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© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Published in 3AD Association Newsletter - October, 1974


There is a vast difference between any popular conception of a thing and - what really happened. I was reminded of this when a young friend in today's Third sent me a copy of "Spearhead," the current division newspaper published in Frankfurt, Germany.

There is a line-drawing on the front page, purportedly cartooning a WWII tank crew being feted by liberated French or Belgians, and it is a nice hunk of work, but it ain't quite the way I remembered it!

Our artist of 1974 depicts a pretty rough looking crew, and that's par for the course. All are hearty, well-fed, mature types. One seems to be wearing a beard and another, sans helmet, much hair on his headbone. The welcoming girls, plus one liberated gentleman, are pressing bouquets of flowers on the tankers. What really happened?

Well, first things first. The populace certainly offered flowers, but it was almost unknown for any welcoming committee to lack bottles of wine, champagne and other booze, plus ripe fruit in season. There was always a blubbering father holding his tiny son high in the air to see the liberators.

There were also legions of children, many of them rascally little demons who weren't bringing a damned thing, but who felt that the arrival of the Yanks meant tons of cigarettes and chocolate. "Pliz, cigarette pour papa?"

And, if truth must triumph, a lot of the girls seemed to feel that chocolate and other rations, including the much-hated K, were ample payment for certain immortal, immoral favors. Soldiers, as Kipling noted in an even more Victorian age, are no plaster saints.

I suggest that you Spearhead brats, reading this nonsense because you have nothing better to do at the moment, ask Dad what he got in return for those God-awful chocolate bars. If he's an honest man - he'll probably tell you to buzz off and quit asking foolish questions.

But I stray! Artists' conceptions of soldiers, together with the motion picture image, forever show very mature men - big guys like John Wayne, heavy of shoulder and often a little too full in the gut. Movies may be excused, because their stars are all middle-aged, long past the true prime of youth, which is a soldier's basic ace in the hole.

Studying old pictures of my colleagues in that war, one thing is immediately apparent: we were all terribly young and skinny! Maybe the word should be "wirey," because there's no doubt that we were at peak as athletes. There wasn't much excess fat.

Sure, some of the field and general officers were John Wayne types, complete with paunch. Occasionally you found a character like Bert Wootten of Company A, 703rd, who was built like a football and just as hard to puncture. We were all skinny, the enlisted men, the shavetails and the worried captains. We got stringier and tougher as the war went on.

Next, take the hair bit. In that war, high command took a dim view of hirsute adornment. You could boast a mustache if you wanted, and a few did. Beards were scarce, and headbone hair was short - or else! Going in to Normandy, a lot of us featured Indian scalp locks or V-for-Victory cuts, but the hair was always short.

When you see a motion picture of WWII, with every star and extra a big, brawny type crowned with a current mop of razor-cut hair - count it entertainment. That ain't the way it was.

I know it is impossible to believe, especially if I lay it on Spearhead brats, but the average tanker was a lean and hungry man. He was young, say between 20 and 25, and he was both clean-shaven and close-cropped. Our man hadn't an extra ounce of fat on his whole frame.

This soldier of the Spearhead had been trained hard; he was a lean horse for a long race. After a few weeks of combat, the anvil on which the steel of any soldier's skill is tempered, he was one of the toughest men in the world. A John Wayne he wasn't!

Flowers? Come on, now! He chased girls - and caught a lot of them; he guzzled rotgut booze and he liked to brawl with colleagues in a bar. It seems pretty stupid now, but troopers of the 3rd were fond of beating-up GI's of the 2nd Armored "Hell On Wheels," just because those silly bastards thought they belonged to the best armored division in the world. We knew better.

I'm sure today's soldiers are good, particularly line officers and non-coms who have served in Korea and Vietnam - but those who lack combat experience would be Sunday School boys compared to the hardened veterans of the wartime 3rd. No other tanker in the world was better in 1945.

So, Spearhead brat, your old Dad may be getting a mite soft in the mid-section, and he's undoubtedly a cultured, gentleman - now!

Study him when old comrades arrive for a few drinks and a lot of tall talk about things that are best forgotten. Unless you can stand a bit of a shock, don't speculate on the expression in his eyes.

He was all man before he lost his youth. He was a skinny, harassed, often dirty centurian who didn't look like a hero - but was one all the same.

Not me, you understand! I just jockeyed a typewriter.

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