1st RECON TROOP (MECHANIZED CAVALRY)
No matter where we were a Fockewolf checked us every day at exactly 16:06. You could set your watch by him. He was obviously on reconnaissance because he never fired at us. When he left he would waggle his wings and be gone. To shoot at him would have been foolhardy since it would have brought instant retaliation from a flight of 4 or 5 planes. We had enough of them as it was without being foolish. One day one their wing leaders neatly dropped a bomb right in the middle of our 3/4 ton ammunition and pioneer-demolition truck which was packed ammo and explosives. It was much like a 4th of July fireworks finale.. Shrapnel was flying everywhere and we were lucky none of us were injured.. When the fire burned itself out only the chassis remained.
Some of the following is not necessarily in chronological order since things tend to run together. The division was spread out and many units were attached to British or French commands. We were not happy with the set up. We wanted to be completely under our own commanders when the day came that we would meet up with Field Marshall Rommel and his vaunted Africa Corp. From what we knew of them we already respected them as good soldiers and with the pride we had in our Army we were determined to have them respect us as well. However, we resented the fact that the British had the top commands and we were split up and did not operate as a full division until after Kasserine Pass although they claimed we were not seasoned veterans, etc.. Montgomery and the British brass thought they were the only ones that could do anything right. Funny isn�t it that Rommel seemed to think that we did well when we got together as a division and blunted their attack. It was good to be all together as a division. Ike seemed over eager to avoid squabbles between the allies and it seemed that he was always building up their ego..
Most of our troop was operating in the Ouselleta Valley area. We were not permitted to keep diaries or other written material and all our orders were verbal because of the nature of our work and the possibility of being captured. I normally operated on my own. I don�t know if we were short of officers or if it was that our CO had considerable confidence in me and my men. I have always felt that my men were the bravest and most unselfish men I have known and the few of us that remain still have a special bond even more than 50 years later. I had 4 jeeps, 1 scout car, 2 3/4 ton trucks for our pioneer and demolition equipment and ammo as well as towing the 37mm cannon, 3 -50 cal MGs, 4 30 cal MGs, and each man had a 45 automatic plus rifle, carbine or in my case a submachine gun.
One day after a scouting patrol I returned to camp in the late afternoon and found that Lt. Skogsberg and the other section of the platoon had run into an ambush. Lt. Skogsberg and some other men were wounded. Sgt. Flaherty and others captured we had 16 casualties and lost 4 vehicles. Even though the division was split up our group was still under control of and got our orders from Gen Terry Allen and the G2 - Col Porter. There was some concern that the enemy might mount an attack in that area that night so my section was dispatched at dark .to the foot of the mountains on the enemy side of the valley. We were under strict orders to break radio silence only in the event that there appeared to be an impending attack and that we were not to get involved in a fire fight except to shoot our way out if trapped.. All was quiet until the wee hours of the morning before dawn. We heard movement in the brush in front of us. No one made a sound. A head appeared through the brush and then two legs and here came an Arab donkey. Every one breathed a sigh of relief, we turned the donkey around, smacked it on the rump and sent it back where it came from. We couldn�t help but think the enemy might have sent it our way so that we would reveal our position. Dawn was fast approaching so we returned to base with our report.
With the troop scattered over a wide area we sometimes didn�t see much of the other platoons and sections for days. We were on constant scouting patrols. Some days seemed endless when we saw nothing of friend or foe and others exciting with narrow squeaks and mad dashes to safety. When we were in the Troop area the enemy had our coordinates pretty well plotted and harassed us constantly with artillery fire enough so that the troop had to move constantly and sometimes it was an adventure finding out where they were. Then one day the troop was sent further south as Rommel was retreating into the Tunisia area. Our patrols were intensified and we spent more and more time checking on gaps between units. We had been on the move for about 24 hours and pulled into an orchard to make camp. Before we could settle down I was ordered to take my section to check out a certain area where it was rumored that German paratroops had landed behind our lines. We were not unhappy about leaving the area when we found that the bivouac was sharing the grove with an ammunition dump. We were nearing the end of the patrol with Peterson driving the jeep. I had my head under a blanket trying to read a map with a flash light when we came to a crunching halt. A French civilian car on the wrong side of the road had ruin into us head on. I banged my knees against the dash.. The two French soldiers in the car were drunk and uninjured but the entire front end of their car was demolished. They thought it was a big joke and were laughing. Our jeep only had the bumper bent on both sides of the frame very minor and did not require repairs. We went on our way and finished the mission without any other problem. >p> On another night patrol, again in the lead jeep, Marshall thought the road (if it could be called one) went straight when actually it turned to the right. What he saw was a dried up stream bed and as we entered it the jeep turned completely over with me trapped against the dash (knees again) . Marshall and Peterson were thrown clear and were not hurt. The MG mount and my helmet saved me. The stock of my submachine gun was broken in half, the jeep motor was still running and all four wheels were in the air and were still spinning.. Fortunately I could move enough to turn the ignition off.. The men lifted the jeep, got me out and set it back on its wheels. My buddy, Stuart, the motor sergeant came out and took the jeep and me back to camp and my men went on and completed the mission. The indestructible jeep was OK and had only lost some oil. The medic, "doc" Goodwin, wanted me to go to the clearing station to be checked because he said I had a concussion but I declined.
The next morning I was OK and had barely gotten awake when a German Stuka Dive Bomber came over a small hill and was only about 100 feet above ground. I don�t know why he was flying so low . He seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him. We could clearly see his face and the one bomb he still carried. He pulled up sharply to get high enough to safely release it. By the time he released he was beyond us and the bomb did no damage. One night the troop was dispersed in a large open field. I was sleeping soundly when one of the new replacements was shaking me to awaken me. I saw a German plane dropping flares to take aerial photos. After I reassured him that nothing would happen that night he was soon fast asleep. Unfortunately he now had me wide awake. The next morning we pulled out before daybreak and had not gotten very far when we heard artillery shells flying overhead and exploding back at our old campsite. I happened to see the face of the replacement and his eyes were as big as saucers.
In the Kasserine Pass area we were assigned to check out a range of hills where we had no troops. The units that were there were separated by possibly 10 miles.. We worked our way down toward the open plain in the distance and found no sign of enemy presence. Then as we got ready to check the last small hill I thought I saw a reflection at the top of it. Joe Scampini, my corporal, and I checked again and started forward. Something made me take a final look sure enough we saw movement They were obviously setting up an OP there. Out on the plain we saw a column of dust and a group which vastly outnumbered us was coming on very rapidly. We did not have radio contact so I dispatched the bike rider to headquarters with a message, kept my jeep there and sent the rest of the unit back to the highest hill. The German column kept on coming, I thought discretion is the better part of valor, told Marshall to hit the road and we got back to safety. The Enemy may have thought we were bait to lure them into a trap because they stopped and did not come into the area. If they had known they could have had a field day getting behind our lines. On high ground we were able to reach our CO on the radio and were ordered to report back to camp and as usual they had moved and we had to find them. It would have been great to have some artillery around to send a parting gift to the enemy unit but there was none to be had.
About this time we saw our first American fighter plane, a P.38 , Our joy was short lived as it was shot down by enemy aircraft as we watched..
A few days after the last episode we were sent further south to establish an OP on a high ridge. We had a new type radio to try out. It had a short range, looked like a long pole with a little box in the middle it was called a "walkie talkie". With the unit safely hidden in a dried up stream bed Peterson and I started out.. The idea was to talk to our other operator on the regular radio. When we got near the top of the ridge looked over and saw a German unit setting up shop and in the plain below saw a fairly large number of various vehicles. We got down as quickly and quietly as possible and so ended our experiment.
Kasserine Pass kept all of us busy. We filled in some gaps between units and when the Germans pulled back the troop was pulled out for a short rest, However my section was left behind to follow up on the heels of the Germans toward Sbeitla. They were not very cooperative and had left thousands of mines in our path. The engineers took over to clear them. They still had quite a ways o go when a Captain from G2, a Navy Lt. and a Marine Sgt. came up to us. The Captain told me I was to lead them in to the village. Before I would do so I checked with our CO on the radio and he told me to do so. The two men had evidently been there on a mission before Rommel showed up. I got them through the mine field to the house where they evidently had been .They went out in the yard to look for something which they evidently had buried while I waited on the road to take them back out. I was about ten feet from them when I heard a "pop". I was already diving assuming that they had tripped a mine. They had, it was a "bouncing Betty". The first blast straightened me up and the second one hit me full force. the Marine Sgt. and I were in bad shape, the other two were only slightly injured.. I thought I had "bought the farm"� as I lay there bleeding internally with arm, shoulder and chest wounds I said the Lord�s Prayer and the 23 rd Psalm and was ready to meet my Maker. An Arab appeared from the village, sat down by me and shielded me from the sun. He shifted his position as the sun moved. I felt it was an omen from on High. It was quite some time before my men could get to us. I had given them strict orders not to attempt to get through the mine field until the Engineers gave the OK. I could see by the look on the faces of my men that they thought I was finished.
At the Evac Hospital they stabilized me as best they could with the hope that I could be moved further back for more intensive care. They thought I couldn�t hear and the doctor
told the nurse to call if she needed him, that he didn�t think I would make it through the night. The next morning I was shipped out by air for the General Hospital in Oran.. The plane had to put down near Algiers due to some problem with one engine, a doctor came on board and had three of us taken off and shipped To a nearby British Hospital. My lung had collapsed again and again I heard a doctor say he didn�t think I would make it through the night. Between my faith in God and being stubborn (a genetic German trait I understand) I was sitting up the next morning when the doctor made rounds. He took one look at me and said "what the bloody hell is this?" I don�t think he was happy when I replied "what the bloody hell does it look like?" If I had been British I probably would have been in trouble but he merely shook his head and mumbled something about "these--yanks" about a week later I was shipped to our General Hospital in Oran. I had lost about 40 pounds and they kept me on bed rest and tried to fatten me up. In about two weeks I was shipped to a replacement center. I did not know that I was being shipped back to the states for operations on my lung. It was boring and I did not want to wind up in some other outfit so I took what little gear I had and got on a supply truck going to Tunisia. I found the Recon and fortunately the clerk had not shipped out my file as yet or I could have been listed as AWOL somewhere along the line. Marshall, the shepherd from the mountains of Colorado, thought he was seeing a ghost and took off. I had to tackle him to prove I was alive. He had seen me loaded into the ambulance. and was convinced that I had died. It took him a few days to accept the fact that it was really me. While I was away the troop took quite a few casualties and lost a number of vehicles to mines.
In April we were on the move north to Bizerte. What a relief it was to see American planes even though most of them were Bombers being escorted to targets in Europe but the Luftwaffe no longer controlled the skies. As we over ran German positions we were subjected to very accurate artillery fire. Since they knew exactly where we were they were able to set their guns on their old locations. One day in particular they were firing mortar shells into the area all day and we were never far from our foxholes. We did not stay very long in any one place. We acquired a new spotting scope and we were pinpointing their locations pretty good. They kept probing for our OP and were getting close but gave up when our artillery blanketed their area..
Hill 609 had fallen after several days of intensive fighting by the 1st and 34th Divisions. We were nearing Mateur and were trying to neutralize German artillery across the valley. We must have been doing a good job because they changed targets and concentrated on trying to find us. The next day we were sent over to probe the area. Division wanted to move up and wanted the information one way or the other. Capt Adams told me to take only volunteers--he evidently thought it would be real tough going. I tried to get the married men to stay back and ask for volunteers. Not a single man would stay behind. Such was their loyalty to me and to each other. Early morning before dawn we got into a dried up river bed with good cover and started across the valley. An artillery salvo sailed over our heads to what had been our jumping off point. As it turned out this was their
final shots in this area. When we got across OK we went to get into the other valley and at first thought we were blocked by a mine field but on closer examination we could see the tracks of their vehicles and by carefully following them we got through.. They evidently left in a hurry and did not have time to close the entrance. Just as we turned the corner we saw the dust of the last of their vehicles going through a defile heading north.. We notified Headquarters and were told to come back to the other side and check that area. While we were doing this a flight of Bl7s were circling over head and acting as cover for one of the planes that was landing in the valley due to engine trouble or not enough fuel to get back to base. We got there just as the plane stopped. They were very apprehensive and reluctant to leave the plane because their briefing showed that the Germans still occupied the valley. We explained that they had just pulled out that morning. No one in the plane was injured. They left two men to guard it and we took the rest of them back to camp.
We had spent so much time in our jeep that I think my seat became customized. In the course of the Tunisian Campaign we had many close calls but fortunately we were able to find operating room to escape and find our way to safety. Our job was to get in, get the information needed, and get out with it. On some occasions we were sent out as bait to get the enemy to reveal their intentions. One of our officers had the job of writing up the daily battle reports. He didn�t like the job and most of the time wrote a one sentence summary. I read one segment where he wrote, the same identical words(they were correct as far as they went with no elaboration) "unit was under intense enemy artillery fire" for five straight days. Then on the sixth day he wrote "moved bivouac area". Calvin Cooledge must have been his mentor.
The enemy troops were surrendering by the thousands and with only a few days left we were pulled out and started the long march back to Oran to prepare for our next assignment which turned out to be Sicily. It was somewhat disappointing not to get to see our objective and that they sent fresh troops in our place.. When we got close to AIgiers I asked Capt Adams if I could take a bike and ride on ahead to stop briefly at the British Hospital . It was OK with him so early the next morning I took off with Charlie Parker�s bike and went zooming up the road passing every thing in sight. No one questioned me I guess they thought I was a special messenger. I stopped at the hospital the nurse and the other people I had met were really surprised that I had gone back to the front. I guess they thought I had all day and the nurse poured me a big glass of whiskey (their officers had a plentiful supply). I took a few swallows and soon the Recon showed up. I didn�t want to appear ungrateful so I chug a lugged the drink down the hatch., said good bye, jumped on the bike, revved up the engine and took off Charlie was standing up in the scout car so I jumped the ditch, did a leg drag to make a 90 degree turn and came alongside. To the cheers of the people at the hospital we did our circus transfer. The scout car kept moving,. I stood up on the seat of the bike and got on the rear bumper ledge of the scout car just as Charlie dropped neatly into the seat of the bike. And so back to Oran
Sicily was a whole new ball game. Here we operated as a unit. Usually one platoon proceeded one of the Infantry combat teams. We rotated sections. Mine would be in the lead and then we would switch and the other section led.
When we landed the Infantry had already captured the air field and we had our base here while our vehicles were coining ashore, The Luftwaffe dropped various types of nails on the field and we had many flats to repair. They were obviously trying to deny our air corps the use of the field. The German tanks almost drove us back into the sea but thanks to our Navy we got needed artillery support. I think it was the cruiser Boise that was one of the ships and if memory serves me right was firing their 8 inch guns over our heads, and there was a battleship firing its largest guns. When they sailed over head it seemed like a freight train was going by and you could almost see the shells. Our artillery and some tanks were getting ashore and joined in to break up the German counterattack. Then the days and nights ran together. General Patton was pushing to keep us moving. When my section was not in the lead I tried to sleep while we were moving. We were following a retreating German tank unit that kept harassing us with their 88m cannons. One night we were near Barrafranca on our way to Enna. The first section with Lt. Crumpton and Sgt. Watts were in the lead and we were going down the mountain road and knew that the bridge ahead was either mined or blown up. When they went around a corner they ran into the German tank unit and pulled back. Lt. Crumptom ordered us back to the top. Capt. Adams was there and had been promoted to Major. The next morning we came under fire from the tanks who had forded the stream and were on the opposite hill. Their fire was pretty accurate and had us diving for cover. I had been having discomfort in my chest for some time which I presumed was due to lack of rest. The enemy had us pretty well bracketed, didn�t quite get to us but it was close enough and as I dived I felt some thing tear in my chest at the site of one of my wounds. I thought it would be all right if I could get some rest at the base camp but Major Adams saw that I was spitting up some blood and had me taken to the Evac Hospital. They shipped me back by air to Tunisia. At the General Hospital they operated on my chest, took out part of a rib and removed a piece of shrapnel that was irritating my lung, They then air evacuated me to Oran to the same ward, Doctor, and Nurse I had had previously.. To say they were surprised to see me was putting it mildly, They thought I was back in the States and said that they would see to it that I was on the next ship home. The Doctor kept me there until the next ship was leaving with casualties and personally saw that I was on it.. It was just another example of the dedication, care and consideration the "Medics" from the lowest to the highest showed for all the GI�s regardless of rank. I admired our own medics who with a "red cross for a target on their arm" and no weapons went into danger to take care of the wounded. In most cases the enemy knew that they would be treated well if wounded and captured and respected their mission but unfortunately not always.
I was shipped home on the USN Florence Nightingale, an assault transport ship. It carried troops and supplies across and brought casualties back to the States. What a deal! A bunk with clean sheets, showers, and terrific food including their own .home made ice cream. The trip back to wave "hello" to the Grand Old Lady in New York took 10 days and with a quart of ice cream a day and whatever else you wanted to eat from the wide variety of food available I was able to regain a few of the 40 pounds I had lost..
After evaluation at Halloren General Hospital on Staten Island I was transferred to Walter Reed in Wash, D. C.. After a short R&R I returned for a series of operations. Shortly after major lung surgery Sgt. Richard Beard, a close friend, put in a surprise appearance. The outfit was in England preparing for the Continent and the men with the most time in were being given furloughs. Before he went home to see his family he made a side trip to stop and see how I was doing.. It merely goes to show how deep the bond was between men in our unit and the respect and concern we had for each other. He told me that I had been promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and that he had seen the orders signed by General Eisenhower�s HQ before he left. It wasn�t long after this that I was called to the War Department to see General Ulio, the AG. He showed me the order [later I was sorry I didn�t ask for copy as a souvenir, especially when I found that my 201 file was lost in the big fire in the St. Louis storage facility in 1 976(?)] Since I was no longer in the ETO he could not use these orders and had to issue new orders through the Zone of the Interior. Then one day in the beginning of January 1944 I was discharged as a Sgt. and immediately took the Oath of Office and was sworn in as a 2nd Lieutenant.
While at WRGH I fell in love with my nurse, Helen Adams who was also from Pennsylvania. I was shipped out to Ft Riley to the Cavalry Replacement Training Center on limited duty a week after I was commissioned. On June 4th, 1944 we were married in Oxford, Pa..
Thanks to God�s mercy and grace we had 50 years together until she passed away in 1994. We were blessed with three wonderful children. I would never have been able to be as successful in business as I was without her by my side to encourage and help me.
At Fort Riley I was , at first, assigned to the horse squadron. One day as I was inspecting one of the stables I heard a horse nickering and pawing her stall. Since all the other horses were in the corral I asked the Stable Sgt. why this one was not out. He stated that she was mean and hard to handle, so I had to see for myself. As we entered and came nearer the stall the nickering and pawing became more intense and Sally (official name Poli Negri #214F) put her head out. She had been one of my favorites in Troop A of the 3rd Cavalry. The Sgt. was worried when I opened the door petted her and looked at her feet because she appeared to have a problem. I cleaned out the feet and told the Sgt. she was to be out with the rest of the horses and that I expected her hooves to be clear and clean thereafter. To his dismay I walked out of the stable with no bridle or halter on her and she followed me like a little puppy dQg out on the road just as if we were back in Troop A again. From then on she was treated like the rest of the herd. I could come to the fence at any time and she would trot up to see me. Some of the other horses from the 3rd Cay were also there..
General Terry Allen was now in Command of the 104th Inf Div. He had gathered some returned officer from the 1st Div that had been sent home and his new division instead of being broken up and sent out as replacements became a combat ready division under his leadership. He heard that I was at Riley and ask that I be assigned to the 104th. I was willing to go but the request was denied = I was to remain on limited service. Then in late 1944, with manpower being adequate a directive was issued to release limited duty and certain other categories from active duty. I was called before a Retirement Board and after a complete physical exam I was found physically incapacitated for active military service by the Army Retirement Board. I was released to the Inactive Reserve for the duration of the War plus 6 months subject to the call of the President.