I enlisted in the army in December of 1942, went through
Basic Training in Antiaircraft Artillery and graduated from OCS in July
of 1943 as a second lieutenant in that branch.
In early 1944 the German Air force had been pretty
much brought under control by our air corps along with the British RAF.
It was then obvious that AA (Anti Aircraft Artillery) was not needed in
great numbers and a most of us second lieutenants were sent to Fort
Benning to “Officers Special Basic” to learn to be infantrymen.
From there I went to Fort McClellan, Alabama where I
helped train new recruits. After a few months, the invasion of Europe
had occurred and replacements were needed. Hence, a number of us were
sent to Europe in October, 1945. (We traveled in luxury on The Queen
Elizabeth—it wasn’t too luxurious since there were 12 of us in a small
When we arrived in England, we went through processing
in central England.
At that time, someone from the 82nd Airborne Division
showed up looking for recruits for that group. He explained that the
casualties from the jump in Holland had been high and they needed
A number of us who were rather disgruntled at having
been drafted into the Infantry, decided to get even and go into the
Airborne. This wasn’t too logical, of course, since we would still be in
the infantry --- but we were young and foolish.
After going through 2 weeks of jump school (10 jumps)
I was assigned to the 508th Airborne division at Nottingham
England---this is where the reserve folks were—the rest were still in
Holland. We stayed there for a short time and joined the main part of
the regiment in late November or early December 1944 in France. Here the
I was assigned as a platoon leader at this time. On
December 16th Captain Millsaps called us into his room in the evening
and explained that there was a little trouble up in Belgium and we were
going to go up there to be in reserve for a little while and then return
to Sissone, France, where we had started from.
We left the next morning in open flatbed “cattle cars’
headed north passing through Bastogne about midnight and ending up near
Trois Pont. It turned out, of course, that the “minor” action we had
been called into was the “Battle of the Bulge”-the largest battle, in
terms of casualties (81,000 US), that this country had ever been
After shifting around through several nearby areas we
ended up in Vielsalm, Belgium. We had a few minor skirmishes, exchanged
some mortar fire but nothing major. We were strafed by a couple of
British Spitfires with only minor casualties. The Germans flew over one
night at low altitude in a Fokker Triplane and a number of German
paratroopers jumped out and descended on our position. We shot most of
them before they landed only to find they were straw filled dummies.
My major action occurred on Christmas Eve. It had been
found that we had a ‘bulge’ in our line and it was decided to pull the
regiment back to straighten the line. When a unit withdraws, a ‘holding’
party is left behind to cover the withdrawal. I guess, since I was the
new kid on the block, my platoon was selected for that duty for my
Capt Millsaps assured me that there would be no
problem; about midnight a runner would come around and lead us back to
where the rest of the unit had retreated too. The problem was that we
were hit by an attack about midnight. After an exchange of gunfire, we
had held them off but with casualties. It became evident that no runner
was going to show up so I made the decision to withdraw. I got out with
half the unit having lost another second lieutenant1 who was my second in
command. I guess I got to be the leader since I had joined the unit a
few days before him. I sort of go through this each Christmas eve.
When we rejoined the unit, they gave me another
platoon and before the 2 or 3 months were over, more than half of these
Perhaps the other significant thing about the
experience was the weather. Someone stated that the temperature hovered
around zero during the day and then got cold at night. I remember my
canteen full of water freezing solid in my foxhole. We were equipped
with only wool stuff for clothes, blankets and sleeping bags. The good
thing was that no one got colds since the virus couldn’t live at that
Sometime in March we returned to Sissone, France and
finally to some other town in France where we waited to be called on for
a jump. Fortunately, it never came about and we returner to the US to
wait for discharge in March of 1946.
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1Jumpmaster Note: This may have been 2/Lt Thomas A.