I joined the Third Armored Division at Camp Polk, Louisana in early 1942, less than a year after it was formed. I went through maneuvers in the semi-swamplands of that state and East Texas; went to the Mohave Desert for training to possibly be used in North Africa: was moved with Division to Camp Pickett for shipment to Africa which was canceled: moved to Indiantown Gap Camp for further training before a planned shipment to England for the invasion of mainland Europe. That was almost 60 years ago, but some memories are still vivid in my mind.
War is not a glorious happening such as pictured in movies and on TV. My introduction to war, as it really is, was to emerge from the dark hold of an LST ( Landing-ship- tanks) and drive across Omaha beach about two weeks after D-Day. It was a very sobering sight. Wreckage of the landings was scattered about, but the stacks of our dead rolled in army blankets with feet sticking out were a very sobering sight , indeed. We were no longer on the fringe of war, we were in it. Bodybags of later wars would be make the dead seem less personal, but at that time the sight drove home the fact that this war was real. It became more real as we moved in from the beach.
The stench of war and death hung over the land and it is a stench I think no one could ever forget. The piles of bodies got smaller as we moved away from the beach. As we neared the combat area we began to see the most horrible of sights, we were in armored vehicles moving down lane like roads between hedgerows and we passed bodies which had been run over by tanks and were just blobs of bloody flattened flesh and we had to drive over those spots. Some of the spots consited only of bodies only partly obliterated. War close up is a horrible sight. In addition to the dead men there were many dead farm animals lying where they had fallen. The bloated carcasses added greatly to the stench of the battle field. I know it must be a stench smelled nowhere else.
If you are a combat infantry soldier, you are not marching toward the enemy with your gun blazing, you are hiding behind anything which will give you protection from bullets being fired at you while seeking to shoot the other human being who is also trying to kill you. Or you may be crouched down in the foxhole you dug as shelter from an artilllery or mortar barrage, praying that one of those shells doesn't hit your hole or a tree limb above you which would send down a hail of shrapnel into your shelter.
If you are a tanker shielded by all that armor, you are hoping that an enemy tank gunner or anti-tank gunner doesn't have you in his sights, and isn't about to hit your tank with a round which will make riddled corpses out of you and your crew and probably turn your tank into an exploding, burning hulk. Or a single German soldier armed with a panzerfaust ( a one man rocket launcher) isn't crouched down waiting for you to drive by before blowing you to hell.
German soldiers would do this then wave the white flag of surrender. I recently read that General Omar Bradley , a very moral man) issued that such Germans were to be shot . Not for the act they had commited by knocking out the tank but for expecting mercy after such an act.
I experienced the loss of my vehicle and two of my crew as a part of one of the first spearheads of the 3rd Armorewd Division which became known as the "Spearhead Division" It was on the St.Lo Breakout which resulted in the German armies being driven almost back into Germany. It was at the start of the Breakout and as part of Recon. Co. of the 33rd Armored Regiment my platoon was on the point of an armored column, with P47 planes straffing and bombing so closely overhead that metal ammo links from their guns fell striking our vehicles, we had just passed the horrible sight of a German soldier sitting in a small scout car with his hands gripping the steering wheel, but he had no head.
We had moved a little further on when my M8 armored scout car was ordered to go through a break in the hedgerow on the left. Once through the break I could see a stone barn at the end of the field with Germans in the barn yard behinfd a stone fence. I alerted my gunner on the 37 mm cannon and I cut loose firing the ring mounted 50 caliber. We were hit almost immediately by an anti-tank round which killed my driver and the radioman-bow gunnner who rode beside him in the front of the vehicle. All I remember was a very loud clang sound and a large flash of yellow fire. My gunner and I were unwounded but were sent back to the medics.
That ended my short but eventful combat career. The armies were moving so fast that I went to a replacement depot and because the armies were moving so fast combat MPs were needed and I became one. I did not yearn for more combat. It has many times been said, "War is hell" and that says it all.
Charles Ray Reeder