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©2014, Aaron Elson



They were all young kids

The online version

©2014, Aaron Elson

Lieutenant Jim Flowers and the battle for Hill 122

This is the story of Jim Flowers, a brash young lieutenant from Dallas whose courage and sacrifice helped turn the tide in one of the bloodiest battles of the Normandy campaign. Flowers' story, along with that of the battle for Hill 122, is taught to French schoolchildren. Yet it is virtually unknown in the United States.

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 Chapter 11

Jack Sheppard, Part 2

    Lieutenant (Charles) Lombardi wasnít too popular, except with me. I thought he was terrific. He was a Brooklynite. He talked like a Brooklynese, he looked like a Brooklynese. He only gave me a little lip a couple of times. He made it all the way through except, what did he get, a 30-day leave, he came back to the States. I think at that time he had four Purple Hearts. One of them was from a hatch slamming on his hands. The others were minor.

    He went home and he came back and he was just as good as ever. You always worried about men coming back. One man, I canít remember who he was, but the next tank he got in, and they got under artillery fire, he tore all his fingernails off trying to dig his way through the inside of the tank with his bare hands. Coming back was too much for him.

    We didnít have much trouble with battle fatigue, except, Iím not going to name names, times, places or dates, but one man took a hand grenade and stuck his hand out of the turret, and released the lever, and held onto the grenade. He got evacuated. And it went on the records as a mortar. I did lots of men favors that way, stretching the truth a little bit. Thereís no advantage to being real truthful about it. Like another time I had a tank presumably hit by a mortar and set on fire. But actually what had happened was they were firing up the little cookstove in the bottom of the tank and it caught the tank on fire, so I let it go as a mortar. We were losing tanks so fast and furious, whatís one more tank?

    My son is now retired from the Navy. Heís been retired about ten years. He was born in 1938. My daughter was born in 1950.

    This is a picture of my fatherís first filling station garage, selling Pan Am gasoline, itís got the old pump tanks where you put the gas up in the top. These are oil dispensers, you stuck a can under that. This was the first use in Tampa of a business using neon lights for lighting instead of just sounds. That was his first place.

    I was in Korea with the 25th Division. We had the Turks supporting us. Boy, the Turks were terrific. When they pull their knife out, they wonít put it back until it draws blood, even if they have to cut their own arm. We had one incident where the Turks, five or six of them go down in front of the line Ė everythingís a hill in Korea Ė they go down the hill, two or three of them build a fire, the rest of them hide out. Then the Chinese come up to get the guys with the fire; theyíre in for a surprise.

    The reason Iíve got so many pictures, I took up photography while I was in Europe. In those days you could get the best Leica, brand new, for ten cartons of cigarettes. Cigarettes were 50 cents a carton.

    This is a picture of my brother with a Lotus, made by Colin Chapman. He raced for Colin Chapman for three years at Sebring. He was Chapmanís chief test driver.

    Hereís the car my wife and I got married in, a í34 Ford roadster. Itís got a rag top and side curtains, thatís what I had my senior year in high school.

    This is a picture of me getting a Croix de Guerre. The French wanted to give Croixs de Guerre to so many men in an outfit, and me and the battalion commander, Colonel Randolph, he picked the men to get them, so I got a Croix de Guerre. I think there were only eight of them given to the battalion.

    Hereís the car we came to Florida with in 1925. It was a Willis Knight. It had sleeve valves. It made it as far as High Springs, and it threw a crank shaft. A sleeve valve is a valve in the shape of a sleeve, the piston fits inside it, and the sleeve also goes up and down, so instead of valves, the sleeve has ports that open and close. Nobody else tried that.

    Hereís the writeup in the local paper on Korea. I had a disabled tank that ran into one of our own mines.

    This sergeant here, I wrote him up, got him the Silver Star. He did all the work.

    "A Tampa officer who risked his life between the lines in Korea to rescue two disabled American tanks has received his fourth Bronze Star cluster. Wounded in the effort, Major Jack Sheppard Jr. also received the Purple Heart award from Major General Sam T. Williams, commanding general of the 25th Infantry Division in Korea.Ö

    "Major Sheppard, then a captain, led a rescue crew between the lines on March 10 near Chor Won, Korea. His battalion maintenance recovery team recovered two tanks which were disabled a thousand yards ahead of the front United Nations lines. Sheppard was wounded by enemy artillery and mortar fire." S The Tampa Morning Tribune, Friday, May 22, 1953.

    This is a picture of my wife and the dog and the son in Berlin. The main reason Iíve got this picture is back here, the people that lived in this house were a grandfather, a grandmother, a daughter and two children. The grandfather killed them all, buried them in the ground here, then committed suicide. They had heard what the Russians were doing to Germans when they caught them. Rather than take a chance, he killed them all.

    The Russians, when they came into Berlin, they had elite troops at the front that could think for themselves. The Slovak type Ė Iím not casting the Slovaks as a type, but people with no education, no prestige, no sense of honor or nothing, they followed up. So when the first troops came in, everything was fine, they took care of the women, helped the church with the nuns, helped with the pregnant women that the nuns were taking care of, but when they left, these other troops came in, raped all the nuns, killed all the pregnant women. Ö

    This is from the book that Iíve been writing for my son and daughter: "The next day (Captain Jim) Cary and I went forward and were indoctrinated by an 82nd Airborne company of the unit we were to relieve. 90th Division officers were there, too.

    "It was difficult. How do you ask questions of a paratrooper who has been in combat for three weeks?

    "The trouble is, you donít know what questions to ask.

    "On returning to the company, we moved out to the company forward area. We spread out, as we were in artillery, and dug foxholes. An infantry officer came to orient us to combat. While he was talking, sitting on the ground, leaning against a jeep wheel, we could hear a round coming in. All of us scrambled for a hole, but he didnít move.

    " ĎWhatís the problem?í he asked. ĎThat round wasnít even coming close. If you listen, you can tell where itís going to hit.í

    "That was our first inclination that you could learn where a round was going to hit."

    And itís amazing. It saved my life probably later on in Korea. I was in my first few days in Korea as a battalion motor officer, and the battalion commander told me there was a tank on the back side of Pork Chop Hill. The unit, when they left Pork Chop Hill after stabilizing, they left a tank stuck. They wanted me to go up and get it, and it was in front of our main line. So we went at night, my jeep driver, myself, and my recovery sergeant. We went up and looked at the tank and decided it would be a hell of a job to get it out, because it was really stuck. It was not only stuck, it was leaning on its side against the bank. And Iím walking back from there, it was pitch dark, just enough light that you could see to walk, the first thing I knew my nose was in the dirt, and there was this big bang. My jeep driver and the sergeant were standing upright, and the jeep driver got a round about as big as your fist right underneath the arm, killed him like that, and me, I was on the ground. I subconsciously remembered to duck when the round was coming close. I donít even remember hearing it, but the first thing I know my nose was in the dirt. Poor boy. Young kid. That shook me up. So I went back to the C.P. and told the colonel that I thought the tank would be hard to get out, there would be quite a bit of digging to do. So he said heíd give me some Korean soldiers to go up and dig it out. I said, "I donít think I can go back up there tonight."

    The next night I took up two retrievers Ė a retriever has a long boom that you can use for hoisting, itís on a tank chassis, and it has a powerful winch that comes out over the back. I took two of them, and had one holding the tank sideways and one pulling it backwards. We got right to the busting point on the cable, and couldnít budge it. So we had to leave it.

    My tank on Hill 122 was hit by a self-propelled gun. You could see the tracks where it had been. It had fired from the right hand corner of the field, as we were facing it; evidently, being a tank, the artillery rounds hadnít bothered it. It just sat there and waited until the others got by, and then got me.

    When the round hit and exploded, my hands were outside the cupola. It busted the stock of my carbine, and injured me a couple of places on the hand, I donít even remember which hand it was now. It blew my helmet off, knocked my captain bars off of it. I picked it up before I left, saved it for a souvenir, Iíve got it now and I looked for it, but I canít find it.

    The shrapnel and powder from the bursting shell hit me in the face. Iíve still got one black spot. Thatís more than likely powder. Matter of fact, two weeks ago a piece of it finally worked its way out. I still have, thereís gristle grown where it is.

    I got a letter from (Charles) Nuccio, he said, "Are you still picking powder and shrapnel out of your face? "

    The infantry company suffered eighty percent casualties, including the officers. For a while there, they thought they were all annihilated, but eighty percent casualties, and the other twenty percent werenít in very good shape. It almost wiped out K Company; it was K Company of the 358th. They didnít have too many men to start with; they were in as bad shape as the tanks were.

    Going down that firebreak to get to the infantry and also to get to the road, we were going almost due south, but at the end it turned kind of southeast. When we came to the road, Iím just trying to remember, it was pretty much from the northeast to the southwest. It was a pretty good angle. And at the hedgerow beyond, it was almost north and south, so it made the field kind of a triangle. And the antitank gun that got me was in the junction of the triangle.

    [Reading from the manuscript for his children] "After being hit in the tank in my first tank action, I decided a jeep was the best place for me, not only faster to get around but I figured safer, as being harder to hit.

    "Incidentally, all jeeps were equipped with a wire-cutting piece of angle iron welded to the front bumper extending up to above the passengerís head. Also, my windshield was covered and I lay down in case of the glass breaking from bullets, etc. It was quite cold at times, but at least we didnít have to wear ties. Patton made everybody in the Third Army wear ties. They didnít like that.

    "Incidentally, the armored insignia in World War II was this tank, we called it a pickle because around the edges were these cleat marks, it looked just like a pickle; thatís a World War I tank, but later on they changed it to the crossed sabers on the front end of a tank.

    "Normandy was and is known for their Calvados, real strong, and apple cider. I liked the cider, but the Calvados would burn your mouth full strength. Once, Sergeant [Max] Gibson was sitting under a tree with a canteen cup in his hand, and a water can Ė a water can is the same as a gas can except the cap is a flip-open while gasoline is a screw type. My mess sergeant, Speier, came up and asked Gibson for a drink. He put the cup to his mouth and took a couple big swallows before he realized it was Calvados. We thought he was going to choke to death.

    "Gibson thought it was funny as hell. Speier was later wounded when a round came in and he dived under a tank. It hit him in the butt. Enough to evacuate him.

    "Our first objective was Hill 122. 122 is the height of the hill on the map. We designated them by the height. You might run across a dozen more Hill 122s.

    "We were headed south in the Normandy peninsula. Hill 122 was located west of Normandy, while east of the hill was a marsh. The hill dominated every part of the area, coast to coast, so it was held by the Germans and we needed it.

    "That evening, I had a terrific headache and two real bad black eyes, swelled completely shut.

    "A few days later I saw Lieutenant Flowers in an evac hospital. He had lost most of both feet and was in pretty bad shape. He told me when the tank was hit, he lost one foot. On the ground outside the tank, he put on a tourniquet and stopped the blood. An artillery barrage came down and Flowers lost the other foot.

    "Shortly after, the infantry came up, and he was evacuated. I didnít tell him of the other men. Total nine casualties, five KIA, six MIA, total 20 men of four tank crews.

    "After the war Flowers was put in for a Medal of Honor and they reduced it to a Distinguished Service Cross. He did not do enough for U.S. troops, was their comment."

    I want to talk about writing letters to the deceased. I donít think we had a stock phrase. The clerk in the rear wrote up the letters from the information from medics and grave registration people, and thatís all I had to go on. Very few times did I know from personal vision except in the case of Taylor, I saw him. I knew he was dead and how he died, but I donít know of anybody else how they died, except second hand, or third hand, or fourth hand. Maybe I was shirking my duty, but you just didnít think about how serious that was to that family to get that information. Now I know differently. They want to know everything that you can tell, even if itís not nice. And I would do it differently if I did it nowadays, but then, that was standard operating procedure in the whole battalion. The clerk that was in the rear echelon would type up the letter, send it up for my signature, and back it went, unless I gave him some kind of comment to put with it, but very seldom did I have a comment that I knew first hand, and I didnít like to say something that would be wrong.

    One night I bunked down in my bedroll, and next thing I woke up in a hospital. I had one of my serious migraine headache attacks, and they knock you out. I woke up once in the hospital, in a dark room, blub blub blub. They told me I had battle fatigue. And when I really woke up, they discharged me. I donít hardly remember even being in the hospital. And I left the hospital and walked a short space, and here comes the command of the 712th coming by me, and I caught a ride in the halftrack, and they took me up and got me to my unit. I went back to work. I donít remember anything about it. Not a thing.

    Later on, my headaches started getting real bad, during the occupation, and Iíd take the head of the bed and beat my head against the wall, and become real violent, trying to make the hurt in my head go away. And I ended up in Wiesbaden. Have you ever heard of Wiesbaden? OK, thatís a mental hospital. I ended up there for a week or ten days. They wanted to give me a discharge, but I didnít want it. They wanted to retire me. I said, no, I wanted to go back, because I didnít have much time left in Germany, I was going to be headed for the States anyway, so I went back to work. And they continued to bother me, but sometimes I could go six months without one, and then one would hit.

    Iím not positive what it was. It could have been, but I donít know what battle fatigue does to a guy. Whether he gets the shakes, I donít know what happens. But I knew the symptoms of the migraine were there, of the blackout. Then in the hospital they doped me up.

    I came home on a victory ship. Our boat ride home was worse than going over. With not much ballast the ship really rocked. I was sick the whole time. It was so bad, the ship sprang a plate and we took on water, but we made it to New York, offloaded, and went to Fort Dix. We were told that there was a Railway Express close by. We all took our barrack bags full of loot and shipped it home. I still had my helmet with the dent and the captain bars soldered on. I used it in Korea. I figured it was a lucky hat, because I should have been dead when that shell exploded. I should have been dead. Why it didnít kill me nobody has the vaguest idea, because it was only two feet in front of my face when it exploded.

    Iíll tell you something youíll never forget, is when you smell the smell of one of those tanks. Barbecued people. You could smell it a long way. And it is horrible. Itís worse than burning chicken feathers, if you know what that smells like.

Contents                       Chapter 12, Jim Flowers