YANK Magazine: "TEXAS TANKER"
By Sgt. Frank Woolner
Combat correspondent, 3AD HQ
September 22, 1944
Beyond the Siegfried Line in Germany - Here in the
mud and wind of approaching autumn, in a town which is clamorous
with the crump of enemy mortars and the sigh of our own shells
passing overhead, elements of an elite American unit, the 3rd
Armored "Spearhead" Division, were poised, waiting
for the word which would send them slashing into greater Germany.
In the new attack, tankers of this big striking force would have
one regret: that S/Sgt. Lafayette G. Pool, lanky, one-time golden
glove champion, from Sinton, Texas, could not be there to lead
In an armored division which earned the name "Spearhead"
the hard way, battling through France and Belgium, Pool distinguished
himself for all time. When he was wounded recently, his commanding
officer, Lt. Colonel Walter B. Richardson, of Beaumont, Texas,
said: "Pool is the tanker of tankers; he can never be replaced
in this regiment." The Colonel had good reason to make such
During the great armored drives of the American First Army
across Europe in the summer offensive of 1944, S/Sgt. Pool led
his task force in 21 full scale attacks! He is definitely credited
with 258 enemy vehicles destroyed, 250 German prisoners of war
taken, and over 1,000 dead before the guns of his Sherman tank,
IN THE MOOD.
On a windy hill in the Siegfried Line recently, Pool cheated
death again, but in the action he was wounded and so sent back
to convalesce. His record, however, stands. He is America's first
ace of tankers. He is a soldier's soldier. I heard Pool's story
from a man of the old crew, a man who had been there when the
final shell struck his tank. In an anvil clash of sound, a pungent,
dark explosion laced with sparks. Jerry finally broke up the
team of American kids who had harried him across a continent.
It was a lucky shot for Jerry.
We were sitting around in the wet darkness, batting the breeze
as all GI's do in moments of relaxation, and listening to Jerry's
mortar fire punch the ground. A thin spatter of rain beat on
the tarp over our heads. It was doughboy weather, mean and muddy.
The big medium tank crouched in the muck, its long 76mm gun peering
around the corner, daring Jerry to come on.
This was a road block of the 3rd Armored Division. There was
a screen of armored infantry out in front -- brave men in wet
foxholes. The doughs were old hands at this game -- you couldn't
see them and, excepting by accident, you couldn't hit them; they
were too well dug in for that. But let Jerry attack and they'd
be there all right, savoring the terrible exultation of the soldier
who has suffered much and who hates the guts of his enemy.
The doughs were a first line of resistance. Road blocking
tanks, like this one, were a second. An armored attack here would
be suicide for the enemy. Jerry knew it. He kept his panzers
in leash and waited nervously. He lashed out with mortar and
artillery, but he kept his head down too. Normandy, France and
Belgium had taught the Kraut a lesson. Guys from Fifth Avenue
to the Loop and west to Sunset Boulevard had punched the arrogance
off his face. The "Spearhead" had burned him and smashed
him and ground him into the dust halfway across a continent.
Now, like a condemned murderer. Jerry waited.
Our armor waited too, but it was a different kind of waiting;
it was maintenance and supplies piling up. It was the collection
of gasoline and ammunition -- all the stuff which would decide
for all time whether Jerry was a superman and the Yanks, military
idiots. Our armor waited like a boxer who impatiently flexes
his muscles a moment before the bell.
There was one man on guard in the road-blocking tank: the
rest of the crew sat around under the tarpaulin drinking hot
Nescafe, and cursing each other amiably. It was dark, but you
could see the guard in the turret, raincoat buttoned tight. He
looked statue-like until he moved, slowly, like a mechanical
man, to gaze carefully into the murky distance.
Cpl. Wilbert "Red" Richards, a pint-sized GI from
Cumberland, Maryland, rubbed his eyes and wondered irritably
"when the hell we're going to start moving."
Pfc. Bert Close, a thin, studious young man from Portland,
Oregon, grinned and said: "Eisenhower's waiting for old
Pool to get back. Can't spearhead without Pool."
We'd heard a lot about Pool. In the armored forces there aren't
many aces because everything works as a team. It's infantry-tank-artillery-airplane,
and everyone slugging shoulder to shoulder with the next guy.
"How about this guy. Pool?" we asked. "Was
he finally killed ?"
"Killed!" shouted three voices in unison. "There
ain't a Jerry shell in the world that could kill Pool or any
of his crew. The best those squareheads could do was to wound
him in the leg. He'll be back, and then God help the panzers!"
"What was he like?" we inquired.
The redhead, Richard, sat up and squinted his eyes. He passed
a hand through his flaming red hair and scratched his scalp reflectively.
"I was Pool's driver," he said, "and I guess I
knew him as well as anybody in the regiment. He was a tall, skinny
guy with a bent schnozzle. He got that in the golden gloves.
"Know what he used to call me? Baby! Imagine that! But
he knew I could drive that old tank. He used to sit up there
in the turret -- you could tell Pool anywhere by the way he sat
up there, more out than in. He rode that tank like a Texas bronc.
Well, he used to sit up there and give us orders through the
intercom phone just as cool and calm as though the big show were
a maneuver. All Pool wanted was to get out ahead of the other
tanks so he could kill more Jerries.
"You know we had three tanks. Lost the first at La Forge,
when a bazooka round hit us. The second got straddled with bombs
at Fromentel. Pool just got to hating the Germans a little more,
if that could be possible.
"Of course the crew's all broken up now. Pool went back
with that leg wound, and so did Oller. Boggs' eyes were irritated
by dust, and he's in a rest camp. That leaves Close and me. We
don't get no rest at all, do we Bert?"
Faint skylight flickered on Close's glasses. He said, dryly:
"Ten minutes after Red left Pool's tank he was driving another
one up front. The Colonel said: "Richards, you want to go
back?" That dope said: "No Sir, Give me and Close another
tank to drive." The Colonel did just that. I was assistant
driver -- what could I do?" You could see that Close hadn't
wanted to do anything.
I think Pool would've gone back himself if the medics hadn't
held him down," Richards chuckled. "He hated Germans,
and he thought that he could lick 'em all. The guys used to draw
straws to see who'd lead the spearhead. Pool would have none
of that. He'd just say, "Ah'm leadin' this time," in
his old Texas drawl -- and stand there, grinning, while we cussed
"But we'd go along just the same. By God, I think we
were more scared of Pool than of Jerry!"
"Remember," he turned to Close, forgetting us entirely
in the way of men who have waded through hell together, "Remember
the day ....."
So we just sat back in the wet darkness, with the rain on
the tarp and the mortar fire for background, and listened.
When the division -- it was the "Bayou Blitz" then
-- was activated at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, back in 1941,
Pool, a skinny kid from Texas, was right there in ranks. He came
from the old 40th Armored Regiment, medium tanks, which was tamed
for its cadres, and he was a rugged Joe. He was over six feet
tall, wiry, with the sloping shoulders of a boxer and a twisted
nose to remind him of the golden gloves. There was the beginnings
of a legend about Pool even then. He'd won the sectional 165-pound
crown at New Orleans, Louisiana, that year, but turned down an
offer to go on to Chicago and the national final Golden Gloves
tournament. The reason? Pool was a tanker first and a boxer second;
his outfit had just been allotted a few of the latest medium
In action, as in the ring, Pool punched hard and accurately.
He hated German theory and believed that he could beat the Wehrmacht,
gun to gun, and man for man. He wanted the tough assignments.
He asked for the dubious honor of leading those powerful armored
attacks which knifed through the Nazi legions during our summer
Pool's crew was ideal for the task. Besides Richards and Close,
there was Cpl. Willis Oller of Morrisonville, Illinois, gunner,
and T/5 Del Boggs, of Lancaster, Ohio, the loader. Boggs fought
with a special fury; he'd had a brother killed in the war. Oller,
gunner of IN THE MOOD, is alleged to have seen all of Normandy,
France, Belgium, and the Siegfried Line through the sights of
his gun. He was very quick and alert. Richards recalled a night
when the spearhead had driven deep into German lines from Origny,
in France. It had become quite dark when the order finally came
to halt and coil. Pool opened his mouth to say-" Driver,
halt," but found himself looking at a big Jerry dual purpose
AA gun in the gloom ahead. He said: "Gunner, flre!"
And Oller, with his eye perpetually pressed into the sight, squarely
holed the enemy weapon before its crew could recognize the American
Night actions were commonplace to the crew of IN THE MOOD.
At Colombrier, in France, Pool's leading tank almost collided
with a Jerry Mark-V Panther, pride of the Wehrmacht. The Panther
fired twice, and missed. Pool's single projectile tore the turret
off the big German vehicle. Again, at Couptrain, the armored
column reached its daily objective deep in the night. Besieged
on all sides, unable to send help forward, Colonel Richardson
listened to the radio report of the battle from Pool's vehicle.
He heard the Sergeant say joyously: "I ain't got the heart
to kill 'em ....." And then, over the airwaves came the
mad rattle of the .30 caliber bow gun. And again the fighting
Sergeant's voice "Watch them bastards run. Give it to 'em.
Close!" Surrounded by dismounted enemy troops, Pool and
his crew fought steadily until morning brought reinforcements.
The amazing score compiled by the Texas tanker and his gang
is fully authenticated. At Namur, Belgium, they knocked out a
record twenty-four-hour bag of one self-propelled sturmgeschutz
gun and fifteen other enemy vehicles. It was great stuff for
Pool. He was proving to himself, and to the world, that the American
soldier is more than a match for Hitler's "supermen."
Again, at Dison, in Belgium, as the spearhead neared the great
city of Liege, Pool distinguished himself. Acting as platoon
leader, he characteristically decided to use one tank, his own,
to clean out an annoying pocket of resistance on the left flank
of the route they were travelling. After finding and destroying
six armored infantry vehicles, Pool discovered that the head
of his column had been fired upon by a German Panther tank. Hurriedly
he gave orders to his driver to regain the column. Upon arriving
at the scene of action he immediately observed the enemy tank,
gave a single estimate of range to Oller. The gunner fired one
armor-piercing projectile at 1,500 yards to destroy the Panther.
The column went forward again. Pool at his accustomed place in
Although Lafe Pool lost two tanks to enemy action, he remained
as nerveless as a mechanical man. The crew drew added confidence
from his bearing under fire and as a result they worked beautifully
together. From the day of the great breakthrough in Normandy,
they had smashed the Wehrmacht before them, burned its vehicles,
decimated its troops. These men seemed impervious to German shells.
Twenty-one times they had led the irresistible drive of the American
armor and remained unscathed in this most hazardous task of total
war. Now, after crossing France and Belgium, smashing the famous
outer fortifications of the Siegfried Line, and taking part in
the action which resulted in the capture of the first Germon
town to fall to U. S. forces, Pool and his crew turned their
faces toward greater Germany and the last round.
The town was Munsterbusch, south of Aachen. Desperately, as
the westwall crumbled into ruin, Panther tanks of the Reich came
out to duel with Shermans of the 3rd Armored "Spearhead"
Pool's tank, strangely enough, was working as flank guard
of the task force that day. Watchers, including his Colonel,
who also rode in a tank, saw the bright, lance-shaft of German
tracer hit the turret of IN THE MOOD.
The big Sherman faltered. Inside, Pool said calmly, "Back
up. Baby." And, as Richards backed the tank slowly, the
second shell hit them well forward.
To Close, Oller, Boggs and Richards, there was only the space-filling,
bell-sound of the hit, the acid stench of powder and the shower
of sparks. They didn't know that Pool had been thrown clear,
his leg bleeding profusely from a splinter wound. Richards continued
to back the tank, carrying out his last order from the Sergeant.
Colonel Richardson saw the IN THE MOOD slowly reach a cut
bank, tilt, and with the agonizing slowness of a nightmare, topple
almost upside down.
At that moment Oller felt the hot blood on his legs and knew
that he had been wounded. Richards, Boggs, and Close were unhurt.
All four men crawled out of their tank. Medical aid men had already
reached Pool, now two of them came forward to attend to Oller.
Pool cursed the Germans bitterly as the aid men bandaged his
wound. As they placed him on a litter, he twisted suddenly and
said: "Somebody take care of my tank."
Exit, for the time being, Lafe Pool, ace of American tankers.
He thought he could beat Jerry. He did. He proved it so often
that the record is an almost unbelievable document of total victory.
In the arena of armored warfare, S/Sgt. Lafayette Pool, Golden
Glover from Sinton, Texas, bowed out at a climactic moment. From
the beaches of Normandy to the dragons teeth of the Siegfried
Line, he had been the point of the "Spearhead."