Soldier Fought with Patton’s Third in Battle of the Bulge

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For seven days in December 1944 Allied forces fought with German forces at Bastogne, as part of the Battle of the Bulge. The Germans wanted to control the crossroads and the battle was hard fought. By December 27, Patton’s Third Army arrived and the besieged American forces were relieved.

Beresford Clarke of Fort Wayne, Indiana, spent his 21st birthday fighting the battle. “It was a tough fight,” he said. When Patton’s 3rd Army was relieved by another division, it returned to the town of Wadgassen on the Saar River.

Eight inches of snow didn’t lessen the fighting. For a week Allies hid in buildings, shooting at the enemy stationed behind fortified structures called pillboxes.

Each morning someone from Clarke’s unit drove a jeep back to the rear where Head Quarters was stationed. There the driver picked up food, ammunition, and orders of the day. Enemy snipers hid out in elevated locales, such as church steeples, so it was a risky venture. Clarke was often the jeep driver. “If I drove fast, I had a better chance of escaping!” he said.

Sleeping in foxholes under several inches of snow was the norm. Clarke saw many casualties. “It was difficult seeing people go down,” he said.

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Clarke was born in 1923 in Evansville, IN. He graduated from Reitz High School in 1941 and completed two years as a mechanical engineering student at Purdue University when he enlisted in the US Army in 1943. “Every male who was my age would be drafted if not enlisted,” he said. “I could not swim so I didn’t want to go into the Navy.”

Clarke completed basic training at Fort Eustis, VA. “We trained on 120-mm antiaircraft guns, which were large cannons,” he said. “We also worked with rifles.”

After basic training, Clarke was sent to Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) in Burlington, Vermont, for two months. It was a short-lived program based on the premise that the war might outlast the available number of college trained men needed to provide technical information. High school graduates who had tested at a certain level of intelligence were set aside for this program. By early 1944, the program was disbanded and the men re-assigned.

Clarke was assigned to the 26th Division, 328th Infantry anti-tank unit of Patton’s 3rd Army. After training in Columbus, SC, Clarke boarded a ship in New York City for Europe.

By now, it was early July 1944. The infamous invasion on Utah Beach at Normandy had occurred a few weeks earlier so Clarke and other troops went over the side of their LCI at Normandy with no opposition, though there was some trepidation. “The beach supposedly had routes cleared for mines which the Germans had put there,” said Clarke. “We hoped they got them all.”

Clarke’s unit camped in the fields of Normandy where cattle roamed and joined the fight in the liberation of the nearby town of St Lo. The city had already suffered an extensive attack by American troops during the Battle of Normandy. The city was bombed again by Germans in July. Gaining St. Lo would give Allied forces access to the opening of the Falaise Gap, a foothold to expel German forces from northern France.

Once St. Lo was secure, Allied troops proceeded along the Saar River in northeastern France. Clarke was driving a jeep with his platoon commander and a sergeant sat in the back seat using a 50-cal machine gun. Other soldiers walked along the road when Clarke saw one soldier take a direct hit. “His body was splattered across the road,” he said. “I vomited and my platoon leader did, too, but we kept going.”

 

The 3rd Army’s objective was to stop the German tanks. “There was a lot of fire from German tanks,” he said. “When their 88s came at us, they went by you or through you.”

The battle was made more difficult by the fact that the Allies often didn’t know their way. “The Germans reversed road signs so we could not depend on the signs to tell us where to go,” said Clarke. “Our military didn’t have good maps of Germany when the war started so we used some from National Geographic.”

At Metz, a city in northeastern France soldiers bunked down for the night, but were awakened and told to prepare to leave. Some troops boarded trucks while others prepared to walk to the small Belgian town of Bastogne. “We walked for two days in snow,” said Clarke.

During the spring of 1945, Allies prevailed along the Saar River, taking over towns along the way. “We told the Burgermeister (mayor) in each that they must hand over all weapons and all uniformed soldiers must surrender,” said Clarke.

In one village the Allies smelled something strange. Upon being questioned, one Burgermeister admitted to working with a Jewish concentration camp in the area. “We saw stacks of bodies,” said Clarke. “I couldn’t believe anyone could do what Hitler did and that other people could follow him.” The 3rd Army liberated the camp and left other Americans in charge.

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That was not the end of surprises. As the 3rd Army bedded in a nearby hay loft, soldiers felt lumps under the straw. When they pulled out parts of a Messerschmitt Bf 109, a German fighter aircraft, they discovered the barn was part of an underground aircraft assembly plant. Again, members of the Third Army remained behind to control the discovery while others proceeded through the area.

Clarke was at Hitler’s birth place in Linz, Austria, on May 8, 1945, when he heard the war was over (May 8/ VE Day). That was when Clarke’s real work began.

Having worked in a camera store before the war, he had applied to join the Signal Corps at the beginning of the war, but was not accepted.

After VE Day, the Army confiscated hundreds of rolls of film soldiers had shot during the war. Clarke’s interest in photography was honed when he received orders to join the 165th Signal Corps in May 1945.

Since the Civil War when it was first organized, the US Army Signal Corps had developed, tested and managed communications support for the command and control of combined arms forces.

While stationed in Czechoslovakia, Clarke and another soldier set up a dark room with chemicals and an enlarger. “Our job was to develop photos from 500 rolls of film,” said Clarke. The signal corps had been made up of men, mostly middle-aged, with experience in photography, even some from Hollywood. Clarke also shot photos of troops awaiting discharge.

When Clarke received his discharge a few months later, he was shipped from Marseilles, France, to the East Coast of the US, then Camp Atterbury in Indiana where he was discharged at the rank of T5 corporal. He returned home with several items from the war, including a German flag, German daggers, rifles, shotgun, pistol, knives.

Clarke graduated from Purdue in 1948 as a mechanical engineer. He worked in Fort Wayne. In 1953 he married and he and wife Lucy became parents to three children.

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Clarke and family members have returned to Europe to trace his path as a soldier during World War II. Clarke participated in the Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana in 2013.

“It was an amazing experience to be a soldier during World War II,” said Clarke. “It was scary and challenging to watch those poor people being released from prison camps. I made it through the war without injuries. I feel very fortunate.”

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This article first appeared in News-Sentinel.

Beresford Clarke died 10/23/15. I feel privileged to have had the chance to meet and interview him. Stories like this are available in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans which can be purchased on this site’s home page and Amazon.

Please thank a veteran today!

This WASP Couldn’t Wait to Fly

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Mary Anna (‘Marty’) Martin Wyall – WASP

One benefit of interviewing World War II veterans is the opportunity to develop friendships. My husband and I consider Marty Wyall a friend. Below is a shortened version of her story from my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. You can hear Marty speak about her World War II experiences here. She’s still a spunky gal!

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Mary Anna (‘Marty’) Martin Wyall of Fort Wayne learned about the WASP program from a magazine ad while studying bacteriology at DePauw University in 1942. The idea of flying intrigued her. “There was a war on and I wanted to help my country,” she said.

Her family was not keen on the idea. “Mother thought it was morally wrong for me to join the WASP,” she said. “She came from the Victorian era. I told her she would have to accept it because if I was accepted, I planned to work hard.”

Each WASP was required to have 35 hours of flying before joining the program. Wyall paid for her private flying lessons after graduating from DePauw and while working in the serology lab at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis.

Among the 25,000 applicants for the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) during WWII, Wyall, who lived in Indianapolis at the time, was one of 1,830 women accepted and one of only 1,074 who completed the program.

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Pictures of Fifinella, a female gremlin designed by Walt Disney to depict the WASP.

After being accepted in May 1944, Wyall traveled at her own expense to Avenger Air Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where the WASP trained. Since the WASP program was not recognized by Congress as part of the military, female recruits paid for their own training, uniforms, room and board. “People kept telling us we were in the military,” said Wyall. “Until Congress passed a bill saying we were in the military, we were not afforded benefits.”

Each WASP learned military protocol and procedures. They also were taught to fly a PT17, Stearman open cockpit, BT13 and AT6. “The AT6 was wonderful because it had a canopy,” said Wyall. “When I flew the Stearman, the wind whipped the scarf across my helmet and goggles.”

The training was nearly identical to what male pilots had completed, including learning to fly in inclement weather and at night. Before earning their wings, each woman completed a 2,000-mile solo cross-country flight.

Wyall’s class graduated December 7, 1944. Two weeks later, the program abruptly closed. “Some people believed the war would be over soon,” she said. Today, you can visit the WASP Museum at Sweetwater.

Male pilots who had flown dozens of overseas combat missions arrived home, ready to resume their flying assignments. The WASP, the nation’s first group of skilled female pilots trained to fly American military aircraft, was sent home, all paying their own way.

Back in Indiana, Martin flew as a commercial pilot for businesses. In 1946 she married Eugene Wyall and they became parents to five children. Eugene died in 1993.

The efforts of the WASP went unnoticed until 1977 when President Jimmy Carter signed a law stating they could be recognized as veterans of WWII.

In March 10, 2010, Wyall and the other WASP were awarded Congressional Gold Medals for their service at the Capitol in Washington D.C.

 

In 2010 the Indiana State Museum organized an exhibition of Wyall’s military experiences. The exhibit highlighted Wyall’s training and involvement as a WASP and featured her military effects and Congressional Gold Medal which she loaned to the museum. The museum also provided some photos of Wyall for my book.

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“We WASP didn’t care about the pay or recognition,” said Wyall. “We just wanted to help our country win the war.”

Thank a vet today for his/her service!

 

B-29 Gunner Flew 33 Missions; Met FDR

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Homer Bates flew B-29s during WWII

In 1942, after enlisting with the Army Air Corps and testing high for skills needed to work with aircraft, Homer Bates of Markle, IN, was assigned to the 20th Air Force 58th Bomber Wing. His assigned duties would be manning a gun turret on a B29. As B29s were still in production, gunners practiced on B17 simulators since they had similar controls. When it came time to practice shooting, the gunners experienced a problem.

“Several of us were told to shoot painted ammo simultaneously at a banner flying behind a tow plane,” he said. “It served as a moving target and we were judged on our shooting abilities. At first the judges could not tell whose shots went where. So we were given ammo painted different colors. The judges could then tell by colors of holes which gunners needed more practice.”

His first mission over Japan took place June 1944. “For more than a year it was a steady routine of dropping bombs and encountering enemy fighters and heavy accurate flak,” he said. His longest mission to Nagoya lasted 18 hours. During the war, Bates flew 33 missions over Japan in B29s.

In February 1944 Bates’ crew was ordered to fly a B29 Typhoon McGoon III to Washington D.C. No reason was given for the special trip. Upon landing at Bolling Field, the crew commander was met by General Hap Arnold and his staff. Each of the crew members was greeted and asked to explain the aircraft so he could brief the president. The following morning the crew was completing their pre-flight check of equipment when they saw a limousine pull up beside the plane, along with an official-looking motorcade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had arrived!

He and members of his family began questioning the crew about the aircraft. Anna Roosevelt Boettiger and her two teenaged children, Eleanor and Curtis, went into the nose section and asked questions of the crew. “It was obvious she was well versed about the plane,” said Bates.

The president remained in the vehicle but appeared pleased with the aircraft. “That was perhaps the only time the President ever saw a B29,” said Bates. Considering that the B29 project cost $3 billion and the A-bomb $2 billion, the president’s approval was a relief to the crew. The president ended the session by shaking hands with each crew member.

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Staff sergeant Bates was discharged November 2, 1945. For his bravery and contribution to the war effort he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other medals. In 1990 the Chinese Air Force recognized Bates’ efforts and sent him a certificate of appreciation.

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Military life had gotten into Bates’ blood. He joined the Indiana Air National Guard from 1954-1961. He re-joined the Air Force, spent a year in France during the Berlin Wall Crisis, then re-joined the Air National Guard full time until 1982, retiring as a Master Sergeant.

I was privileged to include Homer’s story in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. Homer is my husband’s uncle and in recent years we became good friends. Sadly, Uncle Homer passed away in Nov. 2016. We often thanked him for his service. As my husband and son have both served in the Air Force, they always had lots to talk about!