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Follies of a Navy Chaplain

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Tanks for the Memories

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They were all young kids

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2014, Aaron Elson


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2014, Aaron Elson

Chapter 23

"My warrior"

 Jim Gifford

    One of our lieutenants, I don’t know if the boys told you this story, I got the 90th Division newsletter just recently, and isn’t his name there in the obituaries. We were on the Saar River, and the Germans were across the river, in the high ground. There were woods over there. We were in an orchard on this side. We had our tanks dispersed.

    We were getting shelled real bad, and the ground all around us was blowing up all over the place. It was dusty, just like going across a desert. When they start shelling, the shells explode on the ground, and all that dirt turns to dust. If they do enough of it, you get a hell of a dust cloud going.

    The periscope was up, and I’m looking around, because we’re all buttoned up. When you’re moving, you open the turrets because a mine will kill you if you’re inside. So we’d close the hatches when we were in a standing position and let ’em shoot, we don’t give a damn, those shells used to hit the side of the tank and rock the tank but never bothered us inside, because it was high explosive, and not armor piercing.

    So I’m looking out the periscope, and Geez, I see this turret hatch suddenly come up in the middle of all this dust, and the lieutenant comes flying up out of it, lands on the back, jumps down into the dust, and he runs off, out of sight, towards the road.

    I don’t know, I figured he had some good reason, maybe somebody’s hurt in the tank, I mean, I never questioned it. But it turned out that he — I don’t like to use that word — he just blew his cool, and they found him about three miles up the road in a farmhouse in the cellar. We went down in the cellar, and he was in there crouched in a corner.

    The guy was a brave man. Prior to all that we had no problems with him at all. But I guess there’s a breaking point.

    I felt bad, because one time he showed me a letter from his father, he said, "Look at this," and I read it, and his father was calling him "My warrior." Little old father, you know. That always bothered me, because I remembered that letter.

Claude Pittman

    Claude Pittman of Gainesville, Ga., was a gunner in A Company

    You had to keep your sense of humor, or you’d go crazy. Everybody always teased me about my southern brogue, me being from Georgia, they all kidded me about it. But after we got out of Fort Benning I told them I didn’t want to hear ’em kid me about Georgia anymore, that was the best place in the world.

    We had one boy in the service, I won’t say he went crazy — after he got out of it he was all right, but I’ve seen him go to pieces at the time, he didn’t hardly know what he’s doing. After it was over with, he raised a family and all.

    What’s funny about him, at Fort Benning he used to tell me about running white lightning, and the police is shooting at him and shooting at him, and he’d outrun ’em and get away. Then when we got over there, the Germans got to shooting at him, and it’s different than the police shooting, he went went all to pieces. I mean, that’s kind of comical to me.

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