After the draft and basic training, I eventually
went to OCS, followed by flight training, then was stationed in
England for nine months as a liaison pilot with the 3rd Armored
June 18, 1944
We arrived at our port of embarkation, Weymouth, on June 18 and
were issued D and K rations, motion sickness pills and vomit bags.
Here we loaded on LST's (Landing Ship Tanks). As we started out
of the harbor, there was a collision between two ships that blocked
the passage, so we returned to dock. The next day we sailed again
but were turned back by high seas and stormy weather, which made
landing on the beach impossible. Most of the guys on the ship got
really sick. In fact, one of the lieutenants in our battery thought
he was going to die. As long as he was lying down, he was OK, but
as soon as he sat up in his hammock, he turned green and heaved.
The LST's, being relatively small, were really
buffeted by the rough sea. Although the officers had a dining room,
it was impossible to sit at the table and eat because the tin plates
would slide from one end of the table to the other. I was not too
affected with nausea, probably because of all the flying I had done.
I'm sure there is a relationship between airsickness and seasickness.
Much of the sickness was probably intensified by fear and apprehension.
Although beachhead had already been established, it was rumored
that the Germans were ready to launch a counteroffensive and drive
the allied troops back into the sea. It was possible that we would
get there just at that time.
When we arrived at Omaha Beach just below the
village of Isigny, the scene was mass confusion, a lot of broken
equipment, smashed tanks, twisted landing craft, and much half-submerged
wreckage. Corpses floated by, one of which became entangled in the
propeller of the LST I was on. Strips of barbed wire lay helter-skelter
on the sandy beach. Many large ships, part of the invasion armada,
sat offshore, still firing big guns over our heads and inland. The
first day we spent de-waterproofing our vehicles, but we didn't
take our planes off the 6x6 trucks until later, when we were inland
and could find a pasture big enough from which to take off. There
had been some debate prior to the crossing as to why we couldn't
just fly the planes across the channel. The division artillery commander
thought that there would be so much air activity and so many barrage
balloons around the beach that it wouldn't be practical, and, of
course, he was right. Thus we removed the wings and placed our Cubs
on 6x6 trucks and loaded them aboard the LST.
The first days, everyone was a little scared because
of the occasional sniper firings on our positions. I recall vividly
a frightening moment for me. I started out in my jeep to locate
battalion headquarters, and as I drove down a narrow road between
hedgerows, around a curve some 20 yards ahead there suddenly appeared
a German Tiger tank. My jeep driver and I both hit the ditch, but
as it turned out, the tank was a captured one, which was being driven
by one of the guys in our outfit. I was probably never more scared
than at that moment.
Fighting in Normandy was not suitable to an armored
division. The terrain was flat, with lots of poplar trees and high,
earthbound hedgerows around the small fields. It was almost impossible
for our tanks to break through the hedgerows, and if they did, they'd
be hit immediately by a bazooka or by an anti-tank gun. The tanks
would burst into flame and black smoke, giving the crews inside
no chance for escape. Burned bodies are neither pretty nor easy
on the sense of smell. When pulled out of a cooled tank, the bodies
of six-foot-tall men would be half that size. We left a lot of tanks
and crews in Normandy.
Because of the terrain, it was difficult for our
ground forward observers to see targets, so our Cub planes directed
most of the firing. The success of the fire direction from the planes
quickly made believers of Colonel Berry and other battalion commanders
who might have had misgivings about the use of liaison planes in
directing artillery fire. They began to depend on the Piper Cub,
not only to spot targets and direct artillery fire, but also for
reconnaissance in locating new gun positions and battalion routes
We didn't see much of the Luftwaffe during the
daytime in Normandy, but at night we could expect a rather steady
bunch of antipersonnel bombs. Since we were not moving our landing
strip every day, we had time to dig slit trenches, where we slept,
always with our steel helmets on. Later, after the breakthrough
at St. Lo, we were moving every day, often sleeping under the half-track,
in a natural ditch, or in the cellar of a vacated house. The breakthrough
at St. Lo was touted as the greatest combined air-ground operation
in history.On the morning of July 26, wave after wave of Fortress
and Liberator bombers roared over us. According to the records,
there were 1800 heavy bombers, 1400 medium bombers, and 700 fighter-bombers,
all operating in a small area. It was total saturation bombing.
Col. Berry, who arrived at our landing strip almost
as soon as the first wave came over, joined me as we cruised along
at about 500 feet, watching the bombing. It was really awesome!
The first wave of bombers dropped smoke bombs to mark the front
lines so that the succeeding bombers would have a target. Unfortunately,
there was a disastrous miscalculation in wind direction, and the
smoke immediately started to drift back over our own front lines.
As a result, many, many bombs were unloaded onto our own troops.
Col. Berry and I could see exactly what was happening and radioed
down to our headquarters. This uncovered the second big goof in
planning. There was no direct radio contact between the forces on
the ground and the air forces. Thus there was no way to stop the
carnage. It was a truly helpless feeling. There were bodies lying
everywhere, crews loading those bodies onto 6x6 trucks. stacking
them like cordwood, and a sickening stench from the human bodies
and from the bloated carcasses of cattle and horses as well, also
innocent victims of the bombing.
Throughout the war it was a common sight to see
French and Belgian peasants carving up the cows and horses that
had been killed a day or so before by bombs or ground fire. Food
was scarce in the areas where fighting had occurred. Shortly after
we crossed into Belgium, I was flying alone, looking for a field
where I could move my section. I landed in a pasture and taxied
up to a line of trees. I got out of the airplane and lit a cigarette.
I wasn't wearing my pistol and doubt if I even had it in the plane.
A German soldier, a member of the Wehrmacht, came from behind the
trees and handed me his rifle. He could so easily have shot me,
but evidently he was not a "good soldier," just a human
being. I took his gun, shook his hand and pointed toward the highway
below where some of our columns were moving. I never saw him again,
but I hope he found someone to whom he could surrender peacefully.
Usually, if we "grasshopper" pilots
saw enemy fighters in time, we could elude them by diving and flying
close to the ground, following the contour of the terrain. At the
speed the fighters flew, they could not turn as quickly as our Cubs
could, so that if they missed us with their initial shots, we could
usually outmaneuver them. One liaison pilot I knew actually caused
a Messerschmitt to fly into a hillside during the chase. He proudly
painted a Messerschmitt kill on the nose of his Cub. During the
period between the second week of November and the middle of December,
my crew and I settled down for a period of recovery and maintenance.
I moved my section to a pasture field beside a large dairy farm
near the village of Walhorn. It was known as the Belven farm and
was owned by a family of Germans named Egyptien. The family, father,
mother and four daughters, invited us to stay in their house with
them, and they did everything possible to make us feel welcome.
Their hospitality was unreal.
After all, we were the "enemy." When
I finally moved my section closer to the battalion headquarters
at Stolberg in mid-December, three of us left our dress uniforms
at the Egyptiens and said that we'd be back for them when we needed
them. In early March, after the Battle of the Bulge, I went on a
three-day pass to Liege and on the way stopped at the farm to pick
up my uniform. I learned then that the Egyptiens feared that they
would be in the path of Rommel's advance through the Ardennes, and
that the uniforms might be discovered in their house. They had carefully
wrapped the uniforms and buried them in the courtyard, then moved
a large pile of manure over the spot! After the Battle of the Bulge
was over, they dug up the uniforms, carefully cleaned and pressed
them and put them back on hangers in the bedroom. They told us that
they, as well as we, were victims of a war that shouldn't be. They
were Germans, but not Nazis.
The Battle of the Bulge was a time of confusion
for all of us. The ground was snow covered, the air was thick with
fog, and it was very difficult for my section to keep up with the
ground troops. No one knew where the front really was. Because the
Germans were dressing some of their troops in American uniforms,
no one trusted anyone.I managed to get our air section moved to
the little village of Morrville on Christmas Day. It was too cold
and the ground too frozen to dig slit trenches, so we slept in an
old hay barn on Christmas night and for the next couple of days.
We must have been located right on the path of buzz bombs. I have
a vivid recollection of listening to them fly over all night long
wondering when one of them might dysfunction and come down on us.
They always sounded as though their engines were ready to quit.
A day or two after Christmas, I was riding in our half-track vehicle
on the way to battalion headquarters, when the front wheel ran over
the feet of a frozen dead soldier covered with snow. It caused the
corpse to flip up out of the snow right by the side of the half-track.
That was a genuine Halloween experience.
Nordhausen, which we reached on the eleventh of
April, was a place of horror. Camp Nordhausen was a Nazi slave extermination
campground. Decomposing bodies were everywhere, and the stench was
unbearable. Wandering among the dead were emaciated, ragged and
starving prisoners, who were so far gone that few had any chance
of surviving. Most were, I understand, labeled as political enemies
of the Third Reich, German, as well as other European nationals.
After being liberated, those who were able to walk just staggered
about aimlessly, staring straight ahead. We learned that the procedure
in the camp was to hang thirty-two men each day, while the entire
garrison watched. Then the prisoners who were able hauled the bodies
to the ovens. History relates about the Jewish holocaust, but I
have read very little about Nordhausen and the neighboring Camp
Dora, where the prisoners worked to build Vl and V2 weapons, the
robot or buzz bombs. It was an ugly scene. It has been well over
50 years since I saw Nordhausen, but even now, when I see someone
walking along the highway, I am reminded of the liberated prisoners
in their striped uniforms aimlessly shuffling along the roads leading
out of Nordhausen.
After Nordhausen, we were bivouacked on Friday
the 13th of April at the little village of Gerbstedt. The next day,
while flying over our column of tanks, we were attacked by eight
Messerschmitts strafing the column, two of which came after me.
With tracer bullets all around the airplane, I panicked and "hit
the deck," crash-landing in a plowed field, where the Cub nosed
over on its back. I was strapped upside down and remember having
a frantic time trying to get the seat belt loosened so that I could
get out. The Messerschmitts made a couple of strafing passes at
my plane, and at me, as I ran across the field to the column of
tanks, the bullets kicking up the dirt around me as I ran. At the
same time, I was trying to shed the cumbersome parachute I was wearing.
It would be a gross understatement to say simply that I was scared.
At any rate, I survived both Friday the 13th and the day after.
We were able to salvage the plane, but the landing gear, the propeller,
and the rudder had to be replaced.
Like most soldiers in combat, I lost several
good friends. Of the four officer-pilots and the three noncommissioned
pilots with the 3rd Armored Division on D-day, only two of us lived
to return to the States. Of those killed, two crashed into the ground,
two flew into the trajectory of one of our own shells, and one was
shot down by enemy aircraft. The record shows that the 3rd Armored
Division had 10,371 total casualties: 2214 KIA, 706 MIA, and 7451
wounded. Such is the glamour of the "good" war.