After the St. Lo breakthrough we had penetrated the enemy
lines about twenty miles and I found myself with one of my forward
platoons when darkness came. Since I felt it would be treacherous
to return to my headquarters at night, I decided to spend the
night on the front lines. I left at first daylight in the peep
[jeep] driven by Ed Breedlove and with Lt. McKinney riding on
the rear seat. As we headed back to headquarters on a quiet road
between hedgerows, we drove around a bend in the road and immediately
heard the roar of a cannon and felt the slam of steel through
We were facing the smoking cannon of a German Mark IV tank.
We immediately jumped out of the peep into the roadside ditch,
and I fired my rifle at the tank. I did not trust my issued pistol
and took a rifle with me in the battle zone. Quickly, I realized
the rifle fire was useless against the armor of the tank and
looked around for an escape route. The tall hedgerow loomed above
me, and the bend in the road was more than 100 feet back. Also,
I realized that the tank commander had expected one of our tanks
to appear and had fired an armor-piercing shell.
The next round would surely be a high-explosive shell. The
tank was machine-gunning us, and the tank commander was yelling,
"hand hoch", hands high. McKinney, lying in the ditch
behind me, asked what do we do now. We were pinned down and there
was no escape to the rear or over the high hedge, so I replied,
"You hear the man -- we obey." We threw our rifles
out of the ditch and waited for the machine-gunning to stop.
We slowly got out of the ditch with our hands up, not knowing
if the machine-gun fire would strike us next. The tank machine-gun
was still wavering, ready to fire at us, when we saw the tank
commander come out of the turret -- a relief sign that he accepted
our surrender. Looking for our driver Breedlove to join us, we
looked back and saw that the armor-piercing shell had gone through
the front left of our peep and through Breedleove, killing him
As the tank commander approached us, we dropped our gun-belts,
and he noticed that McKinney had a German Luger pistol in his
trouser's belt. I was sure this would be the end, since he must
have thought it probably came from a German that we had killed.
Gratefully the tank commander was a level-headed experienced
army man and took no action. At this point, my left leg started
to give way, and I looked down and saw holes in my pants -- I
had been wounded! The German also noticed this and ordered us
by hand signals to sit down in a nearby field and await our fate.
While in the field I disposed of my field notes by scrapping
them into the earth. I did not want to have anything on me that
would identify our troop locations. We soon saw a pickup truck
arrive and we were put aboard for the journey to what turned
out to be a German field hospital in LeMans. McKinney had not
disposed of his field notes and asked on the way to the hospital
what he should do with them. My response "You know our orders
eat them!" He quickly obeyed orders.
At the field hospital, the Germans treated me more as a wounded
soldier than a prisoner. I was given a tetanus antitoxin injection
and then prepared for the operation to remove 16 shell fragments
that had entered my left thigh and side of my chest. I awoke
from the operation to find myself in a bed among German patients
and treated the same as they were. McKinney was not to be seen
by me henceforth. This respite as a "German" patient
did not last long as my notes that follow show I was quickly
taken to La Pitie Hospital in Paris that had been taken over
by the Germans. Here the prisoners were separated from others
and under guard.
My very brief notes of each step of my over one month as a
prisoner of the Germans in hospitals in France were made on small
pieces of paper hidden in my change purse. A purse I had used
to hold the large English coins while in England. Below are some
of the notations I made (from those original scraps of notes):
- 2 August - Wounded and captured by German
- 3-4 August - LeMans German field hospital,
operated on to remove shell fragments in left thigh and left
side of chest. Left one fragment in leg and one in chest - too
close to muscles.
- 5-17 August - La Pitie Hospital in Paris
taken over by Germans.
- 17-18 August - In Paris railroad yard being
loaded with about 80 others in boxcar for evacuation to prison
in Germany. Through appeal to French Red Cross, the underground
kept boxcar in yard. At 1900 on 18 Aug. approximately 25 of the
boys moved out of yard on foot by Germans. Rest of us taken by
Red Cross to Hosp. Auxiliaire de la Croix St. Simon, 18 Rue de
la Croix St. Simon, Paris.
- 22 August - Met Greek barber.
- 22 August at 1600 - Visit by French General.
- 24 August at 1630 - Visit by French Colonel
- 24 August at 2330 - Yanks and Free French
reported in Hotel de Ville - Bells ringing.
- 25 August at 1030 - Singing in the streets.
- 25 August - Swell dinner with all the trimmings.
- 26 August at 1500 - General DeGaulle fired
- 26 August at 2330 - Bombed.
- 26 August at 1100 - Visit by American Lt.
Col. CIC (Counter Intelligence Corps).
- 27 August at 1700 - Visit by British Captain
- 28 August at 2315 - Air Raid alert - one
- 29 August - Visits from International Red
Cross and Colonel of CRF.
- 30 August at 1100 - American doctor, 382
Medical, told will evacuate in PM.
- 30 August at 1500-1900 - 42 men leave.
- 30 August at 2400 - Air raid.
- 2 September at 1600 - Visit from Captain,
108 Gen. Hosp. Beaujon, Paris - Will move the rest of us in the
- 3 September at 1100 - Last 20 left for 108
Gen. Hosp. Beaujon.
- 5 September - Left 108 Gen. Hosp. by plane.
- 6 September - Left for England by plane -
2 hours to 130 Stat. Hosp.
- 7 September - To 188 Gen. Hosp.
These brief notes were made to chronicle the daily events
of my prison days. A little further detail may be of interest
on some of the events noted. At La Pitie Hospital, the Germans
changed our wound dressings only when we complained. The food
left a lot to be desired especially when you had to remove a
bug before you ate it. The best part was the afternoon spritzer
-- wine with soda water. Our German guards were young recruits
and on several occasions, I had to warn my fellow prisoners not
to irritate them since they might be trigger-happy. I was the
senior officer amongst the prisoners and they listened.
As it became obvious that the Allied forces were closing in
on Paris, the Germans started to evacuate the hospital and as
the notes show about 80 of us were taken to the railroad yard
to be loaded on boxcars for our trip to German prison camps.
The Red Cross fed us in the yard and provided contact with the
French underground. At my request, the underground managed to
shoot up our train each night to keep us from being evacuated.
We were concerned that our aircraft might hit our boxcar during
their daily attacks so we had our guards get red paint for us
to paint red crosses on the top of the cars. To our relief the
Germans gave up trying to move the rail cars but as I note did
take about 25 of our group who were ambulatory off by foot. The
rest of us were quickly picked up by the Red Cross and entered
the Hospital Auxiliare de la Croix St. Simon. As you can tell
from my notes this was a very pleasant hospital with excellent
treatment by the French doctors and nurses. I did not want the
Americans to find us!
It seems like I must have done something right at the time
of my capture, as I was awarded the oak leaf cluster to my Bronze
Star medal for heroic achievement in action against the enemy
on 1 and 2 August 1944. No other details of the citation are
available. The Purple Heart medal was awarded to me for wounds
received in battle.
In the US Army hospital in England, the doctors examined my
wounds and decided that the many holes would leave me with many
scars and they could do a better job of stitching the wound areas
to leave me with only a couple of thin line scars. The result
was a failure when the taut skin parted at the stitching and
I was left with large scars. My recuperation was otherwise pleasant
and ended with a week at a very beautiful English estate for
R&R (Rest and Rehabilitation.) There I enjoyed the pleasures
of an English gentleman with the butler awakening me in the morning
and drawing my bath. The lady of the estate would join us in
the evening for cocktails and dinner, which was served on the
finest English china by the butlers and maids. What a life!
I insisted I wanted to return to my unit, so in November I
rejoined the 23rd Armored Engineers in Aachen/Stolberg region
of Germany as Battalion Intelligence Officer -- S2. I would have
much preferred taking back command of my Company but my good
friend and able officer Jeff Artz had taken over and was doing
a great job. This staff position put me in close contact with
our battalion commander and could lead to the promotion I had
missed when I was wounded in France.
The battalion was recuperating and being refitted after the
advance through France and Belgium and finally breaking through
the Siegfried Line, a strong fortified German defensive position
with concrete dragon teeth and pillboxes. I had missed this advance
during the three months of captivity and recuperation. The amount
of destroyed buildings and shell holes in Aachen attested to
the fierce battle that had taken place to capture the city.
In our drive across Germany, I had been promoted to Battalion
Operations Officer (S-3) and given the responsibility for assembling
and assigning any support engineering groups. At the Mulde River,
we needed to build a ponton bridge for the Division to cross
and attack Dessau on the route to Berlin about 60 miles away.
The bridgehead across the Mulde River had been well established
by our infantry. An engineering bridge company was assigned to
me to build the bridge approaches and the bridge while the Division
was being re-supplied to be ready for the drive to Berlin. The
Germans were making a last ditch defense and had the artillery
firepower to make it miserable for us. Several times, we had
the bridge almost finished and their artillery fire knocked us
out and destroyed our work. We had limited counter-battery fire
because our supplies had not yet caught up and the guns, I was
told, only had about five rounds per gun.
We kept rebuilding the needed bridge and finally on April
17, 1945 I found the work looked complete and decided to make
a final inspection of the bridge site to approve it for our Division
troops to cross. The German artillery rained down heavily on
the site and one of the high explosive shells exploded above
me and I took cover. As I tried to get up, my right arm hung
along my side. I was sure the shell had ripped my arm but I saw
no blood. My driver evacuated me to our headquarters where I
started to get a severe headache and putting my hand to my helmet,
I noticed blood. I realized I had been hit on the head and medics
were called. The next thing I know I was on an airplane to England.
Later, in the news I realized one of the reasons our re-supply
may have been slow is because Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin
had agreed the Russians should enter Berlin first and that there
was no urgency to re-supply us at the Elbe/Mulde River front.
In England, I was immediately operated on by a very capable
Army neurosurgeon. A shell fragment had pierced my helmet, bounced
off my skull, and sunk back into the helmet liner. This had fractured
my skull and damaged a small segment of my brain on the left
side that caused the paralysis of the right side of my body.
The operation was a success and I slowly started to recover the
use of my right arm. I felt sorry for many of my fellow patients
who were young men in their early twenties who from brain injuries
had lost vision or speech. During our month long plus stay in
the Army hospital in England we tried to work together to help
each other regain the use of our senses.
According to my records, I returned to the United States by
ship leaving England on May 29 and arriving on June 8, 1945.
I had spent VE Day (May 8th) in England at a hospital deprived
of enjoying the celebration with my 23rd Armored Engineers of
almost four years. The hospital in the USA was the Chalfonte-Haddon
Hall and Traymore Hotels in Atlantic City, NJ taken over by the
Army and designated the Thomas M. England General Hospital. The
private room I occupied was a hotel room with an Army cot and
a small dressing table. The hotel luxuries had been removed.
This didn't matter since I spent little time in the room except
to sleep at night. If my day was not occupied by hospital tests
I managed to go to the beach and enjoy the day and evening with
Greek friends I met. This pleasant stay lasted until I appeared
before a medical review board and they decided I could not remain
in the Army and therefore was granted a disability retirement
as of October 20, 1945 from the Army of the United States and
sent home on July 13, 1945.
I had served in the U.S. Army as an enlisted man from July
30, 1940 to September 27, 1941 and as an officer from September
27, 1941 to October 20, 1945. The five battles and campaigns
in which I participated and the awards received are enumerated
in the Certificate of Service that is attached to this summary.
In addition to the decorations and awards shown, the Prisoner
of War Medal and the Belgian Fourragere were awarded. The one-page
brief history of the 3rd Armored Division that is also attached
mentions some of the accomplishments of this great "Spearhead"