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.
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.
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.
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