Edward Ewers: A Damn Yankee in the 231st
Table of Contents
Quinton Leathers: A Brush with Two Tiger Tanks
As an eighteen year old, I was very vulnerable for the draft in 1943. As expected, I received my "Dear John" letter in April 1943. I was drafted on 14th of April and was sent to the Induction Center at Ft. Hayes, near Columbus, Ohio. After the normal processing procedure, along with many other future soldiers, I was sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana.
My Basic Training at Camp Polk was not unlike that of hundreds of thousands of other recruits, except my duty was performed in Louisiana where it was very hot and humid. I sustained a serious knee injury when I fell during a Field Problem while carrying a machine gun. Following my release from the hospital, I was placed on "Light Duty". The hospital stay. incidentally, caused me to miss going to Gunnery School. Soon thereafter, my Basic Training Course was completed, and I was given a furlough.
Returning to Camp Polk following my furlough, I was assigned to the 535th Armored Infantry Battalion. Being assigned to an Armored Infantry unit meant that I received more advanced training than those men who were assigned to "straight" Infantry battalions. On the 23rd of December 1943 the 535th was sent to Camp Cook California, where its members were assigned to the Armored Infantry Battalions of the Sixth Armored Division. At the same time, the 536th was shipped from Camp Polk to the Pacific Theater of Operations.
It was reported that the 18-19 year old members of the 535th were assigned to the infantry units of the Sixth Armored Division in order to lower the average age of those units, since many of those already there were in the 30 year old bracket. Actually, the division had been alerted for overseas shipment, and standard operating procedure (SOP) required those in that category to be brought up to Table of Organization (T/O &E) strength.
Along with other members of my unit from Camp Polk, we traveled by troop train over the Christmas holidays of 1943 to Camp Cook. Upon arrival I was assigned to the 9th Armored Infantry Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Elmer Droste I was further assigned to Company "B", commanded by Capt. John Melbourne. I was assigned to the 3rd. Platoon, where Sgt. Wilmer T. Jones was the NCO in charge of the Platoon. Among those who were in the 535 assigned to Company B were: my friend form near my home in Ohio - Glenn Blenman, Robert Wheeler, Paul Kuzma, Virgil Lux, Mike Vodhanel, Mike Katich, Frank Stashe, Fred Brown, Joe Sabo, and Louis Testa. We continued our training in California, taking 25 mile hikes with full pack, and other strenuous exercises designed to get us in the very best of physical shape. We were at Camp Cooke just long enough to get to know the "old" members of the Company.
Shipping out of Camp Cook in early February, we "rode the rails" by Troop Train for about four days until we arrived at Camp Shanks, N. Y. After a few days at Shanks, my battalion was moved by rail to a port facility in New Jersey, hence by ferry to Staten Island, where I saw the Statue of Liberty, a sight I did not have the privilege of seeing on my return to the good old U. S. of A. On 10 February 1944 we boarded a Navy Transport, the U.S.S. Samuel Chase. Most of our battalion was on board this ship.
During the night of 11 February, the ship moved out to sea and joined a large convoy. Following the Destroyers, we were the first ship in the convoy. With the Battleship U. S. S. Nevada on our right, other transports following, and with the various cargo vessels, aircraft carriers, etc., there were ships as far as the eye could see.
We were in the North Atlantic when we encountered a severe storm. The waves came in over the decks of the ship. The peak of the storm was on 2-16-44. Another highlight of the voyage was the sight of a huge whale, but I was never able to write home about either, because our mail was censored, and such information could possibly give away our location.
We docked at Glasgow, Scotland on 22nd of February, George Washington's birthday. Later, I was able write home and identify the date by using my Sister-in-law, Pauline Moncrief's birthday, relating that to my present surroundings; and thus passed the censors. It was considered a major achievement if you could pass along some information to your folks and "beat" the censors.
On 26 of February 1944 we left the ship to board a train for Sandywell Park, England in the vicinity of Cheltenham about l100 miles from London. All units of the Sixth Armored Division were billeted in the Cotswalds, a beautiful section of England. With other units of the Battalion, we were involved in gunnery training on ranges, maneuvers, and strenuous physical training until July 1944. We moved to Southhampton, where we boarded an LST to cross the English Channel to Utah Beach in France.
Our first taste of combat took place around Granville on the Cotentin Peninsula, when our Battalion advanced along the coast during the last days of July. On 1 August Company B played a major role in capturing the town of Pontorson. We surprised the Germans as they were not set up to face a new force, being fully occupied fighting off troops of the 4th Armd Div. It was like a wild west show. A P-47 flew over and straffed ahead of our column. All of our halftracks were firing to both sides of the road keeping the Germans pinned down. I had a close-up view of an "88", as our small arms fire kept the Germans off the gun. We advanced to a hill and took up a defensive position. We heard later that the next company had to dismount and fight their way through the town.
During the period between 2 and 12 August our battalion marched toward
and deployed around Brest. While some units of the Division suffered
some losses during this period, our Company had it relatively easy.
Our most serious combat was against the enemy which attacked the division
at its rear. The Germans which we had by-passed in the "rat-race"
to get to Brest were now attempting to get through our lines to get to
France's eminent port city.
Around the middle of August, the 9th AIB was a part of the combat Command which moved to the Lorient area. We were there until about the middle of September. Company B was on continuous and heavy patrol duty, insuring that the Germans were contained in the area of the city. Although our casualties were relatively light, our Company Commander, Capt. Melbourne, was killed during a patrol skirmish. Ll. Donald C. Shallcross became our Company Commander replacing Melbourne.
In the latter part of September, the 9th AIB, along with the remainder
of the division, moved farther east where my Company B would be fighting
and slogging in the mud for the next two months along the Seillle and Han
Rivers. During a war it is tough enough to survive the enemy who
is firing his guns at you; but it is a miracle that our troops survived
the elements of weather. Rain and more rain. The rivers were
out of their banks. Sleeping - what little sleep one could get -
in wet blankets and bedding rolls was impossible.
Heavy patrol duty was the order of the day for our stay in the "Grimmace
Woods" as we called the Gremecey Forest.
Up until this time (early November 1944) we had not been involved in any heavy combat (eye-ball to eye-ball, building-to-building, fox hole-to fox hole, with heavy artillery bombardment dominating the scene), but with the arrival of November, we began a dead serious attack to drive the Germans eastward, or annihilate them. It was about this time that our gasoline supply was increased to permit unrestricted movement of our vehicles.
In spite of heavy artillery fire, my company as part of the Combat Command A advanced to the Neid River, where the Engineers (25th Armd. Eng Bn) were successful, in spite of heavy enemy fire of all types, in cutting the wires which the Germans had placed to detonate the bridge. where the 2nd platoon of Company B led by Sgt. Madison, under withering rifle fire, raced across the bridge at Hans-sur-Neid and with a platoon of tanks from the 68th Tk Bn secured a bridge head. Soon the remainder of the Combat Team and some troops of the 80th Inf Div were able to enlarge and strengthen the bridgehead.
It was in this action that Sgt Madison with several men of his platoon. including Henry Goble, sought a little warmth from the cold and near-freezing rain in a house which the retreating Germans had just abandoned. Soon after occupying the house, Sgt Madison and several members of his platoon were killed when the house was shelled by German artillery.
Nearing the Saar River in mid December, we learned of the German breakthrough in the Ardennes area to the north. Little did we know that in a few short days Company B would be part of a huge force of the Third Army going there to drive the Germans back into Germany. When we were pulled back just before Christmas, we thought we were going in Reserve. The good hot meal, with all the fixings, we had for Christmas was but a slight reminder of home - and Christmas.
The Sixth Armored Division was moved up into the "Bulge" and on or about the 27th, we were again facing the Germans. During the period of the first three days of January my company faced the bitterest fighting we had yet encountered since entering the war in July. Aside from the combat, the weather was the worst we had seen - freezing cold and heavy snow. On Jan 3rd, we were making an attack on the Germans in the late afternoon in the vicinity of Wardin. In spite of heavy machine gun and anti-tank fire, we pressed the attack and captured Wardin. My platoon was stationed in some woods just outside the town and during the night we were subjected to heavy artillery and mortar fire. In the early morning after I had been awakened from my short nap, a mortar shell hit about three or four feet from me and shrapnel hit my left leg, shattering the shin bone.
Company medics were summoned and they patched me up. Sgt. Ball,
who was next to me caught shrapnel in his buttocks. The medics called
for a stretcher and more help. They picked me up and carried me to
the back of the woods. The Germans were just across the road and
were firing at us when we emerged from the edge of the woods. The
Medics carried me back into the woods. Placing me in the front seat
of the Company jeep, they were going to make a run for it; but another
mortar barrage stopped us short. A Captain from "A" Company and Sgt.
Ball got hit in this second barrage. When the barrage subsided somewhat,
with Ball and the Captain in the back seat of the jeep, Parrish, the driver,
made a dash for the main road. Because of the slippery, snow covered
road, the jeep hit a ditch and got stuck preventing our escape.
There was a farmhouse across the road where some American troops were taking shelter. Parrish carried me to the house. While there, the medics gave me some more medical attention. In a few minutes afterward I asked them where the Captain and Sgt Ball were. They told me that they had taken off in the jeep, leaving me and that they would get back for me later.
The Germans were advancing and soon would be entering the house. Some of the troops in the house were able to leave. The artillery and mortar fire was moving in so those of us remaining in the house sought shelter in the potato cellar. A couple of guys helped me down the stairs. These troops were not members of my company and I was not sure what outfit they were from. An Officer was among us and when the Germans came into the house, they threw a grenade. After one of our troops started to cough, and fearing the Germans would throw a grenade in the cellar, the Officer yelled out "We Surrender".
We were brought outside the house and lined up. Apparently because I was not moving fast enough to suit the Germans, one of them hit me in the jaw and knocked me down. They took us across the road. I had to be carried due to my left leg being immobilized. We went for some distance to what appeared to be a Command Post where we stopped. I don't know how long we were there, as I was falling into unconsciousness. When I came to, I recognized Jack Phillips from the 2nd Platoon of Company "B", and Lieutenant Frank P. Kornegay from the same Platoon of my Company. Fellow prisoners took turns carrying me until they found a farm wagon. Placing me in the wagon they pulled until we reached an Aid Station which had been established in a house by the side of the road. The wounded were left at this Aid Station, while the remainder of the prisoners were moved farther east.
Due to the severe swelling of my foot and leg, the German Medics cut off my boot. I do not remember how much time went by, but I was moved to yet another Aid Station. My mode of transportation was an ox cart, which managed to stay just out of range of our artillery fire. I remained at the second Station for a day or two until there was another means of transportation. It was a bus with a stove in it; far better and more comfortable than in the ox cart where I was exposed to the bitter cold. I was the only American on the bus with many wounded German soldiers. When we reached our destination, apparently a temporary Field Hospital, the German soldiers were taken off while I was left on the bus for a long while. The fire in the stove had gone out and it became very cold. Finally, I was taken off the bus and placed in a bunk in the hospital.
At this temporary installation, they put me to sleep and did some sort of surgery on my injured leg. After the surgery, I was placed in another makeshift hospital for a day. Along with some other wounded, I was put in a boxcar (a typical 40 x 8) and moved by train to an unknown Hospital which was located in the mountains. I had no idea where I was. Being an American, I was the last man to be taken off the train.
The first day in this hospital I was in a Ward with Germans. My first food was a plate of potatoes which would have been sufficient for three meals. The next day they took me to a room where there were three beds, all of which were occupied by Americans. In addition to me, there was Ted Schrieber from the 7th Armored Division, and another soldier, whose name I can't remember. Since infection was setting in on my right thigh, they decided to perform surgery to remove the shrapnel in that area. We were there 2 or 3 days. The German lady who took care of us was very compassionate and brought us books and soap from her home.
Just before leaving that hospital, we were joined by another American, a flyer of the US Air Corps. We were put aboard an Italian Hospital train which made stops at places along the route to drop off wounded German soldiers. We arrived at an unknown destination one evening and remained over night, with the Americans still aboard the train. They let the fire go out on the train and we four Americans almost froze. In the morning the Americans were unloaded off the train and placed on the back of a truck which hauled us to a two-story building which was close to a railroad yard. This was a Prisoner of War hospital, the Lazaret 4-G, which was, as determined later, on the southeast outskirts of Leipzig, Germany. The most recent member of our little group, the Airman, commented that this railroad yard would be a target at one time or another.
Soon after arrival, they gave me a bath, issued me a pair of pajamas and then took me to the ward on the second floor. Since it was past meal time and the boiled potatoes, we got nothing to eat. The Doctor at this Leipzig hospital was a Polish Prisoner of War. He performed more surgery on my left leg, and put it into a leg cast from above the knee down to and encompassing the whole foot. I was concerned as to how they were going to change the dressings, one on each side of the shin bone, and another on the left underside. The next time I went for a dressing change they cut holes into the cast where the injuries were. The dressings consisted of a single lager of gauze and then it was wrapped with tissue paper.
The prediction of the Airman was accurate. The English Air Force bombed the railroad yard next to the hospital, using delayed action fuses. The raid was over by midnight but bombs were going off until daylight. The walls of the hospital were cracked and the windows blown out. The dressing room sink was broken in half but, Thank God, there was no direct hit on the hospital. The next day the pilot of the lead plane, which was shot down, was brought into the hospital and he couldn't believe that the hospital had escaped without being hit.
Eventually Leipzig was declared a free city towards the end of the war. The American 69th Infantry Division evacuated us. By this time my cast was off and I was using crutches which were much too short for me. I was the first to be helped on the back of a "Deuce and a Half" truck to start our trip west to a American Field Hospital. During the processing, a soldier told me he had seen some 6th Armored Division (my outfit) soldiers that day. We made several stops before reaching our destination, an airfield. During one of these stops, as I was trying to get in the truck, an officer reprimanded the soldier in charge, saying that I should be in an ambulance; but by then we were ready to move out so he put me in the cab with the driver. After spending one night at the airport, we were loaded on a plane headed for England. I was taken to a hospital where I stayed for a couple of weeks to regain some strength. At that point I was down to #110, about 60 pounds less than my normal weight.
My next move was to Scotland, and from there to Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York. I was on a stretcher for the whole trip. They loaded the stretchers in ambulances to take us to the hospital. Being so happy to be in the U. S., I told the lady driving the ambulance: "Let me out, I'll walk". Soon after arrival at the hospital, all the wounded Prisoners of War were given their choice of which Veterans Hospital they would go for treatment. I chose Cleveland, Ohio as it was only 60 miles from my hometown of Canton. I was there for nine months during which time I had two additional surgeries on my leg.
It was now November 1945. Due to a surgery schedule on Monday,
I could not go home for the weekend. Instead, with a buddy I went
to a football game where I met my future wife, Sally. I was discharged
in February 1946. Sally and I were married on 11 May 1946.
We have two sons, Kenneth and Randall and three grandchildren: Jennifer,
Jacqueline, and Carolyn.
Edward Ewers: A Damn Yankee in the 231st
Table of Contents
Quinton Leathers: A Brush with Two Tiger Tanks
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