By William H. Pitts, June 7, 1924 - January 7, 2015
After graduating from high school, I was soon inducted in the Army. I was sent to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, as my first station. After about two or three weeks, each inductee was assigned for duty. I was selected to go to Ft. Eustis, Virginia, and take anti-aircraft basic training. I learned to work with a 90 mm battery.
Each battery had 90 mm, 40 mm, machine guns, etc. Also, each battery had a height finder section. This section learned to pinpoint the altitude of airplanes (no radar then) and tell the big guns when to fire. They said I was placed in the unit because I had stereoscopic vision. I could turn a knob and some reticle marks would seem to fly through the air. When the marks were at the right place, an order was given to fire at the airplane. We practiced daily by setting up on the shore of the ocean and drone planes were used as targets. After about three months of training we were sent to Camp Davis, North Carolina, near Wilmington, for more advanced training.
After a while, they decided that we were ready for overseas duty. So, they sent us to Fort Meade, Maryland, as a shipping point. Later, orders came down to transfer all of us to the infantry because our Air Force was taking care of most German planes, and we had heavy losses on the ground. For infantry basic training, we were sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After this training we were shipped to Camp Shanks, New York, as a staging area for shipment overseas.
We were placed on a large ship which held 4,000 soldiers. The ship zig-zagged across the Atlantic Ocean to avoid German submarines. We landed in Liverpool, England, caught a train across England and arrived at the British port of Southampton. From there we were placed on a Dutch boat called the Leopoldville which took us across the English Channel to LeHarve, France. There we caught a train, with 40 men placed standing in each box car. They called it 40 and 8. Finally, we arrived to the French, Belgium and Luxembourg area wherein we were assigned to a squad.
The German shad conquered France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Denmark, and some others. Our job was to push the Germans back into their own country. So, when I arrived at a small town near the French, Belgian borders, I was assigned as a replacement to fill positions where many soldiers had been killed, injured, etc.
I arrived about midnight and was assigned to a squad. I slept in a hay barn until daybreak. I was issued all the gear that was needed. The gear consisted of wool clothes, heavy wool overcoat, steel helmet, boots, etc. Also, we were given a heavy, wide belt so that we could carry as many clips of ammunition as required for our M1 rifles.
Besides the above, we had a canteen, side bayonet, boxes of food for a day, and a back pack, and several hand grenades and other items attached to our belts. So, all of these necessaries were very heavy. The squad sergeant pointed to a small town in the distance. We were on a hill where we would see a good distance. He said, "Do you see that town down yonder?" I said, "Yes." He said, "We're taking that town just after daylight." I was to be an assistant to the machine gunner which meant if something happened to him, I would take over. Also, I carried a heavy box of ammunition for the machine gun. Each squad had one or two of these guns assigned. The sergeant said, "We'll call on our artillery to blast those Germans real good before we attack." Artillery shells zoomed over our heads. The artillery was about three to five miles back of us.
After the artillery fired for fifteen to thirty minutes, we were told to move out. The French, Belgiums and even the Germans used a heavy trick hedge row for fencing. One could not get past it unless you went around or tried to crawl through a hole in the hedge.
Shortly after we started moving on the offensive, the machine gunner tried to crawl through a hole in the hedge but got tangled up and couldn't get through. The sergeant told me to grab his machine gun and ammunition and get going. We headed toward the town with all guns firing. There were other squads involved, also. Later, the machine gunner got loose from the hedge and took his gun back from me. I then used my M1 rifle as we marched toward our goal.
The German saw that they were outnumbered and began to withdraw from the town and ended up in a forest. As we went through the town, we saw some people hanging from light posts. So, we took the town but we had to go across a large open field to get to the Germans. The lieutenant in charge called for some tanks. We started across the field as the foot infantry. But, the Germans started pattern bombing the field from the woods with mortars. Some of us rode on the back of tanks and most walked. We found the lowest spot that we could in the field which protected us from the mortar shrapnel - unless we were hit directly. A piece of shrapnel made a tear in my pants. I was hugging the ground and staying as low as I could.
The Germans stopped using their mortars, apparently because they were out of ammunition for the mortars. But they had other kinds of weaponry available. The tanks came on with us toward the woods. Nothing happened before we got to the edge of the woods. Then they used big guns and blasted some of the tanks and setting them a fire. I crawled behind one tank, which was on fire. We started firing with the tank guns and our machine guns, rifles, grenades, etc. The Germans pulled back again. So we kept pursuing them. I was riding a tank with three or four other infantrymen. The German snipers fired at us and I felt the wind from one bullet passing my face. It hit the squad leader in the neck, but he was rushed back for treatment. As we moved through the woods, we saw many Germans down in fox holes with their hands raised for surrender. We herded them on back to the rear. After this we pushed into Luxembourg for a short rest before attacking again.
On one occasion when we were pushing the Germans through the woods, we got pinned down and stalled due to heavy fire. Most of us got behind large trees so the Germans could not see us or hit us. On this occasion, I thought I felt a sort of jar at my feet and I discerned that a sniper in a tree was firing at my feet because this was all that he could see. The Germans used flame throwers and one could feel the heat from them, but they did not advance into our position. And, it was decided that we would move for a better vantage point. After everything quietened down, the sergeant told us to move back. He asked me and another soldier to spread the word. However, very few soldiers responded. He said, "What is wrong with those guys?" We had to advise many of them were dead. One of my friends from west Tennessee was in the group. Several people were injured or dead and it was obvious that we needed several replacements. So, we had to increase our strength before we made any bold moves. This may have been the time that I had frozen feet. My socks were wet from the snow and my feet were white and lifeless. I had to go back and get them thawed out while we were regrouping.
In those cases where the Germans had dug fox holes, we used them when they left. However, most of the time we dug our own fox holes. A snow was on the ground. So we put some brush in the bottom of the fox hole and placed a blanket over the brush. We covered the top of the fox hole with pieces of broken trees, etc. Then we put leaves, grass, etc. over the fox hole to hide it from the enemy. One night I was in the fox hole with a guy from Arkansas. The Germans had spotted our location and started lobbing 88 shells in our direction. One shell hit about 20 feet from our fox hole and it seemed as though someone had hit me in the nose. My partner began using cuss words, etc. I told him he had better not use that kind of language because we may not be here 30 minutes from now. He took my advice.
When we started on our next offensive drive, the lieutenant appointed seven people to go with him on a scouting party. I was one of the seven. We had on white clothing which looked like the snow. We carefully scouted the area, which was in the woods. We wanted to know how close the Germans were to us. As we moved along, we found ten to twelve dead Germans in a pile. But there was one still alive. An artillery shell had hit him in the face and tore his face off from mouth down. He pointed to us to shoot him but we did not. We went on through the woods. Finally, we got close enough to the Germans to observe them. They were working like bees building fortifications and other things. The lieutenant said, "Let's go back because now we have accomplished our objective." Our heavy artillery began firing at their positions and we began to move toward them on foot. The Germans fired at us with all kinds of weapons. They had us pinned down. Everything was very quiet. I was behind a large beech tree. I waved my arm from behind the tree real fast. They saw me do this and began to peel bark off the beech tree with their guns. Chips were flying. I did not move. But their machine gun nest was about ten to fifteen yards ahead of us. Someone began lobbing hand grenades at the machine gun nest. I believe all of them were killed but not sure. Later we moved on through the woods.
I was the 51st Armored Infantry Battalion, 4th Armored Division, 3rd Army. The Germans had counterattacked and captured the city of Bastogne, Belgium. The 101st Airborne Division was surrounded. Our division happened to be close enough by Bastogne that we were called on to help free the city and Airborne troops. So we started our drive in that direction sometime in December 1944.
Next, our assignment was to drive into Germany and capture Cologne. On the way there were several little towns which must be captured on the way such as Bitburg and Trier. So we began our offensive in early 1945. We received stiff resistance because we were now on German soil. In one town the lieutenant told me to guard a bunch of prisoners until they could be picked up by forces coming up from the rear. All I had to work with was my M1 rifle. I asked the group if anyone spoke English. A German major said he did. So I told him to line them up because they were mixing with civilians. He called them to attention. Lined them up. I told him to order all prisoners to throw out their guns, knives, bayonets, into a pile in front of them. He did so and they followed his orders. The prisoners knew that the town was surrounded by the American Army, so they cooperated. Soon, a group of our men behind the lines came up and took the prisoners back to a holding area.
A few days later, we were advancing toward Bitburg and Trier. We were riding on the back of tanks and were making our drive through a large apple orchard. The Germans began to lob their 88 shells into the apple orchard. We were told to dig in our fox holes for protection. I had a fox hole dug down about one foot when an 88 shell landed very close. I received three pieces of shrapnel on March 9, 1945. I began to feel as though I were fading away - the metal was hot. So I called out, "Medic!" They rushed in and got me on a stretcher and took me and some others back where they had army ambulances parked. Four of us were loaded in the ambulance and they took us to an American field hospital in Brest, France. On the way, one soldier said to me, "Man, look at your helmet!" The helmet was cracked almost through but did not injure my head.
We stayed in the Brest, France field hospital three or four days. No attempt was made to remove the shrapnel from my hip and back at this place. Later, they placed 24 patients into a C47 and flew us to Frome, Somerset, England, at the American 216th General Hospital. After two or three days they removed the shrapnel and I began to walk some after a while. The captain that made his rounds each morning treating the injured asked me to help him. So, I pushed the cart and handed him what he asked for. I received the Purple Heart Medal while I was in the hospital. I had already been awarded the Combat Infantry Badge while I was in Luxembourg. Hitler surrendered while I was in the hospital. So, they sent us to Liverpool to be placed on a hospital ship for the U.S. We landed in Massachusetts. Then we got on a train and traveled to LaGarde Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana.
While I was stationed at LaGarde, the Japanese surrendered, also. We were discharged on a point system. I had about four to six months remaining before I could be discharged. So, they sent me to Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia, on the Tennessee line where I worked in a clothing warehouse. When my time came for discharge, I went to Ft. McPherson in Atlanta to receive my discharge. Then, I took my duffel bag, got on a Greyhound bus and headed for Tennessee on April 6, 1946.