THE GREATEST CATACLYSM in history grew out of ancient and ordinary human emotions –
anger and arrogance and bigotry, victimhood and the lust for power. And it ended because other human
qualities – courage and perseverance and selflessness, faith, leadership and the hunger for freedom –
combined with an imaginable brutality to change the course of human events. The Second World War
brought out the best and the worst in a generation - and blurred the two so that they became at times
almost indistinguishable. Quote from the publication, PBS’ “The War” produced by Ken Burns.
Ken Burns in his production “The War” has managed to convey in a broad sense and as best could be
demonstrated, a number of personal glimpses and stories of a number of our citizens and the part they
played in that event. From time to time I have received by email or other media and have experienced
stories and personal accounts of the generation that went to that war.
This is a story of another one of our citizen soldiers, my father, and the experiences as he recounted
the numerous events and stories that he experienced and conveyed them to me, as those stories and
visions were absorbed by the willing and eager ears of his son.
This is a snapshot of his story.
Dedication Remembering when I was a young boy, I see my father looking at the toy models that I had built. How was I to comprehend that these toy airplanes and tanks would at one time, try to destroy him. I now try to put myself in his place and have come to realize what it must have been like for him and thousands and thousands of young men just like him. My father grew up on a farm in central Nebraska during the depression and at the outbreak of World War II, was called to join in the struggle to end that conflict. My father was a "Tanker" and served with the 1st Armored division initially and then the 753 rd Tank Battalion and eventually fought through seven campaigns. He fought through the same battles as would the most decorated soldier of the war, "Audey Murphy". He landed at Oran in Algeria, fought in Tunisia and fought Rommel's Afrika Korps at the famous Kasserine Pass. With the 753 rd Tank Battalion he invaded and captured the Island of Sicily. From the Island of Sicily they landed at the southern port of the Italian peninsula "Salerno". Fighting up the what Winston Churchill called the "soft underbelly" of Europe he fought for the one of the most contested mountains of the war "Monte Cassino". From there he joined in the landing at "Anzio" and then on to Rome. The war then took him to the landings in the South of France and eventually into Southern Germany. I now realize how the war, described in the stories he told me, knowing what he had seen and done, I now know how this affected him, and many others that also experienced war. In some small way I would like to think that the idea and motivation for this project came from him. The personal accounts that he conveyed to me of what he went through has been a giant reservoir that I have had to draw on. This project in its entirety is dedicated to my father.
Old Ironsides, the 1 st Armored Division
By 1942 my father had completed his
infantry training at Fort Campbell Kentucky and
then was stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky where
he trained in armored warfare.
From America’s armored training center the
1 st Armored Division departed for North Africa
with Patton’s Army in preparation for “Operation
Torch”, the invasion at Oran, Algeria.
“ Operation Torch”, The North African Campaign
By May of 1943 the hostilities had ceased with the surrender
of the Axis forces in Tunisia and remnants of the Afrika Corps
had escaped to the Island of Sicily. My father had participated in
this military campaign from its beginning in November of 1942
with Operation Torch until its conclusion in May of 1943.
My father described to me the conditions that he experienced
in North Africa. A tanker could fry eggs on his tank’s fender in
the 120 degree + heat during the day and need winter clothing at
night for protection from the bitter cold.
A daily chore was to empty ones boots each morning to
ensure that no poisonous critters, scorpions or other poisonous
spiders had made your boots their home.
The desert sand made maintenance of equipment and living
“ First Blood” Kasserine Pass
Subsequent to the landings at Oran in Algeria the 13 th
Armored Regiment a unit of the 1 st Armored Division in
February of 1943, faced the 10 th and 21 st Panzer divisions
along with units of the Afrika Corps commanded by Field
Marshal Erwin Rommel. This battle had the distinction of
being the first defeat of the American Army on foreign soil at
Kasserine Pass. This is his personal military map that my
father had saved and that I have retained all these years. This
is my father’s personal account of the actual battle that he
After we struggled to get it unfolded and situated,
my father, with a carpenters pencil that he used in his
shop, pointed out the exact location of what to him was
an unsettling memory, as he meticulously drew the
lines of battle he described to me what had happened
during the battle and the part that he and his crew
played as he marked the exact location of and known
as, the battle at the famous KASSERINE PASS
753 rd Independent Tank Battalion
At the conclusion of the North African
campaign my father now served the remainder of
the war with the Headquarters Company of 753 rd
Independent Tank Battalion.
On July 10, 1943 this unit along with other
allied forces invaded the Island of Sicily and later
on landed with the invasion forces at Salerno in
Southern Italy. The allies including my fathers
unit would then embark on the Italian campaign to
In the picture on the left is how the Germans managed to make
the god awful screaming sound. Attached to the landing gear legging
you will see what looks like a small propeller. It’s just that, the
propeller that operates a siren. It's this siren that makes the hellish
sound once in its dive. The sound was nicknamed "The Trumpets of
There were other features that this aircraft possessed. My father
described what he saw one day and evidently saved the life of a Stuka
pilot. What my father saw was smoke, lots of smoke as he described
it. In the battle overhead one day, my father observed an allied aircraft
right on the tail of a Ju87 Stuka dive bomber. As the attacker closed
in for the kill, suddenly smoke, lots of smoke came from the aircraft.
Clouds of smoke from the engine exhaust ports. This Stuka was
doomed. That's what the American pilot thought, as he pulled away
giving himself credit for a kill. But as the Stuka spiraled towards the
ground in what seemed like a tragic fate for this German pilot, the
smoke stopped. When the pilot was near ground level and heading
for home, the smoke, just stopped, as my father said. Another
ingenious device that the Germans had devised. Inside the cockpit
the pilots of Stukas could pull a lever and dump engine oil onto the
hot engine exhaust stacks creating giant clouds of smoke and when
the danger had pasted, they simply would release the lever to stop the
oil and head for home.
“ Trumpets of Jericho”
In the picture on the left is a German Ju 87 Stuka dive bomber in
a diving attitude. My father described for me an instance of this
aircraft going into a dive and never pulling out, evidently the pilot had
been killed during the dive causing the crash.
“ Trumpets of Jericho”
The bombing of Monte Cassino
My father described for me the bombing that took place on 15 February, 1943 of the monastery at Cassino Italy that he had
witnessed. Located high on a peak overlooking the town of Cassino, was destroyed by 1,400 tons of bombs dropped by American
bombers. The bombing was based on the fear that the abbey was being used as a lookout post for the German defenders. Two days
after the bombing, German paratroopers poured into the ruins; ironically, the destruction caused by the bombing and the resulting
jagged wasteland of rubble gave these ground troops improved protection from air and artillery attack making it a more viable
defensive position. From 17 January to 18 May, the Gustav defenses were assaulted four times by Allied troops. For the last of these
the Allies gathered 20 divisions for a major assault along a twenty mile front and drove the German defenders from their positions
but at a very high cost.
“ Anzio Annie”
My father described for me a nightly event. After his landing at Anzio, the Germans would shell the beachhead with a giant
rail gun. The gun could hurl its 280mm shells accurately and terrified the allied troops that found they could not hide or protect
themselves from this weapon. They were named Robert and Leopold by the Germans, but are better known by their Allied
nicknames - Anzio Annie and Anzio Express .
The guns were discovered on a railroad siding in the town of Civitavecchia, on 7 June 1944, shortly after the allies occupied
Rome. In the picture above right is the a K5(E) at the United States Army Ordnance Museum in Maryland. The picture on the left is
the weapon in use during the war. Robert had been partially destroyed by the gun crew before they surrendered and Leopold
was also damaged but not as badly. Both guns were shipped to the U.S. Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Aberdeen, Maryland where
they underwent tests. One complete K5 was made from the two damaged ones, and Leopold remains on display to this day. A
second surviving gun can be seen at the Battery Todt museum, near Audinghen in northern France.
The following is a story that my father told me that described one of his experiences in World War II as a
‘ Tanker’. This particular story I am going to characterize as “living on borrowed time”. This story was told to me
one summer night while I was visiting my father where he was living at that time. My father decided to become a
machinist/helper for the railroad after he returned from the war and was required to work the night shift the
summer I spent with him. One of his duties that I helped him with was to “hustle” the diesel locomotives in the
yard, as well as service the engines that were passing through the yard. On one particular night we were
chatting with a fellow worker that happened to be serving with the marine reserve armored division stationed at
the Barstow California Marine depot. My father and his friend were trading war stories and this is the story that
my father told us that summer night.
To put this story in perspective I am going to ask you to imagine that for a minute you are in my fathers
place and do this! I am going to hand you an automatic pistol, I would like you to remove the clip from the gun
and then load the clip full of ammunition. After you have loaded the clip, I would like you to install the clip back
into the handle of the gun. Next, take off the safety, then I would like you to cock the hammer, pull the slide
back to chamber a round of ammunition into the breech. I am now going to tell you to aim the barrel of a loaded
gun to your temple and pull the trigger. I now ask you, what you would think?.... If the hammer sounded, but the
gun failed to go off....If this was a real situation you might say, from that very second, I’m living on borrowed
time! On that summer night my father retold an experience that he lived through during a firefight his crew was
engaged in somewhere in North Africa, Italy or Southern France.
“ Living on borrowed time”
My father was a "tanker" and served with First Armored Division and the 753rd Tank Battalion. During this
event my father was the loader. The loader sits opposite the Commander of the tank and his job is to prepare and
load the rounds of ammunition into the breech of the gun that the Commander and the Gunner call out. With hard
work and lots of training the crew performs as a team. Each member doing his job to make the gun crew perform
at their optimum. One of the processes that a tank crew learns to do and must perform is, “rapid fire”, this is the
process where it is required to fire the gun at its fastest rate, up to many rounds per minute, rounds prepared and
loaded, ready to fire at the Commander’s orders. After much training and hard work the crew develops a
“ rhythm”, it is this rhythm that is required to perform “rapid fire”. This exercise requires that as the gun is fired,
and the spent round ejected from the chamber, that next round is ready and then loaded into the gun breech. During this firefight, my father, through commotion or excitement had lost his rhythm, possibly from the
jarring of the tank during this deadly engagement, instead of positioning a round to be fired as the gun recoiled,
he snagged the tip of the awaiting round on the breech block, as the gun recoiled. In his hands he was holding a
75mm high explosive shell that was half as long as it should have been. The projectile, had been driven back into
the shell casing, but failed to go off!
From that very second I believe that my father, “ lived on borrowed time”. War changes people, it changed
my father, it changed me and I believe it would change you.
“ Living on borrowed time” cont.
753 rd Independent Tank Battalion
Green River Man Has 200 Days Of Combat Service In Tank Unit
WITH THE 36th "Texas" DIVISION, FRANCE, March 2 - (Delayed) - Private First Class Merton S. Shultz, Green River, Wyo., passed his two hundredth consecutive day of combat as a member of the crack, veteran 753rd Tank Battalion, having seen action in Sicily, Italy, and France, and participated in the invasions at Gaela Salerno, and the Riviera.
The 753rd played an active part in the rapid, sweeping success of the Sicilian liberation as the only independent medium tank battalion to participate in the campaign.
It made it second invasion of the beaches of "Bloody Salerno" as one of the first American tanks units to land on the European mainland. It served with the 36th "Texas" Division and other units through the bloody, fierce winter campaign around San Pietro and Cassino under conditions which have been described as the "worst" in which American soldiers have ever battled. "For its participation in the May 11 breakthrough at the Garigliano river, the 753rd was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Vermillion Star, the highest honor bestowed by the French Expeditionary Corps on any American unit. It then rejoined the American forces on the embattled Anzio beaches and drove out in the action which opened the road to Rome. The 753rd then went on to play an important role in the lightening two hundred mile advance that freed the entire central sector of the Italian peninsula, liberated Rome, and drove to the heights overlooking Piombino. In its third major amphibious operation, the 753rd once more linked forces with the 36th Division to land on the Riviera coast.
It was one of the elements of the task force which slashed over two hundred miles through the Sisteron gap to flank the German Nineteenth army and bottle it up at Monttelimar until the entire weitght of the Seventh army sprang the trap virtually to annihilate the Germans,. It was the 753rd which then led the chase all the way to the enemy Moselle River line and lead the Seventh army to the Vosges Mountains. It was the 753rd which participated in the drive through the Sainte Marie Pass, the first time in history such a feat has ever been accomplished. In the subsequent battles of the Alsatian plain, when the German X Panzer Division threatened to spew forward and overrun the Strasbourg defense, the 753rd played an important part in driving the enemy bridgehead back across the Rhine.
His wife is Mrs. Rhea Shultz of Green River.
A battle with, ein “Koenigs” Tiger
The 753 rd Tank Battalion ends its journey in the forested mountains of Southern Germany. It was here that my father had
an encounter with what all allied tankers feared most, a head-on battle with a German 'King' Tiger Tank. Unable to destroy one
of these giants of steel without being detected themselves, as my father told me, they simply would try to run these monsters out
of fuel, if they could! It was not uncommon for the brother of the King Tiger the "E" Model, to stand off an entire division or
more in the hedge-row country of western France after the landings at Normandy. The Time Life Battlefield video series vividly
describes these episodes that claimed so many allied lives. After describing to me the overpowering stature of one of these
tanks my father goes on to tell about the battle he engaged with a King Tiger. In their frustration and inability to knockout this enemy that they had been shadowing for a period of time, they managed to
scrimmage with this ominous opponent long enough to run it out of its life blood, "FUEL" a precious commodity in short supply
in the spring of 1945. Although now out of fuel and unable to evacuate from enemy territory, this Tiger tank was still a deadly
threat. My father in the conclusion of this story was to tell. The arrogant and more than capable commander of the King had the better part of a full complement of ammunition
remaining. The gun on this vehicle was the most potent of all tank guns during World War II. This cannon could penetrate any
thickness of armor in the Allied inventory, at a distance of over a half mile. The German commander, before scuttling their tank,
capable of destroying any of its opponents, at will, had detected my fathers tank and commenced to pan the turret to aim its gun
and dispose of this enemy. My father's M4 Sherman was an easy mark for this giant. In desperation, my father and crew and by
the willing grace of God, had managed to stop their Sherman just in the nick of time. They were forced to stop in a small ground
depression that was surrounded by tall pine trees that had gone unnoticed, until now, an unknown safe-haven. As the first round
from the Tiger crashed through the tall pine trees that surrounded my father and crew, they all held their breath. Round after
round was fired at my fathers tank and crew and not one ever penetrated the tank. A miracle......one round was enough to kill
their enemy and a number of rounds had been fired........they were still with us. The gun of the King Tiger was at its lowest
elevation, but could go no lower. In knowing this, the commander of the King Tiger, chopped off every pine tree at its lowest
height surrounding my fathers tank, but could not make the gun go low enough to kill my father and his crew. When the
ammunition was gone, the commander of the King Tiger then had his crew thermite the gun beech and then escape back to their
A German Tiger II, “King Tiger” at the Patton Military Museum located at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Tiger II, “Koenigs” King Tiger
Surviving the greatest event in history
The photos above is my father with his fellow tankers. My father is in the middle in the photo on the left
and is presumed taking the picture on the right. The location and date is not known. However, it is believed that
they are in Southern Germany after the German surrender.
Surviving the greatest event in history
In the photo on the left is my father sitting with Frank Trujillo on his left a fellow soldier on a captured
German cannon. His description on the back of this photo states it was taken in Kaufbeuren, Southern Bavaria,
Germany. The graphic on the right is a letter written home by my father after his unit had liberated Rome.
Strange as it may seem, my father never discussed in any letter that I read, the war. But rather causal
conversation about home and his family.
Above is a photo of a tank like the one that my father fought in and the caption for this photo reads “This M4
Sherman is being retrieved and will be returned to service because it did not burn when pierced by two rounds from an
antitank gun. Shortly afterwards the stars were removed from all armored vehicles for a very good reason". The vehicle is
being retrieved because it did not burn, but it now stands as an marked grave for five gallant American tankers. The inside
is a tomb for the tankers that fought and died, the tombstone of a marked grave.
Tombstone for tankers
Haunted by the war
My father was always intrigued by the fact that Germany, a country
half the size of Texas had been able to achieve so much. Russia happens
to be four times larger than the United States. After returning home my
father went back work as a railroader and worked the afternoon shift. I did
not know until told by my sister many years later that they could not run a
vacuum or other appliance during the day because of the disturbing noise.
My father could never watch a motion Picture or TV movie about
the war. I know now that it brought back to many unpleasant memories. The picture on the right is my father in a picture taken in Rome after
its liberation. As I look back over my life while my father was alive, I now
have come to the conclusion that my father was, HAUNTED BY THE
This haunting by his war experiences finally took its toll when his
life was ended early, my father died from chronic alcoholism and carbon