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An Eye-Witness Account
Walter W. May
36th Infantry Regiment, 3AD
Written in 1991

  EPILOGUE: In August 2007, a very vivid dream came to me, placing me in prone position on the ground at the scene of the disaster of August 9, 1944. In short order Colonel Cornog came along side of me, turned his head to me and asked: Why didn't YOU save me?" I can't explain my terrified reaction. In short order, I awoke from deep sleep, turned on lights, and confirmed it was all a dream. All of this took place at my residence, I am writing this today Sept. 21st, 2013, to update the incident. This terrible disaster will not go away. And who do I thank for my survival? (WWM)


An officer's meeting was called for 1600 hours, August 9, 1944, in the Mortain area that fateful sunny afternoon at LTC Vincent E. Cockefair's (CO, Second Bn., 36th AIR) Command Post (CP) located in an apple orchard at a small farm stone shack or shed (about 6' x 8') with a small window and door. We were to assemble in the small clearing just out from the shed door.

My CO, Captain Bronnie F. Grumpier (HQ Co., Second Bn., 36th AIR) told me to attend the meeting; he did not attend. En route to the meeting, alone down a sunken road and over a hedgerow or two, I encountered incoming German artillery - heavy stuff - that caused me concern. My feeling was that it would be a bad afternoon. It was just plain harsh combat environment.

When Colonel William Cornog (Regimental CO, 36th AIR) arrived, I didn't notice anyone with him. He arrived on foot. I had never met him before, as he was our new regimental commander. We assembled just outside and alongside of the CP shed in a loose oval formation. There were 10 of us. I didn't know some of them. Somehow I stood (and later hunched over) next to Colonel Cornog on his immediate left. LTC Cockefair was to my left with one of our artillery officers and another officer between us. I well remember Captain Jim Allen (CO, Company E, 36th AIR) at the far end of the oval from me. Lt. Bill Giles (Atgd CO, Company D, 36th AIR) was to the left of LTC Cockefair and Lt. Jim Nixon (Atgd CO, Company F, 36th AIR; papers in for promotion to captain) was across from me in the oval. It could not have been more then 10 feet at the most. In general, things seemed normal considering the noise of combat around us. No joke. No smiles.

As Colonel Cornog started the meeting, incoming heavy artillery hit nearby. It seemed to shake the ground around us. Needless to say, it had an adverse effect on the meeting and all of us were hunched down under our helmets. There were no foxholes or anything else that could be called cover in the clearing. When one round hit close by I said: "If they come any closer, I'll think they are aiming at me!" Colonel Cornog glared at me a close range (about three feet) with a humorless look that I've never forgotten. As I understood it, he had not been in combat as long as "us combat veterans" and couldn't see the need for such comments from such a junior officer (me). It seems he had taken command of our 36th Armored Infantry Regiment in July, 1944, with Colonel Parks relieved.

Because of the "incoming" the meeting ended quicker than planned I'm sure. We were to attack at 1800 hours. Colonel Cornog then left the group, alone, and went up the hill rearwards - returning, I suppose, to his CP. After about 50 feet of hurried walk, I saw Colonel Cornog suddenly turn and return as if to add something to the attack plan. The group loosely reassembled briefly as all of us were in the immediate area.

Then an "incoming" hit in our midst. I couldn't tell where it hit exactly but I saw a red flash, lots of dust, as it took the wind out of me. I opened my eyes to death all around me. My first sight was of Lt. Nixon as he just seemed to sit down then lay back. What remained of his face and head turned ashen before my eyes. The shack was aflame, and I looked inside to see the prostrate forms of LTC Cockefair and Lt. Giles in the flames. They didn't have a chance. I learned later that Jim Allen was severely wounded.

My attention then turned to Colonel Cornog. He was upright, left arm dangling, half loping up the hill in the direction of his CP. I ran after him, reaching him as he fell to the ground. I could see he was in very bad shape, so I gave him a shot of morphine. As I did so, Colonel Cornog looked at me with a look that I've never forgotten, and after asking about the others gave his final order, "Don't leave me." I assured him I wouldn't. I then used his first aide packet (that was the rule) and stuffed it into a massive hole in his left shoulder. When that wasn't enough, I used mine also. That seemed to help. He also took a hit above his right hip and chest.

By some miracle, a jeep came by (obviously lost as we were too far forward for vehicles). I commandeered it from a scared driver and with his help got the Colonel in the jeep and yelled at him to head for the battalion aide station (one of Dr. [Capt.] William Cohen's). The artillery hadn't stopped. At the aide station, with help, I got Colonel Cornog (a big man) out of the jeep on to a stretcher when I saw battalion surgeon Dr. (Capt.) Ted Bernstein remove a plasma injection from another wounded and stick it in the Colonel's arm. It didn't work. Colonel Cornog died almost immediately. They asked me if I had been hit. I said no. But I never figured out why (I've pondered this all my life). My hands were covered with the Colonel's blood as was much on my uniform. At the aide station they had me lay on a stretcher for a time. They told me Colonel Cornog died. I cried.

After a brief time at the aide station, I returned to my mortar platoon, thinking food would help. I opened a K-ration "main dish" - pimento cheese. When I saw that pink cheese with red pimento pieces, I almost threw up. The color was not too unlike my hands and uniform and what I had just survived. And the artillery didn't stop ... and we didn't attack on schedule.

The foregoing was written at the request of LTC Haynes W. Dugan (Ret.), Division historian at the 1991 reunion, 3rd Armored Division, St. Louis, Missouri. Information in the article was compiled from an exchange of correspondence I had with the Executor of Colonel Cornog's estate in Jan-Feb 1946. The Executor had written to me for information after he had received a letter dated March 9th, 1945, from the War Department, Adjutant General, (signed) J. A. Ulio, Major General, reporting that I was the only person who could provide information concerning Colonel Cornog's death. The Executor sent a copy of this letter to me with the request for information which is outlined above. I do not know how my name got into the official War Department records in this matter.

At the '91 reunion in St. Louis, I recounted events of Aug. 9,1944, with Haynes Dugan, "Doc" Cohen and Jim Allen. Our Colonel Barr was also present. All agreed that day was a disaster for the regiment. For me, it was gut-wrenching to see friends and fellow officers Bill Giles, Jim Nixon, LTC Cockefair and Colonel Cornog killed before my eyes. Doc Cohen had the grim task of identifying remains. I have never forgotten that sad day.

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