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They were all young kids

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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.

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 Chapter 9

Kenneth Titmanís story

    I was in a fight. We were set into a circle, we were called on to go repulse a German counterattack. I forget the name of the German paratrooper unit, but we were supposed to come in there and repulse the attack with our tanks, and they got in there and they surrounded us. They threw everything but the kitchen sink, 88s at us. And all of our tanks were wiped out. I forget the colonel who gave us the order to go in there. Hill 122, thatís where that battle hit.

    Thatís when I got taken prisoner. My tank blew up. I told everybody to abandon tank. Theyíve got an escape hatches down there, and they dropped the escape hatch. The driver and the assistant driver went out through the escape hatch. And the loader went out through the turret and he was on fire. Ken Cohron, the gunner, got killed. I went out of the turret and I got hit in the leg, Iíve got still got shrapnel in the leg. It doesnít go away.

    Cohron got killed right in the tank. An 88 hit him. The assistant driver went out of the top and down the side. He was on fire when he hit the ground.

    When I got out, I went for a slit trench, and when I got in the slit trench, here come a bunch of Germans and they stuck a gun at me. I said, "Alles kaput," and they saw my leg was all shot up. They put me on a litter, and they took me back to the rear, and when they got me back there, they took me to an interrogating officer. And he said, "You know, your battle is over. Youíre going back to the rear."

    I said, "Oh?"

    He said, "Yep. The warís over for you. What outfit are you from?"

    I wouldnít tell him.

    He said, "How many men are back there in that tank?"

    I said, "I donít know."

    While I was sitting there, when this guy was asking me all those questions, they opened up with a burp guns nearby. And I said, "What was that? "

    He said, "Thatís somebody who wouldnít talk."

    I figured thatís just a gimmick. So I said, "Iím not telling you nothing."

    The Germans to me, a soldierís just like a doctor or a lawyer, thatís their profession. Thatís the way they think. And they appreciate somebody who doesnít tell them information. If a guy tells them everything, they said, "That guyís no good." They were smart soldiers.

    He said, "Weíre going to take you back to Rennes, France, to the hospital, and when we get there youíre going to have good care."

    Well, they put me in a meatwagon and they took me back down the road. We had artillery falling all around us Ė our own artillery Ė and they took us to this hospital, and they put me in a bed there, and my leg was so bad; it was full of shrapnel and infection was setting in, and a French nurse came around with these sticks Ė when the woundís all opened up, they put those sticks on there to try to burn the pus and everything off. That hurt a little bit, and she said, "Just take it easy, because we might get liberated."

    They put a big red cross on top of the hospital we were in. We didnít have antyhing to eat. All we had was peaberry coffee and moldy bread. When I got liberated I weighed 110 pounds. And Dr. Powell, my doctor, told me when I got liberated and they took me down to the field hospital, "If youíd have been there ten more hours youíd have lost your right leg." Because gangrene was setting in. Then they put me on a plane and took me over to Swindon, England. Thatís where were at before we made the invasion; thatís what got me, I was back in Swindon. They put us in these tents. Dr. Powell looked at my leg, and he said, "Youíve got a piece of shrapnel up next to your bone and one back behind. Weíre going to cut that leg open, and weíll give you a spinal shot, to deaden it. Youíre not going to feel a thing. I want you to keep your head, lay down and donít move." And he opened my leg up and took out two big pieces of shrapnel, about as big as my thumb.

    The shrapnel was pieces of my tank that went in my leg. When the shell penetrated, it exploded right inside. You take about 100 rounds of armor-piercing and 100 rounds of high explosive, and about four thousand rounds of ammunition going off, that looked like a popcorn factory going up through that turret. Shells bursting right out through the top. Thatís the way it looked. But I was out of it. I was lucky, too. Just one of those things.

    I was in England about six months. When I got healed up, I went back to the Battle of the Bulge. Ray Griffin was the platoon leader. All the guys I had been with were gone. I went back and the sergeant said, "Patton said anybody that was a prisoner of war doesnít get to go up to the battle. Because if the Germans find out you were a prisoner of war, itís curtains." So they put me in the Service Company, from there on until we got into Hof, Germany.

    There was a Sergeant Bailey. He was from Fort Benning, Georgia. Where he made a bad mistake, he had a German scabbard that he picked up. That was a bad deal when they saw that; they shot him. They shot him right through the head. Because anything you take from the Germans, like a P-38 or anything, they think you robbed the dead. And they donít like that. If you see a dead German, "Oh, heís got a P-38, I think Iím gonna get that," youíd just better not. Because if you ever get captured with that gun on you, youíre done.

    I didnít see it, but they told me about it. I could tell a lot of things that happened. But itís just getting it together.

    Thereís the 358th Infantry; our 712th Tank Battalion was attached to them. Each infantry battalion had a different company of tanks. They were from the 90th Division, Texas-Oklahoma. They were going alongside of our tanks. Doughboys liked to hang around close to the tank, because they figured with artillery coming in, theyíd have a chance of not getting hit. Every time weíd stop our tank and reconnoiter, we had the hedgerows right up in front of us. Youíd see Germans coming up the road, prisoners; doughboys had them lined up, taking them back to Normandy. And theyíd juice íem in the butt with the bayonet. They were on the double; they were glad to get out.

    One time, when we were in the hedgerows, a girl came running toward our tanks, and she jumped head-first right in the tank. She said, "I donít want to be out there. I want to be in here!"

    The German told me when he was interrogating me, "Youíve got artillery back there that runs off a conveyor belt. Iíve never seen such good artillery." He said, "We donít have a chance."

    When my tank got hit, we were all coming together in an open field. The German 88s got us. They hit my tank and it exploded. I looked around and saw all these tanks running, one tank ran in front of me and hit the tank on the left and both exploded. Thatís what I saw. I told my men to abandon tank, and I jumped out of the turret, and hit the back deck. I looked at my combat boot; blood was coming out the top, and I knew I was hit.

    When I got down off the tank and looked up, I saw the loader coming out of the turret and there were sparks. That was Stephen Wojtilla. And Cohron, I knew he didnít come out because I had some of his flesh on my helmet. And then Albert Morrison, the driver, put the tank in reverse, and the assistant driver dropped the escape hatch, and the tank had power enough to back off, and the guys got out by going under the tank. I donít know where they went after that. I got into a slit trench, and the Germans picked me up and put me on a litter because they knew I was hit.

    I was standing in the turret when the tank got hit. The shell went through the front end and exploded, and that got me in the leg; Cohron got hit in the face, and the loader, he jumped out of the turret and he was on fire. I looked back at the tank, and it was like popcorn popping. That makes a hell of a noise.

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