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71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion WWII

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A WWII Conversation

A WWII Conversation
Words of    (Former Lt.)  Paul McWain
Collected by      Gary W Beckley

The following are excerpts from a collection of conversations with former Lt. Paul McWain, Forward Observer for the 71st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 5th Armored Division. He relayed these thoughts through emails and phone conversations over a 5 year period ending in December of 2014 when he passed away at the age of 95. It was an honor and a privilege to have known him and been able to listen to and record his wartime memories. I have assembled the various individual stories the best I can, but they are all his words with a few added excerpts from “Fire Mission” the story of the 71st AFA Bn. and “Paths of Armor” the 5th Armored Division book, related to his actions. Mr. McWain’s stories are being told to me, sometimes referring to my dad, T/Sgt. William Beckley, and Ralph Loveless, sometimes referring to his dad, Roland Loveless, his tank gunner.  Here is his story.

 

 

Wow  - - - Where to start - - - What century?? Guess I'll begin when I went into the service . That was in March 1941.  I was 22  yrs old and had been with Bell Telephone less than a year  making $16.00 an hour. I was single, had a beat-up car, a couple girl friends, and playing a lot of fast -pitch softball and golf. I really felt that I had the world by the tail.  However, Europe was at war and we had started the Draft.  Two of my friends and I had already received our draft notices, so, rather than wait to be drafted and go our separate way, we would join a National Guard outfit that was soon to be activated into service. That way we could be together , serve our year , and then get back to the good life .  Surprise, Surprise. The damn Japs bombed Pearl Harbor and we're in for the duration. That being the case, we decided we would roll the dice and see if we could get into one of those Officer Candidate Schools  [OCS]  and get to wear one of those snappy uniforms with the leather belts. Somehow, with the grace of the good lord, and lots of  luck, we all made it.   Bob to Quartermaster, George, to Air Corps, Me to good ‘ole Field Artillery. ( sorry we did say a brief narrative , but I'm a lot older than you guys and I've got a lot more to tell , so bear with me.)  Anyhow, now I'm an officer, big deal.   My first assignment was to the 31st Infantry Division , nick-named the Dixie Division (another Nat'l Guard  outfit).  All hailing from Fla., Geo., Miss. & Louisiana and all the officers above 2nd Lt.'s were either related or neighbors, and, Oh Yes, they  really hated those Yankee bastard 2nd Lt.'s, almost as much as they loved their grits.  After about 6 months of this BS , another Lt. and I decided life couldn’t get any worse so we went to the Colonel and asked him "How can we transfer out of this chicken-shit outfit".  He replied ," No problem, just go back to your tents and start packing your gear, you'll be heading overseas by noon tomorrow."  and that we were.  Thank heaven for little favors.  Bear with me , 2nd installment coming up.  I got a three day boat trip overseas on the Queen Mary, landed in Scotland, and a train ride to Salisbury Plains in England. The 2nd day there I was assigned to the 5th Armored Division.  I was a replacement for another officer that got hurt. I was welcomed by Capt. Everett Wilcox. I was advised that I was now a Forward Observer and would be using an M4 tank as my primary means of transportation, with the occasional use of a piper cub. He asked if I had ever been in a tank . I said “No”. He replied, “Well, you'd  better hurry because you've got 24 hrs to become an experienced tanker.”  Early the next morning I met my new crew and explained our mission. We got in the tank, took our places,  closed all the hatches and took off across Salisbury Plains.  I’m swinging the turret around like a top, trying to look through the periscope , bumping my head.  Pretending we're in a combat situation  with your Dad (Roland Loveless) trying to dry run loading a shell  and falling on his ass. The driver, Hoppy (T5 Earl Hopkins), running into things that suddenly got in the way or dropping off of a shelf,  etc, etc.    Believe me a wild time was had by all. Somehow we got back to camp without vomiting or breaking something vital   - - like our neck.   When we finally got out of the tank,  the little Sgt. that I'd just met said , “Lt. , I've been in the tank corps. for over 2 yrs and I’ve never had a ride like that . I'd swear that you were trying to tear my tank apart.” I replied, “ I’m sure glad to hear that it wasn’t the normal type of a ride. And, by the way, I really wasn’t trying to tear our tank apart.” He wanted out. It really was a wild ride. So as Capt.Wilcox had more Sgt.'s available, than 2nd Lt.s, he lost and I got Bullard.  The next day he arrived at the tank and said he was my new Tank Commander. I was fortunate however, in that the crew I got  were experienced  and didn’t appear to resent a brand new shave tail being laid on them.  And as our journey through Europe began, I really learned what a capable and fine crew I had. I usually had the same tank , same crew, with two exceptions, the one above, and when Martin(T5 Cecil Martin-asst. driver) came to me a little later, but I don't remember who he replaced.

“ Sons of bitches” was a favorite phrase of Patton’s. Just before we crossed the channel, all the officer's in the Division met with him in a big field in Salisbury Plains. When he arrived on the scene we all stood up and came to attention. He stared at us for a minute or two and then said "Alright you sons of bitches, you can now sit back down on your asses.” Us being good soldiers, we did as we were commanded. We sat back down on our asses. I saw him one other time, but he didn’t call me a son of a bitch that time. I don't think he recognized me .

I was in Headquarters Battery until VE day, then I kind of recall that I went to A Battery.  It is my recollection that the three of us carrying the title of Forward Observers were in Headquarters Battery.  I believe your Table of Organization supports that. I'm sure there were occasions when the F.O.'s were committed on assignments,  that Recon. Officers from the Batterys would go up in the cub's to assist. I also went to the Fort Knox Communication School as a Corporal on two occasions. I also went back to Fort Sill for the OCS school. When our outfit went into service in March 1941, we went to Fort Knox until we could get into Fort Leonard Wood. We stayed in  "Tent City" and froze our asses while in Knox.

If you’re looking for a job description, the following may be of some help:      The Forward Observer is recognized as the "EYES" of the field artillery and , in a combat situation, is an important part of the "Point". The Point , in an armored division , consists of 5 or 6 tanks, a half- track or two of infantry troops , and an artillery Forward Observer. Their mission is to advance along a determined route 1/4 to 1/2 mile ahead of the main column and make initial contact with the enemy.  When contact has been made , and it has been determined that artillery support is needed, the Forward Observer calls in the necessary commands and adjusts the artillery fire.  In performing these duties, in an armored division , most often, he would be in his own tank , however aerial observation in a piper cub is also quite common.  In an infantry division, the observer's mode of travel is in a jeep or the piper cub.

Based on the way we normally operated in a combat situation, the tank commander was in control of the radio and had to make rapid decisions as the gunner , the loader , the driver and the assistant driver ,all had their responsibilities. The T.C. was the eyes and ears in a tank, regardless of rank officer or NCO.

Normally, as a Forward Observer, I was attached to C  Company, 81st Tank Battalion. This did not apply to the 71st’s Firing Batterys.  For example, the Forward Observer  calls the "Fire Direction Center " with a target.  (The F.D.C. is at the HQ's Battery )  They say, “Go ahead, give us the location.”  The F.O. would identify,  from a map that they share,  anything that both can see on the map. A bridge, a town, a crossroad,  even map coordinates. Once they agree on the target location, the F.D.C. says,“ OK, we'll adjust fire with one gun, “SMOKE”. The FDC will then call a Battery (any Battery ) and say, “Fire mission, one gun, smoke”, and give the necessary info to the gunners. Based on the info, the gunners will load a smoke round and fire on the command of the Forward Observer.   Hopefully it will land somewhere in the vicinity of the target . The Observer, in locating where the round landed, will give the necessary commands to bring the next round closer to the target  this time. However, this time they will change to a high explosive type shell. There may be several adjustments before the Observer is satisfied  as to their nearness to the target. In the mean time, a decision has been made, depending on the size of the target, type of target, construction, how many guns to use , type of , etc.  Based on these considerations, these other guns have been making the same gun adjustments as the first one. Therefore, when they call “Fire For Effect”, the entire group will fire as one . I don't remember what question of yours got me going on this , but if you understand any of this you've passed Lesson #1. As Observers, we never knew whose guns were being fired. That was entirely up to Fire Direction.

Capt. Wilcox was our Commanding Officer. We would receive our specific assignments or changes through the Fire Direction Control. I kind of recall that Maj. Dickinson  ran this operation .  A typical day would be, I've been assigned to C Company Tanks.  I've been with them all week , I go where they go. Somebody (most often the Tank CO - Capt. Guthrie) would determine what platoon, 1st, 2nd or 3rd, would take the point and  we would go with them. I always tried to be in the middle of a line of tanks going down a road. The Germans had a habit of knocking out the first & last in a row of tanks. Then if the middle tanks couldn’t get off the road, they were hemmed in and were sitting ducks.

The next day it would be another platoon, and we'd go with them. We rotated between the three platoons from day to day.  Most often we wouldn’t pull back into a common bivouac area. In the evening, each platoon could be assigned to a road block some distance away from the main group for the evening.  This often was a very scary time for us. Today we were with  1st platoon , we stop for the night and set up a road block at a particular intersection .  Shortly thereafter, I'd get a message to move to another intersection 1/2 mile away and meet the 3rd platoon and go with them the next day. Now it's getting dark and road blocks don't ask many questions before they start shooting.  And here we are roaming around the countryside in a damn tank looking for the 3rd platoon.  On occasion we could hear the bolts being pulled back.

Speaking of maps reminds me of another little tid bit.  When we started out on one of our daily excursions, we always had a map  showing all the details of  available  targets, routes, etc. We had been warned by Patton that once we had broke through their lines  we might run 25 miles or more in a single day. Quite often we would go beyond the limits of the maps we had, but we kept on going.  I believe I've mentioned before that one of scariest parts of our job was changing our positions from 1st platoon today, to go with the 2nd platoon tomorrow, who are at a roadblock 1/4-1/2 mile away, at dusk , without a map. On one occasion I can recall getting out of the tank at a crossroad , going into Hamburg, with a flashlight, looking for track marks on the pavement to see which way they turned. My ass still puckers at the thought of it.

Regarding Rolly (Roland Loveless) and my sleep in, you have most of the meat of the occasion.  It wasn’t our usual habit of sleeping arrangements , particularly as bed partners,  perish the thought.  However, if it was raining and the tank was sitting so that we thought there was sufficient room, we would slide under it to sleep,  one of the safest places other than a foxhole. On this particular occasion  I awoke to find that I couldn’t turn over due to the tank settling down on us . Needless to say we got our asses out in a hurry and never tried that again.  It wasn’t quite as bad as you described it, but it was a lesson well learned.      

On the different models of tanks, ours had the Continental air cooled engine, and a single hatch. The first thing we did was to throw the crank away.  Looking at the front end of these tanks reminds me of the time we were going into a bivouac area and customarily, I would get off first to guide Hoppy where to park the tank. I would do this by going down the front of the tank. This time I did it that way while it was still moving.  As I hit the ground my leg gave out and I fell to the ground.  And if Hoppy hadn’t been watching me, he’d have run me over.

I recall that we started out with a 37 mm gun up top, but it was so difficult to handle from inside the turret that we replaced it with a 30 cal.  Even the 50 cal. was too large we found.

In my limited experience I can only recall two occasions when the turret was closed.  The first was on my initial ride in the tank in England .The other time we were parked in the Hurtgen Forest and the Krauts were raining down mortar shells on us.

In a moving  fighting mode with the turret closed, the TC would be standing , attempting to look through the periscope, while he swung the turret around looking for a target,  almost  an impossible task. The artillery tank was for artillery purposes only  and was not used unless the Observer was aboard . While in action the Observer had radio contact with the tank platoon officer and used his guns as necessary,  depending entirely  on the situation.  We had one occasion when we were surrounded by the Germans and we were firing our 75mm and  our 30 cal. machine guns at direct targets,  while I was calling in artillery fire at the same time.  As I recall, it sure was a crazy scene.

As for the Tiger Tank . That thing had a muzzle velocity of 3600 ft/sec compared to our 75's at 1700. It's no wonder that we wouldn’t take them on unless we had them out numbered 3/1. The 81st Tank Bn. didn’t get their  90mm's until we were sitting on the Elbe River 28miles from Berlin.

We were issued escape maps made of silk, which we sewed into the lining of our tank jackets.  Fortunately for us, we never had to use them . The scale of it is so small and the area covered was most of eastern Europe and trying to use it would have been a real task. I would have had to ask a passing German for directions.  I still have mine.

Most often when I see a picture of a Jeep, I'm reminded  of an incident in which  I was riding in one with our  Col. Simpson.   In going through a small town where we were liberating the townspeople, they would greet us very joyfully and would hand us things to eat as we drove by.  On this occasion the Col . was looking in a different direction when a native tossed a loaf of their home made rye bread in his direction.  This is the greatest bread to eat that you've ever eaten .  But when it hits you in the face going maybe 15mph in the opposite direction , it raises havoc . It’s been known to break a windshield, or dent a fender , or tear off a headlight. Just imagine what damage it does to your head and face.  When the Col. finally got out of the hospital he wanted to return to the little village  and destroy it completely.

When you spend 6 or 8 months in a five passenger tank  with five guys  who haven’t shaved , changed their clothes ,or taken a bath in several weeks they seem to take on an image even their own mother wouldn’t recognize. Speaking of taking a bath I'm reminded  of a type of a bath we took when we really became ripe and couldn’t stand one another. We would fill our helmets with water  and take what we called a "whores bath". We would then empty the water and fill the helmet with gasoline  and proceed to dry-clean our clothes . In as much as our pants and shirts were wool, they dried quite quickly,  but we made sure that we didn’t walk too fast or get around any open flame or we' d become a human torch.  When I write these emails, I'm reminded so often  of incidents and experiences I had, that I kind of enjoy remembering and talking about them. Some are not so funny  but , what the hell , neither is life .

When you mention Wallendorf, it kind of raises a sore point with me and the guy who wrote about  our participation in Paths Of Armor. I sure wish your Dad was around ,Ralph, to confirm my recollection.   And it goes something like this. Typically we were attached to a tank unit. While I'm really not sure , I assume it was "C ' Company , 81st Tank Bn., as usual. On occasion, we could be with another outfit and get lost in the shuffle.  Anyhow,  we found ourselves on top that little hill they refer to in their narrative. For several days we were practically  surrounded by German troops, as  the author says in his account of the event.  When it was decided to draw back, our tank was assigned to be the 2nd or 3rd last tank out and adjust artillery fire to cover our exit, and that we did. And it was confirmed the next morning when Col. Washburn stopped by and thanked us for a job well done. It was also confirmed in the recommendation he made for me to get a cluster to my Bronze Star. This I have in black and white. Sorry , this reads like sour grapes on my part, but I'm quite sure that your dad, Ralph, and the rest of the crew would agree with me. I can also well recall the 387th AAA Bn. They could sure light up the sky.

I spent so much time with the tankers , that when I went back to Headquarters , I felt like a stranger in my own home town.  And as to men going from one unit or Battalion to another, this exchange is not common practice, but it’s not  uncommon either,  particularly in a field or combat situation.   In fact , I was confronted with this same dilemma. I've told you about spending so much of my time with the tankers.  At one point I was approached by Col.  Cole (CCB CO ) and asked if I would like to become a Tanker.  I was a 2nd Lt. at the time and he said I'd get 1st Lt. with the transfer.  He said he had talked to Col. Washburn (my CO), who said he'd let me go if I wanted to go.  He also said that Capt. Guthrie (81st Tank Bn.) had suggested the transfer to him.  I felt complimented, but said, “Thanks , but, No Thanks”.  I liked my job as an FO,  and by coincidence, got my 1st Lt. bars within two weeks.  In a combat situation  these decisions were just that easy to make.  State-side , it would take a month of Sundays to complete within a Battalion such as the 71st.  The Battalion CO could make the decision and affect the exchange,  that was quite common  and done for many, many reasons.

This is  a picture of several 81st C Co tank officers and C22 (the ugly one on the right) taken on the porch of a German home we occupied for a short rest. Capt Guthrie is on the far left . Next to him is 2nd Lt. Roberts ( who had just been promoted from First Sgt.) I don't recall the names of the other two officers.  I can recall one of the officers being killed and our getting awfully plastered that evening.

Gary ,  You and Ralph have asked me about the Hurtgen Forest. I don't think I could add much to what Hoppy, my driver,  has written below.  I do know that we stayed close to our tank, like inside, and when we moved, we made damn sure we stayed in the tracks of the tank in front of us.

EXCERPT “FIRE MISSION” "I was working with a Forward Observation Crew in an M-4 tank and got a pretty damn good view of everything that happened during the days to follow. We left the Battery and pulled into position with "A" company of the 81st Tank Battalion, and received instructions for the attack that started at 0700 the next morning. To make our night a little more uncomfortable we blindly chose a position near three dead frozen Krauts sitting upright in a ditch. It was obvious that they had been put out of commission by a tree burst from an artillery shell. This proved to be a common occurrence throughout the whole forest. Everywhere one would look, splintered trees could be seen. I imagine our tremendous artillery concentrations accounted for most of the damage.
"After a trying, sleepless night, dawn came with the roaring of tankers warming their engines in preparation for the attack. Doughs of the 15th Arm'd Infantry Battalion started slogging down the muddy frozen road to the jumping off point. Most of them wore only field jackets, due to the quantity of equipment and arms that had to be carried. The tanks pulled out on the road in single file moving forward at a very slow rate of speed. The road was under enemy observation and was plastered repeatedly by artillery and mortar fire. Despite this and innumerable other hardships the attack pressed steadily forward.
"It seemed as if hours became days as we tried to reach our line of departure. When we left the main road and started cross-country, one tank was knocked out by an unlucky hit from a Kraut mortar. The going became rougher with every yard of moving. Tankers had to fight the mud and sweat out artillery and direct fire from anti-tank guns.
"We finally reached the top of a mountain near our line of departure and had to hold up. The Krauts were looking down our throat from a still higher mountain. We tried to press forward down the steep hill but this was useless due to the mine fields. Several of our tanks lost tracks due to the mines. It was decided that it was best to sit tight and wait for the units on our left to advance. The tanks took up a defensive position and the doughs dug in for a stay that seemed almost eternity.
"Our tank commander, Lt. McWain, radioed back to the Battalion for defensive fires. Most of the fire commands had to be relayed through our Liaison Officer, Capt. Rowlands, because of very bad reception. We remained in this position for, I believe, three days and nights. During which time the only hot food we had was coffee prepared at great risk by lighting a gasoline stove on the floor near piles of ammunition; the only sleep we got was acquired dozing while sitting in our cramped positions with no room to stretch or turn. To answer the calls of nature we crawled out and stuck our fannies over the edge of the tank praying always that a mortar shell didn't arrive to drive us from our sojourn.
"Lt. Paul McWain, Forward Observer, Sgt. Walter F. Bullard, gunner, Cpl. Roland R. Loveless, loader, Cecil "Red" Martin, assistant driver and myself, driver, comprised the crew.
"During our stay here men were killed like flies, and mortar shells were falling at such an unbelievable rate of speed and accuracy that it was practically impossible for anyone to withstand the ordeal. Reinforcements poured in steadily but they could not keep up with the terrific losses.” (T/5 Hopkins, Hq Btry)

Christmas eve and Christmas carry with it a very vivid memory . For it was on this day in 1944 that we vacated Hurtgen Forest. I was told that our tank and one other of 16 C Company tanks that went in, were the only two that came out under their own power. Due largely to our high loss of equipment throughout the 5th Division, we were not involved in the Bastone attack.

Regarding our living conditions, etc., I can only speak as to what we experienced with the tankers.  I don't recall being hungry , we had C& K rations. And when we stopped, the kitchen truck caught up to us and we could get a hot meal, a change of clothes, etc. The only thing I can recall that we might be short of, was ammunition and gasoline. I believe in the firing battery's and HQ's, living conditions were a little better than what we experienced. We also put sand bags on the sides of our tanks and in the winter painted them white along with changing the tracks from rubber to steel. Keeping warm was a bit of a problem. All-in-all, I don't recall any real problem or hardship. Things could have been better,  but they also could have been worse.

Pg. 274 “Paths of Armor”,:

.......Bad Oeynhausen formally surrendered to CC R at 1300. But when Task Force Dickenson reached the approaches to the town at 1600, it received direct and time fire from eight 75 mm. guns. Tank destroyers of the 628th T. D. Bn. went into action and blasted two of the enemy guns. The fire of one of the tank destroyers was directed by Lt. Paul H. McWain of the 71st Artillery Bn. Shermans of the 81st Tank Bn.'s A Co. silenced two more of the guns.

Regarding that incident, I kind of remember it but missed it being referred to in the P 's of A. You'll have to tell me what page it's on. As I’ve scanned through the book , I've been a bit disappointed, in that , while I recognize specific incidents where we were directly involved, we were not referred to in their discription of it.  Frankly, my only feel of connection is where they refer to "married C Co,s of the 81st Tanks and the 15th Infantry. I know that tank # C22 was there also representing the 71st FA. Sorry, this again reads like "sour grapes " doesn’t it. Yet on the other hand, they probably did a great job with what they had to work with. Somebody was sure keeping some copious notes.

Flying in the “Piper Cubs”

You may know that as artillery observers we were awarded air medals after flying 11 missions.  A mission consisted of calling for artillery fire on some enemy activity.  It was not uncommon, if you were wearing your medals , to have an Air Force officer question how an artillery officer was entitled to wear an air medal.               The rookie observer going up for the first couple times with a seasoned pilot was always in for a rough time.  For example on my first trip with Lt. Francies,  he took me up to the maximum height the plane could go, 10,000 ft., I think, stalled the plane, and started shouting, "We have a problem,  grab the chute."  and we started to fall. After he felt I was thoroughly scared , he started the engine, gaining speed, and did a couple loops. And doing a loop in a piper cub is another experience in itself.  On my first trip with Lt. Nicol, he thought I'd like to know how you herd cattle using a plane.  I can tell you for sure, the cattle weren’t the only ones who were scared. On the same trip, we were flying so close to the ground,  that as we approached a house where a lady had hung up her wash, we went by and I heard a snap alongside of the plane,  and Nick said , "Oh,oh, I just caught her clothes line ".  I really believe the reason they gave medals to the Observers was for their display of courage to fly with those nutty pilots.  

I believe Lt. Francies was assigned to the 71st as a transfer from the regular army, with the rank of a Staff Sgt. He carried that rank through most of our time in the ETO. Later he was given a field commission.  Lt. Francies and Lt. Martin were teamed up, as Lt. Nicol and I were.  Lt. Nicol was commissioned as a field artillery officer , he later became a pilot.

Lt. Paul H. McWain in front of H-54, Lt. Nicol’s plane.

About the L-4  missions, I really have no good number of how many I flew .  I would say that most often no mission developed, purely observation.  My understanding was that you had to call-in for artillery fire on the enemy for it to be a mission. I would guess that I only had around 20-30 missions and this is on the high side.  

One time while up in the Piper Cub, I was directing artillery fire onto a German horse drawn artillery unit. I remember how frantic the scene became when the shells started falling. The horses were bolting in all directions. Total mayhem.  After it was over, there was a lot of carnage.

09Sept44  "Lt. Nicol and I were flying reconnaissance for the point and Captain Rowlands asked us to look over a bridge at Mersch, which they had reason to believe was mined. We took a look and  reported  that  it seemed alright from what we could see. Just about that time it went sky high and us along with it, we thought, for we could see  stones and  debris flying  by. The plane was carrying on like a ruptured duck. I radioed back that there was no need of me telling them what had happened. My only instructions were to have a pair of clean trousers ready for me when I came down."

“Fire Mission” Pg.27

September 11th we reverted to our organic role of direct support  of CC "B". We were located at Hoschied, Luxembourg, where the fourth section of "B" battery, at 1641 hours, fired the battalion's  first round into  German soil. This WP projectile was observed by Lt. McWain, from the cub piloted by Lt. Nicol, to land squarely in the center of Offendorf. Several fires were started. (Cpl. Rubel, HQ Battery)

 

End of the War

We were moved into a position at Tangermund, on the Elbe River, from which we were to cross the river and attack Berlin the next morning. However, during the evening, the 3rd Armored Division crossed the Elbe at Remagin and we were instructed to hold our position and continue aerial patrol of our sector via the piper cub.  During one of our patrols Lt. Nicol, the pilot, noticed a large column of tanks and other vehicles heading toward the river crossing at Tangermund. Closer observation indicated that they were waving white flags and apparently were intending to surrender to our forces. We radioed to the troops on the ground of the approching column and were instructed to continue close observation of their activities.

Lt.Nicol mentioned that he didn’t have any war souvenirs and he would sure like to have one of those German Lugars. We quickly decided we would never have a better opportunity than this to get one. We couldn’t land on the German side of the river so we followed the road toward the approaching column. About a mile from the river we found a field where Nicol thought he could safely set the plane down. Once on the ground we stopped the column, hopeful they all knew they were surrendering, and an officer approached and we told him we wanted only their small arms, pistols, etc. He gave the necessary commands and we soon had a pile from which we could be quite selective. We told the officer that we had talked to our people at the river crossing and they were now aware of what the German intentions were and would be waiting for them.

Nicol and I then started our selection process of you take one, I take one, etc, etc. After we had selected all that we felt we could and safely get off the ground, we went to the far end of the field, revved up the engine, leaned forward in our seats, said a short prayer, gunned the motor and took off. Three-quarters of the way down the field Nick says, “We’ll never make it". So back to the end of the field, throw out a few pistols and try again. Second try, same experience. Go back, throw out a few more guns, try again. On our fourth attempt we were finally able to lift off.

.       Upon returning to our home base we counted 32 pistols, 3 dress bayonets and 3 sets of field glasses. My take was 6 Lugars, 4 P38's, 3 Mausers, 3 Walther P25’s, 1 dress bayonet and a set of field glasses.

Through these many years I've often wondered what the farmer, while tilling his field, thought when he first encountered this pile of guns on his property. We probably left twice as many on the ground as we were able to liberate.

Another interesting part of this story is "how can I keep them". The Army policy regarding war souvenirs was that you could only bring home one pistol and no live ammunition. I had sold all but 9 pistols and was determined not to have to turn over any to the quartermaster inspectors. Knowing that my luggage would be inspected upon arrival in the U.S., I spread the pistols around in my bed roll, my foot locker, a barracks bag, and my hand luggage, hopeful that some of it would not be checked. Upon arrival, only the foot locker and the barracks bag were taken to the supply area for inspection.

Knowing that the inspectors would keep for themselves any excess pistols they found, a friend helped me move my locker and bag close to the door. Waiting till the three inspectors were busy looking into other luggage, we casually picked up my locker and bag and walked out the door with 6 pistols and ammunition.

I was never issued a .45, nor were any of my crew. I took a Belgium 9 mm from a German, early in the war, and carried it in a shoulder holster. In fact I still have it.

I'm now looking at my service record and it says I departed Europe on Sept 22,1945, arrived in the USA Oct 5th,1945. I know I remained with the 71st for a while. I was given the recreation officers job.  Which included going to the City College in Paris for 10 days. Learning how to entertain the troops.  I also recall spending some time in a pool of officers waiting to go home. Specific dates elude me completely.  I was resting up from my trip to Paris.  It looks like your dad and I came home around the same time, Gary.   You said  that it's been 66yrs.  WOW , that trip to Paris seems like it happened yesterday.   Dream on  old man .

Back home when I signed up, it was with a bunch of friends from the same town. They all went different ways during the war and I tried to keep in touch, but you couldn’t tell where each was, from the letters. Well, after the secession of hostilities, I was sent back to Paris, to school, to learn about Recreation (apparently the troops had nothing to do, so they needed Recreation). While there, I went to a nightclub one night and eventually proceeded to the bathroom. While standing at the urinal, I turn to my right and recognized the man next to me as one of my buddies who signed up with me back in Michigan. After greeting each other, we tried to catch up on what’s going on but the man says he has to go, he has a hot date waiting for him outside and away he went.

Since last writing you, I've given a lot of thought about how much more interesting my job would have been had I a better picture of what our larger goals and objectives were and how we contributed . Yet I can fully appreciate the complications and uncertainty of keeping us better informed.  I often had the feeling that our little group was fighting the battle all by our selves - - - - Believe me I'm not complaining, and now that it's all over, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything.

Following my discharge from the army in Dec. 45 I returned to the Telephone Co. and the good life.  In 1948, Betty and I were married and proceeded to raise two boys, Mike and Paul ….

It's kind of intersesting how stories,as they are passed from one person to another, change and become much more glamourous. I'm quite sure my great grand son will have me chasing Hitler out of Berlin in front of our tank and yelling "Run faster you SOB or I'll shoot you in the ass "

Charlie 22, Over and Out

 

Paul H. McWain (1919 – 12/21/2014)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 April 2015 20:58  

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