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Follies of a Navy Chaplain

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Tanks for the Memories

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They were all young kids

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Love Company

A Mile in Their Shoes

A Mile in Their Shoes

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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 21

Myron Kiballa's Story

    My brother Jerry was six years older than me. When he got killed, he was between 24 and 25 years old, and I was 19. Before I got the word that he was killed, I had sort of felt there was something wrong, because I didnít hear from him for about three months, and usually it would only take a month for a letter to arrive. So when I got the letter from home, it was one of the most unpleasant letters of my life. It turned me into a person like if I was in the twilight zone. I opened the letter and the first thing it says that your brother Jerry was killed. And they said that they havenít heard from my brother John for three months, they were afraid maybe something happened to him, too. He was in the Philippines with the infantry. We had five brothers altogether, four of them in the service. It changed my life, that letter.

    I donít even know who wrote it, the middle sister or the one that was older than her. Anyhow, it was sad. She kept going down the line, "We donít think motherís gonna make it. Ö" She was just getting these telegrams, and it was a shock to her. She was a frail lady to begin with. But she survived, and she lived to 84. Then they said they donít know how theyíre gonna make it through the winter, because me and Jerry, the two of us had an allotment that they were living on, my oldest sister was making about twenty dollars a week at that time, and they had a mortgage of $36 a month. There was my brother that didnít go in the service, and my three sisters were home. My father was dead. He died when I was about 11 years old.

    Jerry was the one that I depended on, because when my father died it kind of felt like the end of the world. Where was I gonna go to? My mother didnít speak English. She came from Poland. She didnít mingle much, just with people that came from the country, thatís as far as she would go, to church. My father was my protector, he was my everything, when he went, who could I go to? My oldest brother, John, he was a little funny. And I had Jerry next, me and him were close because I confided mostly with him, about sports, whatever.

    My father had been a coal miner. I guess he did very well, till the mines went kaput, and everything started shutting down. The only thing that was available was the WPA at the time, and to get on WPA you had to go on welfare first. He had a little problem getting on welfare, but he finally did, and then they transferred him onto the WPA.

    I was wounded before Jerry was killed. I was in the hospital, and then I had to go back to my outfit after three months, and thatís when I got the letter. And when I read that letter, as I was going further in the letter that they didnít know if they were gonna make the remaining winter, they were being threatened to be evicted from the house, that upset me bad. My brother Jerry, he had to write a letter to Cal Kinney, he was a news commentator. And right after he wrote that letter, Congress adopted some kind of a law that all homes were frozen, or something to that effect, they were trying to protect the people. But they were still a nasty company. After my brother got killed, they were still threatening to evict the family, because the money wasnít there to meet the expenses.

    Jerry always had tough luck. When I was just a kid, he was playing ball, there was just a lot by the side of the road. He hit a ball and heís running over first base. Jerry couldnít stop, and a car hit him and broke his leg. Then he got a trick knee. When I talked to [Jim] Rothschadl the first time, he told me, "Did you know your brother had a bad knee?"

    I said, "I certainly did."

    And he said, "Boy, he struggled with it. Do you know that they wanted him to take a transfer out of the tank outfit and put him in a medical unit, and he said he wouldnít go. He said that if they want to release him altogether heíll go, but he said he didnít want to go to another outfit." He was rejected about three times. He kept going down to try to enlist, so finally they took him.

    He got in the tank outfit. They knew he had a problem, and he must have suffered with it, because Iíve seen him, when that knee would jump out heíd be in pain.

    Jerry never talked about anybody in the unit. I never, in his letters, heard him say anything about any guy in particular that I could remember. And all these years, what was it, about forty years went by, and we never got in contact with anybody that he was with. Until one day we got a call from the American Legion, from a guy who said, "Hey, Myron, thereís a guy down here from New York who was in an outfit with your brother. Ö"

    That was John Zimmer. So I said, "Yeah? Look, Iíll be right down." So I went down there, we talked, and I brought him up to the house, and we discussed many things. He was on his way down to Harrisburg where they were having a reunion. So he told me heíd try to get in contact with some people, and he did. He found some people, then Ray Griffin was involved. I started communicating with John and Ray, and finally I got Rothschadlís address, Dzienisí address, and the lieutenant, Flowers. So they wrote me different things. But Dzienis, heís the one that let me know just what happened.

    Dzienis wrote me one letter, because I told him I would like to know just what happened. He told me that the tank was hit, and the first time it was hit Flowers told them to keep going, donít stop. Then they got hit again. My brotherís the assistant, so I think my brother and Gary got out through the bottom trap door, and the other three got out through the top. Dzienis said the Germans were all around, and Flowers and Rothschadl and Gary, how they got around I donít know, but just reading your book ["Tanks for the Memories"] explained a lot there, but thereís a little contradiction about what they say about my brother, because Dzienis told me that he and my brother ran towards a wall, and he said from that point he didnít remember anything until he got up, and he said my brother was laying on him partially, and he was dead. And he said that he was wounded or something, and he was like unconscious.

    But according to your book ["Tanks for the Memories"], the way Flowers was saying, he sent Gary and my brother back for help. So there Iím lost, thereís the discrepancy.

    But, you know, up on the lines, itís so easy for things to get mixed up.

    When we invaded Anzio, we stayed there for a while before we were able to push out. When we pushed out, there were two infantrymen on a tank, and I volunteered with this guy, and the tank pushed a stake and exploded the mines in front if it, so they could make a path, but in the holding area, gosh, they had so many tanks there, I donít know how they assembled all those tanks in that area, how everybody knew where to go or what. But we got on this tank, and what the plan was, once the tanks hit the enemy strongholds, the infantry was gonna be behind and then they were gonna come and attack. So we did, and we were pointing out targets and they were shooting, this fellow Bruno Scaramucci and myself. Finally we got right up on our objectives, and the was no infantry, the rest of them werenít coming up.

    And the tanks were getting knocked out on the right, tanks on the left. I was throwing grenades and shooting from the tank, so finally I told Bruno, "I think weíd better jump off and make our own attack, maybe the infantry will come back," because they were only about three hundred yards behind us, in the tall grass. So we jumped off the tank, and there were two Germans right there. I wouldnít kill them in cold blood. So I just hollered to them, and they got up. No sooner had I got them up, when Bruno got hit in the leg. So I got Bruno over behind the tank, and I told the tank men to watch these guys while I fixed him up. When I tore his pant leg off he was bleeding badly, squirting blood. "Bruno, gee, I canít tie a tourniquet," I said. "Iím just gonna get this bandage and wrap it around as tight as I can." So I put the sulfanilamide and I tightened it on there good, and I said, "Iíll hoist you on the tank and let them take you back." So thatís just what I did. The tank was going back, and I took the two prisoners with me.

    When I got back, the captain was harping nose-to-nose with the lieutenant. "What the hell is going on? Why arenít you up there? Why donít you get the men up there?" The lieutenant, heís kind of like, "What do you want me to do?" He couldnít get the men to move.

    So the captain turns to me. "What the hell did you bring these prisoners for?"

    I didnít want to argue with him. How was I gonna get back? If I didnít have the two prisoners they would have shot me, thatís how I got back, really. I didnít want to argue or say anything, so he turned away from me and he got a submachine gun and he pointed it at the guys. "Get up and start moving!" he says. "Iím gonna kill you all if you donít." And heís red as a bulb. When he said that I thought, this guyís going nuts.

    I said, "Captain, Iíll lead them in."

    Jeez, he looks at me, he looks at the lieutenant. He says, "Okay, you lead them in." And he just snubbed the lieutenant just like that. The lieutenant, he felt so bad, and I felt bad for him too. I was panicking too because I thought he was gonna hurt the guys.

    So I start. I had to take the lead. They were following me. We got into the trenches and were battling, and I asked a guy, "Whereís the lieutenant?"

    He says, "Buddy, he got killed right behind you."

    We fought them there, we got more prisoners, I killed more. I threw so many grenades there, and before, when I jumped off, before I jumped off the tank I nailed a few. One guy was ready to get our tank with a bazooka. He was just ready to let it go, boy, I just got him in the nick of time. And I was firing from that tank, and I see a head bobbing up and firing, nobodyís dropping. Hey, somethingís wrong. And Iím starting to panic. Then all of a sudden something struck me. I said, "I know whatís wrong. Iím firing at such close range, itís only ten, fifteen yards, the bullets are going over their heads." That struck me so good. I pointed the next one into the dirt, and sure enough, you could see the impact. A person actually is going in a spiral and comes down. So I got two, a machine gunner and him. Then when we went up, I know that I got two more, and we got two more prisoners.

    So we got our objective by the railroad, and now the guys are in a circle, and a shell came right in the middle of us. I hollered right away, "Is everybody okay?" Nobodyís talking. I said, "Jeez, everybodyís dead." Then they started talking. Do you know, not one of the guys was hurt. By the time we started out on this drive we had about 55 guys. We got to that objective with about 25, thatís all we had left. So after that shell exploded, the captain sent this runner, and he comes right to me. And he says, "The captain wants you to move up another half-mile."

    What could you do? We got our objective but he wanted us to go on. I said, "Okay, weíd better be going." The runner went. I said, "All right, who wants to volunteer to be the first scout?" No takers. I said, "Okay, Iíll be first scout," and the guy standing behind me, I said, "Youíre second scout." So we took off. We moved about a half a mile, and Iím ready to tell the guys to dig in behind the hill, stretch out and dig in behind it. And before I could get the words out of my mouth this runner comes to me right in my face again, and he says, "The captain wants you to go in front of the hill, get the men in front. Thereís gonna be a counterattack."

    Well, I said, Jesus, counterattack, so what, from the back or the front of the hill, it didnít make any difference. But I didnít want to refuse his order, so I said, "Well, men, you heard what the guy said, weíd better dig in in the front."

    Everybody started digging, but you couldnít dig. It was like concrete. So I picked out a spot that was like a little crevice and Iím trying to dig and I couldnít touch it. And the Germans started. When the shells start coming in Ė you could hear them going out, there were like 88s that would fire, pshew, and the guys were flying up in the air. I said, "Uh-oh. Weíre in for it." So I just lay there. They were pounding. And before it was all over, out of 25 men, I only could say there would be maybe three or four guys left. Because our artillery tried to knock them out, but by the time it zeroed in they were coming in on us.

    I didnít get out of there till about 12 oíclock at night. But when I got hit it was about 7 in the evening.

    I was lucky that I got away. I thought a big rock hit me in my leg and tore my leg off. There was a guy who was above me and had his feet on my head sort of, I forget his name. I said, "I think I was hit with something." So he crawled down and looked and said, "Yeah, youíre hit." But there were so many guys that were in such worse shape that nobody could tend to me; I just lay there. Finally a medic came to me and said, "Look, if you can make it down to the ravine, try to get down. Weíve got too many guys that we have to work with." So I finally got down there, and I didnít have any blankets, no nothing. I left my pack there. And I was shaking so badly that I could feel myself like lifting off the ground. The cold, it seemed like it was penetrating me. When I saw that "Battle of the Bulge" documentary and they said that those that were wounded died because in the cold, you couldnít survive, now I realize that it was chilly, and I probably was on the verge of going into shock. But they were trying to get the other guys back and they told me, it was about 12 or 1 in the morning, "If you can, walk back with us." I tried to walk back and I was struggling, but I made it back.

    When I was in the hospital, I saw Bruno. I was walking around with crutches, so I went into the area where they have the people listed, Iím going down the list, and I see Bruno Scaramucci. I went over to him, and when he was wounded I didnít think he was gonna make it. He was bleeding so much, but maybe the wrapping might have sealed it enough to hold enough of the blood.

    After he healed, he had to go back, for the third time. I wasnít with him at the time. A guy told me, he said Bruno was using his cane, walking alongside of a hill there, going towards the Po Valley, and some sniper hit him between the eyes.

    I contacted Brunoís family, and boy, they said I should have contacted them sooner. They said his mother and father, how they were looking forward to having somebody come and tell them something. Nobody ever did. And Bruno did tell me, he said, "Mickey" Ė he called me Mickey Ė "if anything happens to me, youíre around Pittsburgh. Drop in and tell my folks about what happened." But I didnít get out that way. You know when I wrote them a letter? After I realized what it meant to be contacted by this Zimmer guy.

    It was so sad. I should have made up my mind and made a special trip. His folks would have been thrilled to know just what happened. I donít know if Iíd be able to tell them in that language how he died, but it was clean. No suffering. I told his sister-in-law that he died quick. A sniper picked him off. He didnít know what happened. It was instant.

    Oh gosh, I could keep going on. The captain, I donít think he wanted any recollection of that day. Because when I came back, after three months, he was cold to me, it was like he ignored me. I couldnít believe it. I was puzzled. And I tried to piece things together, but then I realized, he didnít want any recollection of what happened that day. It was a bad day for him. Because actually I got hit for nothing. If we were in back of the hill, there would have been a lot of guys saved.

    My oldest brother, John, was the first to go in the service. He was in the Philippines, with the 38th Infantry Division. I think it was the 38th. He was lucky, he didnít get hit or anything. But he did come down with a bad case of malaria. When he came home, I looked at him, he was yellow as a banana. Oh, gosh. And Walter was in the Air Force. When Pearl Harbor erupted, he went down Monday and enlisted. In the long run he got the better deal of everybody. He became a crew chief. I guess he had his share of responsibilities, seeing that the planes were ready. He never went overseas. But he died pretty young, he was up in Buffalo working up there, and he got a heart attack.

    It seems like that was in our family, heart trouble. My father died of a heart attack. In the doctorís office. It was on December the 5th. And it was snowing that day. I got up early in the morning, I got the paper off the porch, and he said, "Give me the front page," the front section; naturally, I would go to sports. I finished and I made my own breakfast and I went out. I didnít come home till about 3 oíclock. When I came home, he was kind of sick, he was moaning. About 5 oíclock, it got so bad that we called the doctor. But it goes to show you, he was that ill, and across the street we had empty lots and me and my brother Walter were kicking a football in the snow, which was about eight inches deep; Dad came out on the front porch and hollered, "Come on, get in here before you get sick and die!" Little did he know he was gonna be dead that night.

    Finally, my mother said, "Call up the doctor." So we went to the neighborís and Jerry called up the doctor. The doctor said, "Iím so busy here, could you bring him down?"

    "I donít know," Jerry said. "Iíll try. Heís awful sick."

    The doctor said, "Try to bring him down."

    So Jerry took him down, and it was about a mile to get to the doctorís. They got about three-quarters of the way down there Ė Jerry was telling me this Ė and my father had to lean on this school fence, itís an iron fence, Jerry said he was in awful pain. Finally he did make it, and as soon as they came in the office Jerry said he was moaning so bad the doctor came right out, took him right in, and he said he gave him a couple shots, with a needle in the ribs.

    Where our house was located we could see partially down the main street from the kitchen window. So every now and then my mother would peek out, and this time she peeked out, and she saw my brother coming with my fatherís hat and coat in his hand. "Uh-oh," my mother said, "something happened."

    When he came in the doorway, he said, "Pa died." Just like that. I couldnít believe it, my fatherís dead, I couldnít believe it, I said, "Heís gonna come back alive."

    My father was born in Poland. I donít know if it was Poland. I know his family settled in Poland, whether he was born there I donít know. But I think he was. My mother was born there, too. And they both got their parentsí farm, because they used to send money over here from there. But when the Germans came in they took it over and made a big base camp out of it. And that was the end of the farm. It was in the western part of Poland, close to Germany, they used to call it Zhelenagora in Polish, that means like green valley.

    Boy, Iíll tell you, I saw what war was when we pushed out from Anzio. It had everything. The planes. The Navy was firing from the water. The artillery was firing. Talk about armor, they assembled so many tanks, in a short time, I couldnít see a tank around. But I saw them get hit. Oh, God, I was hoping that my brother didnít die that way. The tank on our right, an 88 went right through the turret. That tank just made one lunge, and the smoke went up, nobody got out of that.

    On our left, the Germans hit it with a bazooka right in the side. The flames shot up through that tank, those guys were trying to get out, and the Germans were right there cutting them down. Could you imagine that? I donít think Iíd want to shoot a guy if heís coming out of a tank like that.

    I have a little article in my local Gazette paper about Eugene Tannler and my brother, they put a memorial up in that town, because [Ray] Griffin was very instrumental in that. I never went over. There was a nice little writeup in the paper about it.

    But I felt bad, boy, I tell you, when I got the word my brother was dead, and I read the whole letter through. I fell into a twilight zone. I was sitting down, I tried to get up, hey, I canít get up. You know, staggering. Hey, somethingís wrong. It was like taking a stroke at a young age. It was an awful feeling. I didnít know what to think. I was wondering if I was alive.

    I wanted to get back and kill someone. Because they were trying to, weíre dying for this, you know, I mean who is my enemy here? I was confused.

    I talk to my grandchildren now that theyíre a little older, I talk to them about different things, and I tell them that for what I did at Anzio, and to come out of it, it was just like starting out from your own goal line and going down to the enemyís one yard line and coming up with nothing. But I donít regret it. There was a lot of guys who did a lot of heroic things, they just didnít work out.

Contents                       Chapter 22, Jake Driskill's story