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© 2014, Aaron Elson


My Army Life

Phil Eckhart

Page 2

(c) 2014, Aaron Elson

    On the 16th of Nov., which was on a Thursday, we went to take another town. As we were nearing it with the infantry on both sides of us, our 75 jammed. The second tank came up to the lead, and we went back a ways to remove the round. We slept in the edge of town that night in our tanks, and pulled guard from the turret. Next morning we ate breakfast, and moved out again.

    On the 17th we took a town in the morning, and got 29 prisoners out of one building. We went on with the infantry on both sides of us, did not have much trouble until we started down a hill in the woods. We fired several rounds, and I got my arm hurt in the recoil. It was hurting pretty bad but I went on. We slept in the tanks again that night. Well, in the next few days we went through several towns, and did not run into very much. We were in a pretty nice place for Thanksgiving, and that is where we got our new tank, and our new tank commander. We had fresh eggs for breakfast, and really had a good turkey dinner. The next day we stored our tank and had a talk from the company commander. He told us the big push had started, and we were in reserve.

    On the 26th of Nov., we moved out to another town, and had a pretty nice house to stay in. The artillery was set up right behind us, and we would go out and watch them fire. You could see the projectile leave the end of the big guns as they would fire them. When they fired the one right in back of the house, I think all the windows went out. We could hear the people downstairs crying, but it was no use crying over spilt milk. I lost my pen again, but was lucky enough to get it back.

    The weather was really bad, had rain and the field we had the tanks in looked like a river. There were two of us on guard, and we were on from 3:30 until 5:15. There was an antiaircraft outfit set up right there, and we talked with them while we were on.

    On the 30th we moved to another town, and had a pretty nice place. Had swell beds to sleep in and a nice stove to cook on. The next day, Friday the 1st of December, we had to take shots. We also drew mackinaws, and worked on the tanks. On Sunday the 3rd I went to church, and I think I wrote some letters in the afternoon.

    On the 5th of December we crossed the line into Germany. Stayed in a house overnight, and moved out in the morning. They had dead Americans and Germans piled up like cord wood alongside the church in the town. I noticed one lieutenant especially, he had the whole side of his head crushed in.

    We moved to a position above the Saar River overlooking Dillingen, and fired into the town. We were there for several days, and some of the boys got frozen feet. They ended up in England, and got back to the outfit after the war was over. We could not do very much with our guns to take the pillboxes, so they set up a 105. I don’t think they had fired over four shots from it when the Germans got a direct hit on it. They killed every one of the crew, and wounded several others.

    On the night of Dec. the 9th, they gave us orders to return to the town we had been in before we went up there. It was kind of late, and we went right to bed. The next day, we took a bath, and cleaned up a little. That was on Sunday, the 10th of December. On Monday morning we really had some swell pancakes, and they really hit the spot. The weather is really bad, it has been raining for three or four days, and has been trying to snow now and then.

    It was on Tuesday the 12th of Dec. that we pulled out for the Saar River. When we got there they had not got a bridge across, as the Germans had knocked it out several times. The infantry had already went across, and was waiting for the tanks for support. They told us they could not get us across that day, so we went back to a little town not far from the river. That night we slept in a store, and did not have to pull any guard. The next day we went across on a ferry, and went on in towards the town. There were lots of pillboxes there, and lots of American and German soldiers. Some of the boys died trying to get across the barbed wire to the pillboxes, and others were right up to them. There were lots of dead Germans in the buildings, and there were quite a few with holes right between their eyes.

    We slept in our tanks that night, and pulled guard from the turret. The next morning before daybreak we went over the railroad tracks, that was on Thursday the 14th of December. There was the 773rd TD and the 90th Infantry and the 712th Tank Battalion. When we crossed they were waiting for us, and they really opened up. There was a bazooka came right at us, but the driver backed up and it hit an abutment in front of us. It was just getting light, and you could see pretty good. The gunner let several rounds go at the pillbox, and it kept me pretty busy keeping the guns loaded. About two or three minutes later we saw a white flag come out, and they came marching out. The infantry boys started over to them, when one tried to get away. Well, I won’t have to mention what happened to him, as I guess you already know.

    On that day we went about three blocks, and got about 47 prisoners. That evening we were relieved by another one of our companies, and we came back to where they had the CP set up. That night we slept in a house, and had a nice stove for cooking. Yes, I guess I better mention that when we went into a town we usually looted it before we looked for the Germans.

    On Friday we went back up and continued to go through the town. That day we took two pillboxes, and got about 12 prisoners. Next day, we saw two Germans jump over a wall alongside of the railroad tracks, but they did not see us until it was too late. Our gunner opened up on them and they tried to get behind a concrete wall. It did not do them much good, as his tracers were going right through them and setting their clothes on fire. After a short while they both rolled down the hill. One of them was calling a medic, and we saw one of theirs come over the wall. Later on he came up to where we were, but we could not understand what he was talking about. It was too bad I did not go to school and learn to speak German.

    There were two old men there, and they took a white flag and went out to the pillboxes to see if they wanted to surrender. One of them did and the other one did not. As they came from the one, they picked the one up that was wounded, and brought him along with them. They had him in a blanket, and he was really in agony.

    On Sunday the 17th of December we stayed in the same place we were, and cleaned out the .30-caliber machine guns. I think I took time out and wrote several letters also. On Monday, there was a sniper that was giving the infantry a lot of trouble. We found out where he was and let him have a few rounds, then went on in, and he was glad to surrender.

    That night they really were throwing the artillery in, and it was really tearing up the place. Next day the Air Corps knocked out a German tank; I sure was glad they spotted it! There were about five or six P-47s and they were really throwing the rockets at him. About the second time we saw the black smoke start to roll, and we knew what they had been after.

    On Thursday the 19th of December we were coming back for rations. That evening they gave word to get back across the river as fast as we could, as the Germans were making their drive. We had our chow on the stove, and that is just where it stayed.

    After that we pulled back, which we hated very much to do, as we would have to take all those pillboxes over again and lose more lives. We pulled back to the place where we had stayed when we were getting the shots, and stayed there for three days. One day a lot of bombers came over, and one of them had trouble. He started to circle around us, and finally we saw five men jump out. We thought they would land in German territory, but they did not. The plane crashed not very far from where we were, and killed several fellows in an artillery outfit.

    Saturday the 23rd of December we moved to another town, and were there overnight. The next day we moved to a house right on the German border, and we were there over Christmas. We had our turkey dinner, and it was a white Christmas also. After dinner we had some music, and sang songs. That evening we had a five gallon can of beer, and had a pretty nice time. On Tuesday the 26th, we cleaned our guns, and set a tank out in the field for anti-aircraft. There was a man on it at all times during the day. I got about twenty letters that day, and I read them while I was on guard. On the 28th I received two packages, and we really had a party. Then on the 30th, which was a Sunday, we were to go out and try to get some prisoners. The infantry was to give us signals with flares, and we were to be up on a hill. The town they were to get the prisoners from was down in a valley. We could see the Dragon’s Teeth from where we were, and we were wondering how soon we would have to go through them. Well, we had moved up the hill and were in position when we saw the green flare go up. That was the signal that they were finished their job, and we could go on back. We met them as we went back, and I think they got 14 prisoners. They just wanted to get them to see if they could learn anything from them. Then on Jan. the 1st, 1945, we moved to a new town. Only two tanks went, and there was one company of infantry with us. There was only one road into the town, and if the Germans beat us to the crossroad we would have to leave the tanks and take off on foot.

    Tuesday our driver found a nice heifer, and we butchered it. That night we had fried heart and liver for supper. The house we were staying in was pretty nice, had a good stove and was really nice and warm when you would come in off of guard. On Wednesday, we had steak for supper, and it really was good. Went out and got some milk from a cow that was running around, and one of the fellows made a kind of a pudding. It was really good, and he made several before we left.

    Thursday it was really snowing, and we stayed in about all day, except for going and hunting eggs in the evening. We were really surprised to see the captain coming up, and he brought us some mail and ice cream. We had found several helmets and had them wrapped for mailing, so he took them along with him.

    It was on the 6th of Jan., on Saturday, that General Patton gave orders for the 90th to make their secret move up into Belgium and help in the Bulge. The roads were really icy, and the snow was really coming down. On one hill just before getting into Luxembourg, we had to go down in five-minute intervals. Several tanks went off the road, but no one was hurt. On one hill our tank slid into a tree, and I hit my nose on the .30-caliber machine gun. We backed up, and before we got by we hit that tree three times. A little farther down the road we went off the side, and our track nearly came all the way off. When the driver backed up and pulled on the right lever, I was very much relieved to see it going back on.

    It was pretty late when we caught up to the rest. They had already reached the town and were getting ready for bed. It was three in the morning and we slept in a café, on the floor. There were about 15 of us in there, and it was pretty warm. The woman made us coffee, and we had a nice drink before going to sleep. The next day was Sunday the 7th of Jan. and we had steak for dinner. The snow was really coming down, and it was about nine or ten inches deep.

    The next day, Monday the 8th, we prepared to move out. It was about three in the afternoon when they said to turn them over, and not very long after we moved out. We reached the other town about 6:30 in the afternoon, and slept in a kitchen. The snow was about a foot and a half deep there, and it was still coming down. Next day, Tuesday the 9th of January, I got my Pfc., wrote several letters and had hot chow twice.

    That night we moved out about eleven, and pulled into position in a wooded area. We slept on the tarp in back of our tank the rest of the night, except the two hours we were on guard. Thursday the 11th of Jan. we had hamburgers and ice cream for chow. We stayed in the same place all that day and the next night. During the night it snowed, and when we got up it was about two feet deep. That night I had slept in the tank, as the night before I had just about froze out under the tarp. When I went to put my shoes on for guard they were frozen stiff, and I had a hard time getting my overshoes over them. Well, as I was saying before, I had slept in the tank that night, and kept pretty warm. When the other fellows woke up, they had to dig their way out through the snow. It was Friday, the 12th of January. We ate chow and pulled out for the next town. As we were going through a field, we met about two thousand prisoners coming back. We stopped there for a while and got out of the tanks. All of a sudden the Germans started to throw in the artillery, and we made a dash for our tanks. One of the shells hit just as I was going in, and I heard the assistant driver call out. The concussion had knocked him down. His hatch was open, and when they had quit he made a dash for it. Not very far from there had been a mare and her colt walking around a haystack. When we came out they were both laying there dead.

    About three tanks behind us the driver and an infantry lieutenant were hit. The tank driver was Roy Sharpton, and he died later on. We asked the captain how he was, and they said that he was improving, next thing we knew he was dead. I have a ten dollar bill out of my first Army pay, and one of the names I have on it is his. Well, that night about nine we pulled into a woods, and waited for orders to move into town. I was on guard from twelve to one, and I had just got off, and was ready to get in my sleeping bag, when they called for us. We moved into town, and I did not get very much sleep that night.

    Next morning, which was on Sat. the 13th of Jan., we were to go and get some prisoners in a barn. We started down through the field, and there were three Germans running towards the woods. My .30-caliber had jammed, and the gunner asked me if the 76 was loaded. He fired a high-explosive at them, and hit one of them square. Well, you can imagine what happened to him. We went on down to the barn, and found out there was nothing there, so we started back to where we had been. When we went back we were in the rear, and could see that the Germans were firing at the tanks ahead. They hit two ahead of us, but not bad enough to stop them. We were just about behind a building when they hit us in the rear on the right side and knocked out our motor. I was sitting in the turret with an H.E. in my hands, but it did not take long to get rid of it and get out. They kept throwing armor-piercing at us, and I was glad it was not H.E. Later on the driver went back to pull the fire extinguishers, and to shut off the master switch. While he was leaning in to shut off the switch, the Germans took a piece of the gun off right over his head with an A.P. Later on, he was put in for the Bronze Star; that gave him one cluster.

    Next day, which was on Sunday, the 14th of January, the crew all but the Lieutenant went back to get a new tank. Our gunner got the projectile that knocked us out. I don’t know if he took it home with him or not. When we were on our way back to the company in the ammo truck, our own planes started to bomb and strafe us. We got out and ran in an old building. The fellows were firing at them with the rifles on their peeps, and some were firing at them with M-1 rifles. Later on we found out that they thought the Germans were still in the town, as there was a lot of German vehicles knocked out.

    We got back to the company and slept in a barn that night. Next morning we got the sad news that our Lieutenant and two other men had been killed that night. When our tank was knocked out the Lieutenant took No. 4 in the lead, and they had orders to take a woods in the night. Well, you know that a tank is not very good for night fighting and when they pulled out the Germans were waiting for them with six anti-tank guns. They hit the lead tank, and killed the driver, loader and tank commander. If I had not been knocked out before I would have been the loader in that tank. The driver was Quentin Bynum, the loader was Shagonabe, and the tank commander was Lt. Lippincott. The gunner was Roy R. La Pish and the assistant driver was Chiasson, that was the fifth tank he had been knocked out of. Him and Roy stayed back for quite some time, then they sent Roy back up later on but Chiasson never went up again. They kept him back, and he worked in the kitchen. On Monday, the 15th of January., we took a tank way to the rear to have ordnance work on it. Tuesday they came and got the driver, Dess Tibbitts, and told him he was going to Paris on pass. That evening they brought another man in and took the rest of us back to the company. We moved to another town, and it was really snowing. They got us to paint our tanks white. On Monday the 22nd of January our platoon moved out to relieve the second platoon. The next night they pulled us all back in reserve, and we slept in houses.

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