My name is Oda C. "Chuck" Miller. I was a corporal
and gunner on an M-4 Sherman tank in "E" Company, 32nd
Armored Regiment of the 3rd Armored Division during WWII. My
tank commander was Sgt. Bill Hey. The rest of the crew consisted
of driver Roy Fahrni, assistant driver Pfc. Peter White, and
loader Pvt. Homer Gordon.
In December, 1944, our unit was located in the small town of
Busbach, Germany, a suburb of Stolberg, and was preparing for
future action in the Roer Valley. But all that changed when the
German Army started its counter-attack into the Ardennes Forest,
better known as the Battle of the Bulge. Units of the 3rd Armored
were suddenly pulled back into Belgium to help counter the German
offensive. One morning in early January, 1945, we were in the
small town of Sart, Belgium. We moved out in line formation over
an open field toward the town of Grand Sart. (CONTINUED below
||ABOVE PHOTOS clockwise: Chuck
Miller in Dessau, Germany, at the end of WWII with his third
tank, a 76mm Sherman M4A1; Chuck in sergeant stripes in a 1945
formal portrait taken after he returned home to Kansas City,
Missouri; and a retired Chuck in his officer's attire in 2003
for a talk on WWII at a local Missouri grade school. He retired
from the Army Reserves as a Major in 1970, having received his
commission as a Lieutenant in the Reserves in 1952.
Our first bad experience was when our tank ran over a landmine.
The explosion really rocked the tank and filled it with black
smoke. We were lucky, however, and the only damage was a couple
of flattened bogie wheels and the rubber tread blown off of a
few track blocks. We continued on and I was firing the 75mm gun
at a German tank next to a barn. I had fired one armor-piercing
round when all of a sudden we received a direct hit to the turret.
The shell hit the cupola ring and a flash of fire hit my periscope.
The shell blew the tank commander's hatch open, took part
of his head off, and then proceeded to blow off the anti-aircraft
gun and mount. Bill Hey was killed instantly and he fell down
on my back, covering me with blood. By the time I could get Bill
off of my back, the assistant driver had bailed out and the loader
had crawled through the turret and out the assistant driver's
hatch. Instead of checking to see where the gun tube was located,
all I could think about was getting out of the tank, since when
they hit you once they generally keep hitting you until the tank
When I finally got Bill off of my back and crawled out of
the turret, I rolled over the duffel bag rack expecting to land
on the back of the tank, but instead ended up falling all the
way to the ground. Fortunately, the deep snow cushioned my fall.
I had mistakenly left the gun slightly to the left over the driver's
hatch. When I hit the ground I crawled to the back of the tank
since we were receiving machinegun fire. When I reached the back,
the driver started backing the tank since he could not get his
hatch open because of the gun tube. I had left the controls in
power traverse and, as the tank backed up, the gun traversed
to the left and he was able to open the hatch and get out.
We made our way to a small creek bed and headed back to the
town of Sart. Everyone thought I had been hit since I was covered
with my tank commander's blood. The next day the Graves Registration
people removed Bill Hey's body and we took the tank back to Battalion
Maintenance for repairs. We then had to remove the good shells
and clean the inside of the turret. Bill's brains were in my
seat and blood covered everything, including the radio. It was
a very gruesome job. I never talked about the experience for
years after the war. At the conclusion of the Battle of the Bulge,
I transferred to another tank with a new crew. I was to have
another bad experience near Blatzheim, Germany.
My new crew consisted of tank commander Sgt. Raymond Juilfs,
driver Cpl. Joe Caserta, assistant driver Pvt. Joe Mazza, loader
Pfc. Kenneth Banaka, and myself, again as gunner. Our tank was
the newer, higher velocity 76mm M-4 Sherman.
On the morning of Feb. 26th, 1945, units of the 3rd Armored Division
were located on the edge of a small town preparing to attack
across an open field to the town of Blatzheim. This area of Germany
was called the Cologne Plains, which was supposed to be excellent
tank combat country. But we were wrong, as the Germans had their
anti-tank guns dug in and covered with camouflage nets which
completely concealed them. Just a few hundred yards into the
field was a series of slit trenches which needed to be cleared
out before we started our attack.
Three light M-5 "Stuart" tanks from "B"
Company were sent out to accomplish this. All three were instantly
knocked out, causing a number of casualties. The main attack
was to begin as soon as a group of farm buildings on our left
were taken by "F" Company. Thinking this had been accomplished.
we were given the order to move out in a line formation. But
as soon as we moved out into the field we were told to return,
as the farm had not been taken and there were a number of anti-tank
weapons located there. Shortly thereafter we were again given
the order to move out.
Of course, because of our false start, the Germans knew exactly
where we were, and we immediately lost a number of tanks. including
the one that I had transferred from following the Battle of the
Bulge. Tanks from "F" Company then joined with "E"
Company and we continued our attack. We were about halfway across
the field when, in all the confusion of battle, our tank suddenly
dropped off into a large bomb crater. By the time I could get
all the equipment that had fallen on me from the sponson and
had turned off the main electrical switches, the rest of the
crew had bailed out. When I got out of the tank I found out why
the rest of the crew had bailed out; there was no way that the
tank could get out of that hole without the help of a T-2 vehicle
When I crawled out of the crater, I found the rest of the
crew lying on the ground behind a pile of potatoes covered with
straw. I immediately laid down next to our tank commander. We
had not been there long when an artillery shell landed just a
short distance from us in the middle of a group of "F"
Company tankers who had also lost their tank. I watched as one
tanker jumped up and started to run but suddenly fell to his
knees and looked around at us. He had no face, and I am sure
he was dead along with the rest of his crew.
I then told our crew that we should move away from this area
and walk back to the town we had left earlier that morning. I
nudged Juilfs, who didn't move, and I discovered that he had
been hit in the head by a large piece of shrapnel and was dead.
Joe Caserta was a little dazed since a piece of shrapnel had
hit his crash helmet and made a hole but had just given him a
bump on the head. He also had a small wound in his shoulder.
With the rest of the crew we made it back to the starting point.
My right ankle had been bothering me, but I couldn't see any
problem until I finally peeled down my overshoe. There was a
small hole in the overshoe and through my boot, where I could
see blood. A small piece of shrapnel had penetrated into my ankle
joint. Joe Caserta and I were taken back to the medics located
in Stolberg. The doctor probed for the shrapnel but could not
get it, so he bandaged my ankle. Joe and I went back to the Company,
and neither of us lost any battle time from our wounds.
After the war ended the Company was located in the small town
of Munster by Dieberg. I was having trouble with my ankle, so
I went to the 45th Medical Bn. They took x-rays and sent me to
the hospital in Frankfurt where the shrapnel was removed. I spent
about 10 days in the hospital and then returned to my unit for
continued occupation duties.
If I may backtrack to how, in a very convoluted way, I eventually
joined the 3rd Armored Division, I turned 18 on Nov. 9, 1942,
and graduated from Northeast High School in Kansas City mid-term
in Jan., 1943, then went into the Army in Feb., 1943. I took
basic training with the newly formed 20th Armored Division at
Camp Campbell, KY. After basic the Division down-sized from the
old Square Division to Tank Battalions.That caused a lot of excess
men, who were formed into a provisional battalion, myself included.
We were then sent out as replacements. I ended up being sent
to a replacement pool in England in Feb., 1944.
In May a group of us were detached to the 48th Ordnance Battalion
and we spent our time water-proofing M-5 Light Tanks in preparation
to take to Normandy as replacement tanks. Shortly after "D-Day"
we moved the tanks to Southhampton and loaded them on an LST.
We landed on the beach with a one-man crew per tank about 11
PM on June 15th. I then spent the next couple of weeks driving
a 2 1/2- ton, 6x6 truck picking up ordnance supplies from Omaha
and Utah beaches. A replacement pool was finally set up in Normandy
and we were recalled.
Shortly thereafter I was sent to "E" Co, 32nd AR,
3rd Armored Division as one of their first replacements near
St. Jean de Daye. (The 3rd AD had just seen their first combat
and needed replacements.) I saw combat with three different crews
during the five campaigns from Normandy to Dessau, Germany, on
the Elbe River. My crews lost two tank commanders, killed in
action, on the way.