Jim Flowers' Part 1
On the morning of July 3rd, 1944, the 712th Tank Battalion, being attached to the 90th Infantry Division, were making an assault toward Hill 122.
My first platoon, Company C, 712th, had been assigned to work with the First Battalion of the 359th Infantry, part of the 90th Infantry Division. A Company was assigned to work with the 82nd Airborne.
Iíd moved my tanks up with the First Battalion of the 359 the evening before, sometime during the dark hours, on July 2nd. Sometime early in the morning the artillery shelled the area in front of us, a little preparation fire for a little town, Pretot.
There was a Ė what was his name? Hamilton. Paul Hamilton. He was the battalion commander of the First Battalion of the 359. A couple of days before that, Paul Hamilton and I were planning how to make this attack in our little sector, and we had gone out and climbed up a tree so we had better observation. Iíve got better sense than that. I wouldnít do that. But Paul Hamilton, this infantry colonel, he would. So hell, Iím not gonna let any infantry soldier outdo me at anything.
We climbed up a tree so we had pretty good observation for quite a distance; that is, a matter of maybe three, four, five hundred yards from up in a tree. We were looking down a slight hill, down toward a creek. After the artillery had lifted, why, Colonel Hamilton took two companies and jumped off toward Pretot going down the hill and across the creek, up the other side to the village, which was oh, probably a mile in front of us. See, weíre off on the left-hand side of the road going toward it, and I couldnít take my tanks; I couldnít go down to the creek and cross it because the banks were too steep. If my tanks got down to that damn creek I couldnít get íem out. The engineers would have to come down there with bulldozers and build me a road to get out. So I had to wait.
After Hamilton took his two companies, they hadnít been gone very long until somebody said that Hamilton had been hit down near the creek by a treeburst. And thereís a boy named Leroy Pond from Fayetteville, Arkansas Ė he was a captain at that time Ė he took command of the battalion and they continued the attack, and Iím still waiting back in the field for the people with the mine detectors to come sweep the road and the shoulders to remove any mines that might be there.
While Iím sitting there, I heard some tanks coming down the road, and no tanks are supposed to be coming down this road. I was, oh, 50 yards off the road, and I ran out to the road and looked, and hell, here comes a column of tanks, five tanks, and George Tarr of A Company is leading these tanks. Then he stopped, and I said, "What the hell are you doing here?"
He was looking for where heís supposed to go.
"Youíre supposed to go on the other side of the road," I told him. "The 82nd Airborne is over there, and youíre supposed to go through them. The 90th Infantry Division, part of them, are going to come up behind you." We were all passing through the 82nd at that time. As weíd pass through them, theyíd fall back.
Tarr said, "Well, I want to go down here."
The people with the mine detectors had already come by and were sweeping the road, and they got a couple of hundred yards down the road in front of us, and I had to wait until they crossed the bridge before I took my tanks out there in the open ground where they could be observed. So Tarr went on, and in a few minutes, the lieutenant that was in charge of this mine removal squad came back and told me that the lieutenant who was leading the tanks down there had stopped when he got down there even with them, and he got out of the tank and came over and was talking to him, and as he went back to his tank and was climbing up over the side of it, he must have thought of something else, and he turned around and went back to the lieutenant, and the lieutenant answered his question, and he started to climb back up on the tank, and a shell landed right behind him on the road right beside the tank, and of course that was the end of it for him.
They dragged George over in the ditch beside the road. I can still see him, heís over there in the ditch, leaning back, doing what George did best of all, taking a nap.
Jule Braatz was the platoon sergeant. He got in Tarrís tank, the lead tank, and went on down the road, and he hadnít gone very far until he hit a mine. It blew the left track off and caved in the tank under the driverís seat. I donít know if anybody got killed; might have been.
I donít know about this at that time. In a few minutes, why, Braatz came walking back up the road and he looked like a zombie; he was pretty upset. He stopped, and I asked him what the hell had happened. He said that Tarr got killed, which I already knew by then, and that he had taken the tanks on down and had hit this mine, which had blown up the front of his tank, and heís going back for some help. Iím not sure, I think I probably said Iíd get on the radio and call back to battalion and tell them what had happened. I donít remember about that, but knowing me, I probably did that.
After the engineer squad mine removal people had assured me that I could get across the bridge, I took my tanks and went on up the highway toward Pretot and caught up with the infantry.
I took my tanks on down by Pretot and went through the village, and over on the left side of the road, I was looking for Leroy Pond, who had taken command of the battalion a little earlier that morning. Hamilton was wounded. As a matter of fact, I saw Colonel Hamilton in a general hospital back in Salisbury, England, about a month later. Iíd been wounded in the meantime, and we wound up in the same ward; he was right across the aisle from me and down about three beds.
He picked up shell fragments down one side. The shell fragments were not life-threatening, but they had to get all that crap out of him and he had to heal before he could go back.
I found Leroy Pond and some of his battalion staff. They were out in the edge of an apple orchard. There are a lot of apple orchards in Normandy. I went over and told him Iím there, Iím ready to go to work, words to that effect. We were planning how we were going to get everything organized and get up on the line where we were supposed to be, and maintain contact with the units on our left and right.
The thing Iíll never forget was that some replacements came up for the First Battalion, and some of these boys, you could look at them and tell that they were scared half to death before they ever actually came under enemy fire. One boy that I remember in particular was a young captain; he reported in to Pond, and as theyíd come in, Pond would assign them to whatever job he wanted them to do, and have a sergeant take them out to where theyíre supposed to be.
This young captain, Pond sent him up to take command of one of the companies where the company commander had become a casualty, and that kid, he didnít make it all the way up there; he fell apart before he got there. The sergeant brought him back and said, "He canít make it." He was sitting over on the ground, shaking like he had a bad chill.
At the time, I wondered if you go over and grab that young fellow in the front of his shirt and shake the hell out of him and tell him, "Now look, youíve been trained to do a job. Youíre a captain in the infantry, and itís your job to do this, and all of us are frightened. Now you get your butt up from here and you go up there and take command of that company!"
If it were going to be done, it was Pond who would have had to do it. If it were me, thatís what I would have done. "We donít have any place in this outfit for crybabies. Stop it and get going, now!" But Pond didnít do that. He wouldnít do that.
Incidentally, Leroy Pond was one of the best-loved soldiers that I ever knew. People in that First Battalion, they thought the world of him. Maybe thatís the reason. He wouldnít do a thing like that and I would. They would have done it because Iíd have insisted on it. They might have hated my guts for it, but Iíd have kept them alive. At least I think I would.
Pond sent the captain back. I think they called it battle fatigue, and heíd never been in a battle.
Judd Wiley, the tank commander of my No. 2 tank, and I were out of the tank and walked through an apple orchard for some reason, and I canít for the life of me right now recall why we did that. Maybe I was looking for a way to get my tanks over into the sector where Pond was taking his infantry and I wanted to get my tanks up there.
Whenever I had the opportunity, whether the opportunity presented itself or I just made the opportunity, I for the most part got out and covered that ground on foot before I took my tanks in. Those tanks were expensive. They cost us taxpayers a lot of money. And we had a lot of money invested in the training of those young men that were in those tanks. Besides, they were human beings. I even got out of my tank, I feel for people, I like people. Iíve gotten out of my tank on several occasions when thereíd be dead or wounded American soldiers, or German soldiers as a matter of fact, in front of me, Iíd get out of the tank and drag them away so I wouldnít run over them. I didnít have to, but thatís just something that weíd do.
Wiley and I were walking through an apple orchard. I wish I could put this together, the sequence of events. We had walked almost through the orchard, and ten or twelve feet in front of me, there was a piece of a German soldierís field boot. And thereís a little crater in the ground there, and "My God, what the hell has happened here?" Just thinking out loud. Of course, I stopped immediately. This German soldier had stepped on a shoe mine, one of their own mines. A shoe mine is little thing thatís about as big as a can of C rations or a can of Vienna sausage, with a little detonator, the stub on top of it looked like a tent peg, about as big as a penny, it stood up a half-inch or so, and theyíd put these things in the ground and cover them up with dirt, and leave that little tent-peg thing, hardly noticeable, and youíd step on this thing and detonate it and itíd do some pretty serious damage; you might lose a foot or a leg from the explosion.
Immediately, why, weíre in a mine field. So I took a knife and started probing in front of us, and stepped where the Germans, you could see some places where the Germans had walked, and knew that that had to be safe.
Weíre still on the Third of July. Somewhere further on, the infantry and I got separated, and in my trying to catch up with them I think I had to make a detour or something, I donít remember what. I came up Ė oh, let me see, I had gotten out of my tank. I didnít want to take my tanks any further, I donít know what the hellís in front of me. So I got out, and was making a p.r., a personal reconnaissance, alone.
I got several hundred yards down in front, beside the road, and I saw what I wanted to see, and I started back, and I came under fire. I was going down a hedgerow beside a road, and, "Aww, Flowers, youíve done it now, youíre in for it."
I used a tommy gun Ė not one of these damn grease guns, but a Thompson submachine gun Ė for my own personal weapon. I was pinned down in these weeds and brush and stuff beside this road. The firing had to be coming from over on the other side of this little field from somewhere, but where I donít know. I very cautiously crawled up from where I drew the fire, and looked out over there to see where it could come from. I canít stay there, thatís for sure. When I decided I had to make a move, I probably sprayed 30 rounds of .45 caliber bullets out of my tommy gun, and got up and ran like hell to get out of their sight.
As I was going back up the road, Sergeant Abraham I. Taylor, our platoon sergeant Ė he was from New Bedford, Mass. Ė Abe was walking down the road looking for me. And I said, "What are you doing?"
He said, "We got worried about you. Youíve been gone too long." He said, "We got together"Ė the tank commanders Ė "and decided that one of us will go with you when you make these reconnaissances."
So they sort of elected Judd Wiley, the tank commander of my No. 2 tank, to go with me. Judd was a tall, skinny kid.
We got in the tanks and we went on down and came up behind, if I remember right it was I Company or K Company of the Third Battalion of the 359th Regiment, and passed through some 82nd Airborne people who were falling back. I was down there talking to the company commander of either I Company or K Company. I couldnít find the battalion commander right at that moment.
We were sitting behind one of these little farmhouses. It had a separate little barn out there for their milk cows or whatever, and we were leaning back against a stone wall talking, and we started drawing some sniper fire. It wasnít hitting real close, but an 82nd Airborne captain and a sergeant walked through and said, "Arenít you gonna get that sniper?"
And this captain from I Company, weíll call it, said, "We canít find him."
And this 82nd Airborne man, he probably said, "Well, hell, if youíre not gonna get him, why, we will." So they went on down a ways, and the sergeant went one way and the captain went the other way. A few minutes later, a couple of shots rang out, and a little bit later they came back and said, "You wonít be bothered with that sniper anymore."