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3AD WWII Vets Return to Europe in 1994
- A Moving Personal Account by Dick Goodie -

  Newspaper clipping above shows author Dick Goodie at Maine home in 1994 with 3AD memorabilia (full text of his essay is below). Photo at top of page shows 3AD vets in Belgium on the 1994 trip (photo by Doris Sullivan).

Dick Goodie
486th AAA Bn, 3AD
Published on 11/11/94 by The Portland Press Herald (Maine)


It was ten in the morning when I stepped off the bus with forty-three fellow veterans of the Third Armored Division. A large crowd waving American and French flags had gathered in front of Town Hall, even before our buses had stopped. "Vive les Americans!" they shouted. "Welcome back Lafayette!"

The day was warm and bright in Maubeuge, France that September morning of 1994, and we had come for a nostalgic tour of old battlegrounds; but we had no idea of the emotional experiences that awaited us.

In town after town, village square after village square, we were greeted as if we had helped liberate Europe yesterday, not fifty years ago.

At a time when American towns have a difficult time mustering a good crowd for a Veterans Day parade, this trip reminded us all of how fragile and costly freedom could be.

Maubeuge's mayor greeted us in perfect English as the crowd swarmed. "Your tanks entered Maubeuge around that corner fifty years ago," he said, pointing. "The town went wild with joy, but you never stopped."

"There wasn't time," one of our group replied. "So now we come to celebrate."

Just then a band came marching down the street, followed by a color guard of Resistance fighters, their lined, well-weathered faces locked in serious expression. Holding their colors rigidly, they wore suits, ties and shining medals of valor on their left breasts.

I was standing with fellow tourist, Jim Howard - a Silver Star recipient - who back then was a tank commander from Texas. As a Sherman tank roared past, he lifted a finger to his eye. Jim had five tanks shot out from under him and lost seventeen men.

Parading behind the band, the mayor led us down the street lined with people, past the stone houses with U.S. and French flags fluttering in the windows.

Later, we walked back to Town Hall where we were invited for a champagne lunch. It was an unusual time for champagne-eleven in the morning. But that was to happen often on our tour through France and Belgium


The next day they piled us in the backs of restored American half-tracks, ammo carriers, trucks and jeeps and paraded us over the same route we took fifty years ago (only in reverse) from Fourmies to Hirson.

Aged farmers at the end of their pasture lanes waved as we passed. Hundreds of people lined the route, especially in the small hamlets, but when we arrived at the open Market Square in Hirson, more than a thousand had gathered.

We stepped down and mingled with the crowd, grasping outstretched hands. Some of the young asked for autographs. An elderly woman said: "You sacrificed your youth for us. We will never forget."

Many in the crowd wept. It was hard to maintain a soldierly composure, but we managed.

Many Resistant fighters spoke to us. After sadly mentioning their comrades who had been killed, tortured or deported to German slave factories, they proudly related their heroics: the enemy ammunition dumps they had destroyed, bridges and rail trestles dynamited, communication lines cut, and other acts of sabotage against the Nazis.

Exactly ten-minutes-to-four, church bells across the Square began chiming. Everyone grew silent.

"Why are they ringing the bells?" I asked a Resistance fighter.

"Because it was the exact time your division came here fifty years ago to give us back our freedom," he replied.


At Normandy we visited the areas around the landing beaches. The hedgerows - tall, tangled and thick at the base, which once contained Allied armor and infantry for 49 days - looked the same. If a tank found a lane through the thick earthen walls, it was quickly blasted by a waiting German 88.

Seemingly for days without end, because of the shelling and non-stop machine gun fire, it was not possible to walk across a field at Normandy; you crawled along the hedgerows and, like a groundhog, napped in holes dug under them.

But at eleven a.m. on the 49th and final day of the invasion battle, the piper cubs appeared over the front, as we were told they would, to sprinkle the air with strips of tin foil to foul enemy radar. Then came the heavy bombers from England, more than 2,000 of them, to carpet bomb an area five miles long and a mile wide, stunning the enemy long enough to allow us to break through at St- Lô. It gave us blessed freedom of movement from the confining hedgerows.

-- 9,386 GRAVE MARKERS --

At the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach, lined in long rows in perfect military precision, there are 9,386 white marble Latin crosses and Stars Of David. More than 300 of the headstones mark the graves of unknown soldiers. We walked down the long hushed rows. Many of the markers identified the soldiers as those of the 1st or 29th Infantry Division-the two units that stormed Omaha Beach.

That afternoon at the ancient Abbaye-aux-Dames in Caen, we were presented the Medal of Normandy in a solemn ceremony.


As our buses passed near Soissons, I remembered an incident from the war. We had stopped for the night in a large field close to the Soissons airport. We set our half-track on the outer rim of the coiled-armor. At dusk a German half-track came out of the woods a thousand yards away and raced across the field. We opened fire, the 37 mm and .50 caliber tracers glowing like flaming chestnuts in the fading light. Our firing was accurate and the half-track exploded in flames.

After dark, the Germans began evacuating heavy bombers that were clearly silhouetted in the moonlight just above our armor. It was a tenuous situation, however, they never bombed our position.


On the move again, one night we stopped in a sugar beet field to wait for fuel. As usual, we positioned our half-track as outpost.

Our seven-man crew had a system for guard duty. We placed our bedrolls in a line and the man with the watch stayed up for two hours before passing the watch to the next man.

But that night, after two days of non-stop moving across eastern France, someone in the middle of the line fell asleep with the watch. Luckily, toward daybreak, I heard the crushing of the sugar beets - like a cow walking through a cabbage patch - and looked up to see eight Germans 30 yards away, clearly visible in the moonlight, their rifles held before them.

Seeing our half-track, they paused, not sure if it was manned-deciding, I had supposed, whether to attack or retreat. I barely lifted my head and spoke quietly to the fellow on the other end of the line. We decided to jump up and rush them. They quickly surrendered without a shot being fired. At daylight we sent them to the rear.


After what Belgium has been through there is little wonder that many mayor's speeches held a variation of the phrase: "Those who do not remember their past are condemned to relive it."

And what a tumultuous past the small country (slightly larger than Maryland) has experienced.

Because of its location between two antagonistic neighbors (France and Germany), it has supplied battlefields for many of the world's greatest conflicts, and its citizens are always in the middle of the path each time the soldiers come.

Since Julius Caesar started the parade with his legions in 57 B.C., foreign armies have entered, retreated, made stands, crossed, crisscrossed and double crossed Belgian territory so often that the custom has become habit forming. Twice this century Belgium has been invaded.


In one hamlet an elderly lady approached my wife and presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a note. She spoke no English; we speak no French, but that wasn't necessary. We communicated with our eyes. The story was clear. She was there fifty years ago as a young girl, and you could tell by the moistness in her eyes that she remembered. My wife read the note:

"This bunch is for you. It is not well made nor the prettiest.One flower is still missing. It is the one my heart is trying to pick. Accept these flowers and there won't be any one missing." -- Georgette Chardin, 5 September, 1994

The two women wept and embraced.

* * * * * * * *

We visited the Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge was fought through the coldest winter in memory-1944 -1945. But 50-years later, traveling past lush, green fields, I could identify only a few familiar battlegrounds.


When our buses crossed the German border, the celebrations ended.

Many German citizens were appreciative of the Allies ending Hitler's reign of fascism and destruction. At Stolberg, in the city council chambers, we were honored with a plaque dedication and reception, but without champagne.

But for the most part, understandably, the citizens didn't rush our buses waving flags.

Approaching Cologne on highway E-40, there is an embankment that looks like an abandoned rail bed. It was there in late February1945 that our attack force bivouacked for the night. I positioned the half-track on the embankment with a good field of fire across the large field below. We dug individual dugouts into the side of the embankment.

I was down in that field looking for a turnip to boil for supper when the bombers came over. There was a low cloud cover but we were sure from the sound of the engines that the planes were friendly. Later we learned we were right; they were twin-engine B-26 Mauraders that had mistaken us for the enemy, not realizing that we had advanced so close to Cologne.

I fell between rows in the turnip garden, and for the first time was caught in the middle of a heavy bombing. The explosions picked me up and slammed me back to earth, then rolled me from side to side.

I managed to run away and dived into my dugout. What I saw there made me think I was suffering from concussion: an attractive blond wearing a tan trench coat. She was sitting on an empty 5-gallon water can. "What are you doing up here?" I asked.

Her name was Iris Carpenter and she was an English war correspondent for the Boston Globe. She wanted an interview. She lit a cigarette and after I recovered from the shock, I lit a cigar.

We talked for an hour. She was the first English-speaking girl I had seen or talked to in nearly a year. It was a very pleasant interlude. The bombers had passed over, but the shelling was heavy, coming in from the river toward Cologne.

I think the cigar smoke finally drove her out of the dugout. I told her to be careful as she ran for her jeep. My folks mailed me the piece from the front page of the Globe dated February 28th, 1945.


As our bus passed a certain crossroads outside of Paderborn, Germany, I grew silent as I thought of what had happened there March 30, 1945.

We, in the Third Armored, were to leave Marburg (Germany) at daybreak and in a four-pronged attack capture Paderborn, 90 miles away. There, we were to link up with an attack from the north. The idea was to encircle the Ruhr, and deny the enemy vital war equipment.

Nearing Paderborn, the lead vehicles of Task Force Welborn got through the crossroads, but then the Germans' Tiger tanks, waiting in ambush, knocked out seven of our lighter Shermans 50 yards apart, broadside. Then one of the Tigers began zigzagging up the column.

Before it was knocked out - in the rear vent - by an infantryman with a bazooka, the tank had crushed half-tracks, trucks and jeeps as if they were papier-machè floats in a holiday parade.

Just after that action, we set up at the crossroads next to105 mm howitzers of the 391st FA. They began lobbing white phosphorous shells at the Tigers that were by now below in the woods, where Colonel Welborn was cut off. We could hear the battle raging below without letup. It was what it must have sounded like the third day at Gettysburg. We waited and prepared for an attack.

Late afternoon, the colonel from artillery (Lt. Colonel George Garton - as I remember) came to our half-track and told me our light equipment would be no match for the Tigers and that we should perhaps fall back. I mentioned our automatic 37 mm cannon and twin .50 caliber machine guns would be effective against infantry or lighter vehicles that might accompany the Tigers. He left the decision up to me. I reported back to the crew. To a man, we decided to stay and immediately began cutting brush to camouflage the sharp lines of the half-track.

The sound of battle below was a cacophony of savage fighting, and occasionally we could hear the roar of a tiger when it accelerated. We waited. At dusk a lieutenant came up out of the woods and came to our gun site. He was obviously disoriented. He kept repeating: "I lost them all. I lost them all."

I urged him to sit on a water can and gave him a drink of water, but he soon got up and walked up to the road to the rear, repeating 'I lost them all' as he walked.

Our division leader, Major General Maurice Rose, was killed by a Tiger that night when his jeep came face to face with it a few hundred yards below on a narrow road. The terrible news quickly spread down through the ranks. America and the division had lost a great leader.

On the morning of the second day, I was standing on the hood of my half-track, watching a tank battle1,000 yards across the long field with my glasses. I was trying to find a target suitable for our guns, when a large armor-piercing shell slammed through the hood of the half-track, passing under my boots and above the engine, but touching neither. Another in a series of lucky misses.

The Tigers were finally knocked out and what was left of our attack force moved toward Lippstadt, where we linked up with the Second Armored Division, completing the encirclement of the Ruhr.

Twenty-one Nazi divisions - over 350,000 soldiers and 23 General officers - were captured in the Ruhr pocket. But the price of victory was very heavy.


At Nordhausen, Germany our division overran the factory that built the V-1 and V-2 rockets that plagued London and other cities.

The factory, a 2-mile tunnel, 600 feet under the Harz Mountains, was dug by forced labor. In April 1945, when we approached the slave camp, the released prisoners-those who were strong enough to walk-came flooding across the field toward our armored column.

We gave them every bit of food we were carrying on the half-track and all our cigarettes. I even parted with a box of my prized cigars. (The next few days, we lived on preserves confiscated from cellars of deserted German homes until supply caught up with us.)

I entered a shack that housed the starved inmates. The horror I witnessed was so staggering that it still torments the memory. I hope it is understood why I choose not to describe it in this essay.


Our buses stopped at a tavern on the Mulde River near Dessau. The tavern, under a canopy of poplar trees, was near a bridge over the brown, narrow river. It was the last familiar place on our pilgrimage-the last point of the divisions' penetration into Hitler's Germany. We all went into the tavern for a final salute to the old days.

Someone asked me what I would remember most about this trip.

I remember the children.

In every city, town, village and hamlet we visited, schoolchildren lined the streets as our two buses rolled by.

The youngsters, with their teachers, stood along the narrow roadways, waving small flags and shouting, "Vive les Americans! Welcome back, Lafayette!"

I asked a teacher. "The children are allowed to be released from school for this?"

"Oh, yes," she answered. "This is their history class."

* * * * * * *

After a tour of Berlin, we flew to London's Heathrow Airport, where we transferred onto a B-747 for the seven-hour trip home. Once out over the ocean, after the big plane leveled at 35, 000 feet, there was time to reflect on all we had seen.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

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