Jake was a great combat officer. He was young, full of the
devil and spent quite a bit of time in hot water with the old
man while we were in England. The old man finally transferred
him out of headquarters and into a light tank company. Jake just
naturally belonged with troops. Even on short acquaintance, his
men would walk barefooted through a prickly pear patch if Jake
said it had to be done.
After we landed in Normandy, I had to swap a medium tank company
for a company of light tanks. I ended up with Company C. Jake
had the first platoon. In our first fight, Company C was detached
from the rest of the Battalion. As we were going up to attack,
I found Jake and his platoon in one of the little enclosed Norman
fields guarding the right flank of the Task Force we were passing
through. I stopped to see how things were going. Jake was as
happy as a little boy with a new red wagon. His platoon had done
well, his casualties were light and he'd just taken a couple
of Lugers away from two prisoners.
We went on up and took a hill called Hauts Vents and sat on
it for most of four days. German artillery was shooting at us
from almost 270 degrees and throwing everything but Hitler's
moustache. I had to threaten my driver with an AWOL charge if
he didn't quit digging. It was bad.
When we were finally relieved, tired and dirty was putting
it mild. We went to the rear where Company C had been for a couple
of days. On arrival, we found that Jake and his commander, Ben,
had the Battalion camp laid out and hot baths ready. This was
followed by a breakfast of fresh eggs and fried Spam. The bath
and food convinced me that I would be able to last the war.
This was the period of the build up for the breakout at St.
Lo. We had time on our hands. The solution was poker. Ben's luck
was phenomenal. He drew three cards to fill, made inside straights,
drew two cards to flushes. He was unbeatable. Two nights before
the breakthrough, a .50 caliber went up looking for Bedcheck
Charlie and coming down went through Ben's heart as he lay in
his foxhole. Jake took it hard. Ted, another fine combat officer,
took over C Company.
A day came when the sky was filled for hours with our heavy
bombers. Infantry Divisions made the hole at St Lo and we went
through. After a couple of fairly easy days, we were pulled off
for rest and maintenance. But before we could get started, we
were ordered to the bloody mess at Mortain. We beat our heads
against hedgerows and SS for three days to gain about two hundred
yards. The Germans kept open enough of an escape route to extract
some of the troops which had failed in the attempt to reach Avranches
in their attack to split our First and Third Armies. Jake was
outstanding through out. John, the longtime commander of H Company,
was in the hospital as a result of wounds he got on the way to
Hauts Vents. Ed, the last experienced officer with H Company,
was killed leading an attack near Mortain.
From Mortain we went to do our part in closing the Falaise
Gap through which the German troops were withdrawing from Normandy.
During this stiff fighting, on the flank of a French Armored
Division (Gen. LeClerc), it became obvious that something had
to be done for H Company. The officers who remained were either
inexperienced or no good or both. I put Jake in command to get
the Company back to its former outstanding combat condition.
Then came days of marching against slight resistance through
France and Belgium. About a day after I flew my Texas flag from
the radio antenna, Jake raised a flag made of part of a liberated
sheet. It depicted a Missouri mule extended in full kick. The
marching ended near Mons where the First Infantry and the Third
Armored arrived after wheeling ninety degrees to the north and
blocking all the major roads. The large group of German troops
reported by the Army Air Corps to be retreating along the coast
to man the Siegfried Line were cut off. A slaughter followed.
German officer prisoners complained that the Ami's didn't seem
to have much of anything but they seemed to have it everywhere.
We took some casualties but it was relatively a picnic. John
had returned from the hospital and resumed command of H Company.
Jake knew John well and was glad to see him back and to become
his second in command. At Mons Jake several times took his tank
and a few doughboys out to beat the bushes for Germans who were
scattered around the countryside like flushed quail. He picked
up twenty or thirty on each foray.
Mons was followed by marches against scattered resistance
with my Texas flag and Jake's Missouri mule flying in the warm
sun light of a Belgium August. The high point of the period was
Liege. Jake and his platoon led in clearing our portion of that
city. It was wonderful, a mob of happy, grateful, laughing and
crying people! Jake was kissed by a lot of beautiful Belgians
and his tank was almost hidden by the flowers and bottles of
champagne they gave him. It was the happiest day we had during
the war. I don't think we had a single casualty but some of the
brave, foolhardy Belgian volunteers who helped and guided us
were killed. Some who were wounded and evacuated through our
medical channels were surprised to come to in England. We took
some six hundred prisoners including one General .
After a day of rest in Liege we started for the German border.
The opposition stiffened and the attitude of sane of the civilians
changed. They had been German, Belgian and then German again.
However we got through the Siegfried Line without too much-trouble.
Most of the Germans who should have been manning it lay dead
around Mons or were in our prison camps.
Once through the line it got rugged. The Germans were fighting
for the Fatherland, rushing troops up in front of us and committing
them piece-meal as they arrived, normally a poor way to fight
but we were also in bad shape. We had been fighting and marching
for weeks. Personnel and tank losses and breakdown due to insufficient
maintenance had cut our effective strength to about one half.
As usual German intelligence was good so that he was able to
put most of the troops he could get his hands on right across
our path. We got a brief break in reserve, then we were ordered
to take a small town called Buesbach which we did.
In the meantime the troops of our Division on the right had
been having hell trying to take a place called Dieppenlichen.
Some men from a Battalion of Infantry got hit by a counterattack
when they were too far from their supporting tanks and had lost
most of their officers. Some of them threw down their M-1's and
ran to the rear. This made General Rose very unhappy. He told
me to go take the slag heap beyond the town and retrieve the
rifles. I had my Battalion with the First Battalion (Major Adams
commanding) of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the First Infantry
Division (the Big Red One) attached plus two battalions of Armored
Field Artillery (105 Hows) in direct support.
Dieppenlichen was a little mining settlement with a bunch
of cheaply made houses for the workers and a processing plant.
Beyond the town was a clearing about 800 yds. long by 200 wide.
At the far end the ground rose a bit and was covered with brush
and had a slag heap about 200 yds. wide across our front and
some 40 ft. wide and high. We attacked in the morning and cleared
the Germans out of the housing and the processing plant. After
reorganizing we started across the clearing. Jake's platoon was
leading. He crossed most of the clearing and was about 25 yds.
from the bushes when a German tank or AT gun away off to our
left rear got his tank. All of the crew got out and all but Jake
made their way back. The Infantry hadn't been able to follow
the tanks because of the heavy Artillery and mortar fire. The
tanks couldn't go into the bushes without Infantry support because
of the Panzerfaust. The gun that got Jake's tank was sniping
at them, so I ordered the tanks back to the town.
Jake's crew was certain he'd gotten out of the tank. There
was a rumor that he'd been slightly wounded and been evacuated
to a medical unit with the outfit to our right rear. That night
John took a patrol up to Jake's tank within 25 yds. of the German
outpost but he didn't find Jake. The first Sergeant went along
on the patrol as a volunteer.
We spent the next day trying to cross the clearing but German
Artillery just made it impossible every time I put anything on
it. That afternoon German fighter bombers made one of their rare
appearances and were jumped by a group of our P47's. We were
treated to something like a World War I dogfight. One of our
planes flew a flat triangular course over both lines at about
1000 feet. Suddenly the plane dove straight down and crashed
in a ball of fire.
From a prisoner we learned that Jake's attack hadn't been
in vain. The Germans had had about 200 troops massed behind the
slag pile for a dusk attack. Our Artillery preparation had caught
them in the open and they broke and ran. Their officers were
only able to stop them at the next town.
Night fell and we hadn't taken the slag pile. The general
was still unhappy. I called together my commanders and the Artillery
Liaison Officer and issued an order for a typical attack, at
first light, of five minutes of Artillery preparation and the
Infantry to ride on the tanks. The objective was still the slag
The morning gave us a heavy ground fog. Major Adams* suggested
that his Infantry attack silently with bayonets. The Liaison
Officer stopped the guns after they had fired one round. The
Infantry moved out. Major Adams soon called that the pile was
secured and he hadn't lost a man.
I sent the tanks up and went behind them to check on the position.
By that time the fog had lifted. I found Jake in a 500 Ib. bomb
crater about ten feet from his tank. He was sort of reclining
on the back slope of the crater facing the slag pile with a bullet
hole in the middle of his forehead.
I walked through the German position to find Major Adams and
John. It was the only battlefield of this war that I saw what
looked like the pictures of WWI. The bushes were torn and twisted
by Artillery fire. Bomb craters were scattered everywhere. There
were many dead Germans and much equipment. They removed it from
their wounded before taking them to the rear for treatment. The
dead the Infantry caught in their foxholes looked to be sleeping
peacefully. But some had been hit by Artillery which makes very
messy corpses. One in particular lay at the foot of a small tree.
Apparently a 105 round had detonated on him. He was mostly in
pieces but his balls connected to some more of him by a small
strand of gut hung above him in the tree. From the position of
the body he could have been the one who sniped Jake as he was
scanning the German position to decide whether to make a break
for our lines or to wait for dark. I couldn't help hoping that
I broke the news to John and he arranged for the Graves Registration
Team to pick up Jake. He is buried on a hillside in Belgium not
far from the German border. On certain days the grateful Belgians
*A few weeks after this action Major Adams, I heard, was killed
by a mortar round in front of the pillbox he was using as his
CP on Crucifix Hill overlooking Aachen.