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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. The story below of Flowers delivered in his own words and those of the survivors of his platoon is virtually unknown in the United States.

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Chapter 6

We were all young kids

    "We had a young kid in our crew," says Tony D'Arpino.

    "Young kid," he says again. "We were all young kids."

    Tony D'Arpino is 72 at the time of the interview. He drove a tank for Lieutenant Charles Lombardi, who commanded the third platoon of Company C.

    "His name was Luigi Gramari," D'Arpino says. "We had the honor to go back up Hill 122 after Flowers' platoon got knocked out; we were gonna go up there and take it, and Gramari threw a tirade. 'You stupid sonofabitch!' he says to Lieutenant Lombardi. 'All the goddamn first platoon just got killed, and you're gonna go up there?'

    "There wasnít anything Lombardi could do about it. He was taking his orders from the infantry. It was getting dark, and Gramari thought we were going to go right then and there, but we waited until the morning. By then everything turned out pretty good."

- - -

    Jack Sheppard, his face bandaged, accompanied Lombardiís platoon to the base of Hill 122. He found the body of Sergeant Abraham I. Taylor in a foxhole. Taylor had been shot in the head. As for Taylorís crew, there was nothing but ashes in the bottom of the tank.

    Sergeant Floyd Spearman found a horseshoe-shaped ring in the bottom of one of the tanks, and wondered why it hadnít melted like the twisted metal all around it. The ring was from a high school in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Eugene Tannler was from Scranton. Tannler was the loader in Judd Wiley's crew, which, with Wiley evacuated, was assigned to Abe Taylor. Taylor's regular crew, minus its driver, who was replaced by James Bailey that day, was in the tank with Jack Sheppard.

- - -

    Charles Nuccio, who was C Companyís clerk and later became a gunner, remembers James Bailey as a likable mechanic with one little quirk: Every time he took an engine apart and put it back together, there were a couple of parts left over. But the engine always worked better than it had before.

    Nuccio says the only sign of Bailey the search party found was his helmet, which was identifiable because it was marked with his serial number. They never found Baileyís body or his dogtags, but there was no doubt as to Baileyís fate: Some of his brains were inside the helmet.

- - -

    At a reunion in the 1970s, Tony DíArpino saw Jim Flowers for the first time since the war. He approached the table at Flowers was sitting and asked Flowers if he remembered him. "Why of course I remember you, Tony D'Arpino," Flowers most likely said with his slow Texas drawl. He probably also noted that Lieutenant Charles Lombardi was a fine fellow, and cited the town and state that he was from.

    DíArpino began going through the names he remembered, asking Flowers if he remembered them as well. Did he remember Farrell, and did he remember Savio? Did he remember Lieutenant Du Val? D'Arpino needed only to supply a surname and Flowers filled in the rest.

    "Do you remember Sergeant Montoya?"

    DíArpino recalls the virtually everpresent smile disappearing from Flowers' face, and his body going rigid. "Don't you ever mention that boy's name in front of me again," Flowers said, or words to that effect. D'Arpino recalls a string of invectives inserted into the response, but the invectives may well have been inserted by D'Arpino's memory, as Flowers was very careful in his use of language, and over the years I rarely saw him curse.

    Burl Rudd, who was also at the table and who had been Lieutenant DuVal's platoon sergeant, later told D'Arpino that Flowers always suspected Montoya had feigned engine trouble which kept his tank from taking part in the mission to the summit of Hill 122. Flowers also believed that if Montoya's tank had been there, it might have made a difference the outcome of the battle.

- - -

    In August of 1994, I received a letter from Donald Knapp, who had read D'Arpino's account of his encounter with Flowers in "Tanks for the Memories," an oral history of the battalion that I published that year.

    "I really enjoyed, if thatís the word, your book," Knapp wrote. "A lot of it was new to me, as Iíve only been to one reunion, the 40th, and didnít get a lot of stories.

    "Iím an original member of C Company coming out of I Co. in the 10th Armored Division.

    "Hill 122. We were the 5th tank S the one that did not make it. We were all up against a hedgerow S Krauts in front. Came time to move out, [Frank] Perry, our driver Ö could not get it into reverse gear, no way & we canít go forward S Krauts.

    "Four tanks leave and much later Sgt. Driskill (Maint.) came and fixed it.

    "At the 40th reunion I was sitting with Capt. Sheppard, Driskill and Lt. Flowers and Flowers asked Driskill if [Montoya was] faking it. Driskill said ĎNo wayí and explained the malfunction. All those years and he still didnít believe it."

    In the most recent letter that I received from Jim Flowers, he made some corrections to a manuscript of the battalion history, such as: "Page 10: If you are talking about 3 July, and I think you are, there was no rain or mud and the 1st platoon, Co. A, was on a hard surface road going south toward Pretot, not La Haye du Puits," Then he added:

    "At long last Flowers is willing to accept Driskillís account of the way Sgt. Montoya with the Number 3 tank was not at Hill 122."

- - -

    It was a couple of months before a sergeant from the 712th Tank Battalion visited Judd Wiley in an orthopedic hospital in England -- Wiley can't remember his name -- and told him what happened on Hill 122. Wiley says he cried for three nights. Eugene Tannler, his loader; Harold Gentle, his gunner; Paul Farrell, his driver; Laverne Patton, his assistant driver, he loved every one of them. Abe Taylor, who took his place. All of them dead.

- - -

    John Zimmer joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement after Hill 122. At 82 in 1995, Zimmer was the oldest active member of the battalion association. He and his wife, Sylvia, had never missed a reunion.

    Zimmer drove a milk wagon before the war and was a carpenter when he came home. After he retired, he began trying to locate "missing" members of his company, as well as the next-of-kin of the members who were killed in action.

    Zimmer looked up Myron Kiballa, who lives in Peckville, Pa., directly across the Lackawanna River from Olyphant, where Myron and his brother Jerry grew up.

    In September of 1985, Myron says, "I got a call from the American Legion, from a guy who says, ĎHey, Myron, thereís a guy down here from New York who was in an outfit with your brother.í

    " ĎOh yeah?í I said, ĎIíll be right down.í I went and we talked. I brought him up to the house, and we discussed many things. He was on his way to Harrisburg, where theyíre having the [1985] reunion. He told me heíd try to get in contact, and so he did."

    Zimmer put Myron in touch with Ray Griffin, who at the time was the battalion associationís secretary.

    "I started communicating with John and Ray, and then I got Rothschadlís address, and Dzienisí address, and the captain [lieutenant], Flowers. So they wrote me different things, but Dzienis, heís the one that let me know just what happened."

    Kiballa still has the letter he received from Ed Dzienis, who passed away in 1987. There is no date on the letter, but the envelope is postmarked Jan. 17, 1986.

    "Hi Myron," it begins. "Sorry I didnít answer sooner, as I was sick, and ended in the hospital, for a large hernia operation.

    "Iím sorry to report on Geraldís death. He was a (sic) assistant driver and Horace Gary was the driver. Horace died about 10 years ago, a massive heart attack. We were on Hill 122 S about 3:30 p.m. on a hot day. What a job to climb that hill in a tank.

    "I was the loader and Rosthchild (sic) was the gunner and Lt Flowers our Leader. When we reach the bottom of the hill, thatís when hell broke loose. I didnít know until about 10 years ago, what hit us. It was a Buzaka (sic), one shot at the 4 tanks and then the 2nd round. Our tank was hit at the gas tank and it sure was burning inside. Then Lt and Rosthchild, the gunner, were trying to open the hatch.

    "It got stuck, and they finally opened it. I was the last to get out. I didnít even feel as I was burning. Gerald & Gary were down front. They must have got out. As I got out I tripped on the aerial rope and I went flying thru the air, and then I had to get the rope off my leg. When I did all the shooting going on.

    "I ran and dived over the hedge row. The medic had me come up to the others laying near the normandy (sic) wall. Thatís when I seen Gerald. At a time like this you cannot talk long. I had lay down and Gerald put his heels on my chest, and I on the one in front of me.

    "The needle the medic gave was working on me. He bandaged 1 hand. The medic ran out of bandage, and went to get more. He didnít come back.

    "The Germans were shooting at us at the wall. GIs were trying to help us. All of a sudden Gerald got shot. I was next, & they missed my head. I said my prayers. The Godís again helping us.

    "I am getting whoozy. I hear voices, different language. My mouth is open. 2 German voices & I breathe without moving, eyes shut, they look at the others, as they pass me, 1 German soldier kicks by (sic) face and some dirt falls in my mouth, then I was out. In the nite, 2 GIs awaken me, but Geraldís legs were stiff on my chest. I finally got them off and I fell back. They left & would be back, but no. The tank burned all nite. I awoke with the noise of artillery. I didnít know what to do. All the dead around me.

    "We got along good, your brother is so calm when he talks. There is so much more about me. But I wrote what you asked about Gerald. I received a letter from Rosthschild, but misplaced it when I went to the hospital.

    "So many memories, and it seems like yesterday. I was prisoner of war in France, & was with the air pilots who were burned. I was burned both hands and face and they were infected, my hands & were also stiff as wood. I was captured on the top of the hill, near where we started. We never called each other by 1st name, always by last S I called Gerald Kiballa. He called me Dennis. We pulled guard duty together & 4 of us cleaned guns together. Kiballa, me, Gary & Roschild, not the Lt. I hope I helped in some way for you. How many in your family? 712 Tank Bn. always send me news. Well Myron, itís been so long, you should have written sooner. He was a good guy, believe me. Sincerely, Ed. J. Dzienis."

Contents                       Chapter 7