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Follies of a Navy Chaplain

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Tanks for the Memories

©2014, Aaron Elson


Good morning, Normandy

Paul Wannemacher

    Paul Wannemacher was one of the first replacements to join the 712th Tank Battalion, as a Private First Class in early July of 1944. Here he describes his first night and morning with the battalion. This story is included in the expanded Second Edition of Tanks for the Memories.

©2014, Aaron Elson

    I was in a group of replacements. We got to a marshaling yard in Southampton around June 12th, six days after D-Day. And they had no place to send us because it was such chaos all over.

    A marshaling yard is nothing more than a camp with a bunch of tents, because they figure we’re only going to be there six or eight hours. We were there for two weeks. And it rained for two weeks. We were walking around mud city. And all of a sudden we get sent across the channel into France – I don’t know the exact date – and we’re put in another replacement depot, which was nothing more than a damn field.

    I got into the 712th on the 13th of July. The battalion was first committed to battle on July 3rd, and that was the first group of replacements.

    We were riding in the back of a two and a half ton truck, all covered up with canvas. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon. It was getting dark, and we came to this crossroad in La Haye du Puits. We made a turn at the intersection, and laying on the side of the road were eight dead Germans. I thought, “Oh, shit, we’re in it now.” We drove about a quarter mile, they dumped us out into a hedgerow field, and a sergeant said, “All right, now, you ought to dig some holes.” We looked around and there were some holes that were already dug, with corrugated steel over them. The sergeant said, “We might get some incoming,” and just about the time he said that, artillery fire or mortars started coming in. And we all just dove for those holes.

    In the morning we got up and they said, “Breakfast is in the next field.” We jump out of our holes and we go across a hedgerow and the first thing we see is a dead GI. And there’s the mess truck about 50 feet away. Well, that took care of breakfast. There were dead cows with their feet sticking in the air all over the place. And they had started to stink because they hadn’t been dead that long.

    That was my first day with the 712th.

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