May 26, 2021
While crossing the Atlantic on his way to join my father's 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement, Billy Wolfe wrote in a letter to his mother and sisters, "The ocean is so blue it looks like I could dip my pen and write with it." Those words have always stuck with me. Billy burned to death in a tank just two weeks after joining the battalion. He was 18 years old.
Karnig Thomasian, a gunner on a B29 in the China-Burma-India theater, became a prisoner of the Japanese after his plane exploded on his third mission. In this episode, he remembers a promise he and a buddy made to the friend's father that they would take care of each other.
My father, Lieutenant Maurice Elson, always said he replaced the first lieutenant in the battalion to be killed. That lieutenant was George Tarr. His company commander, Cliff Merrill, reminisces about the train ride from Fort Jackson to Camp Myles Standish and an assignment he gave to Lieutenant Tarr to keep him from worrying about his wife and newborn son as they prepared to go into combat.
Erlyn Jensen's brother, Major Don McCoy, perished on the ill-fated Kassel Mission of Sept. 27, 1944. In this episode, Erlyn talks about how she and her sister got her mother to join a group of Gold Star mothers, and about a trip her mother took to see her son's grave at St. Avold.
Malcolm McGregor, a survivor of the Kassel Mission and former prisoner of war, talks about a young bombardier who was full of confidence.
George Collar, a bombardier and co-founder of the Kassel Mission Memorial Association, now the Kassel Mission Historical Society, talks about meeting the parents of a flier whose remains George recovered after the battle.
Tim Dyas talks about visiting the father of a soldier who died in prison camp.
Russell Loop, a gunner in C Company of the 712th Tank Battalion, remembers Jack Mantell, a buddy who was killed in the battle at Pfaffenheck, in the same battle where Billy Wolfe lost his life.
Lou Putnoky, a Coast Guard veteran of the USS Bayfield, the flagship of the Utah Beach invasion fleet, recalls a sailor from his hometown who was washed overboard from the battleship Nevada.
A death in combat reverberates throughout the lives of the living, often for generations. Some of the stories are told at greater length in other episodes of War As My Father's Tank Battalion Knew It, a podcast about the 712th Tank Battalion in particular and World War II in general.
Speaking of World War II, I'll be exhibiting the podcast, my books and audio CDs at the Mid Atlantic Air Museum's World War II Weekend in Reading, Pennsylvania June 4-6. If you're among the thousands in attendance, I hope you'll stop by the hangar and say hello!
The usual suspects: