Pfc. Orval Williams was a loader in B Company of the 712th Tank Battalion. He was severely wounded on the battalion's first day in combat.
©2014, Aaron Elson
Orval Williams: I'm an ol' country boy, came off of the farm, didnt have sense enough to stuff cotton in my ears. Nobody else did either. We'd go out on that machine gun range at Fort Benning, a 50-gun emplacement with guns just about every 12 feet, and pop them things all day long. When you came in, if a fellow would want to talk to you he'd have to get right in your face and holler. You couldn't hear him, there was just a dead roar in your head and bells were ringing, and we did that one time for a solid week, every day. And then in the tanks, the machine guns didnt bother you much, but the backlash from that big gun, BOM! And when that big brass shell kicks out and that metal and all the banging in there, it affects your hearing. I've got 60 percent loss in my left ear and 40 in my right. I have to use hearing aids. Without them I can hear you talking, I can hear the sound but I don't understand the words.
I have little beagle dogs, and sometimes Ill hold my hearing aids out and I can't hear 'em at all, and they won't be too far away. But if I put the hearing aids in I can hear them. I did that yesterday, I had the dogs out and I took the hearings aids out and I couldn't hear them. They werent over a hundred yards away. So my hearing is real bad.
I don't even draw anything on that. I should, but I never did say anything to them about it. And I know that's what wrecked my hearing. But it's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Elson, and there's one thing, I want to apologize to you for that old nasty letter I wrote.
Aaron Elson: I'm glad you wrote it, because it made me realize I had neglected B Company.
Orval Williams: Well, you see, just imagine if you'd have been in my place, and I'm anxious to get this book, and I've still got it, I wouldn't take anything for it, there's good reading in there, but when I keep reading on and youre mentioning A Company, and C Company, and D and Headquarters, and no B Company. We were like a family. Some of them old boys, I loved them like a brother, and I had a tank crew, I'd have done anything for them.
Aaron Elson: Tell me about your crew.
Orval Williams: I was the radio operator and the loader. George Vernetti, he lives in Reading, Pennsylvania, he was the gunner. Ziggy Kaminski was the assistant driver. John Mitchell was the driver, and Sergeant [Dan] Diel was the commander.
John Mitchell, my driver, you'd like him when you first saw him, he was that type of guy. He was a big guy, he probably weighed about 220, 6 feet tall, and a young guy, just pleasant to be around. And he got, that first shot killed him. The first shot got me, knocked me off my seat, tore three inches of little bones out of my left hand.
Aaron Elson: Somebody said they thought you had lost your hand.
Orval Williams: No, they told me when they went to operate on me there at the evacuation hospital that they might have to take it off. It was paralyzed up to my shoulder. So they put me to sleep about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and at 4 o'clock the next morning the nurse woke me up, she had me in a bunk right there beside her station, and the first thing I did when she woke me up, I didn't know whether my hand was on there, I couldn't tell, but I reached over and my hand was still there. And they took three inches of both bones on out of it.
Aaron Elson: Let's go back a little bit. You grew up in Macalester?
Orval Williams: No. I was born in Howe, Oklahoma, and when I was about six years old we went to Spiro, and I grew up there till I was 14 and we moved to Shawnee, and I grew up and married up there. Shawnee is about 100 miles west of here. When I got married, we moved back down in here.
Aaron Elson: When did you go into the Army?
Orval Williams: On the 16th day of November, 1942. I was inducted into Fort Sill. I stayed up there just a few days, and they wouldn't tell us where we were going. They were pretty hush-hush back there in World War II about this stuff. They came in and woke us up one morning, hollering "Get up! Get up! Were gonna move out." We didn't know where we were going, and they got us up and we got everything together, and they put us in those little trucks and drove us over to the train station and put us on the train, and a sergeant came by and I said, "Hey, Sarge, where are we going?"
And he says, "I cant tell you, but Ill tell you this, youre gonna get sand in your ass."
And I said, "Hey, were goin to Texas."
We started out and kept heading East, and when we got into Louisiana I said, "No, we can't be going to Texas." We wound up in Fort Benning, Georgia, and stayed there till we broke camp the 28th day of June 1943, went up in Tennessee on maneuvers, and left out of there on the 11th of September and went back to Camp Gordon, Georgia, and we were there about 30 days when they deactivated us from the 10th Armored Division. We were the third platoon of Company H at that time. They sent us to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and we took a lot of indirect gunfire down there, by reading the compass on the tank and the aiming stake and a map, and I believe we stayed there till, I don't remember what day it was, if it was in February, when we left there and got on a train and went to Boston, Massachusetts
Aaron Elson: What were the Tennessee maneuvers like?
Orval Williams: It was just real warlike. We tore that country all to pieces down there. They didn't use live ammunition, but if we came up on a tank, wed lay a sight on it and a referee so to speak would come by and look through your sights and then hed go tell them they were knocked out. They were out of business for a day, theyd just lay around. We got our tank knocked out one night in a little town, we pulled in there, they had dug gun emplacements right in the people's yard there in that little town, didn't even ask them about it, and we pulled up to a crossroad there and stopped, and boy, the referee ran out there and said, "You guys are dead!" There was this gun emplacement right over there and they had their gun trained on us. We were out of action for a day or so. But it was real war games, and it was rough. We trained day and night, boy, just sleep whenever we could, eat whenever we got a chance, there was one time I believe where we didn't get to eat anything for a couple of days. They wouldn't let us have anything, they were making it like we were in real combat. We wouldnt eat and we had water in our tanks but they wouldn't even let us drink the water.
Aaron Elson: Why was that?
Orval Williams: They were putting you through the test. It was real combat action. We tore up some pretty country down there. Ran through some real pretty fences with the tanks. I heard years after that a guy that was from down in there said the government never had paid for all the stuff that they had done there.
Aaron Elson: It was supposed to?
Orval Williams: Yeah, they were supposed to pay for the damage, if they wanted to go through a guy's corn patch or tobacco patch or anything else, they didn't ask them, they just went, and you know what happens when a string of those tanks goes through there, wherever they go, they just mess it up.
Aaron Elson: Did they knock down trees?
Orval Williams: Oh, yeah, they'd go right through them. We went through some timber down there one time in line formation stretched out across that hill and saplings, the tanks would take them right on down. It was just like real war.
Aaron Elson: How about crossing rivers?
Orval Williams: When we crossed big streams we would do it on a real bridge, but some of the smaller streams where bridges wouldn't carry those tanks we'd cross in the water. The tanks would do things unbelievable, though, they had so much power, and on tracks, too, they'd just go anywhere you had a notion to take them. We never did get stuck in one of them.
Aaron Elson: Who was your crew back then?
Orval Williams: The same crew that I went overseas with. No, let's see, I take that back. When we we were on maneuvers Sergeant Walker was my tank commander, Lloyd Sparks was the driver, and William D. Nick was the gunner, I was the radio man and loader, and a guy by the name of, I'm trying to think of the bow gunner/assistant driver, Joe D. Ray. That was the crew then. And after we came off maneuvers and got down at Fort Benning we went taking all kind of test firing, and this is just what I was told, that a lot of the boys were afraid when they slammed that shell in the gun that the breach was gonna catch their hand. There's no way, that's stainless steel and just polished as slick as it could be, and I wasn't afraid of it, and when we were firing for record over there in England on indirect firing, we fired five rounds, and every time I slammed a shell in there and hollered up and Vernetti'd fire, and we were firing about a mile and a half, they said, and we had all five rounds in the air before the first one hit the ground, that's what the forward observer up there told us, and so Sergeant Diel, he got me over in his crew because I could load that gun, I figure that's what it was. I wanted to be a gunner. I had a good record, in fact Ive got it on my discharge I had expert on the gunnery firing. I was raised out in the country and hunted all my life. And myself and Ziggy Kaminski and John Mitchell all went to Sergeant Diel and tried to get him to give me the gunner's job, but he wouldn't do it, he said, "I want you as that loader." And I said, "Yeah, but Sergeant Diel, we're not shootin at targets over there, we're gonna be playin for keeps," and I told him straight out, I said, "You know, I think a lot of Vernetti, and I don't care about his rank, he's a corporal and I'm just a Pfc. Let him keep his rank but I'd like to be behind that gun, because I can use it and I can hit with it," but he wouldn't do it. He kept Vernetti on it and I wouldn't have, myself, because he couldnt handle that gun. In fact, after we got over there in combat, he was firing that machine gun and I'd have to kick his foot off that button, he'd just freeze on it and burn that gun up, and a time or two he came plum around bustin' the tanks on our right side, and I told him, "You're gonna kill a bunch of our men." And I'd just twist that belt to stop that gun. Jam it, and stop it. Hed just froze up on it.
Aaron Elson: I've heard that often the guns would burn out.
Orval Williams: See, they get so hot, the rifling was still there, but when that barrel gets so hot, I think it expands, it'll throw the bullets out and they're just going this way and every which way. But we were taught all the way through, ALL the way through, to knock off short bursts, just from three to five rounds at a lick, but Vernettid get on there, pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop-pop, he'd keep that thing a poppin' and a goin', and I'd kick his foot off that button so hard I'm sure he had a sore shin, and twist that belt, to stop the gun, and I'd just hold it, till they got ready for him to start again and I'd have to reload it. Because the machine gun's sitting right in front of me and he's sitting over here. And the big gun came right back between us.
The tank that hit us fired one shot and missed, and I told Sergeant Diel theyre shooting at us.
"No, that was a shellburst," he said.
Now I know a shellburst from gunfire, and I turned the periscope around and boy, Im looking right down the tube of that gun. About that time, BAM! It knocked me off my seat, Im laying down there. I couldnt even get up, I was laying on my left side on the floor of the turret, it knocked me plum off my seat. When I saw that see, we had come to an understanding, and we thought this would work best, to leave our big gun unloaded, so if we ran into a truck or men we wanted to fire a high-explosive shell and if we had an armor-piercing in there wed have to get it out first. So wed leave the breach open, and if we need the armor piercing I can slam it in there. So when I saw that tank and I went down and got the shell and started up with it, thats when, it knocked me plum around and I landed on my left side. And when we started getting out of the tank, they put another shell through there, and I got a piece of shrapnel then that went in my tanker britches, and got down alongside under my leg and down inside my boot to my spur piece, it went through my boot, through my heel, and out through the heel of my shoe. If that had hit me on the body it would have skinned me like a rat. And then when we started to get out of there I went off on the right side of the tank, right in front of the big gun, instead of going over on the other side, and I'm trying, just wanting to get out of there, and the turret is on my near side on the right side to the ground. Today I don't know how I hit the ground, whether I hit on my head, my back, my feet or what, but I remember that's the way I went out. And then they shot at me when I went out of there. We'd just busted through a hedgerow and they pulled too far to the left and they shot right in front of me into that hedgerow as I went through it.
Aaron Elson: This was the tank that fired at you?
Orval Williams: Yes, it was a German tank.
Aaron Elson: And were they firing with a machine gun.
Orval Williams: Yes, it was firing at us. When Sergeant Diehl went out they were firing at him, and I think they got one bullet through his leg, and Vernetti came out and I came out and we all went out on the same side and I never got a scratch from the machine gun, Vernetti didn't either, Kaminski dropped the escape hatch in the floor of the tank and crawled out under there. And then that tank went back into town. If we'd have had two or three tanks there they wouldn't have come down on us. And I wouldn't have pulled out in that open road broadsided like that, if I'd have been a tank commander I'd have stayed behind a hedgerow, see, we were tall enough to shoot over a hedgerow. But he pulled right out square in the middle of the road and stopped.
Aaron Elson: He stopped?
Orval Williams: He stopped. That's when I looked, I heard that gun, they missed us the first shot, I turned around, and there he was.
Aaron Elson: And the 75 was empty?
Orval Williams: Yes. See, I was after an armor piercing shell, and I had the armor piercing shell in my hands when that first shot got my arm. And now Ive got half my leg cut into.
Aaron Elson: From just below your right knee on the inside, all the way down? Did the shrapnel stay in it?
Orval Williams: No, it passed through there. Ive got a piece of shrapnel that went in here, and it's still laying in there.
Aaron Elson: In the left hand behind the thumb.
Orval Williams: Yes. And Ive got a piece of shrapnel about half the size of a .22 bullet still embedded in my heel, the X-ray shows it in there, and once in a while when I'm barefooted and hit on a solid floor, if I hit on my heel I feel the sting a little bit. But it's still in there, they never took it out. See that scar, it came out there, it cut a little streak across my heel bone. Aw, heck, I got hurt all right, but I'm still alive, and I didn't get hurt nearly as bad as some of the men did. I seen one ol' boy that had both legs shot off and both arms off, he wasn't in my outfit but he came back on the same hospital boat I did. And theres no jollier guy that you ever seen. It seemed like he was just talking away.
Aaron Elson: He was in good spirits?
Orval Williams: Oh, yeah. I seen one old boy in the hospital up here, in Springfield, Missouri, O'Reilly General Hospital, had his whole bottom chin shot up, kept a gauze rag tied over his mouth, and they were building him a plastic chin. They do some of that plastic surgery, Ive seen them build lips on guys, build their ears back. And the way they do that, they peel a place on your arm, hook that on the flat of your belly and they roll that to you sort of, sew that one end to your arm, and the other one's still hooked to your belly. Tape your arm there for six weeks, and that grows to your arm, and then they'll cut it off your belly, pull your arm up here and attach that end, then you're taped up there for about six weeks, and then they'll cut that off your arm and split that lip, lay it right around there. I've seen it, I've seen them put ears. I lay in that old hospital up there in Springfield from the 17th day of October in '44 till the 10th day of April in '46, when I was discharged out of there. They kept trying to do something, I don't know how many operations I had on this arm, and finally, the bone never would grow back together, and the 21st day of October 1944 they took five inches of bone off the shin and grafted it in there, and I've got a screw there and two up here. Still in there. But the doctor told me if they do that, he says if it grows back, fine, if it doesn't we'll take it off and put you a hook on. I said, "Hey, Doc, listen. Don't talk about that till the time comes." They put that on there and six weeks later they X-rayed my arm, he came in there with that X-ray a-laughin', he said, "Look here, Williams, that bone graft took. I didn't think it would but it did."
Aaron Elson: Now tell me what your crewmates were like, especially Mitchell. When did he join your crew?
Orval Williams: He was in Sergeant Diel's crew when I got in there. He and Kaminski and Vernetti were already in it. Sergeant Diel, whoever he had for a loader, he swapped him off and took me in. Mitchell, I thought a lot of him, he was a fine old boy, just as jolly and good-hearted as he could be. It really hurt me.
Aaron Elson: Did you ever go into town with Mitchell?
Orval Williams: In England?
Aaron Elson: No, in Camp Gordon.
Orval Williams: Yes, I went to town, we were through several little towns, but I went to Nashville one time, me and Kaminski and Joe Ray and a boy name of William Hughes who was a good friend of mine, he was from here in Oklahoma, we went into Nashville together, of course the other guys went but the four of us stayed together. And that's the only time that I even ever dressed up in uniform to go town. When we'd bivouac over the weekend we'd do maintenance on the tanks, and Lloyd Sparks, I just thought the world of him, he was a driver, and everybody else'd take off and I'd stay there and help him with that tank, 'cause I didn't care about going, in fact, one reason I didn't care about going, I had a wife and two kids and they were taking part of my money and sending it to them, I was only getting $25 a month.
Aaron Elson: So you were married already?
Orval Williams: Yes, I had two children.
Aaron Elson: When did you get married?
Orval Williams: The 11th of September, 1937.
Aaron Elson: How old were you?
Orval Williams: I'm 80 years old. I was 23.
Aaron Elson: And when you were drafted?
Orval Williams: I was 28. Back then in World War II it didn't make no difference if you were married, they took you. Listen, we had a guy in there, it seems like his name was Anderson, I'm not sure, but we called him Pop, he was baldheaded, he had grandchildren, they grabbed him and darn he got killed over there.
Aaron Elson: Anderson?
Orval Williams: I thought that was his name. It's been a long time, I know he was baldheaded, gray headed, we had a lot of old men, there was a lot of men older than I was. Ed Swierczyk was the youngest man in there, I think he was 19 at the time. And me and him buddied, I still get a Christmas card from Ed every Christmas. He sent me a picture of him and his wife, and he was so heavy, he was a little kid no bigger than that around then, a little Polish boy, and he took a liking to me and I did to him. We never were in the same crew and we never did run around together to town or anything, but we were together. I think a lot of him. He always puts on his Christmas card, "Your Polack buddy."
Aaron Elson: Where was he from?
Orval Williams: He's from Pittsburgh. He still lives at the same address he had when his mom and dad were there.
Aaron Elson: When you were married, did your wife come to camp with you?
Orval Williams: My wife came to Camp Gordon with me, there were 10 of them, my wife and Sergeant Williams' wife, and a guy by the name of Junke, his wife, and I can't recall them all, but they came there and we left at 2 o'clock in the morning and they were there till midnight that night with us, and they went back into town, and 2 o'clock in the morning they woke us up and we left. We knew we were leaving the next day, but we didn't know where they were gonna take us, and what POE they were gonna to take us to, we wound up at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts.
Aaron Elson: But your wife was able to come and see you off?
Orval Williams: No, because it was 2 o'clock in the morning. But she was there with me that night till midnight. Sergeant Bennett didn't want them there but the captain told him, "Now those boys may never get a chance to see their wives anymore, he said if they want to be here they can be here." Sergeant Williams and his wife had a big fuss that night, and he got killed. She never saw him again.
Aaron Elson: What did they fight about?
Orval Williams: I don't know what they was fussin' about, I never paid no attention, they just were off on one side, but it was her fault, she was bawling him out about something, I don't know what it was, I never saw him anymore.
Aaron Elson: What was his first name?
Orval Williams: John R. Williams.
Aaron Elson: Do you know where he was killed?
Orval Williams: No I don't.
Aaron Elson: But he was killed later on?
Orval Williams: He was killed after, see, I got hurt that 3rd day of July, and he was killed after that. Sergeant Micaloni and Melchikowski were in his crew, and his driver was named Gaither. His loader was Melchikowski, but I don't know who his gunner was. But they all got killed, they ran over a mine, and it killed all of them.
Aaron Elson: What was Sergeant Micaloni like? Everybody seemed to like him very much.
Orval Williams: He was one of the cavalry men who came in from California that cadred, at Fort Benning they helped build up the 10th Armored Division when it was formed. He was a good sergeant, he knew what it was all about, and he was strict, which, without discipline you ain't got anything, I don't care what it is, if you've got a crew of men working for you if you ain't got discipline in that crew, what I mean by discipline if you tell 'em to do something they do it, and they do it like you tell them to do it, and he was that type of a soldier, he was a good guy, I liked him. I respected him because he didn't have no pets, he'd chew you out just as quick as anybody else.
Aaron Elson: Who was Les Vink? Was he a sergeant then?
Orval Williams: Yeah. He was either what we called a buck sergeant or a staff sergeant. It seemed to me like he was a buck sergeant.
Aaron Elson: He was a tank commander. Was he in the fifth tank?
Orval Williams: I don't remember, it's been too long ago.
Aaron Elson: He said his tank bogged down, and they bailed out.
Orval Williams: I don't remember, but I remember Vink very well, and I said something to one man over there, if I can recall his name, me and him and got into it, I'd been out on a late detail and was eating in the battalion mess hall, and whenever you came in you'd walk down to the tail end of your platoon and fall in line regardless of where your platoon was, and I came in late and I walked down to my platoon, and this sergeant, he hollered at me, "Where you going, Williams?"
And I said, "I'm going down here and fall in with my platoon."
And he said, "No you ain't, you get back here at the tail end of this line."
And I said, "I'm not gonna do it, everybody else falls in with their platoon when they come in late."
So I went on down there, and he says, "I said for you to come back here."
And I said, "You come down here and get me if you think you're big enough."
He told me to report to Sergeant Bennett, and I says, "I will if you come drag me in there."
So that night I didn't report to him and Sergeant Bennett sent the CQ [command of quarters] over and told me to come over there, he wanted to see me, and I told him I was a little hothead. Young I told him, "You go back and tell him I ain't comin'." I didn't. He sent the CQ back over there and told me if I didn't come over there he's gonna take my pass away from me. I told him, "You tell him he can wipe his rear on that pass, I ain't got no money and I'm not goin' anywhere anyway," and I didn't go. So after a while, the captain sent for me. Captain Galvin. Best dadgum captain ever walked down the road anywhere, everybody loved that guy and they'd have done anything for him. He didn't show no more authority over you than he would over one of the sergeants, a buck private, everybody was a soldier to him and I appreciated that. He sent for me to come over there and I went over there and when I got there he was gone.
I asked Sergeant Bennett, the first sergeant, "Where's the captain?"
He says, "He stepped out, he'll be back directly."
I said, "Well, I'm going back over to the barracks and when he comes back you can send after me." And I went on back over there and he never did send for me.
So I got a pass to go to London. And I walked out in my class A uniform, me and these other three guys, and this sergeant told me, I don't know why I'm having trouble remembering his name, I won't say Wilber, I might think of it, but he said, "Where are you going, Williams?"
I said, "I'm going to London."
He said, "I'll bet you don't."
He got a lieutenant, they took me in an officers' tent there, and they court-martialed me. All they did is take my pass away from me and restrict me to camp, which I didn't care whether they did ot not.
Aaron Elson: They court-martialed you?
Orval Williams: Yes. And took my pass, and I didn't even get to go to London. So I told, Willinger, Sergeant Willinger, he got killed over there, and I said this to him and I've always been sorry that I said it, but after they did that I just turned around, I said, "Sergeant Willinger, there's one thing I want to say to you."
He said, "What's that?"
I said, "When we get in combat, I hope the first shell that comes over hits you right between the eyes." I told him that. I understand that he, Captain Galvin told us to keep the tanks buckled up in them hedgerows, the Germans been tossing hand grenades in 'em, and Sergeant Willinger says, "I don't mean to buckle my tank up so them boys can take it out on the open ground." It gets hot in there, when you go to shooting that gun it gets like a oven in there. They said he left his tank hatch open, a German tossed a hand grenade in and killed his whole crew.
Aaron Elson: Who was telling them to close the hatches?
Orval Williams: Captain Galvin, our captain, see, he overruled Sergeant Bennett. When my wife come out there, I was on KP that day and I made a deal with the mess sergeant to get off at 4 o'clock to be with my wife, and I already had a guy to take my place. Well, at 4 o'clock I went and told the sergeant, "My relief is here and I'm going to go to take a shower and get ready to meet my wife," and he says, "I'm not gonna let you off."
So I went in and told Sergeant Bennett, and he said, "No, I'm not gonna let you off, I told you to send your wives home." So I just went on in the other room where the officers eat and Captain Galvin was sitting there and I walked up, you're supposed to have permission from the first sergeant to talk to him, I asked him if I could talk to him, he said, "Yes," he just turned around and faced me.
I told him what the situation was. He said, "Well, come with me."
We walked over to the door and Bennett's sitting over at a table, he said, "Sergeant Bennett, come here." He came over there, and Galvin said, "Why don't you let Williams off? His wife's out there waiting for him now."
He said, "I told them boys to send their wives home and I don't aim to let him off."
And Captain Galvin turned around to me and said, "It's all right, Williams, go ahead."
That's what kind of guy he was. If youre in the right, he's with you. He was a lieutenant when we got him and he made captain, we were out doing a close order drill and they came out there and pinned the captain bars on him. He's dead now, I think he lived in Arizona. I thought the world of that guy. Every man in there, you couldn't have done nothing to Captain Galvin, you'd have had a dozen guys on you.
When we got over in France, Captain Galvin gathered us all together and he said, "The first one of you walks up to me and salutes me I'll cut off your head." He said, "You aren't gonna make a target out of me." And he said, "If you want to talk to me, you holler, 'Hey, Jack,' because I'm gonna be right up there in the front lines in my tank right with you, I'm not gonna be back here at the C.P." That's just the way he was. I thought a lot of him.
Aaron Elson: Tell me about that first day in combat.
Orval Williams: Well, we got up that morning and we attacked at 5 o'clock.
Aaron Elson: 5 o'clock in the morning?
Orval Williams: 5 o'clock. And it was a pretty, beautiful clear morning, stars shining. But by 9 o'clock it was already clouded up and started raining. Anytime you start a big bombardment, why, it seems like it's going to rain. But that's the day that I got hurt, that first day, around noon. And that's when Mitchell and a good friend of mine, Glenn Halbert, got killed, there was two tanks that I knew of that got knocked out that morning.
Aaron Elson: From 5 in the morning until noon, what happened in between?
Orval Williams: We attacked the little town of St. Jores, there wasn't supposed to be anything in there, they were supposed to have sent out people at night, patrols, and they said there were no big guns in there. But when we went in there and hit that town, they threw everything at us. They had tanks there, they had antitank guns, that antitank gun is the one that got Glenn Halbert, he was a driver, they knocked his tank out, an 88, and then the gunner that was in there, after they knocked the tank out, he swerved his gun, I can't recall his name now, but they said he cut the barrel off of the 88 and knocked it out. It was pretty hot around there, it just looked like you set a mountain on fire from the smoke. But there isnt a whole lot to tell about from the time we'd hit combat until what I told you about getting our tank knocked out.
Aaron Elson: Were you in the town?
Orval Williams: We were right at the edge of it. The little town was just south of us, and we'd pulled right up to it. But they told me, I got letters from some of the boys, they went in there and got that tank after, that knocked ours out. They'd pulled up behind the line down there and reorganized and got together.
Aaron Elson: Now, your tank was blindsided?
Orval Williams: Broadsided in this road, the German tank came up on our right flank from the south and we were headed east and he came up on the south side of us.
Aaron Elson: When you saw it, could you tell what kind of tank it was?
Orval Williams: No. I thought it was a tiger, I don't know, I couldn't see the whole tank, and when I saw it was a tank I didn't try to figure out what it was, I know it had a big gun on it. 'Cause I'm a lookin' right down the tube at it. When I saw that tank, that's the last time I saw it, and I wanted to get the shells, and when I came out of there I knew it was still sitting there, I got a glimpse of it when I went out, but I heard it leaving afterward. You know, after we all got out they shot it again.
Aaron Elson: Did the tank burn after that?
Orval Williams: They said the turret blew off of it. I know it must have cut some of the shell casings because the powder was a spewing and a burning when I went out of there, and I heard that it blew the turret plum off the tank, now whether it did or not I don't know, but that's what I was told by some of the boys, that it took the turret plum off of our tank. I don't know, I guess Mitchell was still in it, it must have done something terrible to him, if it blew enough to lift the turret off that thing. We were completely loaded with gasoline and completely loaded with ammunition, demolition, hand grenades and fragmentation grenades, and had so much ammunition in there, we had some of it laying on the floor, the few rounds that were used.
Aaron Elson: Now, you saw Mitchell after he was killed?
Orval Williams: Oh, yeah. See, I'm sitting up here in the turret right behind him. I could put my foot on the back of his head, see, the turret was encased with perforated steel mesh, and you could pull it around to a hole about where we could crawl through and go out through the escape hatch too, if we wanted. And when hole was there I could put my foot on back of Mitchell's head, and he was sitting humped over.
Aaron Elson: The top of his head was taken off?
Orval Williams: It looked like the side, I couldn't tell, I didn't look at it, you know, you're excited, and it didn't bother me, really, then, I knew he was dead. But too much excitement, you're scared, I told Sergeant Diel, "We're going to get killed, if we stay in here we're gonna burn up," and so we went to getting out of there.
Aaron Elson: And how did you get out of the tank?
Orval Williams: I crawled, I got out. Diel went out first, and I followed him, and I laid this arm up on top of the turret.
Aaron Elson: Your left arm?.
Orval Williams: I could move it, I laid it up there, and I crawled up there right across the stomach and I just kicked myself off. I was right on the side where the German tank was, but today I don't know how I hit the ground. I don't know whether when I went down I turned over and hit on my feet or whether I hit on my back or hit on my side or how I hit, but after I got out and got behind a hedgerow, Kaminski dropped the escape hatch and he came out under the tank, and Vernetti come out behind me, I heared them shooting at him and I wouldn't look around because I was running behind the hedgerow.
Aaron Elson: Did you already have the shrapnel in the leg?
Orval Williams: Yes.
Aaron Elson: Was that from the first shell or the second?
Orval Williams: I don't know whether that was the first or second round, but I know I got hit the first round in my arm, and the second round was, it stung like, I knew then I was hit. But I got off on the ground, and I gave Vernetti my handkerchief to tie around my arm, I got my coat sleeve up, and he tied it around down here and I jerked it off and I told him, "Put it up here," and so he put it up there and I said, "Tie it just as tight as you can tie it." But that didn't stop the blood. I bled till when they got me back to the evacuation hospital.
I didn't eat anything from that day until on a Friday, I was back in England before we ever got a bite to eat. I got hurt on Monday and it was on Friday and I didn't want anything. My bowels hadn't moved, I hadn't even peed. And I got over there and I told one of the orderlies I had to go to the bathroom, and the bathroom was outside. "Come on," I said, "you're gonna have to help me, I can't walk." I couldn't stand up by myself. He came over and got my arm up around and held me around the waist. I could walk about ten or twelve steps and I had to stop and rest. I wasn't walking, I was dragging my feet. And he helped me to that rest room. I had to stop twice going to it, and twice coming back, and when I got back I lay down on the bed and went to sleep and I don't know how long I slept. But after I stayed there about a week I went to the 145th General Hospital in England.
Aaron Elson: What was it like there?
Orval Williams: It was nice. We had quonset huts in the hospital. The doctors and nurses were just as good to us as they could be. But the guys were coming in so fast, they filled that place up and then they put some tents out on the east side and the ones that were ambulatory they wanted to put in the tents. Those doctors, they were working day and night.
Aaron Elson: You told me about one of the guys who went over with you in the LST who lost both arms and legs.
Orval Williams: No, he wasn't with me. He was on the hospital boat that came back to England, and then he was at Stark General Hospital when we landed there in Charleston, South Carolina. He was there with us, but when they took us and shipped us out, now this O'Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, was an orthopedic hospital, a bone hospital. I'm sure he came there but I never did see him. That hospital up there wasn't just one big room. It was rows after rows, it was A, B, C, D, E, and F ramp, with 13, 14 wards on each row. But it's all torn up now. I went up there, and the whole hospital's torn up. And he could have been anywhere.
Aaron Elson: What were some of the other cases like that you remember from the hospital? Say at the 145th
Orval Williams: You could see anything in there that you cared to see. They had people in there shot all to pieces. They had one boy had his butt shot off plum to the bone, they pinned him down on a low place with a machine gun, they just cut his hips off. He lay in a donut and just hollering, they kept him way back in a room to himself and I could hear him in there hollering all the time, day and night. And you could see any kind of a mess in there, face shot up, arm shot off, one guy that was in there had his whole belly nearly shot off and I don't know how he lived. It was a slaughterhouse. A lot of them died. There was one guy that came back on the boat, he was from the 90th Division that they call the Texas-and-Oklahoma, a T with a zero around it. He was shot right square dab in that zero but it was a little high, they split the helmet and if that bullet had been a sixteenth of an inch lower it'd have killed him. It just scraped his skull across there and he had the prettiest part right across the back of his head. And he kept the helmet, he brought it back to the States with him, he came back on the same hospital boat. He said "I'm gonna keep that," and I know wherever he's at if he's still alive he's still got the helmet.
Aaron Elson: You don't remember his name.
Orval Williams: No, he wasn't in my outfit. He was in the infantry.
Aaron Elson: What kind of things would you talk about in the hospital?
Orval Williams: Oh, my goodness, I'm gonna tell you what, we didn't dwell too much on the war, nobody wanted to hear that. We talked mostly about back home, about our folks, and friends, we did talk sometimes about some of our buddies that we lost, but we didn't dwell on that.
Aaron Elson: You had two children then, right?
Orval Williams: Yes.
Aaron Elson: How old were they?
Orval Williams: I think one of them was maybe a year and a half and the other was something like three.
Aaron Elson: Were they boys or girls?
Orval Williams: They're boys.
Aaron Elson: Did your wife come visit you in the hospital?
Orval Williams: Yes, she came to Springfield, Missouri, and brought the kids up there, she and my brother, they came up there and stayed two or three days. And I got a three-day pass, they give me a three-day pass to go in town, we stayed at a hotel. The kids were little and that baby, the littlest one, I couldn't get away from him. We'd go to a restaurant to eat, his mother would set him up in a chair by her and he wouldn't stay there, he'd get up and come around over where I was, and they had to have a chair there by me. He could talk good, but he had to be by Daddy. He he lives right over here now on 1404 East Seminole and he's a mail carrier here in town, sometimes he's on this route and brings our mail, but he's off work today. And my oldest boy he lives in Shawnee, he works at a tank field in Oklahoma City, and my youngest boy lives down here about eight miles northeast of town here and he works as a truck driver out here at the army base, he hauls ammunition.
Aaron Elson: Do you have brothers and sisters?
Orval Williams: Oh yeah. There were nine of us kids. But I've got four brothers and a sister that have gone on now. I've got one brother living and two sisters living, there's four of us still living.
Aaron Elson: How many of your brothers went into the service?
Orval Williams: Just me. I had one brother, my oldest brother, who passed away in 1952, he was in World War I.
Aaron Elson: Really?
Orval Williams: Yeah. And now I come along, I'm going in World War II.
Aaron Elson: Do you remember if he ever talked about World War I? Did he ever tell any stories?
Orval Williams: He didn't talk too much about it.
Aaron Elson: Do you know what he did? Was he in the infantry?
Orval Williams: No, he was in the artillery. Heavy artillery.
Aaron Elson: Did he lose his hearing?
Orval Williams: I don't think he did, not like I did.
Aaron Elson: How much older than you was he?
Orval Williams: He was the first one born. He was born in 1891 or 2 or 3, somewhere along there, because he was old enough to go in the service. I remember when he left and when he came back, but I don't remember anything in between. Because he'd go to town, I remember this, Mama told me about it, I'd always hug his knee and he'd hug me and I'd say, "Bring me some chewing gun," only I called it "chum-chum." "Bring me some chum-chum." And that day he left, he hugged me and I said, "Bring me some chum-chum," and he said he would. So Mama and them didn't even know he was going, he volunteered. And he went to Galveston, Texas, and he wrote them a letter from down there.
Aaron Elson: He didn't tell your parents he was enlisting?
Orval Williams: No, he just sneaked in. Him and a friend, Thomas Gainer, he went to the Philippine Islands and my brother went to France, and he was over there when the armistice was signed. You're talking to some old people now when you're talking to me.
Aaron Elson: What did your father do?
Orval Williams: We were raised on a farm, he was a farmer.
Aaron Elson: And were you poor during the Depression?
Orval Williams: Oh, poor as old Joe Turkey just like about everybody else. I was always a big meat eater and I just starved for meat back in those times, but we've got so now we could have anything we want. Because I'm drawing three checks, I draw a check from the state retirement from working for the state, and then I draw my disability check and I draw my Social Security.
Aaron Elson: What did you do for the state?
Orval Williams: I worked for the prison out here, I was a guard.
Aaron Elson: At Macalester?
Orval Williams: Yes. And I worked out here at the base, it was a Navy base then. After I got out of the service I worked out there for some time, and my arm swelled up on me, and they put me in a whirlpool out there and they thought I was getting, something about the bones, and at night it would hurt me all the way up to my elbow, it'd be midnight before I could go to sleep. So I had to quit. I'd just work all day out there, and then, I can't lift anything with it, I dont have any grip.
Aaron Elson: How were you able to work as a prison guard?
Orval Williams: Well, it wasn't hard work, it was mentally hard, it's hard on your nerves, and I went through that riot they had out there in 1973.
Aaron Elson: What was that like?
Orval Williams: It was awful. There were several guards hurt out there, no guards killed but there were several inmates killed. The inmates were killing each other. There were some that were shot by the guards, but they never did own up to it. There was nothing written in the paper about it, but I was out there. They had three ambulances running to that hospital up there and just going back and forth carrying them out of there. Inmates was cutting each other, killing each other, they killed one right under my tower about 8 o'clock one night, there was a bunch of inmates ganged around him and you couldn't do nothing about it and they got him and cut his throat. We left him laying there till 8 o'clock the next morning, they wouldn't let nobody in there. They beat up a bunch of guards. They thought they killed one, they left him for dead, but when they got him to the hospital, he came to. The inmates thought he was dead. He was hard on them. He'd arrest one of them for nothing. They just didn't like him. His name was John Baird. They thought they killed him.
Aaron Elson: You know what I wanted to ask you? I saw this article on your wall.
Orval Williams: Well, that woman there, she was an outlaw, you've heard of Belle Starr? She was an outlaw and she's buried over here, right across the river by the Eufala Dam down there. And that came out in the paper, and I just framed it and hung it there. Because I'd heard so much about her. Pretty interesting reading, they went in there chipping her tombstone for souvenirs and stuff, and they built a fence around it.
Aaron Elson: Tell me again about the fight between Captain Galvin and the lieutenant.
Orval Williams: I don't remember the lieutenant's name, but they were always loggerheading, they couldn't agree on a lot of things. They had a beer bust up at the officers' mess hall one night, they got into it up there and the lieutenant told Captain Galvin, "If you wouldn't pull rank on me I'd give you a lickin'."
Captain Galvin pulled his coat off and said, "Let's go outside."
They went out there and that lieutenant worked him over really good. Captain Galvin never did hit the lieutenant, he had two black eyes, a busted nose, his lip was cut. He came out for reveille the next morning with a pair of colored glasses on, and everybody in the company was laughing. It was really funny. But after the fight he walked over and stuck his hand out to shake hands with the lieutenant, he says, "I've had enough." That's how it ended.
Aaron Elson: What kind of a name is Orval? Were you named after someone?
Orval Williams: I was named after a little Indian guy, Orval Billie. My mother was three-quarters Cherokee Indian, and my dad was half-Indian. My grandma on my father's side, she was part Cherokee Indian, but her husband wasn't.
Aaron Elson: There were a couple of Indians in the battalion.
Orval Williams: Yeah, William T. Hughes, he was Cree Indian, he was in my company, he was my buddy. He was a good guy, I really liked him. But he had a wife, and he had a girlfriend out in California that he went with before he got married. He'd write his girlfriend letters and he'd write his wife letters, and I told him, "Hughes, one of these days you're gonna get those letters mixed up." We called him William T-bone. And one day sure enough, he mailed his wife's letter to his girlfriend and his girlfriend's letter to his wife and when he heard from his wife she was gone. She left him. It was so funny. I think he's in California.
Aaron Elson: Was Leroy Niehaus with them when you were there?
Orval Williams: Yes. He was one of the last guys I saw, him and Sergeant Micaloni when we came out from getting hurt and they hauled us by there, me and Kaminski and Vernetti and another guy that was on that jeep taking us back there to the first aid station, and we went by there, Leroy's standing right over there and Sergeant Micaloni's right over here, those were the last two fellows I really remember seeing. I think Leroy's having problems with his health.
Aaron Elson: He had a stroke -- 32 years ago.
Orval Williams: He lived down at Enid. He was a farm boy.
Aaron Elson: How many years did you work at the prison?
Orval Williams: I worked ten years. I was in the tower for three years. I was inside, and worked on that cellblock for seven years.
Aaron Elson: Did you get to know some of the prisoners?
Orval Williams: Oh, my goodness, I was right in there with them. Had them all around me. They were the ones that worked for me, they cleaned up the cell house and opened and closed the doors for the inmates to come in and out, and did the clerk work on the cell house, and the lieutenant out there had a prison inmate that did his work and the captains had prison inmates do their clerical work. The inmates mug you and fingerprint you when you're hired in, and they fingerprinted and mugged the prisoners when they came in. I don't know how they do it now since that riot, it may be all civilian people, I don't know.
Aaron Elson: How many people died in that riot?
Orval Williams: I never did know. They kept it pretty hush-hush. Now we had a little judge here, Judge Bell, they were telling us just two or three inmates killed, but Judge Bell, he told them, this was in the paper, he said, "I've got proof that there were 40 inmates killed out there during that riot," and he wanted to reopen the case, but they wouldn't let him.
Aaron Elson: Did you have any inmates who were famous criminals?
Orval Williams: Oh yeah, I had a bunch of people out there, murderers, you might have read of, I can't recall his name, he set a bomb in a car that killed a woman's husband, he was a lawyer, he set a bomb in his car to kill him and she went out there and got in the car and the bomb went off and blowed her out of that car and blowed her plum over the house and then she fell in the back yard. Rex Branley, I had him on my cell house. They were no angels out there.
Aaron Elson: When did you stop working for the prison?
Orval Williams: I quit there the 21st day of April, 1979.