The online edition
©2014, Aaron Elson
The end in sight
At Mainz, there was a building that was walled in, with a courtyard, and our tank was parked right in front. I dont remember who I was with, but the two of us were on guard, and Ted Duskin and somebody else came up to relieve us.
Ted said, "I couldnt find my gun, can I have yours?" So I gave him my tommy gun and started to go toward the building, and just as I went through the gate all hell broke loose. An American ambulance had pulled into the area and a bunch of German soldiers piled out of it and started firing. One of them was chasing me with a machine gun, and I didnt have a gun.
I ran into the building and went up the stairway, and there were some infantry guys up there. They started running g down to the entry, and I said, "Dont go down there! A guy just chased me through there with a machine gun."
I went upstairs and was looking around, trying to find a gun, and everything is going like hell outside.
I found a gun and went back down into the courtyard. When I got around to the courtyard, the Germans must have thrown some concussion grenades, and all the shingles came down off the roof. They were slate shingles, and they knocked me out.
When I woke up, there was still firing going on outside. I got up and was wandering around, and somebody hollered, "Halt!"
I said, "Dont shoot! Im a tanker!"
It was this tank destroyer outfit, and this lieutenant was in the building there. So I went in the building and they had a Kraut in there and they were beating the hell out of him, trying to find out how many people were out there or what the hell was going on.
Clarence Steuck, he was on his first day with the outfit, it was right outside of Mainz. He took his German pistols and he threw them away, he must have got them from a German prisoner.
So I went in that building, and I said, "Ive got to get to my tank. Its right outside the gate there." Ted was in the tank. And the lieutenant said to me, "Hey, theres nothing out there, theyre all dead." But Ted was all right, what he was doing was throwing hand grenades out of the tank.
Then it came morning, and my tank was all right. Ted and the guys were still in the tank, they were fine. But the TD across the street had got hit, and the 4.2 mortar outfit behind us and a bunch of other ones got it, and Sergeant Martin [Lloyd Martin], he had his tank parked behind the building and he had the breach open, and a Kraut threw a grenade in, blew his arm off.
In the courtyard, there were Germans dead all around. And right by the main gate was the body of the sonofabitch that was machine gunning me going through that gate.
I went over to him, and he had a square flashlight. It had a little slide you could pull down for a night light. I pulled it off, and it said, "A.O. Nuskie," and thats my mothers name. Shes from Germany. I never followed up on it, but I probably should have. Hell, it might have been a cousin.
Delivering gas to the front was a little hairy, but I never had a problem. When it would get too hot, theyd run me off. Theyd say, "Get that damn gas truck out of here!" All youd need was a piece of shrapnel to hit one can, and Im sitting there with a two and a half ton truck, no canopy or no top on it. Three hundred cans, five gallons apiece, about 1,500 gallons of gasoline, and just one little piece of shrapnel and Im sitting on dynamite.
We lost a few. In fact, my own truck, when A Companys headquarters got blown up, my truck got demolished. Actually, it didnt burn or blow up, but a building fell on it. Thats when Lieutenant [Ed] Forrest got killed.
Although I was in Service Company, I was attached to A Company most of the time. I felt like an A Company man.
Their headquarters section got blown up on Easter Monday, April 3, 1945. A plane had been following us all day. There were two empty tank cars in a little railroad depot near the headquarters, and two boxcars filled with black ammunition powder that we didnt know about.
Somebody hollered, "Here comes a plane!" And this airplane that had been following us all day came at us and started strafing.
I jumped on the truck, which had a .50-caliber ring-mounted machine gun. I knew it wouldnt hit him. But before I could get the gun around, the plane hit the cars with the black powder and he blew everything, the whole town. I think there were 32 of us in that area, and out of 32, there were only four guys able to move.
Only Lieutenant Forrest got killed. He had been wounded twice before.
I was injured all over the face and head. I didnt have a steel helmet on. I had a knit cap, backwards, one of these damn ol Army caps, and everything came down on my head, and a steel girder came in behind my legs and held me up, or Id have been under that rubble also.
I was leaning on a halftrack talking to Dr. Reiff, and all of a sudden the channel opened up. "O.O.O., Dixon-Reiff, quick, Able Company." And just then we saw a big pall of smoke, and I said, "A Companys in trouble." So Reiff got his group and I got my group, and we beat it there.
This is what happened: A German airplane came with a little bomb, and here everybodys shooting at it. And the airplane jettisoned the bomb, hit two carloads of black powder right in front of the house that Forrest had used for a command post, and it buried him. I think he was the only one from A Company that was killed [an A Company cook, Ervin Ullrich, also was killed in the explosion].
"O.O.O." means everybody else get the hell off [the radio]. When you heard a message in the Army back in World War II and it started off O.O.O., everybody that hasnt got business gets off and listens. And it said, "Reiff, Dixon, Able Company." So Reiff and I took off, Reiff with his medical section and me with my maintenance section.
It was along towards night, and we found out that everybody was accounted for except Forrest, so I got ahold of the burgomeister and told him that I wanted fifty men with shovels up there in the morning. So I was there at daybreak, and the burgomeister had fifty men with shovels, and we found him.
Hell of a nice fellow. He was a little bit like Colonel Randolph. Very quiet, unassuming. From Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
- - - -