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Monday, February 28, 2011

Chapter 5: Sicily

OK Now the 3rd Division begins it trek to Salzburg. But first it has to go through Sicily, Italy, Anzio, France then Germany.

The Division sailed from Bizerte on a calm sea. This was going to be nice. But shortly the sea got rough and the ride became quite unpleasant. A LST rides like a cork with water splashing over the deck. To escape Bill got into the cab. The cab was not big enough for all but it was his truck so he because fairly comfortable compared to the others who had to tough it out in the water breaking over the deck.

The division infantry began unloading at 2 am in the dark obviously. Bills 39th FA began unloading at daybreak. The Germans knew they were coming and met them with a few rounds of 88. Bill landed on yellow beach. The beach was good for amphibious landing as the driver of the LST went full speed at the beach after dropping his anchor to pull them off after unloading. The LST went up on the beach so far that the trucks didn't need their waterproofing to keep dry. They just drove off and on to the beach.

Within a few hours they had their first casualty which was Bill Presley. Bill didn't say how but probably by land mine which was the main cause of casualties.

It was here that one of the major tragedies of WW2 happened. 23 fully loaded troop transports were shot down by American anti aircraft fire because of confusion. It was just a mixup which can happen in war. But about 500 men died because of this mixup.

To show you how the luck of the draw is and how close you can get to getting killed consider this. Bill and other soldiers of the battery were standing around during a stop when a jeep drove up. It turned around and drove out. On the way it ran over a bouncing betty and although Bill didn't say anyone was killed several were wounded. Any one of the original group could have walked on it or drove over it instead of the jeep that did run over it. Here is a picture of Bill Sheldon and Machull Miller each holding one. You will note they are using two hands. Although it is probably not armed. Still...

Read my blog about my fun in the ETO

Watch for the next chapter. Coming soon

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chapter 6: More of Sicily

The 3rd learned real fast of the Art of War. The Germans began to call the Third Inf. the Blue and White Devils. The Infantry learned fast it paid to trust the artillery. Stay about 100 yards behind where the shells were landing so the enemy could not recover from the shock before being attacked. It is surprising how little Bill saw of Sicily, Italy, France and Germany. Most of his time was spent in the back of the truck operating the radio. He operated what was called a base set. He would receive messages from the forward observer and relay them to fire control. Fire control would compute the settings for the batteries to set their guns and Bill would relay that information back to the guns. When the guns were fired they would send back "on the way" The forward observer would then observer would report the results. The first round can be off target a little or a lot. If it was off the forward observer would relay the necessary information whether it was left 100, right 75, over short or perhaps on target. If there was a need for very quick response the shells was close enough to do the job the directions would be to fire for effect. In which case the 4 battery guns would fire 3 shells each. In case I haven't said, the batteries were 105 mm howitzers. Howitzers are best for lots of circumstances where there might be a hill in the way of the enemy. Howitzers have greater range than mortars.
They didn't have howitzers mounted on wheels and axles in the Civil War because it the gun fired at too much elevation it would break the axle. Howitzers then were mounted on a base directly on the ground. Very awkward and not mobile. But Bill saw the inside of the truck in most of travels. On the other hand he could sleep in it if he didn't have to dig a foxhole. Not very comfortably though as he slept under the truck a lot of the time.

There were three incidents that were not exactly connected to Bill but is of such a nature that I want to recount it. The Germans were past masters at blowing bridges to impede the advance of the Americans. Sicily was a fertile place for bridges because of it's hilly nature. They blew a bridge on a steep and high cliff. Normally this would take days and days to rebuild. However the 10th Engineers built a new bridge in less than a couple days creating a legend of it's prowess. Then the Third put the Truscott Trot to good effect. The commanding general Truscott created a way or marching that the division could march over 30 miles a day. Very fast the first hour, then a little less the second, then a steady pace the rest of the time. Although there was continual opposition from the Germans all three regiments marched this last 100 miles to Palermo. in 3 days. You must remember that this is with a pack too.

Military guys are as glory seeking as most anyone. It's when they command for glory and not to save their soldiers lives is what I am against. For example Patton had given orders that would allow his tanks to enter Palermo first with News Reel cameras and reporters.

The Third with it's Truscott trott disobeyed orders to hold back and trotted into Palerma and was waiting for the British and American tanks when they came into Palermo Square. Some times Generals seeking glory cause their soldiers to die. Mark Clark the 5th Army commanding general changed orders to make sure his American army got to Rome first. As a result this allowed some Germans to escape capture which allowed them to kill Americans in battles north of Rome.

See my blog of my WW2 and Occupation experiences.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Chapter 7: How this story came about.

Bill Sheldon used to tell stories about his experiences in WW2. After he became sick his wife had him write his experiences down. I was making a blog of my experiences in WW2 that pale into insignificance to his. Whenever my wife and I would visit them in George Washington we'd get to talking and he'd tell me about it. He was a proud patriotic American and proud of the exploits of the 3rd Infantry Division. One of the best in the US Army. Certainly the one that sffered the most casualties. But each man killed was a young vibrant man who never got a chance to live out his life because some politician didn't try hard enough to avoid this useless war. 280 people a day for 4 years killed. For what? Hitler couldn't cross the 20 mile English Channel. He certainly couldn't cross the Atlantic Ocean.
These stories lose something in the translation from him writing them down as compared to extemporaneously telling a story. It's so much better to hear them live.
But to get back to how this blog came into being. After Bill wrote his stories Virginia his wife, got out the History of the 3rd Inf. in WW2 and combined history with Bills stories and pictures and made them into a book in the form of a 3 ring binder. I am taking Bills story out of the binder and retelling it here in this blog. Sometimes adding to it from what I know of history of WW2 and Bill Sheldon. I'd like to point out the trauma he went through when early in the Sicily campaign his best
friend Terry was killed. Compared to the infantry of course not a big a percentage were killed. But there were a considerable numbe killed. According to the 3rd Inf history about 47 in the 39th FA were killed, missing or captured. You might ask how could someone in the artillery be captured. Two were captured when operating as forward observers and got too far ahead and were captured by the Germans. I never got a chance to ask Bill what effect the death of his best friend Terry had on him but it must have been enormous.

Now go check my blog. That's an order!

New material for Bills war

3rd Infantry Division
In WW2 800 Americans a day for 1,000 days died, were wounded or were missing. There are still over 70,000 missing.  World wide 25.000 people were killed each day for over 2,000 days.  Some have had the audacity to label this "The Good War".  There was nothing good about it. Others have labeled those who participated in it as the Greatest Generation. Each participated and did their duty as they were required.  Bill Sheldon was one of those who did their duty and this is his record as best it can be reconstructed with what  material is available. Pictures, film, and what he told people about his experiences. His experiences were confined to fighting others who were armed and did not involve killing  innocent civilians. Each of those who died in WW2 was a person like you and me.  Like Stalin said.  1 death is a tragedy.  50,000,000 is a statistic. Each life and death is a story.  This is Bill Sheldons story.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chapter 8: Italy.

The disaster at Salerno was averted before the 3rd could get in to save the situation. The British 8th Army had made connection with the Americans from the south while the 3rd was being transported to Salerno.
Bill had a bad scare during these early days when a couple German fighters passed over their trucks but did attack them. Picture of Stroyan and Stiek resting probably in Cicily. Bill's battalion the 39th FA played a key role in saving the Salerno crossing and many American lives. The Rapidio was the river that the 36th Texas Division suffered catastrophic losses after a General could not admit it was time to stop throwing away the lives of him men trying to cross a river. It's not often a soldier can find out exactly how his
efforts made a big difference. When the Third Div made their crossing of the Volturno only light weapons got across too. So when the Germans brought up a half a dozen tanks they were in deep doo doo.

Usually you read in histories about battles, attacks, artillery barrages. this and that without identifying the units that did all this. Generals tend to get the glory. In this instance of the Third Division crossing the Volturno it was mentioned in the 3rd Div History of WW2 that the 39th and 10th FA fired on the tanks just in time to keep the troops from being overrun. As Bill Sheldon was the radio liaison with the troops across the river he had much to do with saving the troops. So when Bill read this account he knew he was the one that helped save the river crossing. Usually radio operators wont know all that much about what is going on. Very satisfying.

Talk about screw-ups. After Salerno, the Volturno crossing, the army decided the 3rd needed some amphibious training. Perhaps for the upcoming Anzio landing. It almost became Bills last amphibious training. Actually in war there are lots of screwy ideas. But some develop into practical weapons like the submarine, machine gun. Some however only lose lives. In the Normandy D day landings someone came up with the bright idea of encasing tanks in canvas and floating them to shore. However just a little wave was enough to swamp the tank in the canvas. An idea that it's had not come. In the training before Anzio the big mistake was that the navy unloaded the ducks 12 miles off shore. So far that they ducks carrying the gun batteries ran out of gas and most of them capsized and sank from the rough seas. Luckily Bill was in one of the ducks that didn't capsize and they assisted in saving the troops in the water. Only one was lost but it could have been much worse. The above picture was taken at Anzio. Bill is inside the truck. Monitoring the radio.

After the Volturno it was one hill after another to be cleared of Germans and constant mud. Bill in his stories seemed to credit the mud with about as much opposition as the Germans.

Coming up was Anzio. Anzio was one experience that every soldier in the Division was in the front lines. Of course the Infantry faced the German riflemen but all faced the artillery. The story has been told elsewhere. One close call story told about how one day his captain was directing them ahead to liaison with the Fire control and the forward observer. However the Capt got lost. A Recon car stopped them and told them that they had seen a German patrol ahead and advised them to turn around and get back to safety. During the dark they kept lost and had to stop for the night. They were so close to the front they could see tracers ahead. Now that it is close. Next morning they found their way back. Later the Infantry was taking such a beating they began to raid other units to get Infantry. The order came to send Bill up as a replacement. The battalion commander raised the roof and told them they were not taking his best radio operator. I know Bill was a conscientious operator as he was in everything he did his whole life. Of interest might be the cartoon by Mauldin that showed his characters watching their still make white lightning.

To see Mauldin's cartoon look here. Requires a pdf reader. See the still made by 3rd Div doggies.

Check out my camping trip in WW2

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chapter 9: Anzio

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Bill went through the whole 4 months of Anzio. Except for the Colmar Pocket which is almost as bad or was perhaps as bad because it happened during the terrible winter when the battle of the Bulge was going on. We don't hear a lot about the Colmar pocket though.

Bill tried to choke himself to death! This illustrates how exhausted you can get. A few nights after the landing at Anzio Bill woke up from a deep sleep and felt a hand around his neck. He was panic stricken believing a German had him by the throat. Then he recognized that it was his own hand on his throat. His arm had gone to sleep and his hand was against his throat. Talk about relief.

Sleeping where the pigs slept.
Usually the radio truck for the battalion is somewhat behind the front lines. At Anzio the front lines were just a couple miles away and the battalion radio truck, ran by Bill, was just next to one of the gun batteries. They slept in a pig pin. Actually after they cleaned it up.

The Anzio battle has been told many times so except for Bills comments about the war I wont go over it again. He told how they could not go around in the daylight except for when they might be behind a building such as the pigpen. The assaults of the Germans came close to pushing the Americans into the sea. So close that at one time they were issued incendiary grenades to destroy the trucks if it came to that. But they held and went on to break out of the beachhead later.
Here are some pictures of foxholes on Anzio

Virginia, Bills girlfriend sent him a small camera and the pictures on this page are from that camera. The poor quality is due to the fact that these are copies of pictures that had been copied before. They never reproduce well. So far we don't have the original

Would you like to have an idea of what these guys were going through? The next time it is cold misearble and snowing about 20 degrees go camping. Sleeping in a hole in the ground. You wont have anyone shooting at you so the experience wont be what they went through of course but camping out in these conditions might make you more appreciative of their experience.

After the Colmar pocket in the Vosges mountains they broke out and begain the march through Germany.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Southern France

I will have to go back and pick up the story at the invasion of southern France.After too short a stay in Rome the division was loaded on ships and headed for as far as Bills unit was concerned St. Tropes. Bill was impressed when Winston Churchill made an appearance on a ship in the convoy. Bill took a picture but in spite of enlarging it a great amount you can not detect any of his features in fact I could not even see anyone in the boat in the distance.

Bill's unit landed at St. Tropes and the navy tried some newly developed techniques for war fighting to be common in the 21st century. The navy sent two un-manned boats loaded with explosives to blow up a couple docks loaded with teller mines.

One of the navy landing boats was driven by a guy named Manson who turned out to be his boss later when he worked at the Wanapum dam in Wash9ington state.

Bill landed 20 minutes after the first wave of infantry. During this time a British pilot ran out of gas and crash landed impressing Bill with his coolness.

Staying overnight their unit went to Avignon the Popes residences during conflicts within the Catholic Church. The 3rd ambushed a German armored column and killed many and destroying huge numbers of tanks, vehicles, horses and so on. The civilians feasted on parts of the horse meat. Bill saw all this.

During one night Bill was laying wire and an airplane dropped a flare. Bill had to drop to the ground and stay motinless for a while then crawl on. He had crawled through some human waste and had a bath in the nearby horse trough. He was lucky the he had a horse trough to clean up in. I would say.
If you have been in the army you know how precious fresh food can be after existing on K or C rations for weeks. Somewhere near Bensancon France Mac Miller liberated enough eggs for the small group Bill was in. George Tierney was engrossed in telling a story so Miller cautioned him not to step on the eggs. But what did he do but step back and break all but one. Miller asked him how is wife put up with him. Tierney told him she was as clumsy as he was. They all got a good laugh out of that sans eggs of course.

If you have ever seen Bill Mauldin cartoons of WW2 you know how dirty and unkempt they are. One in Bill's outfit looked just about like Mauldins characters looked. Kunz who I will post his narrative after Bills is the guy in the picture. If he doesn't look like one of Mauldin's characters I don't know who he would be.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

France, Germany then Austria.

The division continued on to Strasbourg. Over the centuries this area had been one time French and another time German. Bill got a 3 day pass and enjoyed a visit to the Cathedral, and visited the baths at Bourbonne les Bainnes. Getting shed of about 4 months of grime. Then it was back to business coming up the Colmar Pocket.

Remember, this winter coming up was the same one that caused so much trouble in the north resulting in the Battle of the Bulge. The fighting was just as nasty and severe as in Belgium. A good account of the 3rd Division's efforts at Colmar can be found here

I usually want mainly the account of Bill and his friends but it is worth a look at what the Third was up against at Colmar. Moving in the battle Bill and a couple friends stayed with a French family who were very friendly. Later on a return trip to Darmstadt after delivering an officer to Le Harve the soldier I was with took me back to one of the French towns where the division had been and we visited the family again. Not the family Bill and friends were but where this soldier had been. To celebrate our visit the family served a glass of potato schnapps. I'm telling you this was the worst stuff I think I had ever drunk in my limited drinking career. I guess I drank it as there would no place to pour it out. I cant remember now. This was at Christmas time when the Division went through here and they were there long enough to have a Cristmas tree. This was the artillery not the infantry of course . In their first house they were run out of because an officer came in and told them they were in his territory and would have to leave. Being an order by an officer of course they had to comply. They didn't say how willingly. Bill's friend Patsy spoke French and some Italian so that made things a lot easier. Here they had a treat because they were able to eat at the Kitchen. Other times they ate C rations. Which is canned food.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Assault on Germany

Remember, To see a full screen picture click on the thumbnail.

Landing ship. Click on the picture for a big picture and you can see a 105 mm Howitzer being transported to the beach.

A picture of a 105 MM Gun being transported to the beach

Spotter plane.

I have funny story about this plane. When we were in Darmstadt during the occupation the plane landed at a grass field and when he was to go back to where ever he came from I had driven him to the field. He asked me to retard the throttle after he spun the prop. Unfortunately I had forgotten if you pushed or pulled it. When the engine started I gave it the throttle instead of slowing it down;. I darn near took off. However he ran around and got the engine slowed down before it had moved.  He didn't say goodbye either.

Before moving inland the 39th had a few hours to enjoy the beach. I never got a chance to ask him about t his part of the invasion.
Later This; is after Southern France and Colmar winter campaign.

The Division was assembled in secret to prepare for the invasion. of Germany. Bill was sent up close to the line for radio relay. When the 3rd broke through the Siegfried line in 3 days, Bill was able to take a look at the line fortifications. Very impressive until there was a breakthrough. Just like the Maginot line. They guns pointed one way and with the enemy through the line the guns were useless. A lot of work by concentration camp and other prisoners went into this useless project. But Bill was impressed. The resistance was sporadic going into Germany Bill said he crossed the Rhine river on a pontoon bridge and they stopped for the night 5 miles past the river. Bill and his unit came under artillery fire that night and one duck (amphibious) was destroyed when it caught fire with a guy under the duck couldn't get out of his sleeping bag fast enough and almost burned to death. Later Bill did a dirty trick on his friend Aho. After the shelling he know there would be another one so he asked Aho to come on duty a little early. Sure enough an hour later there was another shelling. Bill was concerned enough to call Aho to find out if he was OK. He was.

Photo above. Camping out in the Colmar battle.

Another photo during the Colmar Battle.

Next morning on the way to Schweinfurt they stopped at a small village where they were to stay for a few days and kicked the owners out of their house because they needed it. They were in Germany now and niceties no longer applied. Pretty standard SOP for conquering armies. Although it was against regulations for a German Soldier to be billeted in a French house with unmarried girls living there. In Russia I don't know if it also applied although discipline was so strict there would not be independent rape and pillage. This was the privelege of the Nazi rulers.
The strange part was that the owner was an x American soldier from the 1st World War. He didn't take too kindly to this development so the Sgt gave him the standard 10 minutes to leave. Like the house I stayed in in Salzburg. This still didn't please the man who continued to protest. Finally Gunderson put the butt of his rifle against the mans chest which convinced him to leave right now. The next day the home owner came around to ask if he could have his radio. This was denied. I think it was in Stroyans account where he said the Army notified the men that niceties were out the window when it came to the treatment of the Germans. This policy continued on into the occupation I can verify from my own experience. Although it might not be the policy in Iraq I can see from accounts it is hard to get that out of a soldier even though the military is trying to win over the Iraqi's hearts and mind.

By Bills account it took all this time for the army to supply the artillerymen with carbines which I had had from training days. Strange.

Although the war was winding down it still was a dangerous place. Under some shelling when in a Germans house George Tierney was so excited it took him about 15 minutes to get his pants on. He vowed not to take them off untill the war was over.

Another story about George by Bill who was aware of his nervousness of course. The war coming to a close I suppose might have had something to do with it. Who wants to get killed in the last few days of the war. (or any time for that matter.) They had pulled into a place about midnight and instead of just climging into a sleeping bag George started digging a foxhole. By morning he was still digging but had dug only about a foot down.

The residents of the now resort town of Bad Kissengen didn't want their town destroyed so they decided to disobey Hitlers orders to resist to the last so met the Americans outside and surrendered the town. I don't know if Bill was a part of this or this it came from the book "The Third Infantry in WW2". I mainly want to make this Bills story of the war not too much from the book. There are thousands of books on the war. Two of the best "Hitler's War" and "Churchill's War" by David Irving.
The Germans were starting to surrender in droves. Smart move

Bills story of the war continued when they got to the Outskirts of Salzburg there was a time in this period he didn't say much. He didn't say much after the incidents with George and had hardly any pictures for me to show. . The men were able to get some of the grime off at a lake resort near Salzburg in a sauna after the war ended. An experience not available in Cottage Grove Oregon I'm pretty sure at that time.

The battalion was stationed in Hallein for a short time n some old Austrian barracks. The war was over now. Some duties consisted of guarding prisoners being taken by train to Munich. After about 3 weeks Bills battalion and the entire division was moved up near Kassel. I was with the 3rd by now in Divarty having joined when it was in Salzburg. Bill's 39 FA guarded some prisoners while there in Kassel. I have a picture somewhere of Kassel which was totally destroyed. A poor one. I was driving for the ex officer and may have been near Bill but didn't know it. I have some pictures when the Col. was visiting one of the Battalions althoug I didn't say which one.

Bill lucked out on the troop ship home. He was not assigned duties because he supposedly didn't have a bunk. Although a friend did find one for him unknown to the brass who assigns duties.

This pretty much concludes the wartime stories by Bill Sheldon that are in the book by his wife Virginia. He told many more of course but I do not remember those. Virginia remembers others but at this time I am not able to include them. Bill never told me many of the real bad experiences. You can read them in Bill Stroyhan's experiences . Stroyhan's will be entirely different because it is in the form of a diary, It will also be in PDF. I don't have any pictures from him but I can include some from Bills collection if applicable.

After the war.
The Society of the 3rd Inf. Division

Thursday, February 10, 2011

After the War Band of Brothers

The War starts after this episode
Scroll on down to get to the war.

After the war the veterans of the 39th FA battalion were not finished with volunteering. Sometime after the war they signed up for membership in the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division. Bill and others became life members and attended meetings until they died. They were not through with excitement because the Society held meetings in Reno Nevada or Las Vegas some of the time. Here are some pictures

Bill died April 7, 2001 As of this date Jan 28, 2008 all of Bill's friends are dead except Bill Kunz who is still alive.

The song Dog Faced Soldier was written by a 3rd Div. infantryman while in Africa. Because he was in Africa he could not copywrite it so others have plagiarized it for their own purposes.

This concludes the great experience of the WW2 for the participants in the 39th Field Artillery Battalion.

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