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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.

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

Chapter 7

Louis Gerrard, Part 1

    I was in one of those two tanks that took supplies to these two infantry companies that were cut off, they were in the 90th Division. The 82nd Airborne was on our left, and the 8th Infantry Division was on our right.

    Lieutenant Flowers had one of the tanks, and I was in the other. I think Abe Taylor was with us at that time. We went over and gave them the supplies and we came back. We had to go a couple of times. One time Flowers didnít know where the hell he was going; it was so dark he couldnít see.

    All I can remember is we strapped the supplies on the back of the tanks, and we rode across-country and delivered them and came back, that was about the size of it.

    We didnít get any medal for that.

    My crew then was Earl Holman; Abe Taylor was the tank commander. I was the gunner. G.B. Kennedy was the bow gunner, and we had a driver named Lochowicz.

    I told Flowers, when I was in Louisville [in 1976] Ė thatís the first time Iíd seen Flowers since the day we got hit Ė I told him Lochowitz wouldnít drive the tank. So Bailey says, "Get out. Iíll drive the tank." So he drove it, and he got the tank stuck in the mud. It probably was the best thing, or weíd all have been killed, too.

    But then, our tank was eventually hit.

    Jack Sheppard was the tank commander then. Abe Taylor went into another tank. Taylor was originally our tank commander.

    When we bogged down, we couldnít go anywhere, so Sheppard said, "Weíd better bail out." I took my tank helmet off and put my steel helmet on, and was getting ready to come up, when "Balloom!" We got hit right on my side of the tank, and I practically flew out of the turret, the helmet went out and everything.

    I was hit in the eye with shrapnel. It also hit my fingers and arms.

    I got out and I lay beside the tank. The rest of the crew came around me, and there was a medic; I donít know where he came from, but he was putting sulfa drugs on my arms when somebody said, "Here come the Germans!"

    Holman started getting his gun, and somebody said, "Whatever you do, donít fire!" Because they would have mutilated us. It was probably a patrol. There were fifteen or twenty Germans.

    I told the guys, "Get out of here! Run away, go on!" So they all went, and Bailey got killed getting away. He stayed; he was the last one there, and I kept telling him, "Go! Go!" and he finally Ė he got killed getting away. Oh, that was a hell of a mess. I lay there, half-dead. And they took the medic with them.

    They took my wristwatch. And my brother Jack had given me a ring. It had the word Oran. He got it in Africa. He gave it to me when I was in England, and I wore it all the time. They tried like hell to get that off my finger. They couldnít get it off, so they gave up on that, but they took my watch.

    I didnít say anything. The medic had told me play dead, donít say a word, so I was just dead when they came. All I could hear was German; I didnít know what they were talking about.

    The Germans grabbed me by the heels and put me up on a hill. I think they did that so somebody could find me. Then they heard something and they took off real fast. I was expecting a bayonet in the back or the chest, or to be shot in the head, I didnít know the Germans were going to do. Thatís the only thing I could thank the Germans for, they didnít kill me.

    I lay there all night, and then this artillery opened up, and the dirt and cinders, stones were coming off the road, they were hitting me on the head; I said Iíve got to get the heck out of here, so I crawled back up the hill, and I heard someone say, "Get the hell over here!"

    There were some GIs in a big slit trench. So I got into that, and I think I must have been exhausted. Then they called for a stretcher, and they took me to a field hospital. They took care of my wounds and put me on a stretcher, and put the stretcher on a jeep, they had another soldier on the other side, two of us going down a big narrow road. Christ, I could hear the small arms fire, I thought I was going to get killed before I got back to the beach.

    During the Tennessee maneuvers, I hurt my back. We were going down this road to the railroad yards to put the tanks on flatcars and take them back to Camp Gordon, and we were all very tired from getting the tanks prepared, and the driver fell asleep. He hit this big tree, and I went backward Ė the tank seats have these prongs sticking up, and it hit me in the back. I was in a hospital for a month.

    In the meantime, our battalion was taken out of the 10th Armored Division and they made us a separate tank battalion. I came back, and all the guys said to me, "What the hell are you doing back here? You can get out of the Army. Youíve got the best deal going with your back injury."

    I didnít want to get out of the Army. I told the guys Iíve got two brothers in the service, theyíre both overseas, and Iíd feel like hell if I got out. Jack and Jerry were both in Africa. How would it look if I come home and theyíre still over there? So I stayed in. I donít know whether I did right or wrong, but Iím still living.

    I met Jack in England. In Tidworth. I hitchhiked down after I saw one of his outfitís vehicles in Swindon. He was in the 2nd Armored Division. I went down with Harold Gentle to see him.

    I found out on D-Day that Jerry was killed. I was in England, and I got a letter from my brother Larry who was at home, and it said that Jerry was killed. Right then and there Abe Taylor went up to the captain and told him that I was upset, and Taylor said I have another brother over in Tidworth, and Iíd like to get a pass to go see him.

    I got out on the road and hitchhiked. Every road was bumper to bumper Army equipment. I finally got to Tidworth, and I saw the division trains Ė thatís the end of the division; the other part of the division probably was at the coast going over the channel. And I never did get to see him.

    After my tank got hit, I was thinking I was going to get killed by these Germans coming, and I was thinking about my mother, what would she say? She took it hard when my oldest brother was killed, and I thought, now sheíll get word another oneís killed. But it didnít happen that way.

 

    In the days before Hill 122, there was a lot of fighting, a lot of artillery coming in on us and different things.

    We took the tanks up to this infantry outfit in back of a hedgerow, and everything broke loose, and they all hollered, "Get those tanks the hell out of here!" Before that, they were hollering, "Get those tanks up here!" I think that happened quite a bit during the war. They want the tanks, then they donít want the tanks.

    One time that we were out of the tanks and artillery broke loose, and everybody was jumping in foxholes, we didnít have foxholes. Iím pushing up against a hedgerow as far as I can, trying to protect myself ; I couldnít get back in the tank. The artillery finally let up, and we got back in the tank and got the hell out of there.

    Harold Gentle and I were both from Philadelphia. The day I was drafted, we were down at the Reading terminal, and we got on the train, and he said, "Is this seat taken?" He sat beside me, and from then on we were buddy-buddy. From there we went up to New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, where we got all our shots, and the next day we were put on trains, and everybody said we were going to Florida; the guys looked out the window, and they said they saw palm trees. We were headed for a tank outfit in Fort Benning, Georgia; thatís where the palm trees were. We were all in tanks!

    Harold Gentle was crazy about his wife. Her name was Helen. She was from Philadelphia. We both got furloughs, and he married her on the furlough. Her cousin was an ensign, and he had to be the best man. Gentle wanted me to be the best man. But she wanted the ensign. He said, "Would you mind?"

    He fought with his wife; he wanted me to be the best man. I said, "Harold, donít do that, Iíll just be an usher, I donít care." So I was an usher.

    We were in Fort Jackson at the time, and she came down and stayed with him. Her mother was a pain in the neck. On the phone one time, she said, "My mother wants to come down." Oh, he got on his hands and knees and prayed, and said, "No, please donít have her come down." I was there watching him on the phone. So she never came down.

    Gentle graduated from LaSalle University. They wanted to send him to officers training school, but he wouldnít go. So they made him a corporal.

    When a new gun would come in to the battalion, he would get all the instructions; the lieutenants or sergeants would give the gun to him and he would explain everything to them. Everybody would be sitting out on the hill, and he would be telling them all about it, take it all apart and put it together.

    When we were in France, these Frenchmen would come over to the tanks with bottles of cognac. I didnít trust the French, but Gentle would be out there taking a drink. I said, "Will you get in your tank?" And there was a dead American laying nearby, they had this bayonet in the ground with his helmet on top of it. He went over and swapped rifles with it. He put his gun in there, a carbine, and he took the M-1.

    Heíd probably be living today if he went to be an officer, I guess. You never know.

    His wife remarried. When I got back from overseas I went to see her in Roxboro. The father-in-law, he understood. He said, "They were all killed in a tank?" He was classified as being missing in action. But they were all killed in that tank. They were all ablaze, and they canít get out of them tanks.

    He was a good kid, Gentle. Paul Farrell was in his crew. I remember the day that Farrell got spooked. I was up talking to him. He wouldnít get out of the tank. He said he would just as soon get hit in the leg, lose a leg, so he could get the hell out of this. He was afraid he was going to get killed. I guess everybody was.

    I remember one time with Abe Taylor, we were supposed to go up to a certain point; we were going up this hill, and Abe went over and he was getting ready to go farther, and some guy came out and said, "Where are you going with that tank?" And he said, "Weíre going up, weíve got to meet Lieutenant Such and Such up there."

    And he says, "This is all mined. You canít go up that road."

    And Taylor said, "But Iíve got to meet him."

    And I said, "Abe, if you go up that road, Iím getting the hell out."

    So we didnít go up the road.

 

    Boy, those tanks were hot in the summer. On those maneuvers in Tennessee, we roasted. But in the winter they were cold as hell. Just the opposite.

    There was a place called B.G. Howardís in Phenix City. I was there with Gentle one night. Sometimes itís off limits, and other times theyíd lift it. All I saw in there was silver dollars. Any kind of gambling you wanted. There used to be a lot of fights with the 10th Armored Division and the paratroopers.

    A lot of times we went out at Benning, me and Gentle and Horace Gary. He was Lieutenant Flowersí driver. Heís dead now. He and his wife stopped here from Richmond, Virginia, to see me one day. We used to go out on the town together, Horace Gary and Gentle and myself.

    Gerald Kibbala was from somewhere near Scranton. We were both Catholics, and we went to Mass together on Sundays when we could. I remember we were at Mass in France, we were kneeling down in the mud, and the priest was saying Mass in the field. Thatís the last time I saw Kibbala. Nice fellow. They were all good guys in the service.

    I remember coming in, there was a lot of water; Normandy was flooded, and Cherbourg wasnít taken yet. I saw these MPs out there marching columns of Germans, on both sides of a tank they were coming, and the MPs were hollering, "Go on you bastards, get moving!" And I asked one of the MPs where we were, and he said these guys are coming from Cherbourg. Thatís the first time I ever heard of Cherbourg. Then I asked somebody where the 2nd Armored Division was Ė thatís my brother Jackís division Ė and he says theyíre over near Carentin or Caen.

    So we got in there, and Abe Taylor went up to the company commander Ė all the tank commanders were there Ė and found out what we were gonna do, and Abe came back and said weíre going to St. Lo. I didnít know what the hell St. Lo was about, but they tell me we werenít going anywhere near St. Lo. I donít know. Thatís what they told Abe.

    Thatís probably the closest big town they knew. Like we were at La Haye du Puits. We went through that town, it was all on fire.

    I was firing at a French villa, a big place; Taylor gave the orders to fire, and we fired in, smoke, everything we were throwing in there, high explosive and smoke and everything, and the Germans were just flooding out of the place. I heard the tank commander, Taylor, "Open up!" These Germans were going across the road, and I got the machine gun going, and I could see, I donít know whether they were falling down or got killed or what. I opened up, and the bullets went splashing all over the road.

    One time we had to get out of the tank and move some dead Americans to go up the road; Iíve seen some of them got squashed, too. What a feeling.

    I used to see the cows eating the grass, and the blood just pouring out of them like a faucet, and theyíre standing there eating. They said the horses were the same way.

    We had a lot of German guns in our tank; the guys would pick them up. P-38s, and a couple of lugers. I saw a lot of bicycles, too. The Germans rode a lot of bicycles. This was a dirt road where I saw a lot of bicycles laying there.

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