Charles W. Stockell
Beach, Normandy, France, Battle of the Bulge, Belgium
37th FA, 2nd Infantry Division
At the time I was a young 2d Lieutenant of artillery.
I found that was great because I love to hunt And shooting artillery
was like hunting with a gun that shot bullets that weighed 33 Pounds.
Also, I joined a tough Regular Army Division of professional soldiers.
Most Were Texans who are the best soldiers in the world with the
sole exception of South Carolinians. Early in June my battalion
was loaded on a filthy Polish coal freighter, named the Krakow.
Before daylight on 6 June we found ourselves in the midst of an
Immense array of ships of all sizes. Two fine divisions, the First
and the 29th, were making the initial assault at Omaha Beach and
mine, the Second Infantry Division, was the third or build-up unit.
Another force was going ashore at Utah Beach a few miles away and
the Brits and Canadians to our East at Caen.
The first troops ashore had a desperate time with
minefields and bared wire. The Germans in concrete fortifications
were on the top of the high sandy bluff. The Americans literally
had to blow a living path through the minefields with their bodies.
But 1500 men in single file charged up that narrow pathway and got
behind the Germans. The German unit there was the 462d, not a crack
outfit and had many Russian volunteers. Over one million Russians
fought in the German forces, usually in Russia against the Communists.
The other officers and the guns in my battery
were on one flat bottom Landing Craft. I was in charge of 100 men
and two vehicles in another landing craft. We hit a Sandbar and
the first vehicle loaded with men disappeared in a hole between
the sandbar and the water's edge. Most of the men swam ashore but
a sergeant and I had to dive in and drag to the beach a young private
who panicked and-was drifting away.. We formed up and started up
the sandy cliff. The first dead Americans I saw had, when dying,
wrapped their amis companionly about each other in a ritual of death.
We found a field in the dark on top of the bluff and dug our foxholes.
The next morning I found a n elbow of a German
sticking out of the side of my hole. I discovered that this body
was booby trapped with a grenade under each armpit with the pins
pulled. Lucky I had not jostled him. Later that morning we rejoined
the rest of our men and two days after that I was shot in the hip
by a sniper. It was not serious but they sent me back to the air
field to fly as an aerial observer in our light Piper planes. Once
I was sitting in the back seat when a German Focke Wulf 190 fighter
popped out of a cloud and went for us. Sam Francis, my pilot, put
the little plane in a vertical dive. He was able to pull out near
the ground and flew underneath the limbs of a gigantic live oak
tree. The German plane, going faster, hit the top pfthe tree and
exploded. Sam got credit for a "kill".
The first attack I made with an infantry company
was at a tiny village named St George d'Elle in the forest of Cerisy.
There were 200 men and five infantry officers. An hour later 100
men were dead or wounded and all infantry officers were dead. I
Had to take command and withdraw the survivors under heavy fire.
I then set up my Observation post in the church tower. I saw an
German officer in a black uniform Climbing a tree 200 yards away,
obviously a tank officer planning a tank attack. I Radioed this
to headquarters when I heard a shot from one of my own men. The
german fell out of the tree and my man dropped his rifle and ran
out of the church through the Gen-nan outposts to where this officer
lay. Private Patrick came running back- bullets flying everywhere,
waving the German's pistol and glasses. 1 still have those glasses.
We finally captured Hill 192, our main objective
since it overlooked the road net leading to the big city of St Lo.
My sergeant and I were standing in two holes dug by the Germans.
From our waists up we were visible, as we searched with our glasses
for Targets, a German hyper-velocity 88mm cannon fired and immediately
we were knocked down and the hair on the side of our heads facing
each other burned off by the super fast shell passing between us,
although we were only 4 feet apart Then, like Brer Rabbit "We
laid low" We began pushing south, seeking to encircle the German
forces. Once my sergeant and I crept up to a hedgerow and raised
up to spot a target, but at that same moment and spot a German soldier
came up opposite us. He had a rifle with bayonet and he lunged across
the hedgerow at us. The sergeant, a 6'6" Texan, grabbed him
by the throat and pulled him across . "What do you think we
ought to do? It is a long way to the POW cage and the infantry will
not take any of our prisoners off of us." But it was too late,
he'd choked the German to death.
On 3 August we reached a village called Etouvy.
Late that day a German shell hit a tree above me and a fragment
of steel drove deep into my back. I radioed the battery but found
the only other forward observers had also been wounded. Lt Uhlemeyer
had been badly hit and evacuated. Lt Grinells had had his marriage
tackle shot away. If I also left, the infantry would have no artillery
protection and artillery is what kills most of the enemy. I decided
that I could hobble a mile to our next objective. The next morning
I set out, but before long a 60 mm mortar shell hit three feet behind
me putting 27 holes, some 1,5 inches deep, in my back, and blowing
all of the back of my coveralls off. We started to run and a soldier
set off a mine and I got a few more holes in my back from that.
My men dragged me 500 yards to a road where fortunately they found
a jeep that had just brought a load of ammo to the infantry. Otherwise,
I would have bled to death. They laid me over the hood of the jeep
and I blacked out. Four times I been wounded, always in the rear
and from then on, I was named "High Silhouette".
Four months later I was able to rejoin my division
just before the Battle of the Bulge, that biggest battle US troops
have ever fought. My unit was in southern Belgium and the main German
attack was programmed to go exactly through our units' position.
The green US division on our right broke and ran in the first hour
of the fighting. For 48 hours my division held that sector against
four SS tank Divisions and four Volks Grenadier divisions. Later
the senior German leader. Marshal Manteuffel said that entire attack
with a front of several hundred miles failed because the second
Infantry Division became a brick wall!! Some of our infantry battalions
lost 80-90 percent of their men, BUT THEY HELD!
Afterward I was again flying as an artillery observer
when our plane was caught In a blizzard of bursting 20 mm shells.
One wheel was shot off, all the glass windows Were shot out and
a bar off my field jacket. Sam Francis got us home, landed on one
Wheel, went down the runway and dropped the wing in a snow bank.
Two weeks later we captured some Germans from that ack ack outfit
and I got to interview them. They said they had been promised leave
if they shot down "General Elsenhower's plane". I asked
how they knew he was in that plane. They said they used a very powerful
scope and could see the red flag on the wing with so many stars,
it had to be Elsenhower!! I never put my Confederate flag on the
strut again !! So that was my first war.
Shoulderpatch of the 2nd Infantry Division