©2014, Aaron Elson
George Bussell spent eleven months driving a tank in combat. He was one of the more colorful characters in the 712th Tank Battalion. He passed away in 1998. This is one of the nine interviews included in "A Mile in Their Shoes." Order a CD of this interview from www.audiomurphy.com
Indianapolis, Oct. 25, 1993
Aaron Elson: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
George Bussell: Well, my father never knew it but I volunteered. My mom knew it. In front of my name there was what looked like a check but it was a V. Dad went to his grave never knowing I volunteered. Because he told me, "Don't you volunteer. Theyll get you soon enough." Well, my buddy and I, we got three sheets to the wind, and I said to him, "Hell, let's volunteer." So we went downtown. And they took me first, and he got ready to sign up, and they said, "Are you married?" And he said, "Yeah." They said, "Well, you can't sign." But he ended up in the Navy, he got the hell blown out of him. He's all right. But he really got shook up bad. We were figuring on going into the same outfit together. Instead he waved goodbye to me.
Aaron Elson: How did you become a driver?
George Bussell: I was up at Pine Camp, New York, and they had these old tanks with double turrets, they called them Mae Wests. And they had them dug in, where the bottom sat on the ground, and they had the tracks dug out where they could go around. And they took you over on the field, and they said, "Were gonna teach you how to drive tanks."
I said, "That's all right."
And this sergeant got up in there and he said, "Now this is the way you double-clutch." He said, "You think you can do that?"
I said, "Hell, yes." Oh, and I loved it. Man, I loved it. I drove the hell out of it, too, boy. That's how I got to learn to drive tanks.
Aaron Elson: Ruby Goldstein told me about a barroom brawl that you and he got into.
George Bussell: Oh, hell, we got into a fight in Phenix City, Alabama, right across the river from Columbus, Georgia. Shoot, I ended up with a busted nose and a black eye. I had six stitches in the top of my head. That guy really whupped me over with a walking cane. I was backing up. I was in this place, and in the back you could dance. So I was back there playing the jukebox for this girl, and I put a nickel in. Before the fight started there were beer bottles and everything else laying around on the tables. Whiskey bottles. I asked her if she wanted to dance. And this guy was standing there, he said, "What did you say to her?"
I said, "Hell, I asked her to dance. You don't mind, do you?"
That's all it took. Oh, he peeled off, and they backed me up. There was nothing in there for me to get ahold of and there were three or four of them coming at me. And when I backed up I fell over a chair and fell right down on a table. And this one guy jumped up there with a walking cane and hit me about four times across the head, busted my head open and broke my nose.
Of course, with all that rumpus back there, why, a bunch of other GIs came in and stopped it.
There were two paratroopers in there. One of them got stabbed behind the ear and the other got stabbed in the back.
And the only thing they asked me, when they were taking me out the door, they said, "What happened? What happened?"
And the other guy said, "Hell, don't worry about what happened. It dont concern you."
And hell, all three of them beat me to the hospital. Because I had to go to jail. I walked in that jail, that judge saw me, I just stood up in front of him and he looked at me and said, "Take him right out that door." Right on to the hospital.
Shoot, my whole outfit would have went to Phenix City if I'd have said, "Let's go." The whole outfit wanted to go over there and wipe the place out. Because there were a lot of boys getting the shit beat out of them. See, they did that down in Fort Jackson, they had a bunch of young policemen down there, and boy, those young policemen were beating the hell out of the soldiers with their nightsticks. So this general, he went to the round table discussion right downtown and said, "I'm gonna tell you right now, the next time that I go to the hospital and I see the way these boys have been beaten, the whole Army's coming in your town." Boy, they put a stop to that. Oh, some of us guys really took a beating down there.
Aaron Elson: Forrest Dixon says you were going to drive the tank in the front door and out the back of the place where you were beat up.
George Bussell: Sonofagun I wanted to do that! I was afraid of a basement. I said to Dixon, "Lets take it through the house." Boy, I'd have loved that.
Aaron Elson: What was it like landing in Normandy?
George Bussell: We had shrouds on the tanks, but we got up close enough that we didn't need them. We were all waterproofed already. Then after we got up on land, they told us to just keep going till you hit a low branch or something, pull the lock loose and knock the shroud off. So that's how we got rid of the shroud. We called them shrouds but they were for the exhaust. Then the next thing we got rid of was the .50-caliber machine gun. Threw it right on the ground.
Aaron Elson: Why was that?
George Bussell: It was on your turret up above. It was on that ring. There was no way of locking it. And hell, if the tank got hit, you didn't know if you were gonna open the door or not, because the gun might have been over it.
Aaron Elson: How many tanks did you have hit?
George Bussell: I lost three.
Aaron Elson: Can you tell me about them?
George Bussell: We were at the Falaise Gap, and it was all camouflaged, we had a big tree sticking out there, and [Eugene] Crawford was my tank commander. We used to call him Mother Macree.
Aaron Elson: Why was that?
George Bussell: He couldn't hear himself fart. He had perforated eardrums. We'd be going down a road, and hollering to get his attention so he'd turn around, and when he'd turn around we'd act like we were gonna hit the ground, and he'd fall. Wed just do that to see him fall.
Aaron Elson: His eardrums were perforated from concussion?
George Bussell: I don't know. He had bad eardrums when he went in the service. But they took him in anyway. I said, "Why in the hell don't you get out?"
He said, "Hell fire, they won't let me out. I had bad eardrums when I went in."
Aaron Elson: At the Falaise Gap, did the Germans go through your platoon?
George Bussell: No, that's where we stopped them. But boy, I mean to tell you it was a mess. After we got through, I don't remember whether it was Dixon or not, he said, "Come on, boys, down here to the road and see what youve done." So we walked through the hedgerows and fields and everything and got down to the road, and no matter which way you looked, there were German vehicles just bumper to bumper, burning and, oh, hell, we wiped out the whole Seventh Army. And two of the guys in my outfit got the damn Seventh payroll and I didn't know what it was. One guy says, "Here, you want some money?"
I said, "I dont want none of that damn paper."
Sheeeee! Finally Patton called it all back in. But boy, some of them got away with it. There was one guy, I think this fellow sent enough money home that his old lady bought a big fur coat.
Aaron Elson: Tell me about the first time you got scared.
George Bussell: [Bob] Hagerty was the tank commander and I was his driver. We were coming down the road, we stopped at this crossroad, and boy, one came in close. I mean it was close. Because they had everything zeroed in out there. And I said to Bob, "We'd better move." So we moved on up into a hedgerow, and backed around so we could get a shot at something coming. I got out of the tank, and went in back of it and was eating a sandwich. I leaned over on the tank with my hand, and in that shroud that comes up just below the end of the tank, there was a big hole. That 88 went clear through it. I said to Bob, "That's pretty damn close, ain't it?"
Ahh, we sure had a lot of fun, though. God damn. That ol Mother Macree there said we were gonna get some eggs.
I said, "How the hell are we gonna get eggs? We dont speak French."
He said "Well, I know how to ask for eggs. You go up and knock on the door, when they come to the door, you say, Avez vous des erf.
I said, "Is that right?"
He said, "Sure."
That's all he knew how to say. So he walks in there, he knocks on the door, this woman comes out, and he says, "Avez vous des erf." And she shook her head no and he says, "Well where in the hell can I get some?" That sonofagun.
One time, on the breakout from St. Lo, there was a small cliff, not too high, and there were trees on top. And were going along there driving the tanks and looking around. And way up in this one tree, I mean way up there, there's a cow. And he was hanging by his neck right in the fork. It was like somebody'd put him there. He got blown up there, and when he came down his head landed in the fork of the tree, and thats what was holding him. I said, "Man oh man, look at that!"
I always wanted to shoot a clock out of a bell tower. I never did. Old Hagerty did, though. I believe it was Hagerty.
Aaron Elson: Tell me the story Dixon tells about you, when you went out a little ahead of where you should have been.
George Bussell: Oh, hell, yes. We went about three miles past the German lines. We went up there and turned around and came back, and on the way back they started firing at us. We turned broadside, and came back down a hill. Coming back down there were two German soldiers. That's when my tank got hit, but the only thing they hit was my suspension, tore it all to hell. It's a wonder we made it in.
Aaron Elson: Dixon says you turned a corner and you saw three German motorcycles.
George Bussell: Yeah, they were parked. I ran over them with the tank. Shoot, you can run over anything in those tanks. Just like a Caterpillar.
Aaron Elson: You got out three miles behind German lines, and on the way back they started shooting at you?
George Bussell: Yeah. That's when one just missed my gas tank. They were shooting at me, but they weren't getting enough lead, that's what the trouble was. I was coming to hell. See, I'd spread the governor on my tank. I could outrun a jeep. That sonofagun, that medium tank I had, they couldn't catch me in a jeep. Theyd say, "What in the hell did you do to that?" They opened it up and the seal wasn't busted. They couldn't accuse me of busting the seals on the governor. I put that sonofagun up against a tree, came down on the accelerator, and spread the governor. It scared me, I thought the tank was gonna turn over.
Aaron Elson: That's how you broke the governor?
George Bussell: That's how I spread it. Might as well. See, when I spread it, hell, it wasn't any good then. Then you could really throw the coal to it. We had one lieutenant who said, "What in the hell did you do to that motor?"
"Didnt do anything."
"What kind of motor is it?"
"Wright-Whirlwind." That's what I had in there. Boy, would that sucker run. The only thing, every time you fired it up, they knew right were you were, from the smoke. But outside of that, that sucker would run.
Aaron Elson: When was the first time your tank was hit? Before the Falaise Gap?
George Bussell: To tell you the truth, I don't remember. Oh, I got hit in the Battle of the Bulge. Hell, I'd have jumped out of the tank if it hadn't been for Mother Macree. He told me to sit still, don't get out. Because they hit the tank with white phosphorous, and phosphorous was coming through the tank, through the cracks. It wasnt a whole lot, but it was enough to make me think the tank was on fire. I was getting ready to jump out of that bastard. And old Crawford said, "No, sit still. Sit still. They don't even know we're here." And they didn't. This German tank came over, hell, he was as close as I am to that chair in there where you've got your sack. And we're sitting there with this big tree in front of us. He didn't see us. And Crawford said, "Sit still. Sit still." I said, "All right." That tree was right up against our gun. And that tank came up to us, he couldnt even see us. He sat there for a few minutes and backed off and went someplace else. Then when the fight got going, old Crawford said, "Traverse." We traversed, hit that tree, knocked the whole damn thing down, and boy, we were sticking out there like a wet hand. Out there in a wide open space. Then we got a lot of small fire, didnt get anything big. Thats when we closed the Falaise Gap.
Aaron Elson: That was the Falaise Gap or the Bulge?
George Bussell: The Falaise Gap.
Aaron Elson: But you said it was in the Bulge that you were hit with white phosphorous.
George Bussell: Yeah, shoot, I was setting there one day, and we were all outside of our tanks. The lieutenant said, "Pull into this field and leave yourselves about 50 yards apart, and get out and stretch, and if you want to eat something, eat, because I don't think there's anything around."
So we're in back of the tank, Ive got a combat suit on, sitting and drinking coffee and batting the breeze, when "Psheew! Psheew!" Mortar shells. You cant hear em coming. But you hear em when they hit. A couple of em came in, and of course when they came in we flinched. But then they were getting pretty close. One of the guys, he went underneath the back of the tank, and two of them went up over the turret. The only thing I could think of was to go underneath the front. And wed just pulled in over a bunch of cow shit. Boy, when I came out of there I had that cow shit all over me. I mean all over me. The guys laughed. I said, "Laugh, hell, Id have ate it if I had to." Man, I had that cow shit all over my combat suit. Go to Page 4
Aaron Elson: Did you have a change of uniform in the tank? How did you get it off?
George Bussell: Scrape it off, and if you get a chance wash it, and if you don't, smear it with mud, dirt, anything to get rid of the odor. Shoot, that steel helmet did everything. Fried eggs. Boiled eggs. Made coffee. Got in the tank you had to shit you shit in it. One day you shit in it, and the next day you ate out of it. That's the truth.
One of the guys see, there were always five in a tank one would keep his helmet back, and keep it clean. Because that helmet would catch hell. You'd eat out of it, do everything out of it.
Aaron Elson: Do you remember the crossing of ...
George Bussell: The Moselle? Yeah, I remember crossing it. I think we waited about three days to get across it. Then we went across it on pontoons, and they had the pontoons sunk in the water about a foot deep to keep the shells from busting them up. After we crossed it, Pattons on the other side waiting. Sure as hell was. I was as close to Patton as I am to you. That sucker was there. "Give em hell, boys. Give em hell." Yessir. I'd have followed him to Japan if Id had to. I dont care what they said, to me, he was a general. The one and only.
Aaron Elson: Did you ever hear him speak?
George Bussell: I heard him over in England. And I mean, have you seen that show "Patton"? That's just like it was. He walked up to that crowd, only it was a lot rougher than what he says on TV. He says, "The sons of bitches. ..."
Aaron Elson: Did you ever get into any tank to tank duels?
George Bussell: No. Hell, we wouldn't have had a chance. The only way you could get em was to get em on a tree, I saw a light tank knock out one.
Aaron Elson: You saw that.
George Bussell: Yes, a light tank. He went up to it, he maneuvered that big tank around, that German tank, and when he went to move, his gun hit the tree. Because it was so long, a German 88, hit the tree and when he hit that tree that little tank went up, and hell, he was as close as that living room. "Tooong!" Knocked the doors open on that tank. Boy, I mean he hit her, with a 37-millimeter. I mean, he busted that German tank all to hell. He maneuvered him around. And boy, those little tanks were fast.
Aaron Elson: Did you get wounded?
George Bussell: No, I made it through without. I got limited assignment on account of, well, they said I had a heart attack. I don't think it was. Because I've never had any trouble since. They classified it as a heart attack. I ended up in a general hospital, driving a jeep. That was a good job. Shoot, you'd just go out on Sunday and get booze.
Aaron Elson: Tell me about going up into the Bulge.
George Bussell: I remember going north to the Bulge. Because for a long while we drove with the lights on, the blackout lights.
Aaron Elson: And the roads were slippery?
George Bussell: Hell yes. God damn, we went down that mountain, and the only way we could get down it was to drop one track down in this here ditch and go down that way, because if we didn't, if you slid over, by god, you didn't know where you'd go after you hit the bottom. And I was going down that hill, and after you get down the hill, of course you let off of it, and there was a tree down there at the bottom of the hill, that sonofabitch must have been as big as this dinette. Boy, and if I didn't smack that sonofagun head-on. And, who in the hell was it, my gunner. He was looking through the sight, it just cut his head. Knocked all the rest of them out of their seats. I couldn't help it. And then Dixon had to go back and rob a turret lock off of a tank that was knocked out, and bring it up and put it in my tank. Because I broke the turret lock. Cracked the turret ring. Yeah, damn, it was slick over there. And cold. I had an assistant driver, Johnny, from Tennessee, I forget his last name. He told me, "George, if I get home, and its in the middle of July, and I think how cold I was, Im gonna build a fire." But it was cold. You could take your finger and scrape the frost off the inside of the tanks. Because they didn't have heat. Air-cooled. And once you crank one of em up, there was a Homelite heater in there, but that Homelite heater didnt amount to nothing. It was to keep your oil thin on the motor so you could get a fast start.
Aaron Elson: How would you do guard duty, when it was cold like that?
George Bussell: We'd pull it in the tank. Set in the tank. Once, at Niederwampach, we had our tanks down at a corner, there was a house there, and we'd stand in that doorway, two of us. Damn, it was cold. I don't believe I ever was so cold in my life.
Aaron Elson: How would you sleep?
George Bussell: With your clothes on, and anything else you could find. We had five blankets, and we had them all in a roll. We had the roll in the tank. And each one of us would take a blanket, and stay right in the tank. Youd sleep right in your seat.
Aaron Elson: Sitting up?
George Bussell: Yeah. The guys in the turret, some of them would lay down on the floor. Lay over the gun shells and everything else. A tank's got a ready rack in it. You put your foot on it, so we'd get ready to stow a tank with shells, I forget how many 75s it held. I know it held 18,500 rounds of .45 automatic. And I think it held 70 or 79 75s. And I forget how many thousand rounds of .30 caliber. But you could reach around and get a box of .30 calibers anyplace. Then we'd take our 75, it had a ready rack on the floor, well, that top of that ready rack, we took it off and threw it away, because it wasnt nothing but in the way, and wed stack the shells. Hell, we'd stack maybe 20, 25 inside. And what we couldnt stack inside, we put them on the back, near the motor. Shoot, you didn't know whether you were going to go to a cookout or hunting. I've seen them tanks come by and one of them will have a little stove on it. Went in this one house, a guy had this little stove, put the chimney on it, put a pipe on it and everything. He couldn't figure out where to get rid of the smoke, so he just went upstairs and knocked a hole in the upstairs floor, let the smoke go up there and out the windows.
Aaron Elson: What was it like inside the tank? Was there smoke from the shells when it fired?
George Bussell: There wasn't too much smoke. And your recoil wasn't bad. Let's see, I think it was a 21-inch recoil on a 75, and 27 on a 76. So the recoil wasn't bad, the smoke wasn't bad at all.
Aaron Elson: Your rank was a corporal?
George Bussell: No, I was a T-4. Well, I'd been a sergeant and got busted. So they made me a T-4 and made me a lead tank driver. I said, "I'll drive the lead tank, but I want my stripes back." So instead of a sergeant, they made me a T-4. Made the same kind of money. I don't know how I could have got out of driving. They could have court-martialed me for refusing to drive. Anyway, I got my T-4 back. Oh, I wouldn't take a million dollars for what I went through. But I wouldn't want to go through it again for a million. You know what I mean? It's really something.
Aaron Elson: What about after the war? Big Andy said he would go out in the field at night and he'd see Germans behind the barn. Did you have any aftereffects like that?
George Bussell: When I first came home, my dad and mom were both still alive, and we lived over on Pleasant Street. And I had the back bedroom, it had French windows, and I went up there one night and I was laying there, of course I was asleep, and my mom came in and caught me. If she hadnt, I'd have probably jumped out the window, cause it was thunder and lightning and I kept saying, "Here they come! Here they come! Here they come!" And Id sat up on the edge of the bed, and I was heading for the window. I had the window open. But she grabbed hold of me. After she grabbed hold of me I was all right. Thats the only time. But I probably would have jumped.
Aaron Elson: What do you think when you see films about the war?
George Bussell: I love that Patton show. And you know, theres a lot of that true, too. If hed have went to Japan, itd be altogether different today. He wouldnt tell his men to do anything he wouldnt do. I liked it there in the movie where that guy says, "Where are you going?" He said, "Im going to get that Hitler sonofabitch."
Aaron Elson: Did you ever see any of the Hitler youth?
George Bussell: No. I saw one little kid, oh hell, he was talking Hitler and Hitler and Hitler and Hitler and Hitler. I stood there for a while and listened to him. And when I got ready to go I just stepped on his toes. You cute little bastard you. I did, I stepped on his toes.
Aaron Elson: Did you receive any citations?
George Bussell: Only thing I got was a Bronze Star.
Aaron Elson: Only thing!
George Bussell: Heroic achievement in battle.
Aaron Elson: What were the circumstances?
George Bussell: I pulled up to knock out a German tank. I forget where we were. And there was a light tank and a medium tank, German tank. I hit the big tank, but shoot, our 75 was no good against a German tank. But anyway, the second round, I hit his turret ring. He couldn't traverse. Then I knocked the little one out.
Aaron Elson: Were you at the gun or were you driving?
George Bussell: I was driving. That's the only two tanks that I ever really came in contact with.
Aaron Elson: Did the big one fire back?
George Bussell: No, it couldnt, because Id jammed his turret. He couldnt turn his gun. Im tickled to death I didnt run into any of them big ones, boy. The big ones would cut you wide open.
Aaron Elson: Hagerty said that he felt that there was a sort of special feeling between tank drivers. People like Big Andy and you, because you had to have so many extra skills.
George Bussell: I don't think so, outside of seeing which one could bullshit the most.
Aaron Elson: The third time you were hit, the last time, did you tell me about that?
George Bussell: I got hit at, what the hell was the name of that town. Of course they had me zeroed in. I forget the name of the town. We pulled in. There was a railroad station, and I backed up right beside the station, because I was supposed to watch the road ahead of us. So I heard a couple rounds come in. The corner of the building was blown off. We had tank destroyers there, and they caught this German, and they tried to give him to me, and I said, "Hell, I dont want him. What am I gonna do with him?"
"They said, "We don't know."
I said, "Well, do what you want to do with him. I dont want him."
You know what they did? They walked him across the street, stood him up against the building, put a .50-caliber slug right in his head. One shot. .50-caliber slug. Because they carried a .50-caliber. And then, were sitting there, I could sit here in my tank and see that building where the whole corner got blown off. They zeroed in on it, and they hit the railroad station. The time they hit the railroad station, that's when I moved. We were going down the road, and the lieutenant was with me. So we picked up this doughboy and he dropped his helmet. So the doughboy said, "Stop!" So I pulled up to a stop and I stopped at a crossroad. The kid had to jump down and get his helmet, and come back up. And as soon as he picked up his helmet, "Psshhoooom!" Here comes a round in. And then another one. I said, "Jesus Christ!" The tank shook. I said, "That was close." Then we took off. Went down the road, and we got into the hedgerows, I pulled around a hedgerow and I pulled up there and stopped. Hagerty was with us. Hagerty was back there eating a sandwich. I got out of the tank and I said, "God damn." I went around the tank and there was that hole, where that 88 went through it.
Aaron Elson: But that was the first time you got hit. You started telling me about the third time. When they had you zeroed in.
George Bussell: Oh yeah. They had me zeroed in, but I moved out. Because hell if you set there, three brackets, they got you. They're smart.
Aaron Elson: Did you ever driver for Lieutenant Bell?
George Bussell: I drove for one lieutenant in B Company.
Aaron Elson: How did you get switched?
George Bussell: They were short of drivers, and they wanted me. I told him, "Ill give you a ride like you never had." Oh, I'd love to get in one of them and drive today. Man, I'd like to get in one of them, just to see how it feels.
Aaron Elson: What would you say was the most amusing thing that happened over there?
George Bussell: The most amusing thing was when we went to Paris. Hell, we went to Paris on a three-day pass. I went to Paris with $500 and came back with 75 cents. Man oh man, what a time I had. I told them guys, "Look at me, Im gonna piss right on the main drag of Paris." Eight o'clock at night I was right out there, directing traffic, pissing right on the main drag. Hell, yes. I went to England, I went to Piccadilly, and France was Pigalle. I was in both of them. Oh, what a time. You could be in Pigalle, and I dont give a damn who she was or who she was with or anything else, you could walk right up there and ask her, and if she said no, she wouldnt get mad. Shed say no, but shed show you a girl thats just as good looking as her and built just as nice. Yessir. Boy oh boy, I had a good time. But like I said, I wouldn't want to go back...
Aaron Elson: What was the most scared you were?
George Bussell: Well, I dont know what youd call scaredest. Anytime they said "Move," you were scared. We were down on the Moselle River and had a bunch of these Germans in this pillbox, and the GIs were shooting at them. Every time theyd open that door on the pillbox, ping, they'd get a bullet in it. Because they were machine gunning the engineers putting a bridge across the Moselle. And of course they called us up there, and we were gonna shoot the pillboxes with our 75, knock em the hell off. But they said they didn't need us, and finally they opened them up and the Germans came out. They were all young kids, just young kids.
I left my outfit just before they hit Czechoslovakia. Man, I had a sword, a German dress sword, it was a beautiful thing. Somebody stole it. Boy, it was pretty. The blade was all engraved.
Aaron Elson: Do you remember the Tennessee maneuvers?
George Bussell: Oh, yes.
Aaron Elson: What were they like?
George Bussell: A lot of fun. Whatever you tore up, there was a guy right with us. If you tore a corner off of a garage, or tore part of a barn up, he'd write it down, and write a letter, give it to the owner, no problem. Oh, we had some good fried chicken down there. A gal fried us chicken, brought it out and we set there in the front yard and ate chicken. But we paid her. Yeah, I remember the Tennessee maneuvers.
Aaron Elson: How would you place the war in the context of the rest of your life?
George Bussell: Oh, I don't think it made any difference to me, because a lot of guys can't even talk about it. But it doesnt bother me. Just like I told you, I wouldn't take a million dollars for what I went through, but I wouldn't go through it again for a million. I can talk about it to anybody, it doesnt make any difference because it don't bother me. A lot of guys go crazy, start biting their fingernails and everything else.
Aaron Elson: Then you went to work for the railroad?
George Bussell: I worked for the railroad before I left. Then I went back.
Aaron Elson: What did you do for them?
George Bussell: I was a machinist on the steam engines. And I worked 52 years for the railroad. No, 32 years. My dad had 52.
Aaron Elson: Which line?
George Bussell: New York Central. Yep.
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