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©2014, Aaron Elson



The Hospitality Room

Otha Martin, Andy Rego and Others

Page 2

©2014, Aaron Elson

    Aaron Elson: If you were in Snuffy Fuller’s platoon, Otha, do you remember Pfaffenheck?

    Otha Martin: Pfaffenheck?

    Aaron Elson: Pfaffenheck.

    Otha Martin: Pfaffenheck. The 16th day of March in ’45. I was there. I can tell you every man that was there and each tank.

    Aaron Elson: Do you remember Billy Wolfe?

    Otha Martin: Billy Wolfe. Billy Wolfe was in Number 3 tank, and was killed in the tank and burned in the tank.

    Aaron Elson: He had just joined the platoon, hadn’t he?

    Otha Martin: Ten or twelve days before that.

    Aaron Elson: What was he like?

    Otha Martin: He was just a youngster. He had just come to us. We were just getting out of the Bulge. We hadn’t crossed the Rhine yet. We crossed the Rhine just shortly after that.

    Aaron Elson: Describe the events.

    Otha Martin: Well, we crossed the Moselle River. It was the first time that we had crossed the Moselle River in combat.

    Aaron Elson: Was that when it was at flood stage?

    Otha Martin: I said the first time; it was the second time we had crossed. No, it wasn’t flooded. It was flooded the first time we crossed it, near Metz, and they ferried us across. But then the second time was after the Bulge. We crossed it the second time, and we crossed it on a treadway bridge under artificial moonlight, that’s huge lights bouncing off the clouds. Our whole company crossed, and we went, oh, I don’t know how many miles or kilometers, when we climbed out of the river basin and went to this little village.

    I can’t tell you the name of the village, but we pulled in there before daybreak, and we were lined up, and just as it began to break day, there was a bunch of haystacks out there, and the Germans were in ’em. And they begin to come out of there, and there’s one running toward Number 3 tank, that Lloyd Heyward was the tank commander on. That’s the tank that Billy Wolfe was in. I’m in Number 5 as the gunner that day. Jack Sheppard [the company commander] had asked me, he said, "We’ve got a man here who can do that but I don’t know if he knows a damn thing about a gun or not, would you be the gunner in 5?"

    I said, "Yeah."

    So we pulled in there, and when they started coming out, well, Bob Rossi, are you acquainted with Bob Rossi? He was a cannoneer that day. He was on guard, and I’m settin’ over on the cannoneer’s seat, kinda dozing, and he just had his head up out of [the turret]. And he’s telling this several years ago when we had a reunion in Orlando, he tells me, "I’m lucky to be here."

    I said, "How come?"

    He said, "I thought you were gonna kill me."

    I said, "We never had no problem." Never did.

    "Oh, no," he said. "I don’t mean that." He said, "You jerked me out of that hatch up there and slammed me against that tank wall. I thought you were gonna kill me."

    Well, that tank wall is solid steel. Here’s what he was doing. He hadn’t been with us so long, but he was saying, "Heinies! Heinies!" He saw them, but he wasn’t doing anything. So I got him and I jerked him out of that hatch so I could get up there and I had a Thompson sub laying on the radio. I slammed him [against the wall], and I got up in [the turret], and that German was running, he had a long overcoat on, and it was flopping. I started to work on him with that Thompson sub. Well, they’d always said if you could shoot a man anywhere, even in the hand, with a .45 it’d knock him down. That’s not true. I like to cut that one in two with .45 slugs and he finally did fall behind the tank, and Heyward hollered at me, he said, "You got the sonofabitch!" I buggered him up real bad, but he was dead. He was going to our tank, I don’t know if he intended to throw a grenade in there or what.

    We moved up and had a little firefight, it wasn’t real bad, and got that under control and stayed there that day and that night. And sometime before daylight the next morning, on the 16th of March, somebody came after us. The infantry had tried to take Pfaffenheck and got treated bad. There was a crossroads there, and holding the crossroads was an SS outfit, an SS mountain division.

    Snuffy Fuller wouldn’t move. He said, "When it’s daylight, we’ll move. But we’re not moving in the dark."

    So when it began to break day, we moved across, and it wasn’t far to Pfaffenheck from this little village, I don’t know how many kilometers, three, four, maybe five. We moved across country abreast, not in a column, and the Number 3 tank was the first one hit. I don’t know if Number 1 or Number 2, which one was hit next, but Number 3 tank was hit, and it was in an orchard. We went through the little town, but they’d dug in up here on the road and had their guns camouflaged, and they knocked Number 3 out. And they cut Heyward’s leg off below the knee, I remember him holding it and dragging it with him. He got out on the ground, and they cut him down, they machine-gunned him on the ground.

    Billy Wolfe, the shell hit him here somewhere [on the side of his midsection], and he burned, I never did get to examine him, nothing like that. But he was dead. Heyward is on the ground dead.

    Wes Harrell, who was from Stonewall, Oklahoma and lives in Hobbs, New Mexico now, he was the driver. He got out. And the bow gunner was a little Chinese boy named Moy, Koon L. Moy. We called him Chop Chop. He got out. And the gunner was John Clingerman, and he got out without a scratch. But then he got on Snuffy’s tank. The reason I know that was the first tank hit is because Snuffy’s tank wasn’t hit yet. Clingerman got on it, and when it was hit he lost an eye. Didn’t kill him, but he lost an eye. And it killed Jack Mantell. He was the cannoneer in the Number 1 tank, Snuffy’s tank.

    In that crew Carl Grey was the driver, a Mexican boy named Guadalupe Valdivia was the bow gunner, and he wasn’t hurt. The gunner was Russell Loop, he lives at Indianola, Illinois, he’s a farmer. And Jack Mantell was the cannoneer, and he was killed. It [the shell] came through the gun shield.

    Snuffy was the tank commander and lieutenant, the platoon leader. So that’s 1 and 3. Now Number 2 tank, which [normally] was my tank, but they put a man in there that had come in fresh from Fort Knox named Russell Harris, and he was one of these gung-ho type fellows; the first time I saw him he said, "I’m not afraid of the damn Germans. They’ll not make me pull my head in."

    Aaron Elson: Was he a sergeant?

    Otha Martin: Yes, but he never had seen combat. He’d been a sergeant at Fort Knox, because I went through the armored school with him.

    I told him, "Harris, you’re a fool. These people here, they’re not necessarily afraid of the Germans, but they respect them. They’re good soldiers. They’ll kill you. If they shoot your head off, you’re done. But as long as you can stick your head back out and fight again, you’re worth something."

    Well, that’s just what he did. He never pulled his head in and they shot him in the head with a 40-millimeter gun. And the tank looked like you’d been up on it with a chopping ax. But there were just four men in that tank. John Zimmer was supposed to be the cannoneer; he wasn’t there. He had gone to the medics back across the river. So they were short one man. But the driver was Leroy Campbell from Meridien, Mississippi. The bow gunner was Lloyd Seal, but he had got up to be the cannoneer in the turret in John’s place. And the gunner was Clarence Rosen, he was from Ogilvie, Minnesota, and one of the top-notch gunners, too.

    So it was knocked out. That’s three tanks gone. That just left 4 and 5. I was in 5. Byrl Rudd was platoon sergeant, and he was in the Number 4 tank. Well, they’re in a street there, and there’s a house burning over here, and they tried to get up this way, and they’d try to go up this way, and they plowed a trench in front of him. They backed out the other way, and they plowed one over there, so he was hemmed in by a big dug-in gun up there, camouflaged.

    They plowed the trench with a shell, an 88. So he’s hemmed up in there. That just left the  Number 5 tank. And we were the only one that could move. The Germans tried for the whole day to come back across the highway, but they never did get back. But I burned the barrel out of a .30-caliber air-cooled machine gun, we changed barrels. I never counted them, but we stacked up a whole bunch of SS troops.

    We just had two tanks left. And the next morning we moved out with three, and I never knew where the third tank came from until Niagara Falls [the 1987 reunion], and Snuffy Fuller was there. We were talking. I said, "I want to know, I’ve thought about for a lot of years, I want to know where we got the third tank to move out." He said Sheppard got it from A Company. And that answered that. But he [Sheppard] came to me that day and said, "Say, do you want to be my gunner today?"

    I said, "I ain’t put in no application for it but I will." So we put Loop over in Number 5, and Rudd’s tank was still intact. And we moved out with three tanks, and moved down through the woods. The Germans had pulled out in the night and took their guns with them. And we pulled through the woods, out on a point of a ridge, and could look across the Rhine.

    That’s the 16th day of March that the fight was in Pfaffenheck. Billy Wolfe was killed. Russell Harris was killed. Lloyd Heyward was killed, and Jack Mantell was killed. And we lost three tanks.

    Late in the evening, when they quit trying to come over, we still had some survivors out there. Souvenir Brown was in Jack Green’s tank at that time, he was the bow gunner in there.

    Aaron Elson: Which was Jack Green’s tank?

    Otha Martin: Number 5.

    Aaron Elson: That’s the tank you were in?

    Otha Martin: I was the gunner that day. I went in there, Sheppard said, "We got this new man, he can do that, but I don’t know if he’s worth a damn as a gunner or not," so he wasn’t taking any chances. See, real top-notch gunners was a little bit scarce. A lot of people could fire the gun, but they weren’t all the same caliber.

    Aaron Elson: Did Souvenir Brown get out of the tank and fire the carbine?

    Otha Martin: He got out, and there’s a little building there, this village had a town square and all the streets angled in like a wagon wheel into it, see. There was this building down here, and he’s at one end and I’m at the other, and we've both got M-1s, and we’re picking off some snipers out there. The Thompson sub was no good for that, it had no reach for it, but the M-1 was a good weapon.

    The next morning, they were gone. We got some of them, but they pulled out that night. I took the tank back in two days later, me and Leroy Campbell, he was the driver, we took it back to ordnance, turned it in and drew another tank.

    Then we crossed the Rhine on the Fifth Division’s bridge. They got across real easy, we went and crossed on their bridge, and that’s the day Byrl Rudd left us. He was standing at the end of the bridge looking out across the Rhine when Sheppard came up there and he told Rudd, "You’ve played Hell now."

    Well, Rudd said, "What have I done?"

    He said, "You’re going home."

    Andy Rego: That sonofagun of a hill on the other side when we crossed the Rhine, when we went up those goddamn hills up there, you really had to pull on that [lever] to get that thing to whip around there boy.

    Otha Martin: We were in a little old town right on the bank of the Rhine the night before we crossed, and the Germans were just across from there, and there’s a 155 Long Tom out there, that’s 6-inch artillery. A Long Tom is a rifle. A Howitzer lobs them. And they were coming in. They weren’t hitting very far from us, but I swore they were gonna suck us out of the turret as they went over you. About all night. Bad stuff.

   Aaron Elson: Let’s go back to the Battle of the Bulge. Where was your platoon?

    Otha Martin: When we went to the Bulge? The whole outfit went to the Bulge, the 90th Division and the 712th, too. We were across the Saar River; they couldn’t keep a bridgehead, and they sent the infantry across in boats, then they ferried us across. And we stayed in Dillingen. How many days did we stay over there?

    Andy Rego: I don’t know. It couldn’t have been more than two weeks.

    Otha Martin: It was something like that. But then, while we were over there, the Germans broke through in the Belgian Bulge, up near Bastogne and St. Vith, and they pulled us back. We still didn’t have a bridge, and they ferried us back.

    Andy Rego: Jack Green poured water in his gasoline over there, and they had to set his tank on fire.

    Otha Martin: They burned the tank and left it over there.

    Andy Rego: They dumped water in the gas tank at night. One of his crew, when they were loading gasoline – you had to load the gasoline at night, hell, you didn’t load it in the daytime. I don’t know how the hell he got hold of five gallons of water, but he dumped it in, it wouldn’t run, so they just burned it up.

    Otha Martin: We pulled back, and I don’t know how long we stayed, and then went north.

    Andy Rego: It was one hell of a drive when we left that village and went up to the Bulge. We were third defense there for a long while, then we were second defense, then we moved up to first defense.

    Otha Martin: We started moving north, and we moved through Luxembourg City. What’d we move, a hundred miles, into Belgium? There were three divisions – the 90th, the 4th Armored, and I think it was the 35th Infantry – out of the Third Army.

    The Bulge was in the First Army sector, it wasn’t on us. We moved up there, and we relieved the 26th Division, the Yankee Division.

* * *

    Otha Martin: Jim Gifford was with Headquarters Company, but he’d be up there at the front in a jeep, and Jack Sheppard told this on Gifford. He may have made this up, but he told it; Gifford was a master looter. Sheppard said a German got hit, blowed him up, and he said Gifford caught his head before it hit the ground.

    Andy Rego: If anybody could actually see what Gifford sent home: He had rifles and pistols and all kind of uniforms. He even took a uniform off of a dead soldier, had a German woman wash it, and sent it home.

    Otha Martin: You see, a lot of the things that happened, we can talk about it now and laugh about it, but it wasn’t a damn bit funny then.

    Andy Rego: It scared the hell out of you.

    Otha Martin: Gifford was a commissioned officer. But when it came to lootin’, him and Souvenir Brown wasn’t a whole lot different. He just got better stuff than Brown got.

    Andy Rego: And better selectivity. Because he had a jeep to get around in.

    Aaron Elson: We were talking before about the Bulge.

    Otha Martin: I don’t know how many days it was that we were back from across the Saar before we went north, but when we did, we started and we moved, I’m gonna say 100 miles, or maybe a little more than 100 miles. We went through Luxembourg City, this is in December, and the damn snow was so deep, and packed down on the road, and as we’re going through Luxembourg City we had to make a hard left, and Raymond Thompson was Rudd’s driver, he’s an Ohio boy. He had a 76-millimeter gun with a long barrel, and Thompson when they turned made this mistake, and the tank slid off the road, and there was a house. Well, that 76-millimeter gun had a muzzle break that looked like a basket, and it went through the wall. There’s a man and a woman in bed in there, and it went over their bed and missed them by about a foot.

    But we moved on through Luxembourg City, and moved on into Belgium, and then, I can’t tell you the name of the little village, but there was just two or three farmhouses there, and we relieved the 26th Division from there, and started to push toward Bastogne.

    Aaron Elson: Were you in any firefights?

    Otha Martin: In the Bulge? Yes, they were steady. All the time. Because they were trying to get through to Antwerp. They had the 26th Division in bad shape, chopped the hell out of them. When we got there, we were at full strength. When the 26th moved a gun, we set one down, took the reading off their gun and put it on ours. The Germans never knew when we came. So they hit us head on, and we knocked the hell out of them. That broke them right there. They never did make another attempt.

    They didn’t know that the 26th had been relieved. They’re fighting the Third Army out there now. And at the risk of being accused of being boastful, there ain’t nobody equal to the Third Army. It was the finest fighting force this world ever saw. There wasn’t a force on earth could handle the Third Army and George Patton.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever hear Patton speak?

    Otha Martin: He was hell. He’d tell you real quick how to whip the Germans. We set down in the snow, the snow was about this deep, we took our steel helmets off and set ’em down in the snow and sat on ’em to keep from sitting in the snow, the whole 90th Division and half the 712th Tank Battalion was there, and he made us a speech. He said the way to whip them damn Germans was to kick their ass up one hill and kick it down the next one. That’s what he tried to do. He believed it. And the Germans feared Patton like a possum fears a ax handle.

    Aaron Elson: Did you get wounded?

    Otha Martin: Never. Byrl Rudd eased up to me one morning and he said, "Hey, you and me went all the way and we never even got a Purple Heart."

    I told him, "Byrl, I didn’t want no Purple Heart. That’s the last thing I want."

    There’s a lot of things that a man can laugh about now, that wouldn’t have been a bit funny back when it happened. A lot of people say, well, veterans never talk to them. Most of them don’t. They don’t talk much. The reason they don’t talk is, they couldn’t get the picture over to somebody that wasn’t there. They talk to each other. They know what I’m talking about, and I know what they’re saying. Somebody that wasn’t there, he would think that you’re making that story up.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever get in any tank-to-tank duels?

    Otha Martin: Oh, yes. I can’t tell you the name of the towns or where it was. See, they mounted an 88-millimeter gun, and we mounted a 76. Some tanks had a 75. But we could move faster than they could move. We could traverse our gun around 360 degrees. They couldn’t do that. They turn over there so far, they’ve got to turn back. They couldn’t go all the way around. That made a difference.

    Aaron Elson: What you said about Pfaffenheck, I can’t get over the detail.

    Otha Martin: You mean the fact that I know who the crews were, and everything? Well, I knew them boys. I ate with them, I slept with them. Now Billy Wolfe and Jack Mantell, I think they came to us the same time, they’s just youngsters. And I remember the first or second day they got there, they’s talking to me. They said they were concerned how they’d do in combat. I said, "Boys, I don’t know how you’ll do. But the fact that you’re concerned about it, I believe you’ll be all right." Well, they both got killed just in ten or twelve days, something like that, but they didn’t get killed because they was bad soldiers. If a man had been there twenty years he’d have got killed if he was in their spot. When one of them big shells hits you, you’re dead, it’s not your fault either, you just don’t weather that.

    But you see these pictures over here, where they’re giving Bronze Stars to people? If every man, every combat man, had the right people seen him at the right time, he ought to have been decorated. Silver Star, Bronze Star, something.

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