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2014, Aaron Elson


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2014, Aaron Elson

Chapter 1

Muzzle and steel

Tony D'Arpino

   Tony D'Arpino, from Whitman, Mass., was a tank driver in C Company

   I was working in a foundry when I got drafted. The day that I was supposed to go for my physical, I told my father -- he also worked at the foundry -- I said, "Don't tell them where I am." They were deferring guys because they were doing government work, and I didn't want to get deferred.

   I can remember my father being shocked, because the morning I didn't go to work, the foreman comes to him and says, "Where's Tony?"

   And my father says, "I don't know, He didn't come home last night."

   And the foreman says to my father, "Is he shacking up?"

   And of course my father, his Tony would never do anything like that. Anyway, I passed the physical, and they gave us two weeks to report. So the next morning I didn't go to work. I wasn't going to work any more, the hell with it. I was making 35 cents an hour, that's what they were paying. I take it back, it was 45 cents an hour.

Smoky Stuever

   Ed "Smoky" Stuever was a sergeant in Service Company

   I was the first draftee out of Winnetka, Illinois. There were 29 volunteers ahead of me, so I was No. 30. Roosevelt picked me out of a cherry bowl.

   The first number picked was 158, and mine was 185. The headline in the paper said 158 was the No. 1 draftee. I thought that was me, my equilibrium was off, and I gave the damn paper a kick, and the boss came running out of the house in his bathrobe. "What in the hell is the matter with you, lad, are you going be-zerk?" He was a corporate lawyer, with a red nose and cheeks from drinking scotch. I was his driver.

   I picked up the paper and told him, "I'm sorry, sir. Oh, lookit here, 158, that ain't me. My number is 185!"

   "Oh, that's a good reason to celebrate. Come on in, me lad." And he pours me a shot of scotch. I'd never drank scotch in my life. I had four of 'em.

   So I drove him to work, downtown Chicago, in an open touring car. I pull up and drop him off. He says, "Ed, take the car and enjoy yourself. Have a good day. Take your lady out to dinner." So I drove up to where my wife was working and said, "Come on, take the day off."

 Jim Gifford

   Lieutenant James L. Gifford, of Gloversville, N.Y., was a platoon leader in C Company.

   I was in Louisville, Kentucky -- a bunch of us had taken a hotel room for the night, that was the cheapest way out for soldiers -- when I heard a noise down the street. I looked out the window, and people were running around. So I went down to the lobby, and someone says, "We just got attacked in Pearl Harbor!"

   I said, "Where's Pearl Harbor?"

   Someone said, "All I know is that they're telling soldiers to get back to camp."

   So I went upstairs, I told the guys, and we all grabbed our stuff and went into the street. The civilians were pulling up in their cars and saying, "Soldier, we'll take you back to camp." Soon every car was full of soldiers, and we're all heading back from Louisville to Fort Knox, which was about 30 miles.

   The next morning they lined us up, and they started reading off names: You're going to Fort Lewis, Washington. They thought the Japs were gonna hit the West Coast. Fort Lewis, Washington, they're reading all these names out. When they came to Jim Gifford, they said, "Armored Force School."

   I said, "What? I don't believe this. There's a goddamn war on and I'm going to school?"

Russell Loop

   Corporal Russell Loop, from Indianola, Ill., was a gunner in C and D Companies

   I was drafted for a year, and I almost had the year in before Pearl Harbor. At the time, another boy named Jim Mills and I were carrying a major's horses in one end of a boxcar and his furniture in the other, and he was going to Fort Riley. He had a radio in his car, and he came out and said, "Boys, you'd just as well quit. I'm not going anywhere."

   We had no idea what he was talking about.

   So he said, "They've started a war. Pearl Harbor."

   Then he went across the street, got a case of beer and a fifth of whiskey, and we sat in his car and drank beer and listened to the news the rest of the day.


Forrest Dixon

   Major Forrest Dixon, from Munith, Mich., was the battalion maintenance officer.

   I was commissioned a cavalry officer in the ROTC at Michigan State University, but when I got hauled in the Army, I went directly to Fort Knox, to go to school. From Fort Knox I was sent to the 4th Armored Division at Pine Camp, New York. Then the 4th Armored became the cadre of the 10th Armored Division at Fort Benning.

   Meanwhile, the 11th Cavalry Regiment was supposed to ship out for Australia, but a lot of its members came down with jaundice from their yellow fever vaccinations. So they sat out there in California, and all of a sudden somebody decided to send them to Fort Benning to be part of the 10th Armored. So the 10th Armored had a cadre from the 4th Armored plus the 11th Cavalry.

   For a while, the armored people and the horse cavalry didn't get along. Each outfit was allowed so many 24-hour passes, so many weekend passes, and so many furloughs. But the armored force people couldn't get them, it seemed like they all went to the cavalry. That's when I got in trouble. I gave three 24-hour passes to a kid who supposedly had a sick mother. See, a company commander could give a 24-hour pass, but he was limited in number. So I gave him three 24-hour passes, because the regiment wouldn't give him a three-day pass.

   Then he went AWOL. He was supposed to be back for reveille on Monday morning, and he finally made it Wednesday afternoon. He came into the orderly room and said, "Sergeant Hensley reporting for duty, Sir."

   I said, "Well, Private Hensley, explain."

   He looked at me. "Private Hensley?"

   "I reduced you to the grade of private this morning," I said. "I don't know what they're gonna do to me."

   I got called over to regimental headquarters, and I got chewed out good. Then each of the majors there put a letter in my personnel file. So I was the oldest first lieutenant in the 10th Armored Division. I didn't get promoted for a long, long time.


Les Suter

   Lester J. Suter, of St. Louis, Mo., was a sergeant in Service Company.

   I didn't want to be in the tanks. Fort Benning had a parachute school, and I said, "I'm going over and join the paratroopers." I liked the way they wore their hat, and the clothes they wore, they wore better boots than we did. They had a rugged attitude, too, like a commando attitude.

   I wanted to be a tough guy, so I was going to go over there and join the paratroopers. And when I got over there, they said okay, so they took me up this big goddamn tower, 750 feet. I looked down at the ground, and they said, "Now you put on this parachute and you jump." I said, "No way, I'm not jumping off this sonofabitch, take me down!" So they took me down and let me out. I went back to the tank battalion and was happy.

Bob Rossi

   Pfc. Robert E. Rossi, of Jersey City, N.J., joined C Company as a replacement.

   My brother Johnny was in the 4th Armored Division. Another of my brothers, Charlie, he's 72 years old now, he went to the draft board three or four times, and they kept turning him down.

   The kids used to write in chalk out in the street, on the asphalt: "Charlie Rossi, 100 pounds soaking wet." I think they were exaggerating.

   The fourth time he went, two doctors were arguing, one said "We'll take him," the other said, "We're not gonna take him," and my mother went to the draft board and told them, "You've got two of my sons already, how many more do you want?" So they deferred him.


Louis Gerrard

   Corporal Louis Gerrard, of Philadelphia, was a gunner in C Company

   I got hurt coming back from the maneuvers in Tennessee. We were going down this road to the railroad yards to put the tanks on flatcars and take them back to Camp Gordon -- at that time it was Camp Gordon, it's Fort Gordon now -- and we were all very tired. We had been up getting the tanks prepared and everything, and the driver fell asleep. He hit this big tree, and I was thrown backward. The tank seats, they have prongs sticking up, they hit me in the back.

   I was in a hospital in Camp Forrest, Tennessee, for quite a while, and then they transferred me back to Camp Gordon.

   In the meantime, our battalion was taken out of the 10th Armored Division, and they made us a separate tank battalion. When I came back, all the guys said to me, "What the hell are you doing back here? You can get out of the Army. You've got the best deal going with your back injury."

   I didn't want to get out of the Army. I told the guys, "I've got two brothers in the service, and they're both in North Africa, and I'd feel like hell if I got out of the Army. It wouldn't look good if I come home and they're still over there." So I stayed in.


Smoky Stuever

   At Camp Lockett, there was a lieutenant who seemed to have a kid every year. This one particular time when he became a father, he gave each of us a cigar. That morning I lit my cigar, and there was a horse brought in that hada stub in its rear foot.

   I knew that horse, he was a mean one to work on, and nobody dared to tackle him. I had worked on him before, and I said, "Ohhh, watch my smoke!"

   I had this cigar in my mouth, and I picked up that horse's foot, and I said, "All right, give me those tongs," and I was about ready to pull the stub out when that horse started laying down on me, so I turned my head, that cigar hit the horse's hind end, and I went flying through the air.

   "There goes Smoky!" someone said, and the nickname stuck with me.


Tony D'Arpino

   When we were getting ready to go overseas, we all had our dental work done. Guys like me, if you had a cavity, you lost the whole tooth. They lined you up and they'd put you in the chair, "Yeah, that's got to come out." They'd give you novocaine, you'd get out and go back to the end of the line. And then when you came around again they pulled it.

   Stanley Klapkowski, who was a gunner in most of the tanks I was in, had such perfect teeth, and white, they were beautiful. He had one little cavity, so they didn't want to yank it. They were gonna fill it. Now this is a true story. The dentist was Mexican, a little short guy, and he starts drilling. And Klapkowski knocks the drill out of his hand, he must have hit the nerve.

   One more time, the dentist starts drilling, Klapkowski knocks the drill out of his hand. And the dentist says to Klapkowski, "What's the matter? Can't you take it?"

   And Klapkowski says, "You come outside, you sonofabitch, I'll show you if I can take it." He got restricted to the company grounds for a week for that.

   In Fort Benning, I used to go to Mass with Klapkowski every Sunday. I never went in town with him, because I knew he was crazy. I hung around with the guys from Massachusetts, and that was it.

   One Sunday morning, I wake up Klap -- we used to call him Klap -- and the blanket's over his head. I'm shaking him, and he isn't waking up. So I pulled the covers down. I didn't recognize him. His eyes were closed. His face was twice as big as it usually was. It scared me. I went and got the motor sergeant, he used to have his room right in the barracks, and we took Klapkowski to the medics.

   He had gone in town the night before, and he saw this paratrooper, and he picked a fight with him. He said there were three or four of them who jumped him. He was in the hospital for a week.


Ruby Goldstein

   Sergeant Reuben Goldstein, of Dorchester, Mass., was a tank commander in A Company.

   I had a similar incident. My driver, George Bussell, he was so stocky that when we went through basic training they had like a ditch, in order to help somebody who got hurt, you had to carry them. You'd have to get on your back and crawl with him. I'm 150 pounds or so, Bussell is 250. It's like putting an automobile on you. That's how heavy he was. But I carried him.

   We go into town, to Phenix City, Alabama, right over the little bridge from Columbus, Georgia, and they've got a barroom here, a barroom there, no matter which one you go to there's girls with the dice to sucker in the soldiers. So we go into one of the bars, and we stand at the bar, George and I, we have a drink. And we hear this music coming from a room.

   We go into the room, and there's a couple of civilians sitting there, and a couple of girls. I go back to the bar, and George asks a girl to dance. She accepts. He's on the dance floor with her, then all of a sudden I hear something. I don't know what the hell it is. I hear a lot of noise.

   So I run in there. George is on the floor, the girl is on the side, and this guy's got a chair and he's whacking at him. He objected, the Southerners objected to him dancing with one of their girls. This guy was gonna lift the chair up to hit George with it. I grabbed him, and I suckered him one. A guy got up from the table, grabbed me and suckered me one. Now we're all on the floor.

   I got up. I went crazy. And George was banged up real bad. Now I've got to get him out of there, because I know the two of us are not gonna last too long.

   I got ahold of him, we got him out, and I know damn well the MPs, if they grabbed us, we're locked up, forget it. I got him out of there, I got him back to camp, and his face was all puffed up.


Forrest Dixon

   One of my boys came up to the officers' club at Fort Benning and said, "Captain, there's something you should know."

   I said, "What?"

   "Well," he said, "you know we're going to do some maneuvers over in Alabama tomorrow." And he said, "You know, Bussell was over in Alabama and he got rolled, and he was over there last night checking things out, and Mom's Place" -- that's where he got rolled -- "there's no basement under it.

   "Now tomorrow, when you go over the bridge, you're gonna have a brake lock and your tank is going through Mom's Place -- in the front door and out the back. I thought you ought to know."

   I said, "Thank you."

   I didn't say a thing to Bussell. So the next day, why, here we go over the bridge, and I look, and I see Mom's Place. I open up the mike and I say, "Bussell, there's Mom's Place. Now you make goddamn sure that we don't go in the front door."

   He looked up at me and burst out laughing. "Who told you?!" And that was the end of that. He was going to go right through it. He would have, too.


George Bussell

   Sergeant George Bussell was a tank driver in A Company

   Sonofagun I wanted to do that! I said to Dixon, "Let's take it through the house!" I was afraid of a basement. Boy, I'd have loved that.

   Hell, that was some fight we got in in Phenix City. I ended up with a busted nose and a black eye, and I had six stitches in the top of my head. That guy really whupped me over with a walking cane.

   I was in this place, and in the back you could dance. So I was back there playing the jukebox for this girl.

   Before we started there were beer bottles and everything else laying around on the tables. Whiskey bottles. I asked her if she wanted to dance, and this guy was standing there, and he said, "What did you say to her?"

   I said, "Hell, I asked her to dance. You don't mind, do you?"

   That's all it took. He peeled off, and three or four of them started coming at me. I started backing up, and when I was backing up I fell over a chair and fell right down on a table. And this one gjuy jumped up there with a walking cane and hit me about four times across the head, broke my nose and busted my head open.

   Of course, with all that rumpus back there, a bunch of other GIs came in there and stopped it.