Jake Driskill's story
My granddad Driskill came to Grayson County after the Civil War. He came from Missouri to Texas, he was 40 years old. He married a woman that was 20, and they raised a big family, about 11 kids. He died a few years before I was born.
I was born in 1914. I went into the service in ’42, that made me about 27, give or take a year. I wasn’t married when I registered, which put me in 1-A. Then my wife and I decided we’d like to get married, and I went to the draft board, and they said, "Well, according to your number, and the rate we’re taking them, you will be 27 before your number comes up." So we got married. Pearl Harbor came along, and it took me right back where I started from, 1-A. And in February of ’42 I was drafted.
I went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, from there to Fort Benning, Georgia – no, wait a minute, Fort Knox, Kentucky – got my basic, and from Fort Knox I went up to Fort Benning, where I was assigned to this organization, which was Company I of the 11th Armored Regiment at that time.
I was one of four that went from Fort Knox down there. We went down before the 2nd Armored left Fort Benning, and there were two staff sergeants and a corporal and a private, and guess who had the details, all the dirty work? Because when the 2nd Armored Division left, we were to clean up the barracks, and we had to mop the floors and this and that. ’Course, I had taken my aptitude test and I was higher in mechanical aptitude than anything else, so they shuffled me around and put me in maintenance. I had some schooling at Fort Benning, and that’s what I wound up in, mechanics.
Our first day in combat our motor sergeant, Earl Swanson, was standing up in a halftrack going down a road and an 88 hit right beside him, so that was the end of him – he didn’t get killed, but he didn’t come back to the outfit.
There were some tanks that were knocked out before Hill 122.
The first man in combat that was killed was William Schmidt, and he was killed by a sniper; he had his head sticking out the turret.
Then on July the 7th, there were two tanks knocked out at a crossroad down below Hill 122. One of those tanks, old Fred Lockhart, I went out there and I looked at him, and the tank had set there a day maybe, and he’s folded down just like you have a pair of hips, an armor-piercing bullet came through the tank and cut him in two where he just folded up like he had another pair of hips, just lay down on his knees.
And then the other tank of those two hit a mine and the transmission shattered just like a glass that you would hit with a hammer. I think [Lieutenant Henry] Du Val was in the one that Lockhart was driving.
It was terrible to see an old boy, let me tell you about this Lockhart. On the way over there, we were getting on the LST, or the liberty ship, we were kidding each other, "Did you get a round trip ticket for this trip?" And I asked old Fred, I said, "Lightnin’ " S he was a, today you would call him a hot rodder because of the way he drove a tank, they called him Lightnin’ and Cowboy. He was that kind of a driver. And I asked him, "Lightnin’, did you get a round trip ticket?"
He said, "By God, Driskill, I don’t know." And then he was the first tank driver that was killed in the outfit. And there he was, all fell over, and I hadn’t seen death over there – I had seen the German bodies, smelled the Germans and then seen them laying there, but it was pretty bad to see those, [Lindy] Fellbaum, those are the two I remember that were killed in that particular tank, one of them was in one tank and one in the other. Fellbaum I believe was in the one that had hit the mine.
The mine was a deal that was buried in a box, right in the center of a crossroad, and what I think is that this tank hit the mine, then Lightnin’ started around the tank, and an 88 got him, there was a hole in front of the driver where it just bored right through.
The 88 was a wicked gun. It had a great velocity, and our little pea shooters, 75s, we found out they were just kind of pea shooters. But we did get a good gun before the war ended.
When Swanson got hit, I was the next in line, so I took over as motor sergeant. I was a T-4 mechanic, and when he got wounded, he came back to the States.
At that particular time, Sheppard was the motor officer.
They kind of got to where they would rotate us around. Captain [Jim] Cary was our commander, and he got wounded by a booby trap pretty quick. He got out to open a gate, and it jumped up and exploded. He wanted to be real tough, he just aimed to forget about it but the next day or two he was a sick man. And then Jack Sheppard was in line to be our commanding officer, and Jim Gifford came in, and he was our motor officer for a while. Then they got to where they would rotate the officers that were up on the front; they’d send Snuffy Fuller, for instance, he came back as our motor officer, just for a time. It kind of gave them a break. But Jack, I shouldn’t say this but Jack was the best that we ever had. He knew maintenance. Some of those others had no idea about the maintenance of a tank, but we made it all right.
Well, now, I’ll tell you about that one, Sheppard was telling about this one tank that the driver refused to drive in, that must have been it. It was settin’ off over there, you heard about the gravel pit over there, whatever you want to call it, stone pit. All those tanks were over there, and they got orders to move. There was one tank that was hung in reverse. So that was the only way it would go. And those other tanks went on out. Sheppard got me and my toolbox and a jeep, took me up there to that tank that was just settin’ there, just one gear was all they could get to. They was settin’ facing a steep bank.
I didn’t know whether there was anybody in that tank or not. We drove up with the jeep and nobody knew we were there. I got my hammer, because I had an idea what was wrong with it, and three or four wrenches, and went up to that tank and I hollered, and I pecked on it with the hammer, so they’re in there, but they’re all closed in, and they asked, "Who is it?"
So they opened the top hatch, and they wanted me to be in a hurry because the Germans were out there somewhere. I didn’t see any Germans, but they thought they’re out there. So I went down in that tank, the top hatch, and the transmission had two, oh, about three-quarters, five-eighths rods sticking out, the transmission and the shifting deal was pulling it outside, and those rods had a gap in them, and your shifting lever would catch the gap, but they had somehow or other got a foot against one of those rails settin’ in that track, I imagine, and you could push ’em, and get ’em in gear, and that shifter would be somewhere else. That’s what happened. So I went down in there and saw what it was, and I took my hammer and a wrench and I pecked it back to normal position and everything worked right.
Sheppard had already left with the jeep, so since I was in the driver’s seat I just said I’d take it back to the hill. I got back over there and this infantry colonel was there, well, he was rarin’ for tanks. He fussed about tanks, "All they’s good for is tearin’ up your telephone lines," but he still wanted them to go down there. But this – old Sheppard would then be commander of this tank that we brought over there, and I shouldn’t call names but you know it was Lochowicz, he said, "I’m not a-goin’." And nobody told him, "No, you are goin’."
So Bailey, he says, "I’ll take it."
Sheppard was in the turret, and Bailey got in there and Lochowicz went back to headquarters in a jeep with me.
It wasn’t engine problems, it was transmission, and it was all right, but ol’ Lochowicz, he had an idea that it would do it again. He was supposed to have been the driver of that tank. And Flowers tells me, "If I had been there he would have drove that tank."
That’s the one that bogged down out there, it might have been a quarter of a mile from these other three.
Now let me tell you about Abe Taylor. We were in a company area, and they got orders to pull up just before all this happened. Taylor was one of the four that went to Fort Benning, and Taylor and I were good friends, had been for all this time, and he came up, stuck his hand out, and said, "So long, Dris."
And I said, "I’ll shake your hand, but I’ll see you."
"Well," he said, "I feel like I’m gonna get it sometime, this may be it."
So he went in there with that in his mind, that this might be the time that he’d get it. I don’t know how a man would, what kind of feeling he’d have to think that "I’m gonna get it," that this may be it. Of course I wasn’t all that brave but I never did feel like "This is it."
As far as I’m concerned, Taylor was nice. I think, though, that he could throw his voice pretty good. He never did throw it at me, but some of those recruits that didn’t suit him, why, he’d let them know about it. But it just seemed that we were kind of on equal ground.
He was from Massachusetts and I was from Texas, but with us being thrown together back there in the summer of ’42, I don’t know, we just had a friendship. And you never, did you ever hear of the mess sergeant, Speiers? Him and Taylor were both staff sergeants. He was another of the four. And boy, they didn’t get along worth nothing when we first went to Benning. They never did.
We were working, cleaning up the barracks, and they were both staff sergeants, and I think each one of them wanted to be boss. I think that’s what started it. And one day they tried to have a little fight, but it was kind of like two kids fighting, they’d just swing and not hit anything.
Speiers got the honors at Fort Benning for having the best mess hall in the division. But he was a stickler for cleanness; did you know he was a German Jew? He came to the United States to keep from going to the Army over there in Germany. He got to the States, and he was drafted in the States.
Farrell was a tall, slim fellow. I don’t know all that much about him, but he was a likeable fellow. It was hard, you had to have a pretty sour disposition not to have a kinship feeling towards anyone in the company. And he had a good relationship with the other boys.
Flowers, James Rothschadl, both say they stayed up there, what, two days? And I sure wouldn’t have thought it’d have been that long. As soon as these tanks got cool enough, they were, old Gifford [Lieutenant Jim Gifford] was one of ’em, went into the tanks and scratchin’ just like an old hen trying to see what he could find. Our first sergeant, he did the same thing, Spearman, Bucky Spearman came back from up there and you couldn’t have told him from a black feller, he was just as black as he could be. But he went up there, he scratched around, scratched around, and he came up with this ring, a school ring, so he asked me about that. It was Eugene Tannler’s ring, and Eugene and I, we were about the same size, I was older than he was, and back there at Fort Benning they had us putting on gloves. They had old Eugene Tannler and I matched, but we never did fight. The afternoon we were supposed to do that I had a pass, my wife was down there at Fort Benning and I went to town. Eugene and I never did box, but oh, there was something good between Eugene and I, I don’t know how come, but here come a package of, you may remember the Beech Nut chewing tobacco, there’s twelve to a carton. It was shredded chewing tobacco. Here come a big package, a carton of that Beech Nut chewing tobacco from Eugene’s mother. He had wrote her about me chewing tobacco, and she just sent him cookies and sent me chewing tobacco.
He was from Scranton. I was a little bit older than he was, and I think we just hit it off just maybe a little bit more than just friends.
Bucky Spearman was supposed to send the ring back to Eugene’s mother, and I don’t know that he did, I’ll bet you he did because I know that if he had anything to send he’d make up a package of it and send it home.
It was his graduation ring, out of Scranton High.
Now I didn’t see, I don’t know, I just heard about how Bailey got killed, but he got out of that tank, and he got back up almost to we’d say, just about the top of the hill, and some of ’em heard Bailey talkin’ loud, a beggin’ or something, and he was just shot up there, after the tanks were knocked out, and old, I can’t think of his name, Earl Holman, he was in the same bunch that was up there on top, but the medics told them, "Lay down, lay down," so he lay down and played dead. They came up and they turned him over and felt for cigarettes – he didn’t smoke, he didn’t have any cigarettes on him, so they went on. But if he would have disturbed those boys that was looking for those cigarettes, why, he would just have got shot, too, like Bailey did.
He was trying to surrender, the way I heard, and begging them not to shoot him. But I think if he started crying and begging they’d be more likely to shoot him than they would if he had just kind of acted like a man. He had no business whatsoever being up there in the first place. He was on the same jeep I was on, I went up there for a transmission that hung in gear. Bailey went up there to work on a gun, and he just popped off and said, "I’ll take it." Hank Lochowicz said, "I’m not gonna go," and Bailey just said, "I’ll take it."
One thing about old Bailey, he was goosy. If you touched him, he’d start swinging his fists at you. He just couldn’t stand to be goosed. Titman was the same way, but he wasn’t quite as bad as old Bailey.
That’s a true story about that shoe. Rothschadl had two pair of those split leather shoes, and he couldn’t shine them. I was ahead of him in the line when they were issuing shoes, and they gave me two pair of smooth leather shoes. So we worked out a trade where he could have a pair that he could polish, and I kept a pair that I kept greased up, you know, working on those tanks, I’d get my shoes greasy.
I cheated him, I said, "Well, you could have these, they’re greasy."
He said, "I’ll clean ’em up."
So I let him have those and he gave me a pair of split-leather, so I begin to wear those to work on tanks. And then when Byrl Rudd and I went up there and were looking around, there was a shoe laying there. And I picked that shoe up, just wondering whose shoe that was, here it says D7105, that was my shoe that I had traded with Jim.
I don’t think anybody ever said boo about Lochowicz. Some of these boys might have raked him over about it, but as far as I know, there was nothing ever said about it. If Flowers had been around he would have pushed him. But I don’t know if there was even talk about company morale, we were way short on tanks, and after this, we were waiting for tanks, and someone informed us that if we didn’t get the tanks we would go in as infantry, what was left of us, so we didn’t want that. We were trained for the tanks, and we didn’t want to go into the infantry. It would have been kind of sad, if I went out there with my little tommy gun fighting infantry, that was my gun, a tommy gun. It wasn’t one of those grease guns.
Later, as we got replacements after all this happened, we got an old boy and he says he’s in the Army by choice. He’s from Mississippi, I believe. He says, "They caught me making whiskey and selling it, and they gave me the choice, go to the Army or go to the penitentiary." He said he took the Army. The Army didn’t need a guy like that, though, he wasn’t worth nothing.
It seemed like the Texas boys and Oklahoma boys got along better than maybe some of the other states. We kind of stuck up for each other I guess. I was down at a hospital in Dallas, I had a grandbaby there that had to have surgery. I was down there and had a likeable young doctor, he was a child doctor, and he was so good at it, I mean, making the kids feel at ease, and I was talking to him and I said, "Where’s your home?"
I said, "Man, when I went into the Army I couldn’t even understand those Brooklyn boys." And I couldn’t. But this doctor, he talked real good. I could understand him anyway.
I would get up in time for chow. Sometimes I’d be rarin’ for that cup of coffee. But a lot of times our work was at night. We would go up to those tanks at night and work on them, to keep us from having to go in broad daylight. I’d say that I don’t know of anybody that changed more sparkplugs in blackout than I had to. Those air-cooled motors, they would fire them up in the morning, before daylight, because when you first fired one of them up they smoke; they’d fire them up and let them idle, they would idle all day long and foul up the plugs. First we had some extra plugs, like one day we’d go up there and have maybe new plugs to start with, we’d go up and get the plugs, put new ones in, we’d bring them back, then the next day at daylight, we’d clean those plugs up where they’d be ready to go again. We did lots and lots of that, as long as we had those air-cooled tank motors. After we got those tanks with the Ford motor in it, there wasn’t much maintenance on them. Unless they were hit.
That’s the kind of routine I had. I worked, trying to keep the tanks going. Sometimes they’d have two of them that was messed up, you could take say an oil pressure line off of one and put it on the other one and go with it, so they kind of fussed at me one time for leaving a tank stripped, but by stripping that one tank we had about three or four other tanks that were going. There wasn’t all that much wrong with any of them but you could just, like I said, we could get an oil line off of one, put it on another. If one had two things wrong with it, why, we’d just maybe rob it and make another tank run.
The greatest day, we were getting into Czechoslovakia and traveling in a column, I followed the last vehicle in a recovery vehicle or halftrack, and we came to this tank that had rolled over on the side of the field, there was a road there and it rolled off. So we went to work and we straightened it up and got it running and brought it back up and were still working on it and old Colonel Kedrovsky came by, and of course he was our company commander back in Fort Benning and he knew everybody by name, and he saw us and he stopped, and said, "Boys, this is it. We’ve had orders to cease firing." That was real happy, a happy time. Old Colonel Kay or Kedrovsky, he was telling me one time that the 712th Tank Battalion had the best so and so maintenance in the whole such and such army. He didn’t say so and so and such and such, he could really cuss, he said we had the best maintenance in the whole U.S. Army. It made us feel good, anyway, whether we did or not.
Sergeant [Frank] Mazure, I don’t know what nationality he was, boy, he was stacked up, and he would have made a football player I guess the way he looked. He’d go out and rustle parts. I had quite a little bit of business with him. I would have to go to Service Company to pick up parts, and he was always nice, he was cooperative. I don’t know whether his widow still goes to these reunions or not. At one reunion I got acquainted with her, we did a lot of talking, because I had lost my wife and she had lost her husband. She had a mother that she just kept on having to take care of, even after her husband died. And I told her one time, "Well, we ought to get together," because we could talk, you know, it’s not everybody you could just meet.
I lost my wife in February of ’84.
She had been ailing, and she had been to the doctor and they couldn’t find all that much with her. Then she’d had a heart problem a long time. So one night she got up and went to the bathroom, and I didn’t know that she did because I should have went with her and would have if I had known. But she came back and I heard her hit the floor. So I got up and turned the light on, and I could tell right away that she had broken something. She was laying on her back, her right foot was laying flat and her left foot was sticking up like yours would be if you was laying on your back, but I knew there had to be something broken. So I managed to get her back into bed, and I called the doctor, and I told him what happened and I told him about her foot laying flat, and he said, "Well, you can’t handle her, get an ambulance and send her in." So I did.
Then she was doing good as far as the break went, they were talking about she would be able to come home in such and such a number of days, and this gets kind of thin-hearted; on Valentine’s Day I was going up there, and I stopped in Claude, just messin’ around. Went to a drugstore, got her a card, and got a box of candy. Everybody I met wanted to talk to me. How’s Myrdice? So I went on up to the hospital expecting her to be pretty good. She was on the seventh floor, and they had been trying to call me, but I had already left home. And I got up there and stepped off that elevator, and there was about four nurses just looking right straight at me.
I couldn’t figure it out. One of them came to meet me, she said, "Your name is …" just like that, she didn’t ask me my name, she stated it. And I told her, Driskill, Jake Driskill.
She said, "Step into the room here a minute."
So I asked her what happened. So she told me. She had a heart arrest, and said her heart wasn’t stopped that long but somehow or other she never did regain consciousness.
I went to Byrl Rudd’s funeral when he passed away, two or three years ago. And Burl and Murldean, they came to my wife’s funeral, so no other way, I wanted to go to his funeral, I didn’t have a choice, I had to go because he came to my wife’s, but still I wanted to go.
Jim Flowers was there, and Earl Holman. They reserved a pew for Byrl’s Army friends, behind the pallbearers. I thought it was nice. I was proud to be able to set in a pew with the rest of them, in Byrl’s honor. Byrl had a hard life. He got to drinking too much. He was always a fine fellow, though, even when he was drinking.
He fell off his tractor, and I don’t know whether you know what a one-way plow is, it’s a plow with a disk, and he fell and the plow ran over him, I think the front wheel of the plow ran over him too, but it kind of cut some weight off of the disk.
Byrl’s oldest son told me at the funeral, sometime he would like to go to that reunion and just sit around and listen to the boys talk.
I missed the Battle of the Bulge. Our medical doctor was Captain Reiff, and I had been working, running night and day a lot of times, so I went to the medics, my heart was racing. The captain asked me, "Driskill, are you scared?"
I said, "Well, I think if a man’s not scared some, there’s something wrong with him. I don’t think I’m any more scared than the rest of the boys."
And he said, "I’m gonna send you back to get that checked."
So I went plum back to England. That was, what, before Christmas that they pulled back across the Saar? But I was in England, and they were beginning to talk about putting me in a non-combat outfit. They didn’t find all that much about my heart, they said there’s two nerves that regulated the heartbeat, said they get out of balance and cause it to run fast or slow. And I wanted to go back, because I had an idea that the war was over just about, and if you got in a non-combat outfit you’d be over there till everybody left. So I told them I’d just rather go back to my outfit. I told them I was in a position in my company that if I needed to I could take life easier than I had been doing. And they sent me back. But that Battle of the Bulge was already over by the time I got back. The roads were thawing out, and they were so muddy you couldn’t hardly get over them.
I didn’t go into any of the burned-out tanks on Hill 122, but I’ll tell you this, the one that Jack Sheppard was in, they got it out there in the mud, I went to check on it later, and there’s a dead German in there, who got in there sniping at some of the infantry. And some old infantry boy caught him with his head out and let him have it. But he had swelled and he was laying there, and it looked like he was looking right up at the hatch, it looked like his finger was pointing at me. So I just told that old boy, "Now, don’t be pointing at me, I didn’t kill you."