13:09 | After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
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While plowing behind a horse one day, on his family farm in South Carolina, B.E. Vaughan decided he didn't want to be stuck behind that plow forever. "I want to be somebody." So he enlisted alongside three friends who were drafted.
B.E. Vaughan already knew how to drill. In a Home Guard group he'd done well but when he got to boot camp, they executed the "Halt" command a little differently and this led to a little tension with the Drill Instructor.
Shipping out on a newly commissioned destroyer, B.E. Vaughan went straight into the chaos of the Normandy invasion. All around him was "a slaughterhouse," but the crew performed a valuable role as soldiers struggled to get a foothold, knocking out pillboxes on the bluffs.
Setting out from Portsmouth after a short break following the overwhelming experience of D-Day, B.E. Vaughan and the O'Brien joined a task force with the battleship Texas supporting the landing at Cherbourg. Their support was so good that they drew the fire from the Texas onto themselves.
One of B.E. Vaughan's shipmates on the O'Brien went over the hill as they prepared to head to the Pacific, sure that he wouldn't make it back. He walked up the gangplank in Hawaii, though, after a change of heart. In one of their first Pacific actions, they came to the rescue of the USS Ward, whose captain had fired the first shot of the war an hour before the attack on Pearl Harbor began.
It was Condition One Easy, which means B.E. Vaughan could step outside the gun mount and have a smoke. But before he did, everyone started running by and he saw the sailor just outside the hatch look up and "his eyes just about popped out of his head."
The atomic bombs had ended the war and B.E.Vaughan had the experience he'd hoped for, sailing into Tokyo Bay in dress blues. The things he'd seen haunt him to this day and he wonders how it was that he lived and others died. He recalls the moment when, as a typhoon bore down on his ship, he decided he was ready to die and it was OK.
While still in Tokyo Bay before heading home, B.E. Vaughan was tasked with running the whale boat to shore to transport some personnel. It didn't work out so well.
The war was over but B.E. Vaughan faced one more trial, getting home without any money. As in war, those who served looked out for each other.
They were always crossing rivers. Arnold Whittaker's unit made seventeen crossings for Patton and he describes the action at the most significant; the Rhine. When he got to the other side, his squad leader was immediately wounded, which put him in charge.
Murray Leff well remembers his first day inside Germany itself. He was on his face in the dirt and stuff was falling on him. Then, one of his own sentries nearly killed him. He looked at Stars and Stripes one day and found out about this thing called the Bulge. That's where he was headed next.
While he was recovering from a flesh wound, Clayton Byrd's division was making history in the push to the Rhine. Soon after he rejoined them, they were put in reserve and saw no more combat. The German war effort was spent. After the war, he got an up close look at some Soviet soldiers which disgusted him.
His first night in combat, there was an artillery barrage in the rain and he lost his M-1. Not a great start for Arnold Whittaker but he found his weapon and began trying to find acceptance as a replacement. There were a lot of these green troops as they moved into Metz where they had to deal with snipers.
It was kind of a cushy assignment. Clayton Byrd's unit was containing a German force on the Brittany peninsula but it was redirected to the Battle of the Bulge. This was in no way cushy. The front line was in flux and he and 25 other men found themselves in an apple orchard two miles on the wrong side of it. The Germans had pushed through, bypassing them. They were cut off. Part 1 of 3.
Even before the push on Rome began, Fred King's feet were in terrible shape. He kept going anyway and he narrowly escaped, again, his entire unit being nearly wiped out, this time by a German plane. He went back for supplies and took over the BAR when no one else knew how to clean it. These things got him a medal and he nearly made it to Rome before his feet gave out.
The GI's took a house in Germany for the night and once it was secure, Arnold Whittaker did what he usually did, look around for some food. He found a couple of hams and went to sleep dreaming of a ham breakfast. He got up the next morning and went to the kitchen. This saved his life.
There had been no activity so the men rigged up a shower and started to get clean. The Germans must have been watching because the 88 shells started exploding, sending naked GI's running for cover. Clayton Byrd recalls that embarrassing incident as well as a couple of stories about trigger happy troops.
As his company moved from Metz into Germany, they lost 100 out of 144 men in a fierce counter-attack. Arnold Whittaker had been a replacement just a month ago and now he was meeting new replacements. Then, the Battle of the Bulge was on and the 5th Division headed to the fray in the midst of the worst winter in decades.
Once the men of the Beach Battalion returned to England from Normandy, it was time to write letters to the mothers and wives of those who perished. Before his experience on the beach, Ed Marriott had spent two years on a destroyer, where he was far removed from the mayhem. Big difference with this new unit.
When he was drafted, Clayton Byrd was selected for the Army Specialized Training Program, which meant that he could study for an engineering degree after basic training. It didn't last long as the manpower requirements in Europe caused the Army to take all those students and put them in the infantry.
Arnold Whittaker got to tour Paris before he shipped back home. He was preparing to tour Japan, not in a good way, when the surprise announcement came. The war in the Pacific was over. He wrote of his experiences in the European campaign in his book, "Foxhole Promises."
He thinks about the war sometimes but it could just be odd details. How did he find his way through a maze of barbed wire? How does a concussion wave do what it does? Fred King prayed a lot while he was there and it must have helped. He survived three different disasters.
It was on his third mission that B-17 pilot George Stamps saw his first flak. He was already apprehensive because he was having a problem with one engine which meant he could barely keep up with the rest of the flight. When he saw those puffs of black smoke, he got a horrible feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Fred King entered the Italian campaign at Naples, where the rations were plentiful and not bad, but his unit was soon packed up and prepped for the Anzio operation. The brass had decided this would distract the Germans. It did not work out that way. Part 1 of 3.
Red Cross Parcels were not a regular thing at Stalag 17B and, when the prisoners did get some, the guards liked to puncture them with their bayonets. Marvin Russell was interned there and he has a couple of stories you may not want to hear, one about the cats in the camp and one about the lack of toilet paper.
They were like knights in armor. B-17 pilot George Stamps describes the multi-layered suits and flak protection used by the crew. He recalls a mission to East Germany which was just about at their maximum range. When they got there, the target was obscured by clouds and a secondary target had to be found. it was a very good one, especially if you were in the Russian infantry.
The Germans were helping out. A small group of GI's were cut off from their side and, when the attack came, this time at night, the Germans inexplicably fired their flare too early. Clayton Byrd describes how this illuminated them, making perfect targets. By the time the American line caught up with them, the couple of dozen men had killed 150 of the enemy. Part 3 of 3.
The Germans had been chased back into their homeland. B-17 pilot George Stamps was taking his ground crew for a ride over the Ruhr Valley to see the damage their efforts had inflicted on the enemy. Suddenly, there was a call on the radio. It was over. The Germans had surrendered. Forget the Ruhr, we're going to Paris!
It may have been unusual in Brooklyn, but Murray Leff developed an interest in guns and owned a rifle as a young mn. This gave him a leg up on the firing range during his infantry training. Something else unusual about him is that he actually enjoyed the trip across the Atlantic on his way to join the war in Europe.
The southern route across the Atlantic required extra fuel tanks on the aircraft. Flight engineer Marvin Russell had to repair one of them after the first leg of the flight. Eventually, they got to England where they went out to a pub and were greeted by a German rocket.
When B-17 pilot George Stamps was promoted, the orders were signed by Jimmy Doolittle, the new commander of the 8th Air Force. He was already a legend, not only for the Tokyo Raid but for personally designing many of the components necessary for instrument flying.
The locals in France were friendly and engaging. Murray Leff had taken French in school, enough to communicate, and this sparked a lifelong interest. When he got to the front, it was a mere sixty miles from Germany itself.
The crew picked up a brand new B-17 and flew to Northern Ireland, where gunner Clint Henderson thought that the locals were the friendliest people in the world. Soon, he was over the very unfriendly skies of Germany, where he was greeted by lots of flak.