Judd Wiley, Part 2
On our third or fourth day in combat, I was following Jim Flowers over a big treeless hedgerow. He turned right and there was about a two-block-square woods. I saw a bazooka come from out of the woods and hit his tank. Tanks have a pin, link pins they’re called. It hit that pin and burned clear into the next link and burned out. If it had hit an inch higher or lower, it would have penetrated the tank and everybody inside would have been dead.
When Flowers’ tank was hit with the bazooka, it was backing over that same treeless hedgerow where the hatch cover came loose and crushed my fingers.
Every tank carries spare parts for tracks, so it only took about twenty minutes to get that fixed. In the meantime, a group of us were standing outside the tank and there was another group about five feet away, and a dud white phosphorous shell – one of ours – came slithering through the grass and stopped. If that had gone off it would have burned all of us up. You can’t live with white phosphorous all over you. That happened to a lot of Germans: It starts a fire, and they would jump into a river, but as soon as they came out it started burning again. That white phosphorous would just eat a hole through you.
Abe Taylor was a Jew. His name was Abraham Isaac Taylor. I said, "How did you get a name like Taylor?"
He said, "Well, when you come over they’ve got to give you a name, so we chose Taylor."
Abe was a good soldier. He was a damn good soldier.
When we were at the port of embarkation, near Boston, I had dinner at his house. I can remember one thing that happened while I was there. It was in the winter, and I saw these guys wearing earmuffs. I’m from California. I thought, "Earmuffs, those sissies, they look terrible!" So a puddle that was water before sunset, you could walk across by 8 o’clock when the movie started. There was a long line and I had to stand there, and I suffered. For three or four years my ears were peeling because they froze, and I would have given anything for one of those ugly earmuffs.
I don’t remember what movie was playing. But I saw "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" in France. That was when we were over at Fontainebleau, in the tank training detachment. On the marquee it said, "White Snow and the Dwarves Seven."
The last words I had with Abe Taylor were when he came to see me and said, "My tank’s conked out. Can I be the commander of yours until you come back?"
I didn’t think I was going to be gone so long. But with all these broken fingers, and my knee being all swelled up, they just wouldn’t send me back.
Paul Farrell might have had a premonition that he was going to be killed, and he was. Every one of them. Abe Taylor even. He was in the top. He could have jumped out. But it must have been something that happened to the turret, that got down in to the bow gunner.
The tank commander is in the best position to escape. I’ve looked in tanks, and if all of the ammunition in the tank starts going, there is nothing but little tiny pieces of bone. If they could have got Gentle out of these little tiny bones that you could sweep up off of the floor of the turret, that’s the way that tank looked. I saw one just like that in that ordnance depot when we went back, when Patton was shooting my gun; I went down in it, and those little pieces of bones were all on the bottom. Now, if the tank was hit as badly as I believe, there wouldn’t have been enough left to bury. A lot of bodies were brought back from Vietnam, and when the caskets are opened, there are just a few bones laying around, there’s nothing whole that they can identify the person that was killed. Just a few bones picked up here and there. I saw that tank that was in ordnance. It was burned to a crisp, and there was a hole in the side of the turret. If that can get through, that’s where the ammo is stored, and if the ammo starts going off, everybody in the tank will just disintegrate. So if they had enough left of Gentle to put him in a coffin, it was just a little handful of bones, that’s all it could have been.
I would have loved to have died with my men. Two months later or three months later when I found out what happened – it’s still a horror to me when I think of it. We never had an argument, none of us. It was the only tank probably in the whole damn battalion where everybody liked everybody else. We never had any problems, and that’s why we won so many awards, when we were in England. Our tank had the best gunnery record of anybody in the battalion.
Montoya had a back problem, from when we were at Fort Benning. We went on maneuvers, and we went out in an area where there were bridges all the way around, and inside of this huge area were dairy farms, and they had to get their milk out. When we got done there all the bridges were knocked down, but one time when the bridge gave out Montoya’s tank turned over on its side and that hurt Montoya’s back. He complained of it to me ever since.
Horace Gary, Flowers’ driver, was originally my driver. We were walking along this same area, at night, and there was salt grass on this little hump; we didn’t want to get out in the street because a tank might run over us, and there was just a hump that we were walking along. It was all covered with salt grass, and someone asked Gary a question and he didn’t answer. So we turned around and looked, and he was gone. We started retracing our steps, very slowly, and there was a hole that was covered with salt grass, and Gary had fallen into that. The guys held my feet, and he was so far down I just could get hold of his hand and pull him out.
When we were on maneuvers there was a tank that fell over the side of a road and the tank commander went down, trying to keep from cracking his head, but he was over the gun, and when the tank hit, the gun went up and crushed his head and killed him.
This was on maneuvers. Gary liked to put himself right on the right side of the road; well, the tank is eight feet wide, it went way on over into the damn brush, and I’d say "Left lever!" Finally I told Gary to come be the tank commander and I drove all through maneuvers, because he was crazy. He put himself clear over on the right hand side, and these roads were only ten or twelve feet wide, and when he got over way on the right hand side, I could just see the same thing happening to us.
Montoya made it through to Metz; that’s where he got hit. He said there was an 88 camouflaged out in a big field and it knocked out a couple of the tanks and injured Montoya. So that’s the way it is. I wish I could have gone all the way. I never really was afraid once there. You’re too busy trying to save the lives of all your guys and yourself to be worried; you’re busy all the time. And then when nightfall comes, you just close the turret; all I had was a jump seat, and that was the worst place in the tank. The best place was the gunner. Eugene Tannler was as tall as I am, and he used to stretch out on the whole floor. And there was no place for me. I just had the jump seat, all night long, oh, God, what a terrible way to sleep.
The war changed everybody. It changed my tank crew. I could tell the difference in them. I was that way myself. It isn’t all just self-preservation; you get so busy with trying to kill the Germans that you forget yourself. One time we chased a little German tank, a little tiny German tank, down a dirt road, and oh, we were gaining on it. It was a little bitty tank with a little bitty gun on it, and we kept firing at it. All of a sudden it turned into a field, and I went right in after it, and there were two Tiger tanks in there. The tank commanders weren’t looking in my direction, and without making a lot of racket, I quickly turned and got the hell out of there. I’ll never forget that! Those things went right through our tanks. Our tanks are like tin compared to theirs.