Jim Rothschadl's story
I was drafted in 1942. I went to Fort Snelling for a couple of weeks of orientation, and then I went to Fort Benning. We had to fill out some forms. I was just a young squirt, but I had driven a truck, and I probably made a mistake in saying that when it came to occupation. Actually, it was an old Model A truck that I drove for my brother, who was a logger. Thatís what put me in a tank outfit. I got to be from a truck driver to a tank driver.
Jim Flowers wasnít there at the time, to begin with. He went to OCS at, I think it was Fort Knox. So anyway, after I got in there, at Fort Benning, we took our basic training. Tough training, too, Iíll tell you. You had to go through a two or three-week period called Tiger Camp that would kill an ordinary guy. They kept you on the go 24 hours a day practically. Theyíd just about drive you out of your mind. Day and night. It was really, really tough. I wouldnít last half a day at it now.
At first, there was no 712th Tank Battalion. We were Company I of the 10th Armored Division. I was in Company I, 11th Armored Regiment, 10th Armored Division. Later on the whole battalion was split off.
After I got through with basic training, they had an armored school there at Fort Benning, and Captain [Vladimir] Kedrovsky S he was a steely fellow, he was tough Ė each company was supposed to send one or two guys to the armored school right there at Benning; he didnít have to ask me, he could have said, "Youíre gonna go." But he did ask me. It lasted about six weeks. I didnít have to stand guard duty or KP or any of that.
After that was over with, one morning in formation the captain read off a commendation for me. Out of 500 I was the second highest. It surprised me. Then later on, he sent me to gunnery school at Fort Knox. I learned to fire 75-millimeter and .30-caliber and .50-caliber guns for two months.
Then I got back to my unit. Actually, what I wanted to be was an armorer. The company had an armorer, who assigned weapons and kept them repaired and made sure they were all brought in after they were taken out. So I was in this armor room there, and I had never met Jim Flowers before. He had just transferred to our unit.
He came by there one day and started talking to me. We had quite a chat. He came back another time. The third time he came back it was several days later. "Iíd like to have you in my tank," he said, "as my gunner."
You canít tell an officer to go to hell. I said, "Iíd rather not, really." He didnít say much. He left, and then he came back another time and said, "Well, thatís the way itís gonna be. Youíre gonna be my gunner."
I didnít want to be inside of a tank. Iíd been in a tank quite a bit. I drove a tank, and fired out of a tank for weeks and months. In the turret. Have you ever been inside of a tank? If you ever get inside a Sherman, there isnít a lot of room in that turret. Itís claustrophobic when youíre locked in there. I really didnít care to be in there, but I couldnít say no. So I became his gunner, and thatís what I stayed. We finished training here in the States, and went to England.
When we got to England, a captain sent me to another school. Each company had to send one corporal to this training; it was a combat engineersí unit that specialized in defusing mines. Tank mines. We were stationed near Swindon, in Chiseldon, and this place was up in Scotland. If you recall anything about history, about Hadrianís Wall, the old Roman emperor had built a wall across there. Well, this combat engineer unit was stationed right next to that wall. We just had pup tents. So I was assigned to go up there for six weeks. I split a tent Ė we had a shelter half Ė with another corporal, Corporal Rodriguez de Gonzago Rodilego. Everybody there called him One Leg Off. Young fellow. Younger than I, even.
I was 21. I think he was probably a year younger. But he and I shared this pup tent. Those guys went through tough training, the combat engineers. He was Mexican. Real nice fellow. I should have kept in contact with him, but you know how that is. Heís probably still living.
Weíd crawl on our bellies under the wires and defuse mines. And I was supposed to go back after I got some training and tell our people, in case we came to a mine field, how to take a mine detector and defuse those mines. We never had to do it, of course. So that six weeks was wasted time. It was nice, though, because I met a lot of people up there. The food wasnít all that great. They had a chow line, and a kitchen set up outside. But here I was up right around Hadrianís Wall.
Then I went back to my outfit and got some more training. We had a lot of training. A lot of chasing. Night problems. Day problems. And they gave us a course in map reading, at night time. I was a corporal and I was given seven guys. Weíd start out after dark, and we had a map. All it showed was you had to go so many yards this way, on your compass, and youíll find a point. Thereíll be a jeep there or something. And then youíll go a thousand yards or so this way, and this way, and whatever. And you were supposed to find all these points. All we had was a flashlight. You couldnít have full light. If you didnít find all those points that first night, or the second night, you did it until you got it. Slogging on all night. Once, I knew where I had to go, and we came to a long building. This was on a farm. It was a long, long barn, a couple of hundred feet long. And I didnít want to get off of my course, so we put our stuff together and we started crawling over the top of this barn. And a dog started barking, and chickens started making a racket, and the farmer came out and he was hollering.
Some of it was kind of foolish, but thatís the way it was.
Flowers was the platoon commander. I was the gunner. Edward Dzienis was my loader. Flowers and I and Dzienis were in the turret. And up front there was the driver, Horace Gary, and Gerald Kiballa, his slot was called assistant driver and bow gunner, because there was a .30-caliber machine gun mounted there. Those were the five of us, and we were together; we trained together since we were in the States.
A lot of times Flowers was gone. He was an officer, and he would be hobnobbing with the infantry officers.
In our tank, we had good communications, really excellent. We had throat mikes. My call number was Trigger 1-1, for the first tank in the first platoon. The next tank was Trigger 1-2. In the second platoon it was Trigger 2-1, and so on.
Flowers was always good to me. We got along real well, the whole crew.
Sometime in May, we started waterproofing the tanks. It took us weeks that we worked on that. They had to be inspected a dozen times. We used a substance called Bostic. I can still smell it. It smelled like rotten tar. It was an awful smell. Like rotten eggs. Real sticky stuff. We waterproofed everything on the tanks. Then we had to weld on the back end of the tank a great big thing that went higher than the turret, and on the front you had to weld another great big thing for air intake. They were the width of the tank, eight or ten feet, and they were made out of steel.
We had all of our tanks on one LST; there were 17 tanks on it. We had five in each platoon, thatís 15, and we had one command tank, and then one extra tank. We got on the LST after days and days of waiting, I think eight or ten days; there were a million GIs there, from all kinds of different units. All heading for the beaches, to get on the LSTs. We got on the LST at a place called Weymouth. We didnít go into the port itself, because it was clogged with other troops. So the LSTs would come on up, and they had to be loaded just at high tide.
Finally it was our turn. All the tanks backed in, and my tank was the last one, because it was the first one off; it was the first one in the first platoon in the company.
When we were backing in there I caught hell, because we had a .50-caliber machine gun on top of the turret, and thereís only so much room between the bottom of an LST and this huge door, and I was supposed to hold that .50-caliber, and I wasnít holding it just right. Somebody was yelling at me, "You dumb bastard! Get that gun down there!" But we finally got on, and they locked the big door, and then we sat there for a long time. The tanks were real close together, and there was rough water going over. It was 160 miles until we got to the beach.
We stayed right with the tanks. We stayed inside or we walked on top of them, or we lay on the back end of them. There was noplace to go. It seemed like some of the tanks were four or five inches apart. They were so close that some of them would rub together, and youíd hear this screeching noise.
But we found out the value of these things that we welded on the front and back, the exhaust and the air intake.
It was really rough going across the channel. I didnít get seasick, but other guys were vomiting. We were on there quite a while. Then when we got over, the tide had to be just right. So we sat out there. And finally the big door opened, and we got the order to get in the tank.
Flowers was there, and he buttoned up. So I was looking out the periscope. Even before the door opened I was looking out. It was in the morning, I think. It was dusky. I looked out there, and you could see the shore. It looked like a long way. I saw a ship laying on the sand. It was a big ship, this huge monster was laying on its side.
Then Flowers gave the order to Gary to proceed. This ramp went down into the water, and we went down the ramp, and pretty soon I couldnít see out of my periscope. The periscope stuck out five or six inches, probably not even that, above the turret. And I said to myself, "God!" And then I felt the tracks get a hold, and I felt the engine pushing water underneath, and we proceeded.
If we would have gone down another foot or two, weíd have gotten water in the air intake, and weíd have gotten water into the exhaust and it would have stopped the engine. They were gasoline engines. So it was just fortunate that the water wasnít any deeper. I think somebody might have misjudged that a little bit, because we shouldnít have been in that much water.
We proceeded to shore, and we were supposed to rendezvous Ė us enlisted men didnít know what was going on, we didnít know where we were going. We got lost, but we found our way. We were supposed to be in a certain field at a certain time.
We finally got to the little field, and we tied a cable Ė each tank had a long cable tied on the side Ė so we tied cables around the shields and we ripped them off. Talk about a racket! When we were ripping that steel off of steel, God!
On D-Day morning Ė I should back up a minute Ė on the third or fourth of June, we had never had a three-day pass. None of us. And it might have been on the Fourth of June, all of a sudden they said, "You guys can all go to London." They gave us a three-day pass. And they brought these lorries out, these British trucks, and all of us went to London. Then the guys were joshing, saying youíre going to get your fire baptism, because they were still bombing London. Not as heavily as they had previously, but they were still bombing, and V-1ís were coming in, the crude V-1ís.
They let us off at Piccadilly Circus, and we were free to roam around. Me and some of my buddies were walking around and looking for a place to get some beer and whatnot, and there was a Red Cross place and a USO place.
On the night of the Fifth, we were carousing around there, and we saw a bunch of MPs and trucks and jeeps, and they picked everybody up. We started hollering, "Weíve got a three-day pass! We donít have to be back!"
They took our passes. "Get in the truck!"
We didnít know what was going on. We knew that D-day was coming, but we didnít know it was going to be then. I think they gave us those three-day passes to kind of fool the Germans a little.
So this was late at night. We all piled into these trucks, guys from all different units, and they took us over to Reading, about 40 miles from where our outfit was. There was a huge USO there, and they let us off there to eat. We were there for an hour or two, and then they got trucks from all units, picked us up and took us back to camp.
We immediately went into the tanks, and I remember I was listening to the radio. They had already landed during the night, and I could hear conversations. We could catch conversations from units already over there. I heard guys swearing and I heard guys screaming.
Then we started to pack things up. It wasnít long after that Ė it took us several days to get from Chiseldon down to Weymouth. We just ate C-rations. And wherever you looked, there were hundreds and hundreds of vehicles Ė tanks and trucks Ė and thousands of troops marching down toward their ships.
Captain [Jim] Cary got wounded almost right away, and then all of a sudden poor [Jack] Sheppard became company commander. I felt sorry for him, because he was maintenance officer, and all the while he never was in what we call a line outfit. He was a hell of a nice guy, a real nice fellow. All of a sudden, he was next in seniority, so he became company commander. I think he might have been a little frustrated for a while, to be taken from a maintenance unit into a combat unit. But I guess he did all right.
Several things happened, but I might as well come to the most important part, the battle on Hill 122.
When the first shell hit, I was afraid like all of us were. Some of the guys Ė we were told in training, "Donít freeze" Ė I guess a few guys did. They got so petrified or frightened they just froze. But I kept saying to myself, "Donít freeze. Watch." So I didnít freeze. But I was damn scared. Because youíre sitting there without too much visibility. I had control of the turret, I had control of the gun up and down, I had manual control and I had electrical control. I had two buttons I could push, one to fire the 75, and one for the .30-caliber. But I also had manual controls, in case the electric went off. There were manual triggers for both the 75 and the .30.
The turret had a toggle in it, that was electrical. But it also had a little wheel there, so you could traverse it manually. There was another wheel; one was for traversing the turret, and the other was for raising the gun up.
When my tank got hit, the little wheel was right in front of me, and it knocked four of my teeth out. It just broke them off. So I remember that wheel pretty well.
I felt sorry for my loader. He was sitting in a position Ė youíd have to look inside of a tank; the breach on these 75 cannons is a huge breach; the shells were about two feet long, so that breach was big, and when you fired, it went back almost to the back of the turret; it made a hell of a racket Ė the loader was sitting back there, on the side of us. He had a little porthole on the side of the turret; it had a little handle, and he could open it to throw out the casing. Otherwise, he couldnít see anything at all. His job was to feed the belt if the .30 caliber was firing, and to load the 75. It was a hell of a position. For another reason: to try to get out of the tank. And of course there was the danger of that recoil.
We had extra barrels along for the .30-caliber. We were told to fire short bursts, or the barrel would get too hot. So he had a pair of big asbestos mittens. And he would screw the barrel off, and put another one on. The barrel would get so hot that it would kind of bend a little bit and the bullets would fall in front of the tank. It would get that hot if you fired too many rounds without stopping.
We could see that because there were tracers; even in the daytime you could see where you were firing. He had a tough job, [Ed] Dzienis. I thought Ė and so did Flowers Ė that he was killed. In fact, sometime after I got discharged and came home, I got a listing of all of the gold star mothers, and his mother was listed there. So I thought Edward was killed over there. But I donít know all the details yet. I did call there, and I wrote, and I did get a letter about eight or ten years ago from one of his sisters.
What I gather happened, he got that hatch open Ė the turret must have been just right Ė and went out, and got captured. Thatís what one of his sisters said. She said he was taken to a place and he told her "thousands of Americans," he said thousands of prisoners. He got kind of mixed up. When he finally did get back, when they found him, he must have lost his dogtags, and it was months and months before they finally found out that he was alive.
When I found out he was alive I was shocked. But he did make it back, and these two sisters took care of him, and one of them wrote me a letter. It was garbled. But he remembered me in the letter. We were pretty good buddies. We used to call him Mother Dzienis. He kept watch on us. He prayed for us all the time. He prayed the rosary. We went out sometimes in these towns and got some beer, he tagged along and he would never drink, and he would make sure we got back. He was a nice fellow. Itís sad. He passed away. He made it back, but I guess he never was the same.
We were going along there and we were firing. I was firing the machine gun then, because they were on this hill, going up this slope, and they were dug in. Close together, lots of foxholes. And some were on top, working the machine guns. Hundreds of them.
I was firing the .30 caliber most of time; thatís when Dzienis had a problem getting these damn barrels in there fast enough. I was too damn heavy on the trigger. And they were firing at us, with small arms and rifle grenades. The rifle grenades were magnesium phosphorous. It would weld itself onto the tank, and almost go all the way through. They would aim at the turret circle; if one hit there you couldnít turn the turret. Some tanks were knocked out of action just because of that.
And then when that first big shell hit the tank, it hit the right front, I think it hit the sprocket, and we stopped. When it hit, the tank went up. It lifted the front end way up, and it came on down. The motor was still running.
It was an 88. Iím sure it was an 88. It was a big shell; the 88 has a high velocity. Flowers was looking for it, that 88. And he was telling me to move from the middle to the right. And I was trying to. I quit firing the .30 then, we had already been hit. And I remember Gary, Horace Gary, he was the driver, he started swearing down there, "Godammit, letís get out of this sonofabitch! Weíre sitting ducks! Letís get the hell out of here!" And Flowers told me to traverse to the right a little bit. He was poking me in the back. He was standing right behind me Ė I was sitting in the gunnerís seat Ė and he was saying something about over to the right, and I was trying to pick out something but I couldnít, through the periscope. I did see a heat wave, where the blast was from. And I fired one round in there.
All of this took place in a matter of seconds from the time the first one hit.
I think Gary was pretty angry that we didnít get out earlier. The tank wasnít on fire yet, and Gary and Kiballa were making all this noise, they were arguing. Then the second shell hit. And that came through the turret; thatís what knocked Jimís foot off. I didnít know it at the time. There was this goddamn humongous explosion, and racket, and heat.
The turret was open. It immediately caught fire. And the shell went right on through. It had to have been an armor-piercing shell. If it had been high-explosive, I wouldnít be sitting here. It had to be an armor-piercing, and it went right on through. Those German 88s could hit the front of a tank and that shell would come right out the back end. They had double the velocity of our 75s. Double.
I was burning, and I was plugged into a radio thing there. I was trying to get up from my little seat. I remember thinking just for a moment about unplugging the radio. But then of course it was flaming inside.
I got out, by myself, as far as my armpits. That hole isnít very big up there. Then I fell back in.
Then Flowers helped me. I kind of revived and I got up and got some air, and I got about as far as my belly, and he let himself off because there wasnít enough room there with him, he let himself fall and I saw him fall backwards onto the ground.
My clothes were burning by then. Itís a good thing I had three sets of clothes on. I had a set of olive drabs. And we had a set of impregnated fatigues. They were impregnated with some awful crappy stuff. They were kind of stiff, and they were supposed to stop gas. Poison gas. And on top of that, just before we went to France, they issued each of us combat tank pants and a combat tankerís jacket. So we had three sets of clothes on. Some of the guys in our outfit, it got so hot in there they took some of them off and then they got burned really bad.
When I finally got myself out I let myself fall head-first, and Flowers was still laying there. I hit the ground S now I had my senses S I hit the ground; of course, we had been told, they went over all this, youíve got to get the fire out. I started to roll. And lo and behold, all of a sudden, plunk! I just fell down into a hole. It may have been a bomb crater. Sometime ahead of us they had been bombing with these Mustangs and these Thunderbolts. There was a hole there; it was four or five feet deep, and there was a lot of loose dirt. I plunked down in there, and covered myself with this dirt. Otherwise I wouldnít be sitting here.
I was laying there for quite a while. My hands were all burned, and my face. I stuck my hands into the dirt. And the goddamn devils were firing at us.
I donít know where my helmet went. My tankerís helmet. It probably fell off when I hit the ground.
And then I could see tracers going over top of us. There were a lot of infantry with us. A whole company. A hundred and fifty guys, with the four tanks. Three tanks actually got up to the line. The fourth was off to the side. I lay in the hole there, and the firing stopped, to almost nothing. By that time it was almost dusk. Jim Flowers crawled from where he was laying by the tank, and right ahead of us Ė not more than 25 feet Ė was a hedgerow. And almost directly in front of our tank and off to the side of it was a hole in the hedgerow that was made by a bomb or something. These hedgerows are quite high, four or five feet, and here was this hole. At the time I didnít know he was there, but Jim crawled through that hole. The hole was five feet wide. He crawled through there, and lay down on the other side of the hedgerow.
And I was laying about, I would say fifty or a hundred feet from the tank. I rolled the other way, off to the side, from this hole.
After a while, when things quieted down, he was calling for me. He called my name. I could hear him plaintively. So then I crawled up to the hole in the hedgerow.
The tendon on my right foot was cut. I had a pair of shoes on, and I donít know if it was a gunshot or a shrapnel wound, but it cut the tendon off. I could take my right foot and pull the toe up until it touched the leg. And it didnít hurt.
I crawled over there. I kept following his voice. I came through this hole, and he was laying there.
By the time I crawled through, I was dazed, but I had my faculties. And he was calling for me, so I got over to him, and I lay down beside him. He was laying flat on his back.
On that side of the hedgerow was a pie-shaped field, about three or four acres in size. We were laying there, but it was still daylight, and then goddamn, Jim Flowers, and there were a few infantry boys there, they started firing at some Germans that were coming across a hedgerow on the other side of this little field. There was a hell of a firefight going on. Small arms. And then pretty soon things quieted down. By that time it started getting dark. And we lay there all night. Iím just trying to think exactly when these Germans walked up to us. It was still that evening I think. They came directly up to us. And one of them stopped, and knelt down alongside of me. And I was so goddamn thirsty, so thirsty.
The skin around my eyes was all puffed up, and the only way I could see was by pulling the skin down below my eye. I did that, and saw a red cross on the Germanís arm. Iím looking up and he was kneeling down there. He pulled out a canteen. I said, "Wasser," in German; I could speak a little German, my dad could speak German. I saw this canteen and I thought, "Heís going to give me some water!" And he took the cap off Ė I can still see that Ė he took the cap off and tipped it upside down. He didnít have any water. Jim claims he refused to give us water. This guy that was working on me didnít have any water. But he bandaged my hands; he put some gauze on them. Then he did something with Jim, and there was an infantry boy that was laying there, too, who was still alive.
The infantry boy was moaning. He was trying to talk. He was in really bad shape. I was looking at him; he was laying right beside Jim. He had a real bad wound across the stomach. Itís a wonder he survived as long as he did.
I got a shot of morphine. Jim had five syrettes, and he gave me a shot early on, while I was still in a state of shock; when you get hurt real bad you go into shock. He gave me a shot of morphine, and that lasted about three hours. And I guess he gave himself some, and he gave the infantry boy some. And that was it. I got one shot, I might have had two, I donít know. The infantry boy got one, and he might have got two. But he used up all five syrettes. So I got that early on.
The next morning, we were still laying there. I hardly slept. We kept listening. The Germans set up their line right there, they set up their machine gun positions. They were walking back and forth past us all the time. But they left us alone. Jim says in this Ė Iíve got a narrative that Jim wrote Ė he wondered in there how come they didnít kill us. He says they must have thought we looked so damn horrible that we werenít gonna hurt anybody, so they just left us. I canít figure it out either.
But anyway, the first day, our people Ė we were cut off there, we must have been quite a ways out there from our lines because they put artillery in, and they donít put artillery in at close range. The Germans were lined up there and our people knew they were lined up there where our tanks were burned out. So they laid in a hell of an artillery barrage, not knowing that we were there. Even if they had known they would have done it.
It just practically plowed up that field. And one of them landed between Jim and the infantry boy. I heard Jim scream. He let out a hell of a scream. And I looked over there and Jesus Christ, his other leg was gone.
Somehow, he managed to get a tourniquet on it.
And then we were out there all that day, and all that night. Itís Sunday night now; we were out there the night of the 10th, the night of the 11th, and we got picked up on the morning of the 12th..
During the night of the 11th, the Germans did what they did many other times Ė they picked up their stuff and moved back a few hedgerows. Our people thought they were still in this place. And they would shell it, and instead the guys are back safe over there. So sometime during that night, I could hear them talking with one another. They were pulling back. I donít know how far back. I said to myself, "Well, I still have my faculties." I wasnít berserk.
Then morning came, the 12th. A quiet, early dawn. Everything was quiet. You couldnít hear a shot. In fact I heard birds singing. I was laying there, and I was really feeling bad. I thought about dying. I wanted to. In fact, I crawled away from Jim. I crawled up to the hedgerow; it was only about eight feet away. And I lay there, and some other things. Ö Thereís a difference between my version here and Jimís, on that morning. I crawled back to where he was laying. He was eight or ten feet away. He said to me, "Give me a cigarette."
I had cigarettes, but my hands Ė youíd be surprised how a fellow swells up. My hands were huge from the swelling. I couldnít get in my pocket. I remember trying to get in my pocket because the cigarettes were there, and I wanted a cigarette, too. But I couldnít get in my pocket.
The next thing he said Ė he swore a little bit Ė he said, "Jesus Christ, Jim, youíd better go get some help."
I said, "Why?"
"Iím getting gangrene in my legs," he said. "Can you see a little bit?"
It was hard to talk because Iíd swelled up so much. But I knew what he said. I was desperate myself. And everything was quiet. So when he told me about this gangrene, I crawled out through this hole in the hedgerow. But I went the wrong way. I was confused somewhat. The tanks were still smoldering. I put my left shoulder kind of to the hedgerow and was crawling along, blind, then Iíd stop once in a while and Iíd look. And I was trying to call for medics. At least thatís what I was trying to do. I donít know if I got any noise out or not. And I donít know how far I crawled. It might have been three or four hundred feet, or it might have been more. But all of a sudden I heard this awful kind of a laugh, and I stopped. There I was, sitting in front of a German machine gun nest. Three guys were there, behind it. It was a water-cooled machine gun, because it had the big casing on the barrel. They were looking at me, and they were saying something and they kind of laughed a little bit. And I thought well, okay, shoot me. Go ahead. I didnít give a damn. And I remember they laughed at me; one of them laughed. They must have thought I looked awful. My clothes were burned, I suppose, and I was all puffed up.
After a few seconds, I turned around. I put my right shoulder to the hedgerow and I crawled back and I came back to that hole where Jim was, and I continued on past it, and Iíd stop every once in a while, and try to call for medics. I could hear. There was nothing wrong with my hearing. And I heard a little noise. I opened my eye up. I had crawled the other way maybe a hundred feet, whatever it was. The hedgerow came down and I was crawling along, and it turned to the left, and there was a GI, and he must have been down on his hands and knees because I saw the helmet down toward the ground, and a head, and I immediately recognized Ė even though I couldnít see that well Ė I recognized a GI helmet. So I must have hollered or something, and pretty soon about three or four of them came from around that corner. And they picked me up and carried me some distance. It wasnít too far, a couple or three hundred feet. And they were going through some water. I could hear water. I was so goddamn thirsty. I was so thirsty. They laid me down, and I was begging for water. And I heard one of the guys say to the other fellow, "Just give him a little bit now." I could have drank a barrel. "Just a little bit. Donít give him much, now." And I was angry about that, because I was so thirsty.
I got that water down. Then I was telling these guys Ė by that time there were eight or nine of them, they were infantry guys Ė I was telling them my lieutenant is laying back here. I must have really begged for them to go back there and get him.
So they left. They came back in a few minutes and said, "Heís dead."
I guess I tried to get up, and I said, "No, no." I was begging and begging, and they went back again. Then they brought Jim. They brought him and laid him down alongside of me. I donít know if he recalls this or not, but they laid him down alongside of me, and then they sent for some people with stretchers; they brought some stretchers and carried us, both of us, side by side. Soon they came to a jeep, and they laid both of us on the hood of the jeep, crosswise. They took us to an aid station, and we were there for not very long, then they put us on the hood of a different jeep, which was a Duck [amphibious vehicle]. In the meantime, they had given us some shots. And they took us down to the beach. And this jeep went right into the water, and took us to an LST. And it was full. They left space for walking, but it was full. Jimís still with me. I was laying here, there was a little aisle, and he was laying on the other side. And there was another aisle. And the guy laying next to me kept asking me if I wanted a cigarette.
When we got to Southampton, we were still together. They took us into a hospital, and thatís the last time I saw Jim. They brought us in there, and he was laying over to the right and I was over here, on a gurney, and some doctors and nurses came over, and they were looking at me, and one of the nurses hollered, "Jesus! Come and look at this guy, they must be using gas over there!" And then pretty soon the chaplain came in. A Catholic chaplain. I happen to be Catholic. It shows on your dogtags. And he was gonna give me the last rites. He did. I didnít want him to. I said, "Damn!" I swore at him, and told him to get the hell away from me. I made it this far Iím gonna make it. I donít need no last rites. I was really angry. But he went through the procedure. And Jim was over there yet. I heard him talking. I knew his voice, being with him so long. The last words I heard him say, he said, "Godammit!" Ė Iím quoting now; heís talking to the nurses or the doctors. He said, "Godammit. Take good care of that corporal. Heís the best goddamn gunner in the United States Army!" Real loud. Then I didnít see him any more. They took him somewhere else, and they took me from there to a hospital in England.
Then they did something that they should have told me what they were doing. They put a plaster of paris mask on Ė that was a standard procedure Ė then they put thousands of maggots in there. Thousands of them, little bitty ones. They should have told me. They should have talked to me and said, "Weíre going to do this." I had a little hole in the mask, with a little glass tube. Thatís all there was. And the reason Ė do you know why they use maggots? Maggots will eat up all the dead flesh. They will not touch a live cell. Theyíll do a better job of cleaning up a badly burned area like that than a surgeon can do. Theyíll eat up all the dead flesh.
They left them in there for eight days. I nearly went nuts. About the second or third day, they start to crawl. And I didnít know this. I thought they put some salve or something. And it stunk something awful. They grew, and I suppose they knew how many to put in, and they ate up all the dead flesh. Thatís what they live on. Afterwards, I read about the whole thing.
I donít know what they did with my eyes, but I couldnít see. They must have taped them shut.
When the eight days ended, they took this mess off. And then they started cleaning, and put me in a bathtub every day twice a day, and used a saline solution. That burned like the dickens. Then they put me on intravenous feeding, for some strange reason that I never did find out. That was in July. I didnít eat solid food until ten days after Thanksgiving, the first time, I got one egg. When I went to France, at the physical, I was a pretty strapping fellow, I weighed 191 pounds stripped. Then I went down to 122. I never got back to 140.
After six months in England, they took me into a dental unit. They had operated on my leg and fixed that up, and they had to operate on that again, Thanksgiving morning, because it grew a great big piece of flesh, half the size of a tomato, and green. It was growing out the side. So they operated again Thanksgiving morning. I was supposed to get something to eat Thanksgiving morning. Iíd been begging for months. And then they postponed it for ten days.
Then they put me in a dental unit and I had bridgework done. You wonít believe this, but the thing that runs the drill was a foot pedal. There was a GI sitting on a bicycle. That was the GIís duty. But the dentist did a beautiful job.
I was in that hospital for about six months. Then they sent a whole bunch of us to Halloran General Hospital on Staten Island. I was there for about three months.
Clarence Rosen was one of my buddies at Fort Benning. He was from Minnesota, too. He died about a year ago. In fact, he was with us at Hill 122. He told me what happened. He was in one of the tanks Ė in fact, he was in the tank that one of the drivers didnít want to Ö Lochowicz Ö you said it, I didnít want to use his name. I was right there. We had backed off the line, and there was just a rumor, somebody said another tank battalionís gonna take our place. So we backed off the line, and moved over into a little field. And our kitchen truck was there, I was gonna get something to eat. So we pulled our tanks out into this little field, there was a hedgerow around us, and we parked our tanks. I remember driving in, standing up in the turret. Flowers was outside already, talking with, or riding in a jeep with somebody.
We pulled into the field, and Sergeant Speier was there. He was the mess sergeant, and he knew me real well, he knew I liked pork chops. He used to call me Poík Chop. I was in the tank and I was just driving by where his mess truck was. Then I hear, "Hey, Poík Chop. You hungry?"
I said, "Youíre goddam right!"
And he tossed me up a gallon can of marmalade and a loaf of bread. We parked alongside the hedgerow. So somebody came along, I donít know if was an MP or what, and said, "You canít stand outside. Youíve got to get underneath the tank." Because mortar fire might come in. There was a space of about two feet under the tank. So we crawled under there, and took this gallon can of marmalade, we were so damn hungry, and the loaf of bread. There were four of us Ė Dzienis, Kiballa, Horace Gary and myself. And we took our knife, our Bowie knife, and we cut this can of marmalade. And we broke the bread, it wasnít sliced, so we took chunks off, and we took our hands. We ate that whole gallon of marmalade.
Weíre laying there, and Sergeant Speier came over and said, "Itíll take about an hour. Iíve got a hot meal for you."
We hadnít had a hot meal since we left England! So about that time, a jeep comes racing into this little field, with an officer. Our tank was parked over here, and another tank was sitting fifty or a hundred feet away.
I noticed a commotion by the other tank. There were several people gathered, and people were waving arms. So I walked over. I didnít go all the way over, but I came within fifteen feet. I wanted to see what was going on.
And here this guy was, he refused to drive. I couldnít believe it. And I thought Ė we had been told that the rules of war, if you disobey an order on the front, you donít have to be courtmartialed, they could shoot you right there. They didnít do that. They took him away.
He was saying, "Iím not gonna go. Iím just not gonna go. The hell with you, Iím not gonna go." That was about it. They put him in a jeep, and away they went. And we thought, theyíre going to take him back and shoot him, heís a dead duck. If you refuse an order like that on the front line. Ö
That was the tank that Rosen was in. Sergeant Bailey Ė he never was in the tanks, although he knew how to drive a tank; he became communications sergeant Ė somehow or other, he was there also, and damned if he didnít volunteer to drive that tank.
They got hit the same time we did. And they were both up front. Rosen and Bailey got out, and they crawled in back of the tank. Rosen told me all about it. It was muddy there. They crawled back part ways, and they were under so much fire they just lay down in the mud. It was getting dusk about that time. And a lot of dead infantry guys were laying all over the place.
Rosen said he and Bailey were laying close together, and they lay face down in the mud. And he said some Germans came along after things settled down. The Germans were taking all the wristwatches, their handguns. He said, "When they rolled me over, they searched my pockets, took my wristwatch, and .45s, and when they did that, they rolled me back over and they stepped on my head." And then they went over to Bailey, who was right next to him. And Bailey, according to him, panicked, and they butted him to death. And he wouldnít even have been there [if Lochowitz hadnít refused to drive the tank]. I felt kind of bad about that.
You know, there are some things a guy really remembers. This was before Hill 122. We came into a field late in the evening. It was a small field. There had been a battle there the day before, and I got out of the tank, there were bodies laying all over. They had to have been there for quite a while, because they had rigor mortis. And lo and behold, here come some jeeps with trailers, and this was a special crew that did this. I was watching them. I couldnít believe this: Theyíd pick the bodies up and throw them in the trailers, guys with arms sticking out, and legs sticking out. They couldnít get many in the trailers, they were small trailers. That stuck in my mind.
Freedom isnít free. All the freedom we have comes with a price tag. All those guys that lost their lives there Ė the only real heroes, youíll find those beneath the white crosses and the stars of David. Those of us that made it back were the fortunate ones. The only heroes are out there in the cemeteries.