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©2014, Aaron Elson

 

   

Dale Albee

712th Tank Battalion

    Dale Albee was one of 14 sergeants in the 712th Tank Battalion who received battlefield commissions during World War II. Dale enlisted in the Army in 1938, and was a sergeant in the horse cavalry prior to becoming a member of the 712th.

©2014, Aaron Elson

Prospect, Oregon, Dec. 3, 1995

    Aaron Elson: What’s your serial number?

    Dale Albee: I have two of them. The old, enlisted 65-----, and then as an officer it was 02------.

    Aaron Elson: Is the officer’s one longer?

    Dale Albee: No. The O in front might make it longer. But you see, the old, I joined the Army in 1938 so I had the short serial number.

    Aaron Elson: Did draftees’ numbers begin with a 3?

    Dale Albee: It depended on the area that they came from. On that one, too, there’s something I might clear up. In the cavalry, the men that youve interviewed talk about whether they were drafted or not. In 1941, in January or February, they had the Selective Service Act, and thats where these people came in that were supposed to do a year. That’s where we got those 500 recruits that came from Chicago to the 11th Cavalry. That was before they ever had the draft. Most people have forgotten about the Selective Service Act.

    Aaron Elson: Which was the cherry bowl, when Roosevelt pulled the numbers out?

    Dale Albee: That was the draft.

    Aaron Elson: So those 500 were before?

    Dale Albee: Yes. See, the Selective Service was set up so that these people were going to periodically come in, do a year, go back to civilian life, and they would continue to bring people in for a year to train them. Back in 1938 you only had 350,000 or 400,000 men in the Army. And they knew that it could eventually be war, so this was a way of training those soldiers and then sending them back so they would have a force ready to go. But of course, as you know, the war hit at the end of ’41.

    Aaron Elson: Did people volunteer for the Selective Service, or did they wait until they were called?

    Dale Albee: Some volunteered, but most of them were called.

    Aaron Elson: What led you to enlist in 1938?

    Dale Albee: Oh, I dont know. I had a brother in the Navy, and I tried to join the Navy but I couldnt pass the eye chart because of my eyesight. So I memorized the Navy eye chart and joined the Army. It was real easy. In the big block letters, EFPTOZ, the big E was fuzzy, but I went into the Army there the next day; they just had a big blanket between the recruiting stations, and EFPTOZ, cover the other eye, EFPTOZ, youre in.

    Aaron Elson: How old were you when you enlisted?

    Dale Albee: I had just turned 18.

    Aaron Elson: Did you choose to be in the cavalry?

    Dale Albee: Yes, I volunteered. They sent us over to the old J.D. Holman School in Portland and assigned us to the 29th Engineers. And my buddy Jim Anning and I didn’t want any part of the engineers because we were outdoor types, so we flipped a coin to see whether we wanted to go to Panama or the 11th Cavalry. I won, so we transferred to the 11th Cavalry and we went straight into B Troop down at Presidio Monterrey, California.

    Aaron Elson: How did you go from Presidio Monterrey to Camp Seeley?

    Dale Albee: I was on the advance party that left Monterrey and went to Camp Seeley. It was just a wasteland and we built platforms and put up tents for the rest of the outfit to come in. We built a base camp there, all tents, and wooden mess shacks. The First Squadron stayed there, and the Second Squadron went on up to Campo. That became Camp Lockett.

    Aaron Elson: That was right near the Mexican border, wasnt it?

    Dale Albee: Both of them were.

    Aaron Elson: One was in the desert and one was in the mountains?

    Dale Albee: Yes. Seeley was in the desert. We were between six and seven miles beyond El Centro, going toward San Diego. Seeley was just a little train stop, but it was known as Camp Seeley because of that train stop.

    Aaron Elson: Several people have described patrolling the Mexican border.

    Dale Albee: That was very simple. You just went out on horseback, a squad or a platoon at a time, and what you were doing actually was patrolling but at the same time you were training. Most of it was training, but they called it patrolling because we would be working on the border.

    Aaron Elson: It must have been hot.

    Dale Albee: Ohhhh, hot! It was about 115 degrees most of the time. We’d start sometimes at 3 or 4 in the morning. And we took salt tablets all the time, because you’d start out and your shirt was just completely wringing wet, and when you came in there would be white marks from losing your salt. But it was a dry heat, and pretty soon, after you got used to it you didn’t mind it. Except when you went to town and got all drunked up.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have enough water?

    Dale Albee: We always carried canteens. And then you learned to not drink water, to conserve it; even today I very seldom drink water, maybe it stems from the training there. Because you’d drink out of an irrigation ditch if you had to, you and your horse both.

    Aaron Elson: Were there hazards, like rattlesnakes or scorpions?

    Dale Albee: We never had much trouble with scorpions, and I don’t think anybody was bitten by a rattlesnake. If a rattler rattled, your horse would shy immediately, and they could sense a snake faster than a person could. You learned to rely on your horse an awful lot. Plus in the first place, that was your means of transportation. If you lost your horse, you walked. And another thing, it became a pet. You did all your training with him; you taught him to shake hands. A horse can go anywhere a person can. You can crawl up a mountain; if you can get up that, a horse can, too. If you get lost, the horse can find its way back. And you could move. Thats one of the nicest things about it – the training that you had in the cavalry was to hit and move, so that they never knew where you were. When we went in and fought the Germans it was the same way. Our light tanks, for goodness sakes, with the 37-millimeter it’s almost impossible to knock out a German tank unless you got around to the side and you hit four to six inches over the track. But it all stemmed back to your basic cavalry training. Base of fire, maneuver around. Like old Patton said, "Grab him by the nose and kick him in the ass." And that’s basically what the cavalry was all about.

    Aaron Elson: Going into the cavalry that early, you must have had some contact with people who were with the 11th in the Philippines.

    Dale Albee: The 11th was in the Philippines, but a lot of their NCOs came out of the old 15th Infantry in China.

    Aaron Elson: What kind of stories did they have?

    Dale Albee: Not much, except they sure loved China. And man, could they drink. We had one corporal who would be flat on his back passed out – well, we’d call it asleep – and they’d call him and say it’s time to go stand guard mount, and he’d go down and stand guard mount spit-and-polish and youd never know he’d been drunk.

    Aaron Elson: When you say guard mount, did you have to do guard on horseback?

    Dale Albee: No, usually guard mount was dismounted, because you had your prisoners. You had the old guard on the left and the new guard on the right, and your prisoners in between, and you stood a full inspection. It was a regular ritual.

    Aaron Elson: What kind of prisoners would they have?

    Dale Albee: Oh, guys who had gone AWOL, or who raised heck in town. Guard mount was about the same time as retreat. You were inspected, and you had to be spit-and-polish the whole way. And you didn’t want to be in the middle in that group; you wanted to be on either end.

    Aaron Elson: Hilding Freeberg described a game that was like musical chairs on horseback. Was that a game or an exercise?

    Dale Albee: It was a game and an exercise. Let’s say you have eight riders and you put seven chairs out. You ride around in a circle and you could start out at a walk, a trot and a canter. The best way was with a canter because you were taught to make a flying dismount. That’s where you drop the reins, place your hands on the pommel, throw your feet up level with the horse, swing around, come down, hit with your feet, and stand at attention holding the reins. Except in the exercise, you made a flying dismount, but you had to get to a chair and sit down, and then you went through until there was only one chair left.

    Aaron Elson: There must have been a lot of injuries.

    Dale Albee: There were some. But there were more injuries on the jumping.

    Aaron Elson: Were these experienced jumping horses, or did you have to teach the horses to jump as well as the riders?

    Dale Albee: We had some real experienced horses. We had one horse that had won ribbons, and he could go up to darn near six feet. But what we tried to do was to get them up to a three-foot-six jump.

    Aaron Elson: What were some of the traditions? Ive heard that among the officers, for instance, if you fell off a horse and didn’t get dirt on the pommel, you had to buy everybody a round of drinks at the officers’ club.

    Dale Albee: That might have been in the officers, but I don’t remember anything like that. I know if you fell off and lost your horse, you walked home.

    Aaron Elson: How far would that be?

    Dale Albee: Back to camp. If you were ten miles away, you walked ten miles.

    Aaron Elson: And what happened to the horse?

    Dale Albee: The horse would head for home. Most of the horses were kind of herdbound, and some of them were really herdbound. If they got loose, they weren’t like a western horse where if the rein drops they stop. Heck no, they’d take off.

    Aaron Elson: So if you fell off and lost your horse you had to walk home.

    Dale Albee: If you couldn’t get it. If the horse went over and joined a group, you could walk over there and get your horse. You’d catch hell for losing it, because no matter what you did, when you went off a horse, you were taught, you hung onto that, and youd be dragged around. A horse, when it throws you, or if you fall off of it, will do everything in the world to stay away from you, and sometimes you’d be pulled in by the reins, but that’s hanging on with a death grip to that rein.

    Aaron Elson: What would you do, as an instructor, when you encountered somebody who was afraid of horses?

    Dale Albee: That was one of the problems we had because of the guys the guys that came in from Chicago, just like Hilding said the only horse he ever saw was on a milkwagon, and when they came in, we also got 300 remounts. Now a remount is a green broken horse, and all green broken means is somebody got in a saddle on him. Whether he got kicked or bit or thrown, the horse was green broke. We took the recruits and the remounts and started them out together, so it was a three-ring circus for a while and we did have quite a few people in the hospital from minor bruises and contusions. But pretty soon they started working together, and those men made some of the best cavalrymen you could find.

    Aaron Elson: Describe the type of exercise in which Art Horn accidentally shot his horse.

    Dale Albee: Oh! We had the mounted pistol course, and on that you had seven targets. I think the first four were to the right, then you had the left rear, the right rear, the left front. You went in at a canter, and you went around this course. Halfway through, you fired, you took the clip out, you had another clip, reloaded and went around and finished the course.

    Horn had this horse that wasn’t supposed to have been out there that day because he was noted for shying and we didn’t want him out there with the recruits. And this is the reason we had the .45 mounted with the .22 ammunition, so that the noise wouldn’t bother them. We told the recruits it was so it wouldn’t bother the horse but it was mostly so they wouldn’t get used to that big heavy .45 coming back at them.

    Aaron Elson: The horses or the men?

    Dale Albee: The recruits. We told them it was the horses, but actually it was so they would get used to that heavy .45 firing and not coming back. Well, Horn started out and he leaned forward, as youre supposed to do, and what you do is you jab. It’s just like you point your finger and you jab at the target and fire. And he reached forward and fired, and the horse shied. He threw Horn out of the saddle, and when he came down he landed on his back. He was right under the horse, and the .22 fired. It hit the horse right under the throat and went up into his mouth. Now, if it had been a .45 it would have gone up right on through the top of his head and it would have killed him. And $160 would have galloped across Horn’s paycheck.

    Aaron Elson: He would have been charged for the horse?

    Dale Albee: Yes, it was his error. Because he should have controlled the horse. Even if a horse shies, the way you ride, with your thighs – cowboys ride what you call up on the dashboard, they’re sitting back on their butt and they’re bouncing along, but in the cavalry you ride with your thighs. And all of your movies, they show the cavalry going out there, and they’re trotting along, you see them all bouncing – biggest damn lie in the world because you posted in the cavalry. Bounce up, bounce up, down. Thats a trot. Walk, trot, walk, trot, that was your mode of travel. But anyway, we had kind of hoped and were about ready if the horse did die to take up a collection for Horn because we hated that damn horse anyway; it was a knucklehead. It was always causing trouble. But it lived. A veterinarian brought him through.

    Aaron Elson: Was that the horse that was named Trouble?

    Dale Albee: No. We used to have one that would chew anybody that spit. You could spit at him and he would charge you. You'd go "Ptui!" and stand behind a fence, and he’d come charging up. Well, we came in off a maneuver this one day and Smothers was chewing tobacco, and he didn’t notice this horse was right across the picket line from him, and he just turned and spit. The horse bit him right under the eye. Sweetest black eye you ever saw. A horse bites, and then pulls.

    Aaron Elson: Let’s go to Normandy, and take the incidents one at a time. Starting with Sergeant Heckler. [Harold Heckler was killed accidentally by a member of his crew on the companys first day in combat].

    Dale Albee: Okay. Sergeant Heckler, his crew was, I believe Jezuit, Ezerskis and Roselle.

    Aaron Elson: Art Horn loaned me a couple of pictures, and one of them is of Heckler’s crew. If you could identify the people in the picture, that would be a big help...

    Dale Albee: That’s the same picture right here. Yes indeed, that’s Heckler, Jezuit, Roselle and Ezerskis.

    Aaron Elson: Heckler is here?

    Dale Albee: Yes. Thats Heckler. Old Sad Eyes. When Heckler was killed I think Ezerskis was the driver, Jezuit was the bow gunner. So Jezuit may have been the one that kicked the gun and shot Heckler. But that whole crew, Ezerskis, Jezuit and Roselle was the crew with McNulty, that same crew. McNulty took over after Heckler was killed. Heckler was killed by the bow gunner.

    Aaron Elson: And where was McNulty from? Did he go back to the cavalry?

    Dale Albee: Yes, he was cavalry. He was a tough sonofagun. Good fighter. He and this little guy here, and I can’t think of his name, went together; this little guy was chickenshit, and he’d get somebody to try to pick a fight and then he’d call Mac to help him out. I can’t remember his name. But yeah, that’s the crew that was killed with McNulty.

    Aaron Elson: Was McNulty in another tank before that?

    Dale Albee: I think Mac was already in the second platoon, and they just transferred him from one tank into another.

    Aaron Elson: You referred to Heckler as "Sad Eyes."

    Dale Albee: Yes. Notice, in all those pictures, how his eyes droop? His eyes kind of sagged in, and he always looked kind of under his eyebrows like that, freckled, and one of the nicest people you’d want to know. And a good cavalryman. He went up the line real quick.

    Aaron Elson: Was he regular army?

    Dale Albee: No, he was another one who was brought in from Chicago. He was just one of those people that never gave you any trouble, and was so easy with his crew.

    Aaron Elson: Were there any accidents like that in training?

    Dale Albee: You know, you have accidents all the time in training. There’s no way in the world you can handle ammunition without having some casualties. And they still do today. From what we learned, they had their briefing and were getting ready to either move out or come back to the company, and you didn’t clear your guns until you knew that you were gonna come back into the company area and part of the time you were very careful about it. But for him to clear the gun he would have had to open the breach, remove the belt, and then you operated the operating handle one time. But he got in and somehow or other with an open trigger, he kicked the machine gun and a three-round burst – which meant that the belt was still in the weapon – hit Heckler in the groin.

    Aaron Elson: Was he killed instantly?

    Dale Albee: No. I don’t know how long he lived, because it took some time before we got the word that he had been killed.

    Aaron Elson: That must have hurt morale.

    Dale Albee: It would be the same as shooting your brother. Because that’s what the crew is, it’s a family. You work and you train and everybody is dependent on the other, because if one screws up it’s gonna hurt the whole group. And it’s so automatic that people do things without ever having to give orders. And that’s the way Heckler’s crew was, it was just a team, because instead of saying, "You do this, you do this, you do this and that," he could just say, "All right. Were going to clean the tank. We’re gonna clean the guns." Everybody went to their gun and did it. McNulty was the same type, so he took over the crew, and they operated the same way.

    Aaron Elson: Time-wise, which tank was hit first, McNulty’s, or the one that flipped up and over near Periers?

    Dale Albee: Oh, Periers was far, far ahead. Because you see, we were on the run toward Paris. Periers was before St. Lo, and that was when they were going into there and Reynolds hit those nine mines, the teller mines, stacked three deep.

    Aaron Elson: Was that your platoon?

    Dale Albee: No, Reynolds was in a different platoon.

    Aaron Elson: Who were the two crew members who were killed in that tank?

    Dale Albee: That was Jenkins and Cerullo, Claude Jenkins and Vincent Cerullo.

    Aaron Elson: What exactly happened with that?

    Dale Albee: From what I’ve read of the report, Reynolds was going down the road and they were going real easy and they were pretty sure the road was mined. They were working toward Periers, and they came up to this curve, and as they rounded the curve they set off, I think it was either five or six of the nine mines, and it threw the tank completely over backward and onto its turret. And that flipped the bow gunner and the driver completely over in the turret and all that was hanging out was just their legs. It was just bones hanging out from the two hatches. And Holt and Reynolds were trapped in the turret. And as soon as the Germans saw the smoke go up, they laid in artillery, and they couldn’t get over to rescue the survivors. I don’t know how long it was before they could get up and dig a tunnel underneath the turret of the tank.

    Aaron Elson: Is that what they had to do?

    Dale Albee: They couldn’t move the tank, and they had to dig enough to where they could open the hatch and let the guys crawl out. I don’t know how badly they were wounded but they were both evacuated, and both of them came back to the company later on. But the force was enough that it blew the tank completely over backward.

    Aaron Elson: Holt was the gunner and Reynolds was the tank commander?

    Dale Albee: And Jenkins and Cerullo. I don’t know which one was driving, but they were both killed instantly; the mines blew up right underneath them.

    Aaron Elson: Was that the first D Company tank to be lost?

    Dale Albee: I don’t think so. I think we lost some tanks before that. Because Periers was down there, when they had the bombing of St. Lo, that was in that area. We worked from Ste. Mere Eglise across to La Haye du Puits, and there for a while, about two or three days, we were detached from the 90th Division and went to the 8th, and I know they said that we had more casualties under the 8th than we’d had all the time with the 90th. The word we got from the medium companies was that one platoon of tanks and the infantry was supposed to move across this field together. The tanks went across the field, looked around, and there are no infantry. The tanks went back, said all right, get ready, and went across the dang field again, and the infantry wouldn’t go. And tanks cannot move without infantry. This was what they were facing. They were green troops. They came in carrying bedrolls up into the front line. They didn’t know what to do, and they truthfully didn’t have any leadership. And here’s our old tankers used to the 90th. If you said move across, that old infantry was right behind you working with the tank ready to fan out.

    Aaron Elson: Going back to McNulty’s tank, tell me about Lutcavish, and what he did that day.

    Dale Albee: Lucky [Sergeant Max Lutcavish] was leading. I think Lucky at that time was the platoon sergeant for Lieutenant [Lex] Obrient. They were going down this road, and the German tank was dug in about 150 yards off the road. And what he did, he let Lucky go by – I’ll say Lutcavish; we always called him Lucky – and he shot at McNulty’s tank.

    The German tank was either a Mark V or a Mark VI. The Mark V, I think, had a high-velocity 75 and that little devil is just about as dangerous as the 88. Your 88, if you stood up, it came up just about to your waist, and the high-velocity 75 was just three to four inches shorter. And it was flat trajectory. But anyhow, he took McNulty’s tank, and it was a flamer, because he hit it right in the gas tank. They say the flames shot up about forty feet. It killed Ezerskis and Jezuit, the driver and the bow gunner, immediately. And Roselle and McNulty got out, but they were burned awful bad. And in the meantime Lucky had swung around. And by this time the German had traversed over and was getting ready to knock him out.

    Lucky’s tank opened up and I think Lucky said that they fired eight times. Three of them went right through the muzzle break so that either way, three inches in would have put it right down the barrel. They emptied everything, the coaxial gun was fired also and they just peppered it. Even the bow gunner down in the front could only shoot to the front, and they had traversed around to the right and he emptied his gun, too.

    While they were firing, either a panzerfaust or a bazooka hit Lucky’s tank right in the butt, and set him on fire, so he’s still firing with his tank on fire.

    They knocked out this tank, and the Germans escaped out of the back hatch. And then Lucky and his crew got out and got away. They later recovered that tank, but McNulty’s was a total loss.

    Aaron Elson: I only talked to Mauzer on the phone, George Mauzer.

    Dale Albee: Yeah, little Mauzer.

    Aaron Elson: We were talking on the phone, and he was the first person to bring this incident up with McNulty’s tank, but he said that McNulty begged him to shoot him, or begged somebody to shoot him, that he was burned so badly. Did you ever hear that?

    Dale Albee: I didn’t, but it’s very possible, because you know, a person burned like that, you can smell it. I would say, I’ll bet a dollar that he did because McNulty was burned so bad it was pitiful. Just no doubt at all. Freeberg was real friendly with Roselle, because I have a picture of Roselle with his little baby and his wife, and then a picture of Freeberg holding Roselle’s baby because Freeberg couldn’t get home to see his baby born. Roselle was another one that was just so quiet and nice. We thought that Roselle, and for a while we thought McNulty had been saved. But they both died. They were burned so bad, because you know that flame, by golly, all that gas coming right up, and the only way it could come was right up through the turret.

    Aaron Elson: Did Lutcavish get a medal for knocking out that tank?

    Dale Albee: I don’t know whether the old man [Captain Alton Wagnon] put him up; he was pretty chickenshit about his medals. He managed to get a medal for his cook who kept him in coffee all the time; at the end of the war he got him a Bronze Star.

Interviews                       Dale Albee, Page 2

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