical with the route marked on the XII Corps map. Furthermore, my own participation was with C Battery of the 191 FaBn, as Battery Executive Officer, until about the 1st of February, 1945. Up to that time, the positions taken by the Battery would be identical with where I was stationed.
After that date, however, I was the Forward Observer for C Battery and spent the time from the 1st of February until May, at the end of the war, out in the front attack areas with various divisions, mostly the 5th Infantry Division and the 4th Armored Division. My position, Therefore, would not be identical with that of the 191 headquarters or its firing batteries.
I'll try to make note, where possible, of where I was, because that's all I can speak of firsthand. The fact that I have waited this long to assemble this data is possibly a clue to the fact that I am somewhat reluctant to do so. There is much of the information that I have no intention of including. To those who read this, I want you to know that there were many amusing things that happened during the course of these months in combat. I would prefer to dwell on those; although, I will tell some of our operations.
I do not plan, however, to go into much graphic detail for two reasons: The first reason is that it serves no useful purpose at this stage, for we know what war is like. And, secondly, I really don't want to relive it in that way.
So you will have, as nearly as I can make it, an accurate picture but not a complete picture. If you are interested in those kinds of things, there are many books in the library that deal with it, and the tragedies of war will be outlined there. I won't speak much about the casualties. The ones I will mention were casualties that meant a great deal to me personally. These will be mentioned but, there again, in no graphic detail.
There is another major source of information that I have utilized in this report. During the campaigns I received, almost daily, letters from Eleanor, who was then my fiancée, and, whenever possible, I wrote to her. I have reviewed my letters in order to remind myself, with some accuracy, of things that happened. I was very conscious of censorship, however, so very little is written in the letters about locations any closer than, "somewhere in France."
There were human interest factors, though, that I was able to remind myself of, so these letters did become a resource for me in putting these notes together. Since copying the information out of the letters they've been destroyed, but the central information that I want to pass on is contained, in part at least, in this report.
All that has been said before has been by way of introduction. So, leaving the introduction, we proceed with the main content of these reminiscences.
Let's begin with a word or two about the XII Corps, and the Corps Artillery of which we were a part. In his book entitled, "XII Corps: Spearhead of Patton," Third Army Lt. Col. George Dyer said, "XII Corps' history in combat would have been a far different story without XII Corps Artillery blasting holes through enemy defenses for the Armor and Infantry when the going got tough. Corps Artillery was the hammer that drove the steel spikes of XII Corps into the coffin of the Third Reich."
Going on he said, "Among the field artillery battalions, it would be impossible to pass over without mentioning such hard hitting outfits as the 191 FaBn and the 267 FaBn. These, and other field artillery units,were among those magnificent dispensers of fire power in the rough, which supplied the XII Corps' Sunday punch, all the way from the beach to Bavaria."
Brigadier General John M. Lentz, who was the Commanding General of the XII Corps, wrote a letter of commendation of the Corps Artillery in which he said, "The performance of Corps Artillery battalions in recent operations has been outstanding." He continued, saying, "They had been out in front generally. Many have been under small arms fire with no thought of withdrawal. One medium artillery laid directly on hostile assault guns. The observers of another, in the absence of Infantry or other troops, fired charge one at tanks over a low crest, turning back the tank attack only after two direct hits were made on tanks within 200 yards of the observer."
The unit that did that firing was C Battery of 191 FaBn, and I'll speak more about that when we come to that part of the story chronologically. Those of us who participated in World War II had a strong sense of duty. We believed that our cause was a just one, and we only regret that those who served in later conflicts have had the issues dimmed for them by the events at the time so that they could not have the sense of devotion to the cause that we experienced.
My opinion has not changed over the years, and I still believe as I did at that time. To get a sense of that, let me quote from a letter I wrote to Eleanor while I was on the high seas, enroute to Europe, in which I said, "I feel very strongly about the ideals for which we and our allies have gone to war, and I am determined to take an active part in support of those ideals. I have no regrets about that, and I do not want you to have any. What I am doing is necessary, and is being done to ensure our future happiness, and help mold a life and a way of living we will be proud to present to our children."
In view of the fact that these notes have been called forth at the request of our grandchildren, I can only hope that they understand that we did have those reasons at the time, and that we do hope that we've been able to present a way of life that's better as a result of the actions taken so long ago.
2. Organizing for Deployment: After a month spent in Wales, near Abergavenny, in a little community called Llanover, we sailed across the channel, arriving at Utah Beach on August 13th, 1944. We arrived about 11:00 p.m. on that date and proceeded to an assembly area, arriving there at almost 4:00 a.m. on the 14th of August.
You will note that our landing on Utah Beach was over two months after the initial D-Day assault at that same spot. There still were no docks to land on. We still used landing craft which went up to the beach, the end dropped down, and we, and all of our equipment and vehicles, drove out onto the beach over some low dunes. We then assembled, as I said, at another point just inland.
We started a trip at that time to overtake the leading units of the Third Army, which were still moving inland from the base of operations near the beach. We traveled through St. Mere Eglise, Carentan, Periers, Coutances,Avranches, St. Hailaire, Landivy, Le Mans, and Le Grande Luce, and arrived finally in a position near Chateaudun.
We arrived there on the night of August 18th, and were put in support of the 35th Infantry Division. I remember the position well. Our battery was in an apple orchard near Chateaudun. In the morning, as we were preparing to leave, a little boy from a nearby village came over, and it was the first opportunity the American soldiers had to dig into their musette bags, as we called them, and get some candy and give it to the boy. Soon others were there. We enjoyed having our first meeting with the French people in that way, meeting, first of all, the children.
Three days later we were reassigned in support of the 4th Armored Division. This was to be a relationship which would last through the biggest share of our combat operations in Europe. It was to lead us on a very wild and rapid chase, at times, after the armor.
Since our field artillery pieces were pulled by track vehicles, once on the road we could keep up with the armored vehicles quite well, but getting on the road was much slower. All the armored units had to do was simply start their engines and start rolling. We, however, had to put our guns together. They had to be kind of prepared for every position we were in, and then we had to unprepare them to get them ready to go. This took quite a bit of time. They were very heavy, and called medium artillery. 155 howitzers were quite large pieces, so it took quite a while for us to get on the road. Therefore, when we would receive the command "March Orders", and the tanks would start rolling, our units were sometimes many miles behind.
We realized that at times we would be cut off, and at least on one occasion the enemy had closed in on the road after the armor ahead of us had passed, but we did get through and eventually rejoined them. On one such occasion, one 191 soldier and his vehicle were captured.
We had several occasions when our trip was like that, where we had to hurry to catch up. I suppose that many of the readers of this will associate the name Le Mans with a famous road race that has been running at least since World War II, and is very famous to those who follow such auto racing as that. But, to me, Le Mans means something else.
This is the point at which we really joined the 4th Armored Division and completed this trip up from the beach.
3. Pointing the Way: They were moving on Orleans at the time, which will be recognized as a name associated with Joan of Arc. But, the memory that I have of Le Mans, as we went through the outskirts of it, was that of a man; a soldier whose name I never knew, whose rank I wasn't sure of, and from whom I never heard a word spoken. He was standing at a crossroads with one arm extended to his right and his left arm motioning to us to turn at that point as we were approaching him, telling us that that was the route that we would take to follow the 4th Armored Division.
These route markers had lonely jobs at times, being placed out along the road. Since the area still had many enemy soldiers in it, it was a dangerous job, but there he was, doing his job, motioning us on. I thought many times about him, hoping that he remained safe in that position, and hoping the same for many other route markers I noted during the course of the war.
Philosophizing a bit about it, I realize that just as he changed the course of life for me by sending me off into battle, all of us have many route markers in life who are people who touch our lives, who may not be standing physically with their arms outstretched, but are pointing us in a particular direction. By their actions or their words, or their own lives, they direct us. Such route markers have meant a lot to me, and I've often thought it would be a good basis for some philosophical writings about our lives.
4. Engaging the Enemy: After crossing Orleans, the next big objective of the 4th Armored Division was to capture the city of Sens on the Yonne River. This was done early in our period of activity. In fact, the city was captured on August 21st.
While we were in position, supporting the 4th Armored Division in its efforts to take the city, our battery was attacked and strafed by six ME 109s, a type of German fighter plane. We noted with fear that they were equipped with rockets on their wings; small rockets that they could fire, as well as the machine guns.
We wanted to take cover, but we had no cover. We hadn't really gotten to dig any foxholes, but we fell to the ground as best we could, and just lasted through it.
There were no casualties, although I can still remember seeing the dirt pop up every few feet from a machine gun that was firing somewhat in my direction, but passed by me on one side. I sensed a great relief over that.
Probably one of the most important things that happened to our unit, as a result of that escapade, had nothing to do with the attack at all. The day before we had been joined by a support unit of the First Platoon of Battery C of the 452 AAA. As all units were segregated in those days, it was so designated with the word "colored" after it, because they were black soldiers. The Army referred to them as "colored" troops. They were not integrated except to have some white officers, but all of the men at our positions were black soldiers.
When they were assigned, I had some real questions about what this would do to our unit, because ours was a National Guard unit from the state of Tennessee. If you know your history of the Civil War, you remember that Tennessee was on the fence. Some had Southern loyalties and some had Northern loyalties. But there were, among these men, many of them who had very strong feelings against the "coloreds," as they called them. When we were in the states, and it was suggested that a unit of black soldiers was going to be stationed next to us, we heard all kinds of threats from within our unit about what they would do to them if they got there. They didn't want to live next to them so they made many threats. It never developed because they were not stationed next to us.
But now into combat we came, and immediately, on the very first day of action, we had a "colored" antiaircraft unit attached to us. They were in our battery area, around our guns. They were stationed there to defend us against aircraft, and, consequently, they had to be right up by us.
They were attached to us for administrative purposes. We fed them, and
they were there on this very first day of action when the German planes
strafed us. Our boys from Tennessee, a few of whom had some strong feelings,
were able to see these black soldiers jump into action, man their guns
without leaving them, and fire at the German planes, acting with real bravery.
From that time on, a camaraderie developed between those black soldiers
and the Tennessee National Guardsmen, and all the other members of our
unit, about half of which were from
I have thought many times since that God works in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform, and he had worked his wonders there, because it took just that strafing attack for everybody to realize that we were in this war together, and there was neither black nor white.
Later, after that unit had left us and gone to another unit, word got back to us that they had been very heavily shelled. When word that one of the men, named Christenson, had been killed, I actually saw some of these who had been the most anti-black of the Tennesseans cry real tears over the loss of that man. As I saw them from time to time sitting around talking to the AAA men, sitting at their little fires (when fires were permitted), I knew that things were happening that were going to change them in the years to come.
A map of the XII Corps simply says that on August the 26th, the Corps seized the bridgehead over the Seine and captured Troyes. That brings me to one of the more exciting adventures that I experienced in combat. It also permits me to introduce you to Joe Lobato, an Indian boy from the area around Pueblo in Southern Colorado. Joe, for a period of time during these particular months in July and August, served as my Jeep driver.
5. Many Rivers to Cross: For this crossing of the Seine, the C Battery, to which I was attached, was directed to cross the river at night, in what was almost complete darkness, along with a small detachment of other troops, including a portion of one other artillery battalion and a portion of the 4th Armored Division.
The area approaching the river itself was very heavily wooded, with relatively small trees, but very densely packed, so there were no roads or trails through which we could travel with our vehicles. I was leading our four howitzers, riding in the Jeep with Joe as the driver. Up ahead of us there were armored vehicles. In particular, at the front of that column, were the largest of our tanks equipped with bulldozers. These tanks would root out the trees and make a route through the woods so that we could get to the river. Our travel was very slow. Of course, we knew that we were in enemy territory so it was rather dangerous and, from time to time, we could hear machine gun and small arms fire not very far away.
The engineers accompanying the tanks with the dozers soon were able to put a kind of makeshift bridge across the Seine, for the Seine was not very large at that point, nothing like it is around Paris. By the time we finally got to the river's edge, the bridge was in and we were able to proceed across it.
I wanted you to meet Joe. I'll tell you more about him later. At this point he was my driver. It was a rather scary situation and Joe was properly concerned about our well-being, as was I. He had come up to meet me when I had been separated from him for a while. He had been in the Jeep but I had been on foot, so I was very tired, and in spite of the machine gun fire and the danger of the moment, I, at one point, dozed off. Joe reached over and punched me and said, "Lieutenant, please stay awake, I'm scared." I didn't blame him for being scared, and I found it possible to stay awake after that.
We crossed the river, still in the middle of the night, in total darkness, and traveled two miles or so into the bridgehead that was made over the river. Since the bridgehead was not thoroughly secured from the enemy, we took precautions to defend ourselves in the event we were attacked. So, all of the vehicles, the armored vehicles, the tractors pulling our guns, and our guns, were pulled into a large circle. The troops not in vehicles were kept inside that circle. Just like the wagon trains used to protect themselves going across the country at night against Indian attacks, we too provided ourselves that kind of protection with this large circle, with all of the vehicles in the perimeter being our first line of defense.
As dawn began to break, the German troops that were being attacked in the city of Troyes began to stream out of the city to the east. They took with them all of their vehicles, all that they could get out, so that they made something like a parade across the countryside. Moving down the roads that were available to them, they became easy prey to our artillery, for we went into position then, began to fire on them, and our planes began to strafe them.
From Troyes, streaming toward Germany, there was a long line of burned out vehicles packed along the road, because they hadn't had time to properly conduct themselves or disperse themselves as they traveled. Their main idea was to get out of there. Such was our crossing of the Seine at Troyes.
The other point I want to make is that in the actual battle for Troyes there were a number of lives lost by American Infantry and other ground troops. Later I would read in "Stars and Stripes" about this, and, in particular, about some of the troops that were lost. But the number of casualties was not large, so the generals were satisfied that they had accomplished an easy victory, and it was so reported in the newspapers in the United States. After the war I went back into the files of the Los Angeles Times and read of that battle, in which it said it was a "cheap victory." It was not, of course, cheap to the men who were injured, to those who lost their lives, and to their families at home. No battle is "cheap" where any life is lost. But that's the way of war. The planners plan an attack assuming that there will be a certain number of casualties, and if those numbers are less than they had predicted, they consider it an easy victory.
At this point, while I have introduced Joe Lobato to you, I want to tell you another incident or two about Joe. Joe was a fantastic driver. I found it necessary at times, as a forward observer, to go on foot, actually, most of the time with the Infantry. He had to stay behind with the Jeep. Only when the battle was over, and it was safe to bring a vehicle up front, would he finally come forward. He had an uncanny ability to find me. You must realize that I was one of hundreds of troops in each of these situations that had gone ahead, and he would somehow locate me without much information to go on. I always thought that perhaps his natural ability as an Indian gave him this ability to track me, but he somehow or other always arrived, and was there when I finally needed a vehicle.
On one occasion, when we were crossing the river near Trier, I was to go across in the second infantry wave in rubber rafts that we paddled across the river. Joe, of course, had to stay behind with the Jeep. The last I saw of Joe, he was in the company of a fraulein -- no, let me correct that, a frau, because she was a young German woman with a baby, in whose house he and I had spent the night just for shelter. She had been perfectly safe, and she, the baby, and we got in what sleeping we could. Very early in the morning, I started on an attack with the Infantry. The last I saw of Joe he was in the house with this young mother. I always assumed that perhaps he stayed there because of her presence, but I never knew and I could not actually accuse him of that. I only know that the last I saw him, he was there. A day or two later he was to show up when I needed him across the river.
On one occasion Joe, in his efforts to locate me, went a little too far and found himself in enemy territory. He was not aware of this until he came to a little village.
Riding all by himself in his Jeep, he drove into the village square and stopped to see what the situation was. At which point, a gentleman, who later proved to be the burgomeister, that is, the mayor, came out of a building carrying a white flag and surrendered the village to Joe.
Joe sized the situation up immediately, and knew that he had captured
a village, so he gave directions to one of the Germans, who spoke some
English, and told him to have all of the villagers bring their guns and
lay them down in
the village square. While they were doing this, he explained to them that the other troops would soon be arriving and taking over the village. At which point he jumped into his Jeep and drove back into our territory again. As far as I know, the village was finally occupied, but Joe was the first to capture it.
When I had finally returned to the states, Eleanor and I were married a week after I returned. We were married in Denver on December 23, but we stayed in Denver through Christmas. On Christmas evening we headed out on our honeymoon, which was in Colorado Springs. Then, after a short return to Denver, we headed to California. Our route took us through Pueblo, where we stopped in a restaurant to eat. Lo and behold, there was Joe Lobato sitting at a table in this restaurant. So, I got to meet him again at that point, right after the war, and he was introduced to my new bride. I never heard from Joe again.
Three days later we crossed another river, the Marne, at a place called Chalons. There were many, many rivers to cross in our journeys, and I'll mention others as I go along. Many of these rivers were very small, some we were able to ford, the larger ones we crossed in some kind of boats, or on pontoon bridges that were built by the engineers. There were also small metal bridges that they put across the smaller streams, and sometimes we crossed these. It seemed to me that, especially in the latter portion after February, when I was with the Infantry most of the time or out with the armored force as a forward observer, that we spent all our time walking up and over hills and crossing rivers in-between. I wished at times the rivers ran in our direction so we could travel down them, or up them, as the case may be, but it seemed we always had to cross them.
From our new position east of Chalons, we made a 40-mile march on the 31st of August, this was just a few days after we had crossed the Marne, to a point near the city of Commercy. The city of Commercy was captured on the 31st of August in '44.
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