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They were all young kids

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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.

Order "They were all young kids" on Amazon.com (sold out).

 Chapter 14

Jim Flowers Part 3

    Sometime on the morning of the 10th of July, Jack Sheppard Ė he was the motor officer for C Company, but he had probably taken command of the company by then, because Jim Cary became a casualty I guess on the 3rd; he got out of his jeep to open a gate, the gate was boobytrapped, and he picked up some fragments that wounded him.

    By then, I need gasoline for my tanks. I needed ammunition. I think Sheppard brought a truck loaded with jerry cans of gasoline, and maybe brought some water, and ammunition, and of course rations, those delicious C rations. Jack Sheppard brought those trucks out there. And he told me that there was an infantry outfit back on Hill 122 Ė see, now weíre past Hill 122 and to the right of it. He told me that there was a battalion of infantry that had been cut off up on Hill 122 and they were having a rough go of it.

    Well, it looks like they need some help, and they need some help from somebody thatís got maximum firepower, and thatís my tanks.

    In the meantime, the tank that Iíd sent back with Taylor for repairs had been repaired and theyíd sent it back out there to me, or Taylor brought it to me.

    I went over and asked Captain Pond if he had any orders for us to move, and he said, "Nope, not yet." So I told him about this battalion cut off back there in the woods on Hill 122 and said I ought to go over there and help those people get out of that mess, and he said, "Okay. Now, you will come back?"

    I said, "Oh, sure. Iíll be back after awhile. I donít know how long itíll take. A couple of hours. Iíll certainly be back before dark."

    "Okay," he said. "We need you. íBye. Weíll see you."

    Next time I see Leroy Pond will be hopefully in heaven, because heís already there. He got killed in Northern France sometime later on.

    I told Taylor that after they filled the tanks with gasoline and stowed the ammunition and whatever, I took a map and marked it where I wanted, and I said, "You bring my tanks over there. Iím going over to take a look," to see what the opposition has in store for us.

    I got in the jeep with Sheppard. We called them peeps then instead of jeeps. The Army called them quarter-ton trucks. Everybody else except the armored force called them jeeps.

    Then we went back over on Hill 122, and pulled up on the west side, I canít remember exactly where but it had to be somewhere between the rock quarry and the heavily wooded area.

    I stopped up there, because thatís where Iíd marked for Taylor to bring the tanks, and somebodyís got to be there to meet him. So I told Sheppard, you just stay here with Bailey, his jeep driver, I said "Yíall stay here, and when Taylor gets here, why, yíall just wait for me. Iíll be back after awhile. If Iím not back within an hour, why, youíll know Iím not coming back."

    With that, I walked out in the woods and went in an appreciable distance, and I encountered several Germans. They didnít see me. At least I donít think they did; if theyíd have seen me theyíd have shot me, wouldnít they? And I sure wasnít going to cause any trouble for them right then. Iíve got other plans for them.

    I went in I donít know how far, maybe two, three hundred yards. I saw enough to know that the going was not going to be real easy but itís not going to be disastrous. Thereís not all that much stuff out there to stop a tank, not even to slow us down, really. At least I didnít feel like it at the time.

    So I went back, and in the meantime Taylor had arrived with my tanks and I got my tank commanders together.

    He didnít get there but with four tanks. One of the tanks, Iíll not mention the sergeantís name Ė that boy died here in the past year or two; itís not important who he was Ė he, well, he just didnít get there, thatís all. So I had four tanks.

    We got over to Hill 122 with the tanks. Since Judd Wiley was gone, I needed a tank commander. So I said, "Sheppard, youíve never been in a firefight, so wouldnít you like to get a little combat experience in a tank?"

    I put Sheppard in Taylorís tank. Two tanks in the platoon have a two-way radio. The other tanks only have receivers. I put Sheppard in Taylorís tank so I could communicate with him, and put Taylor in Wileyís tank. Wiley had gone back two days before to get something done about his crushed fingers and hand.

    I told the tank commanders what I thought the problem would be that we were going to encounter in the woods, that itís not going to be easy but itís not going to be all that tough. "You got any questions? Then letís mount up and move out!"

    The driver of the No. 4 tank Ė thatís Taylorís tank, the one in which I put Sheppard Ė he wouldnít go. He wouldnít drive that tank. They tell me this happened; I didnít find out about it for several years after the war. It might have been twenty years after the war. I often wondered why that man was not in that tank and why Bailey was in that tank, but it all came out in the wash, so to speak, that the man who was supposed to drive that tank refused to go. Had I been there, he would have gone. Heíd rather face the Germans than to face Jim Flowersí wrath, you get the picture?

    Bailey was Sheppardís jeep driver. But at one time he had been a tank driver, so it was nothing new to him. He volunteered.

    I led them on into the woods and I ran the Germans in front of me until I started seeing some of our own infantry, and I asked them where their battalion commanderís c.p. was. It turned out that this was the Third Battalion of the 358th Infantry, and their battalion commander was a man named Jacob Bealke from Sullivan, Missouri.

    I found Colonel Bealke, and he was glad to see me. To say the least, he was glad to see me.

    We planned how to get him off of that hill and out of those woods. Some of that brush, it was kind of like a thicket. You couldnít see through it much less walk through it, and they had been catching hell. I guess from the German kids that I had run down that way, they had managed to capture eight of them. We found out then that this is part of the 15th Regiment of the Fifth SS parachute infantry division. These were fairly clean kids. Most of them looked like they might have been in their early to mid-twenties. They had had a bath and a shave recently, and had had something to eat recently, they had clean uniforms, the whole nine yards. And we probably looked like a scurvy bunch of bums by then.

    Bealke and I made a plan on how to get him out. Iíd take my tanks there and knock this underbrush and thicket stuff down so his infantry could get out of there. Thatís one of the reasons that they were trapped in there. There was a heavy concentration of German soldiers. Iíll knock some paths through this stuff so yíall can walk behind me to get out.

    At first, the infantry was walking in front of me, but that didnít last long. We hadnít gone but a short distance and they fell back in line with my tanks. And that didnít last but a few yards; they just couldnít get through that stuff. They had to walk behind my tanks.

    Our plan was to get down the side of the hill, which in some places was pretty steep, and out of the woods onto this hard-surface road that ran on the south side of the hill, and go on out into the fields on the other side of the road and try to get him up on the line with Pondís battalion, which would have been on his right flank.

    Everything worked out according to plan, except for one thing. His infantry kind of got bogged down.

    I ran down the side of the hill, knocked down a bunch of brush and thicket, and the infantry was right behind me. We got down to the hardtop road, and I donít know where the infantry is. This turned out to be K Company of the 358. Theyíre supposed to be right there with me. I had no idea that the Germans were decimating Bealkeís infantry now.

    As I come out of the woods, out onto that hardtop road, I look both ways and donít see a damn thing. Everything looks fine, so I go right on across the ditch and the hedgerow on the other side, and out into a field.

    In front of me was a swampy area. I could tell by the vegetation growing there; it was real wet. There were cattails. Maybe they werenít cattails. Maybe they donít have cattails over there. But anyhow, the stuff that grows in swampy areas was growing in this area, and I got on the radio and told the other tanks to look out for that as they came across the road. Donít run into that marshy area there and get stuck.

    I went around on the right side of this marsh, and Sheppard came across, and Bailey ran him right out into the marsh and got stuck.

    Taylor and Titman went around on the left side and went on. I didnít know that Sheppard was stuck. And he got on the radio and said, "Jim, Iím stuck back here."

    I thought, "Damn!"

    "What do you want me to do now?"

    I told him he still had his tank gun, his 75, and that he could support my advance by fire. He could sit there and fire in front of me, at any target of opportunity that he might see.

    I went on, and out in this field there were bushes, weeds and stuff. And there was a hedgerow. I donít remember if there were any trees, although there might have been, but if there were they were little things.

    The thing that I do remember mostly is that the artillery and mortar fire from the German side was falling in on us kind of like hail or raindrops. Boy, there was a lot of it.

    Iíd run quite a distance across that second field in from the road. Taylorís and Titmanís tanks were off on my left, and nothing was on my right. Sheppard was back stuck in the marsh. After Iíd run quite a distance out into that second field, I recall seeing a blinding flash of light and hearing this big bell ringing.

    What had happened was the Germans had fired an armor-piercing shot from an anti-tank gun. I saw the muzzle flash. The ringing was that they had bounced this thing off of my turret.

    I immediately had my driver, Horace Gary, stop and back up. Iím sure that Iím in a fire lane that theyíve cut.

    At the same time, I was on the radio telling the other tanks to look out for that anti-tank gun and gave them the approximate location of it. Letís be careful. After Gary backed up, I had him pull to the right and then go forward. Hopefully Iím out of this guyís fire lane. Iím sure not going to slow down to find out.

    As we did that, we hadnít pulled up too far until, I donít know whether it was an armor-piercing shot, it might have been a bazooka, I donít know what it was but it came through the right sponson, where a bunch of ammunition is stored; something came through that right sponson and ignited the propelling charge in this 75-millimeter ammunition and clipped off my right forefoot, and I suppose that whatever it was probably went out the other side of the tank. Instantaneously, the tank is a ball of fire.

    I like to dramatize this a little bit by saying that Iím now standing in the middle of Hell.

    I get on the intercom and I tell the crew. "Letís get the hell out of here!" And I reach down and grab Rothschadl, my gunner, whoís sitting in a seat down in front of me. I grab Rothschadl by the shoulders and yank him out of that seat, and start to push him up to get him out of the turret. At this point I donít know that Iíve been hit.

    After I pushed Rothschadl out on top, I turned around to climb out myself, and as I stepped up on that ring around where the top and the bottom of the turret are bolted together Ė when I stepped up on that Ė I didnít have anything to step with. Thatís when I realized that something is happening.

    I fell down to the bottom of the turret basket, and to this day I donít know whether I fell or whether it was Dzienis climbing up my back to get out. Itís immaterial anyhow.

    Dzienis was the loader. Gerald Kiballa was the assistant driver, and Gary was my driver. And Rothschadl was the gunner.

    I pulled myself and crawled out onto the turret and jumped down on the ground, and looked down, and thatís when I saw I didnít have much of a right foot left.

    Fortunately, when I climbed out of the tank, I guess it was a reflex, I grabbed my tommy gun and hung it over my arm, as Iím climbing out, and when I hit the ground, Iím armed. There was a hedgerow in front of me, and the Germans on the other side started shooting at us.

    When they knocked out my tank, they got all four of my tanks, right then and there. They all went up in balls of fire. Even Sheppardís tank. Baileyís the only one that tank who got killed.

    After we got on the ground, there were a few infantry soldiers who had made it out there, and a few of the tankers.

    We canít stay where we are, with these burning tanks and the Germans over on the other side of that hedgerow shooting at us. The only thing we can do is get over on the other side of the hedgerow with them. So I gathered up whatever we had, and we attacked that hedgerow, got over on the other side, and we had a messy time over there for a short time. It didnít last long.

    We ran the Germans off. Then I moved whatever we had left then over a distance into a field on the right side of where my tanks were burning, and thatís as far as weíre going.

    I still had my right heel. I just lost the forefoot. I was walking on whatever was left down there.

    We got over there, and the blood was squirting out. So I had Gary, my driver, help me get my belt off. My hands are burned; all the skin is falling off of them. I had Gary help me get my belt off, and I had coveralls on. I got my belt off and put it around my right leg above my knee, and picked up a stick, and we twisted the stick to make an improvised tourniquet.

    After we got that done, I had him reach in my coverall breast pocket and get out my package of morphine syrettes. Also, there was an infantry soldier with us who had been hit real hard in both legs.

    I had Gary give Rothschadl and the infantry soldier and me a shot of morphine. And then I told him everybody you can find thatís ambulatory, get them out of here. Go on back where we came from, back toward Hill 122. I told him to go back and as soon as he could to get an aid man and a couple of litter teams out here to pick us up and get us out of here. On the way back, thatís when Kiballa got killed.

    That left Rothschadl and this infantry soldier and me out there on the ground.

    Rothschadl was, at that point nothing was wrong with him except he had been burned. He could hardly see, his face was swelled so much. I think his eyes were probably about swollen shut.

    Goodbye, Gary. So he took my morphine syrettes that were left and stuck íem in his pocket, and got the guys that were still around, gathered them up and started back. Iíve already mentioned that, havenít I? Kiballa was one of them and he didnít make it.

    This is getting up late in the day now. Sometime late that day, I heard something moving down on the other side of the hedgerow, which actually was over there where my tanks were burning, and theyíd exploded in the meantime.

    I listened, and it wasnít coming from the right direction; it was coming from behind me, back where the Germans were. So I knew that we couldnít put up with that. I crawled up on the hedgerow and with the few rounds of ammunition I had left in that magazine, I sprayed in the direction that I could hear these boys. I donít know whether I hit any of them or whether they knew where the firing was coming from. Of course, you know the general direction itís coming from. But they didnít bother me.

    I crawled back down the hedgerow where Iíd been laying and waited and waited, and sometime during the dark hours, I heard somebody coming up on the same side of the hedgerow that Iím on. I told this infantry kid and Rothschadl, donít move, donít make a sound, donít even breathe deeply. But these guys were coming right to us. And in a little bit, why, the one that was in front stopped and looked, and he said something to the fellow behind him, they were in file, and they just walked around us. I donít know whether they thought we were dead or what, it doesnít matter. They could see that if we werenít dead, we werenít long for this world. But the last man, or one of the last men in that little column, he stopped and he came over to us, and he had a red cross brassard on his arm. He was one of their medics. That boy came over, and he looked at us, and he checked everybodyís tourniquet. On my right leg, the bleeding had long since stopped. He checked it to be sure that I had released the tension on it. And he opened his first aid kit, which was a canvas bag, and he got out a gauze roller bandage. He looked at me, and my combat jacket had knit cuffs; he pushed those cuffs on this jacket back up, I had on a wristwatch on my left arm and had an identification bracelet on my right, but he just slid them up as much as he could, to expose these burned hands, and he went to work bandaging each finger individually, and then my whole hand up to a point above where the burns were. He had dry bandage. And he looked at my burned face. Of course thereís nothing he could do about that.

    I asked the man for water, and he didnít give me any. Either he didnít understand, which I think he did, so he probably just didnít have any water.

    Then he went over and bandaged Rothschadl. And he looked at the infantry soldier. I donít know what he did for him, he wasnít burned, so I donít think he put any bandage on him, because by then if he was going to bleed to death he would have already bled to death.

    Thatís the night of the 10th. I donít know how many German soldiers moved through. I thought for a while it was a whole German army, but it was probably a patrol. It might have been a squad. It might even have been of platoon strength, but I doubt it. I would rather suspect that it was twelve, fifteen, maybe twenty men.

    They moved on up, and they didnít come back, but sometime the next day, on the 11th, our artillery shelled that position, and I know they ended the war for some of the German kids because I could hear them screaming. And one of the shells landed just right so that shell fragments from it hit the infantry boy and also did an almost complete traumatic amputation of my left leg this time, about seven inches below my knee.

    I had to get this belt off of my right leg and over to my left one, because I havenít got all that much blood left, especially since Iím pretty well dehydrated.

    I take the belt off of my right leg and put it on the left, then pull it up as tightly as I can. I twisted the stick, and slowed the blood down, and checked Rothschadl; he didnít get any shell fragments.

    The infantry boy had been hit; heíd been hit hard.

    I crawled, pulled myself over on my elbows over to him, and heís a bloody damn mess. I canít just lay there calmly and let this little boy join his ancestors in heaven or wherever.

    With whatever mobility I have left in my bandaged hands, I manage to tear some of his clothing off of him and get it ripped up into strips to put some compresses over the places where heís bleeding badly. I did the best job I could with the limited resources that were available to me.

    We made it through the rest of the day, and then that night Ė this is the night of the 11th now Ė I couldnít tell you whether itís a full moon, dark or not, I donít remember. The Germans evacuated that position, they fell back, and in the meantime, our artillery had stopped trying to kill me. Thereís a boy named Frank Norris who was one of the artillery battalion commanders; Iíve accused Frank of trying to kill me. He said hell, he didnít even know me.

    We laugh about it, and he admits that it could have been his battalion that was firing on that position. Of course I thought it was corps artillery, it seems like there was so much of it.

    But we made it through the remainder of the night of the 11th. The morning of the 12th, this infantry soldier S mind you, we havenít had a bite to eat, and I like to eat. Havenít had anything to drink, and I like water. We needed water.

    Sometime on the morning of the 12th, this infantry soldier told me he wasnít going to make it. He was about gone. He asked me to administer the last rites to him. I said Ė hell, I donít know whether I told him but Iím not a Catholic boy, Iím a Baptist; I donít understand anything about the last rites of the Catholic church Ė but I crawled over and did the best I could. At the same time, I can pray, that was one thing I can do. I admonished this boy for even thinking about dying, and asked him to just hang on awhile longer, theyíll be here eventually to get us.

    He didnít make it.

    Sometime that morning, I heard some noise coming from back in the direction of Hill 122.

    The first clear recollection I have is hearing this voice say, "Hereís some more of íem." Then the voice said, "Hereís another one." This is coming my way. When they got up close to me, why, one of these boys said, "I think these are still alive."

Contents                       Chapter 15, Jim Flowers, Part 4