My father fought in WWII as a paratrooper in the 105th Infantry of the 82nd Airborne. When he first joined the Army, though, he was in the Armored Division. He never spoke of his experiences except on rare occasions; usually it was when he was drunk. About 7-8 years ago, though, when he was in his 80’s, we convinced him to start writing about his war experiences. This particular story he was addressing to my sister. I have kept Dad’s wording but tried to correct spelling where I could. As for the names he mentions in this story, I hope I’ve spelled them correctly as sometimes his writing was difficult to decipher.
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“When I first went into the Army, my mother (Granny) would not sign my release if I wanted to join the paratroops. So, I settled for the Armored Division. I found myself at Fort Knox, Kentucky, at basic training. Back in that day and time, a PFC was a general.
I finished the 13 weeks of basic and then was assigned to the 2nd Armored Division. My first Sgt. was an old-time regulation Army soldier. He was what we called Top Sgt or Top Kick. He was an Old-Timer and even told the Lts. and Captains what to do. He had a lot of power. He was an old bugger and we were afraid of him, but he knew his business. He must have liked me because he gave me a light tank to drive. In fact, I drove it so well, I “cowboyed” it. In other words, I drove it as fast as it would go over rough terrain. He put me on 2 days of KP for this; I had to wash dishes and peel potatoes for 2 days.
He (the Sgt.) seemed to like me, however, and so did the Captain. We went onto the firing range to fire rifles. I ended up making the best score of anyone. The Captain asked me where I was from and my answer was Texas. He said ‘I thought so. Go show these other bastards how to shoot.’ I got my first advancement from this. He made me a Corporal. From there, I made a Sgt. as Tank Commander.
I should say here that I thoroughly enjoyed driving the light tanks. They were small and not worth a damn in combat but would attain a speed of 48 – 50 mph and I always kept them at top speed. We later went to what we called a medium tank: the old Sheridan Tank. They were much slower but much more practical for combat.
We moved our unit, the 2nd Armored, from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Camp Polk in Louisiana. I called your mother (Edna) one night and asked her to marry me. She said ‘yes’ and she met me in Lake Charles (Louisiana). We were married there by some preacher with Eula Roberts as witness. She was an old friend of Granny’s (Dad’s mother). We then went to Camp Polk to live in an apartment.
Edna left when I went on maneuvers in Louisiana. I took lessons and was trained to be an umpire. It was quite an experience. We fought all over the Louisiana woods; red and blue armies. Before I left for maneuvers, I had put in for a transfer to the paratroops. It seems I wasn’t liked by our Col. of the division. Every time I turned around, he was there to give me hell.
One time, I was taking my crew to the motor pool to clean our tank. I was walking them down and old Col. Yale came up in the jeep to ask me why I wasn’t marching them to the motor pool. I replied that I didn’t think it was necessary since we were not on parade. He didn’t like this reply and told me to double time up the small hill and back. We did this and came back and saluted the old bastard. This was not the first run in that we had, so I got damned tired of it; I wanted out.
Lt. Brendigan was my company commander. The First Sgt. there – I can’t remember his name – but we had a good rapport. Anyway, before I left for maneuvers, I went to personnel and put in for the paratroops. When I returned for a leave from maneuvers, I was told to report to the First Sgt. He saw me and shook my hand. He said ‘John, you made it, you are going to be a paratrooper.’ I have never been so happy. Lt. Brendigan told me that Col. Yale had given him hell for letting me get out. Brendigan grinned from ear to ear. He took me to the train in his jeep and wished me the best. Brendigan told me that before I left, the old col. tried to pull some strings to cancel my transfer but failed at that because they needed paratroops for the Normandy invasion worse than they needed tanks at that time.
I got on the train with all of my service records. I could have gone AWOL and no one would be the wiser, but that was the furthest thing from my mind. My only thought was: go to Fort Benning (Georgia) and be a paratrooper. I had been smoking, but when I got to Fort Benning, I stopped smoking. I knew that I was in for some rough training. I was in good shape and could run with the best of them.
I’ll never forget the first time we rolled our own chutes to jump the next day; we were to make four daytime jumps and one night jump. Our forth jump was a nighttime jump. Our last jump was a daytime jump. After this last daytime jump, we were to have a graduation parade.
I will never forget when I was released from the parade, I looked up and saw Edna standing there. She had traveled all the way from Texas to Georgia to see my graduation. We were invited that day to eat at the officers’ table. I was embarrassed. I was not used to this type of attention. After all, I was just a poor old enlisted man.”
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One day, Mom told me the story of her going to see Dad graduate. I can totally understand why she and Dad were invited to eat at the officers’ table. She told me she was the only woman there, and from seeing photos of her when she was so young, I knew she was an absolutely adorable little thing.