Shooks Men in the Military - Don Shooks's Story
I left the USA in late October, 1943 aboard a large troop ship carrying about 14,000 troops. Ours was one in a large convoy of about 50 other ships which included 12 destroyers, 3 medium-sized battle cruisers, 2 small aircraft carriers, and other troop ships. Six days later we approached South Wales and docked at Swansea, a major port at that time.
We left Swansea by 2 1/2 ton trucks and were housed in Quonset huts about 30 miles away. We stayed there until mid-November, then drove to Liverpool, England, where we picked up our jeeps, trucks, tanks, artillery, etc. and then drove to Plymouth, England. Around Dec. 2nd we loaded all the dry dock equipment from aboard the landing ships--the LCT (landing craft troops) and LST ( landing craft tanks), jeeps, etc.
We left Plymouth to cross the English Channel and arrived at Le Haven, France. Le Haven was formerly a fair sized city of 100,000-200,000 people, but it had been flattened. Not one building had a roof, and the city was almost deserted. We drove through the ruins, stopped in open farmland, and pitched our tents on sloppy, wet ground about 50 miles west of the city.
Here we waited for our main weapons--six 105-mm Howitzers--to arrive. In about 10 days we got our artillery and began to move again. We arrived at a small town called St. Vith, close to another town called Malmedy. I soon learned we were quite close to an area of the Ardennes forest.What took place here would later be called The Battle of the Bulge.
Snow began to fall and it got very cold. Keeping your feet warm was almost impossible. In five days, we moved our six Howitzers within two miles of the front lines. For the next five weeks, in 2-4 feet of snow, we battled the Germans, blasting them with our 105-mm shells to keep them from moving towards us. Somehow, I was placed right on the front as a forward artillery observer with a radio to communicate with the gun crews. A Lt. Stienburger was in charge; I operated the radio and gave the firing orders. Fortunately, I survived the first three weeks without getting hit or wounded, although at times my feet were so cold I could hardly feel them and wondered if they were frozen. After a week off the front, I finally thawed out enough to feel my feet again.
After that week I went back to the front with Lt. Stienburger again as a forward artillery observer. At Grand Halleux, a tiny town in Belgium, we decided to establish a forward observation point. We proceeded behind a hedgerow uphill towards the biggest area where we could observe the Germans, but they spotted us and rained 120-mm mortar shells on us. One exploded 20 feet from me and blew me over. Lt. Stienburger was hit badly with 2 shrapnel wounds above his knee, breaking both his legs. He needed help, so I took off my belt and wound pouch. I placed the belt over the wound and asked him to decrease the pressure every 3-5 minutes. Then I left and ran down to the aid station, about a 1/4 of a mile away, and got two medical personnel and a stretcher to go and get him because he was bleeding badly. I was nearly exhausted and just sat in the snow hoping the Lt. would be alive. The aid men went up the hill, slid him on the stretcher, then slid him on the snow to the aid station. They put two fresh bandages on him and gave him a shot of morphine.
I went to the aid station (an old school house) to see how the Lt. was. He seemed to be ok, but very weak. The Lt. loved photography and asked me to mail his Bolex movie to his home address in New Rochelle, Long Island. I told him I would and he thanked me for my help. Six months later, I received a letter from him--he was still in the hospital in New Rochelle. Both legs were broken, but he was learning to walk again. He again thanked me for helping him when he was wounded. (After the war ended, I was stationed in Germany. Upon standing retreat one day in July, 1945, I was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery in action and saving his life.)
We fought the Germans all through the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium in the towns and villages of Malmedy, Spa, Manhay, St. Vith, and Commanster. Somehow, I survived without severe wounds. I was hit by a machine gun bullet between my right knee and hip joint. It cut my flesh and I felt a hot, burning sensation. Two days later I found my underwear stuck to my leg and the wound. It was all dried up, so I just pulled it off and put on clean underwear. I still have a small scar, but it is almost gone now. My Jewish buddy told me, "You're a lucky Dutchman."
We were ordered to leave the Battle of the Bulge and proceed to southwestern France to set up an area of defense near Wolfgantzen, about 75-100 miles from the city of Strasbourg. The Germans had formed a pinzer (moving from the north and south, to catch us in the middle) in an attempt to retake part of France. We tried to keep the Germans from closing the gap of their spearhead, to push them back across the Rhine River into Germany.
We were then order to take the city of Wolfgantzen. We blasted artillery, 105-mm, about 45 miles wide including anti-aircraft, 40-mm Swedish Bofer guns) against many of their units. During the day, the Germans came over us with ME-10g's and their new jet aircraft, which flew at 440-500 mph. They pestered us daily, but did little damage. After about a week of being bothered by the jets, the Swedish Bofar 40-mm hit one of the jets and it blew it up with 800-900 feet of flame following it. When the shell hit the jet, it hit the fuel tank. With support of 2 tank units, we recaptured Wolfgantzen and pushed the Germans back across the Rhine into Germany.
Finally, in late March, we crossed the Rhine River near Orsoy between midnight and three in the morning. With six 105-mm howitzers we fired 800 shells across the Rhine, dropping shells every 25 square feet. When we crossed the river on a huge pontoon bridge at 3:30 a.m. we rounded up all the Germans we could find, about 75 of them. They asked if they could see our automatic artillery.
After this we advanced about 20-25 miles per day. The Germans would run out of the surrounding woods, throw down their weapons, put their hands over their heads, and shout, "Nicht schiessen!" ("Don't shoot!") We captured between 1-300 per day for about 4 days. They were tired of fighting. They were hungry and many needed medical aid. There were also many who tried to change in to civilian clothes to avoid becoming prisoners.
We circled around Cologne and that was safe, just lots of prisoners taken; we also captured the main airport. Three of us captured all 12 pilots and blew up their planes. From Cologne we moved rapidly, 20-40 miles per day, until we wound up in Krombach, Germany, where we learned that almost all the fighting had ceased. Later we were told that Germany had surrendered.
While we were in Krombach, Private Carpenter, a friend of mine, had an idea. He asked me if I wanted to have a little fun and rob a bank. I said sure, why not? Since we didn't have any TNT, we borrowed a 40-lb. can from a tank division along with 750 feet of primer. We set it up by the door of the vault, and after checking to make sure no one was in the building, went a block and a half down the street and set off the TNT. It not only blew the door off the safe, but blew up the entire building! After all this effort, we rummaged around in the rubble and managed to find the safe deposit boxes. We broke open all of them, which was about 300. Our net gain was about 2 pfennigs, or 2 German pennies. Some scoundrels had beaten us to the bank. So that is the story of my 2 cent blast!
Next, our entire division (15,000-18,000) of men moved to an area about 35-45 miles from Reims, France to set up a temporary camp to house everyone. We set up our camp, Camp Lucky Strike, in about 4 weeks and had housing for at least 15,000 men. Troops who were eligible to be sent home came through our camp, leaving with us their vehicles and anything else they no longer needed, such as field kitchens, unwanted souvenirs they'd captured, office equipment, radios, etc. We held the troops for about 3 weeks, issued them new uniforms, then moved them to Antwerp by trucks.
Believe it or not, Versal Shooks and Wesley Shooks came into my camp. Wes was a 1st Lt, so he got a vehicle from the motor pool and drove to where brother Vernon was stationed. We spent one afternoon together drinking a little French champagne. We had a little Shooks reunion.
I stayed at Camp Lucky Strike until I had enough points to be eliglible to go home. About 7 months after we set up the camp I shipped out of Antwerp in early June 1946...back to the USA and discharged from the US Army.