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2014, Aaron Elson


Tanks for the Memories

The online edition

2000, 2009, Chi Chi Press

Chapter 5

Alles Kaput

Jack Sheppard

    The shrapnel and powder from the bursting shell hit me in the face. I’ve still got one black spot.

    The radio, which was in the back of the turret, was full of holes, and it didn’t work. So we had no reason for staying in the tank, and Gerrard was in bad shape. He was not unconscious, but he was in extreme pain. So we all got out and got behind the tank, and they were looking after him, and my face was blasted, I was leaking blood all over my face, and we were trying to figure out what to do.

    I said, "You all stay here and take care of his wounds, and I’ll go back across the road, to see if I can get a stretcher and send it back." I did that. But while I was jogging back, my jaw was flopping up and down.

    I didn’t know it until I started running, but one large piece of shrapnel, as big as your thumb, hit me in the cheek and went through and knocked a tooth out, and stayed there.

    So I pulled it out and put it in my pocket. I was going to keep it, but eventually I threw it away because it was razor sharp.

    I found a medic and sent him and a stretcher back up. But before he got there, one of the other guys, well, when one of the guys found me, he said two German SS men had come up and Bailey started to fight with them, and they killed him. I don’t know how, but they killed him.

    Some infantry men there said, "Hey, didn’t you know that they were shooting at you?" They said two rounds, with tracers, went over our head before the third one hit. I never saw them. Never heard them. And then they said, "Did you see those tanks on fire up ahead? The smoke coming up?" That’s when I first noticed the three columns of smoke. It might have been four.

Kenneth Titman

    Sergeant Kenneth Titman, of Norfolk, Neb., was a tank commander in Lieutenant Flowers’ platoon.

    We were coming into this open field. Three tanks were together. When we got in there, the German 88s got us. They hit my tank and it exploded, and I hollered, "Abandon tank!" The tank was on fire. I looked around and I saw all these tanks running, one tank ran in front of me and hit the tank on the left and both exploded. That’s what I saw.

    I jumped out of the turret, and hit the back deck. Blood was coming out of the top of my combat boot, and I knew I was hit.

    When I got down off the tank and looked up, I saw the loader coming out of the turret, and he was on fire when he hit the ground.

    I knew [Kenneth] Cohron, my gunner, didn’t come out, because the 88 hit him directly and I had some of his flesh on my helmet.

    [Clarence] Morrison, the driver, put the tank in reverse. The assistant driver dropped the escape hatch, and the tank had power enough to back off, and the two of them got out from under the tank. I don’t know where they went after that.

    When I got out, I went for a slit trench, and when I got in it, here comes a bunch of Germans and they stuck a gun at me.

    I said, "Alles kaput," and they saw my leg was all shot up. They put me on a litter and took me back to the rear.

 Jim Rothschadl

    I lay there for quite a while. My hands were all burned, and my face. I stuck my hands into the dirt.

    Meanwhile, the goddamn devils were firing at us. I could see tracers going over the top of the hole.

    After awhile the firing stopped, to almost nothing. By that time it was almost dusk. Flowers had crawled from where he was laying by the tank to a hedgerow that was about 25 feet away. There was a hole in the hedgerow that was made by a bomb or something. Flowers crawled through there and lay down on the other side.

    Then he began calling my name. I could hear him plaintively. He usually called me Corporal Rothschadl, but several of the times he said, "Jim, Jim, please come over here. Please come over HERE. Corporal Rothschadl," he said it many times, at least a dozen times, by the time I crawled through there.

    In addition to my burns, the tendon on my right foot was cut. I don’t know if it was a gunshot or a shrapnel wound, but it cut the tendon. I could take my foot and pull it up until my toe touched the leg.

    And it didn’t hurt. Anyway, I crawled over there. I was kind of dazed, but I had my faculties. I kept following his voice. I came through this hole in the hedgerow and there he was, laying flat on his back.

  Jim Flowers

    After we got on the ground, there were a few infantry soldiers and a few of the tankers. We can’t stay where we are, with these burning tanks and the Germans over on the other side of that hedgerow shooting at us. The only thing we can do is get over on that side of the hedgerow with them. So I gathered up whatever we had, and we attacked that hedgerow, and got over on the other side. It was messy, but it didn’t last long.

    We ran the Germans off, and then we moved over a distance and got into a field on the right side of where my tanks were burning, and that’s as far as we’re going.

    By now, the blood is squirting out of my foot, and my face and hands are burned, all the skin is falling off my hands. So I had Gary, my driver, help me get my belt off. I had coveralls on over an o.d. [olive drab] uniform. I got my belt off and put it around my right leg above my knee, and picked up a stick, and we twisted the stick to make an improvised tourniquet.

    After we got that done, I had him reach in my coverall breast pocket and get out my package of morphine syrettes.

    There also was an infantry soldier with us who had been hit real hard in both legs.

Jim Rothschadl

    On that side of the hedgerow was a pie-shaped field, about four acres in size. We were laying there, it was still daylight, and there were some infantry boys with us. And then goddamn, they started firing at some Germans that were coming across a hedgerow on the other side of this field. There was a hell of a firefight going on.

    Pretty soon things quieted down, though, and by now it was getting dark. Flowers told everybody who could walk to try to go find help.

Jim Flowers

    I had Gary use a syrette on each one of us — Rothschadl, the infantry soldier and me. He took a pocket knife and cut a hole through our clothing. Then I told him, everybody that you can find that’s ambulatory, get them the hell out of here.

    That left Rothschadl and this infantry soldier and me out there on the ground. Rothschadl had been burned in the face, he could hardly see, his eyes were swollen shut.

    I had no idea what the situation was back there with Bealke and his boys, but I said to the others, go back and as soon as you can, get an aid man and a couple of litter teams out here to pick us up and get us out of here.

    So Gary took my morphine syrettes that were left and stuck them in his pocket, and got the guys that were still around, gathered them up and started back. On the way back, that’s where Gerald Kiballa, who was my assistant driver, got killed.

    By now it’s getting late in the day. Sometime that night, I heard something moving down the other side of the hedgerow, which was over where my tanks were burning, they had exploded in the meantime.

    I listened, and it wasn’t coming from the right direction. It was coming from behind me, back where the Germans were. So I crawled up on the hedgerow and with the few rounds of ammunition I had left in that magazine, I sprayed in the direction that I could hear these boys coming from. I don’t know whether I hit any of them or whether they knew where the firing was coming from. But they didn’t bother me.

    I crawled back down the hedgerow where I’d been laying and waited and waited, and sometime during the dark hours, I heard somebody coming up on the same side of the hedgerow that I was on.

    I told this infantry kid and Rothschadl, "Don’t move. Don’t make a sound. Don’t even breathe deeply." But these guys were coming right to us. And in a little bit, the one that was in front stopped and looked, and he said something in German to the fellow behind him. They were in file, and they just walked around us. I don’t know whether they thought we were dead or what. They could see that if we weren’t dead, we weren’t long for this world. But the last man, or one of the last men, in that little column stopped and came over to us, and he had a red cross on his arm.

    That boy came over, and he looked at us, and he checked my tourniquet. The bleeding had long since stopped. He checked it to be sure that I had released the tension on it. And he opened his first aid kit, which was a canvas bag, and he got out a gauze roller bandage. My combat jacket had knit cuffs. He pushed those cuffs on this jacket back up. I had a wristwatch on my left arm and an identification bracelet on my right. He just slid them up as much as he could to expose these burned hands, and he went to work bandaging each finger individually, and then my whole hand up to a point above where the burns were. He had dry bandage. Each one of my fingers, and he looked at my burned face. Of course there was nothing he could do about that.

    I asked the man for water, and he didn’t give me any. It’s possible he didn’t understand, but I think he did. The German word for water is Wasser. He couldn’t have misunderstood, so he probably just didn’t have any water.

    Then he went over and bandaged Rothschadl, and he looked at the infantry soldier. I don’t know what he did for him, he wasn’t burned, so I don’t think he put any bandage on him.

    That’s the night of the 10th. I don’t know how many German soldiers moved through. I thought for a while it was a whole German army, but it was probably a patrol, it might have been a squad. I would rather suspect that it was twelve, fifteen, maybe twenty men.

    They moved on up, and they didn’t come back.

Jim Rothschadl

    Later that night these Germans walked up to us. One of them stopped and knelt down alongside of me, and I could see a red cross on his arm. The swelling in my face had closed my eyes, but I could see if I pulled the skin down below my right eye. And I was so goddamn thirsty, so thirsty. I said, "Wasser," I could speak a little German, my dad could speak German. I looked up and he was kneeling down, and he pulled out a canteen. I saw this canteen and I thought, "Jesus Christ, he’s going to give me some water!" And he took the cap off, I can still see that, he took the cap off and tipped the canteen upside down. He didn’t have any water. But he bandaged my hands. He put some gauze on them. Then he did something with Jim, and there was an infantry boy that was laying there, too, who was still alive.

    The infantry boy was moaning. He was trying to talk. He was in really bad shape. He was wounded in both legs, and he had a bad wound in the stomach.

    Jim had five morphine syrettes. He gave me a shot early on, while I was still in a state of shock. He gave me a shot of morphine, and that lasted about three hours. And I guess he gave himself some, and he gave the infantry boy some. And that was it. I got one shot, I might have had two, I don’t know.

    The next morning, we were still laying there. We didn’t sleep much. The Germans set up their line right there, and they were walking back and forth past us all the time.

    I can’t figure out why they didn’t kill us. They must have thought we looked so damn horrible that we weren’t gonna hurt anybody. So they just left us.

    That day, our people — we must have been quite a ways out there from our lines because they put artillery in, and they don’t put artillery in at close range. The Germans were lined up there where our tanks were burned out, and our people knew they were lined up there. So they laid a hell of an artillery barrage, not knowing that we were there. Even if they had known they would have done it.

    It just practically plowed up that field. And one shell landed between Jim and the infantry boy. I heard Jim scream. He let out a hell of a scream. And I looked over there and Jesus Christ, his other leg. was gone.

    Somehow he managed to get a tourniquet on it. It’s Sunday night now, we were out there the night of the 10th, and this is the night of the 11th.

    During that night, the Germans did what they did many other times, they picked up their stuff in the night and moved back a few hedgerows.

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