4:44 | John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Keywords : John Souther Reconnaissance (RECON) Tunisia North Africa wadi German artillery 88 mm gun radio Silver Star
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
John Souther was already in the Army when Pearl Harbor was bombed and he immediately was engaged in stepped up training. He went with the 1st Armored Division to the first invasion of the war, North Africa. Pummeled by Rommel at first, they prevailed and then went on to Italy.
Rommel's troops were in full retreat. Reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther was keeping track of their position when he stumbled on a bunker with two German machine guns pointed right at him. He immediately thought back to his training and a word he heard repeatedly.
The Anzio beachhead was chaos. John Souther describes the relentless artillery fire, the bombing and the strafing and all you could do was dig in. He nearly lost his nerve while huddled in his covered foxhole. Some went "psycho." Eventually, American air power was able to break the stalemate and the invasion of Italy continued.
John Souther went on a lot of reconnaissance patrols at night with the aim of capturing the enemy. He had a sergeant who spoke fluent German and would rile up the prisoners by insulting Hitler. He also had a platoon leader who got caught in a shootout worthy of a Hollywood movie.
John Souther's reconnaissance company was often the first American unit Italians would see. In one little town, they made him mayor! When he got to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, he was getting hit by artillery fire being directed by a German on the top floor, so he brought up his own assault guns. Was he going to fire on a national monument?
He had it made for a couple of weeks there. John Souther's recon company occupied an Italian estate which had giant casks of wine in a cellar with nice convenient taps. By this time, the much better K-ration had replaced the C-ration, so when you weren't at a nice estate, your meal was a little better.
The war was nearing an end, but John Souther's unit was still on the move across Italy. He had to be evacuated for a few weeks when he fell ill, but he rejoined his men in time for the final push toward the Alps and the German surrender.
Without enough points to go home in the first wave of returnees, Frank Capuozzi became an acting mess sergeant and took over a kitchen. After all, he was the son of a chef. When he did get home he started a family and worked as a top rate hairdresser in New York.
The first assignment for the USS Reeves was escort duty on a huge convoy to North Africa. Frank Stovall recalls that there were no problems with submarines on that trip, but the rough seas made almost everyone seasick. He was surprised at the relative modernity of Casablanca.
He came in as a replacement to a tank destroyer battalion. Frank Capuozzi was a rifleman who rode in a jeep ahead of the guns as they pushed across France. His unit joined the forces ordered into the Battle of the Bulge, where he had to get some help when he was frozen in a foxhole.
The 92nd Infantry Division was training at Fort Huachuca but it wasn't clear that they would get into combat because of the racial policies in the Army. The War department forced the issue on sending candidates to OCS, fighting it's own commanders who wanted segregation to continue.
When his ship was drydocked in preparation for going to the Pacific theater, Frank Stovall left the crew to go to radar school. This was fine with him because he was now married. He was in Washington DC working as a field engineer when Japan surrendered. His last job in the Navy was testing acoustic torpedoes.
The war was over in Tunisia and his unit was sent to England to prepare for the upcoming invasion. Newton Riess was left behind and he was mad about this until he heard the casualty reports. He wound up in Italy where he was selected for a special unit that reconditioned wounded soldiers before they returned to the front.
A week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank Stovall was told in his Navy ROTC class that the Navy was on alert for a Japanese attack. A week later, he was mystified that the attack was not anticipated. After graduation, he became an anti-submarine warfare officer and was assigned to a destroyer escort.
Newton Riess did not like the position where his platoon was placed and he mentioned it to a captain to no avail. Sure enough, his unit was nearly routed by the Germans. He was hit by shrapnel again and sent to the hospital where he saw some ladies from the Red Cross doing something deceitful.
Lyle Gittens had just arrived from New York City and was looking forward to joining the basketball team at Clark University. At the first practice, he was surprised to find the place was packed. They had turned out to see the new guy. He was even more surprised at something else he saw in the crowd.
Wounded Marine Harry Kone went to his bunk when he arrived at a California hospital and found a book sitting there that would have a profound effect on his life. That book helped give him strength to get through his war injury and to get through the next crisis.
He was hitting rock bottom. Lyle Gittens had returned from Europe to a job market with few opportunities for minorities. He even swallowed his West Indies pride and asked for a loan, which was denied. Finally, his luck turned for the better.
The Japanese on Guadalcanal were aggressive but US Marines persevered and sealed the victory. Harry Kone was relieved when it was over but was forced into a series of hospitals because of an injury. He headed for home on a ship full of wounded men.
After the German surrender, the Army organized some sports teams to give the men something to do while they waited to go home. Lyle Gittens was a gifted athlete and they assigned him to a baseball team. Too bad. He hated baseball and would much rather play basketball. It didn't matter how well he played, he wasn't welcome in his segregated Army's own canteens.
Five years after he graduated high school during the Depression, Lyle Gittens finally got a good job at the YMCA. He wanted to be a basketball coach but he lacked a degree. He was a talented player and he went south to join the team at Clark University in Atlanta, where he encountered two things he never experienced before, segregation and southern hospitality.
On Guadalcanal, you could tell by the sound of the engine whether it was a Zero or a Betty Bomber. Harry Kone learned to tell the difference while trying to get out of the rain. There was never a mystery about one thing, what was for breakfast.
The Atlantic crossing was 33 days and Lyle Gittens was seasick 33 days. He was in the 92nd Infantry Division which was the only black unit to see combat in the war. He describes the heartbreaking living conditions he found in Italy, where children begged for table scraps and lived on the street.