9. CZECHOSLOVAKIA AND BACK HOME
As the British forces relieved the Thundering Herd units, the Division formed into battalion march serials and started the long move to Czechoslovakia. Urgency had characterized Division moves during combat; now Tornado men had time to see the countryside through which they traveled. The move was a two-day, 300-mile affair with all units bivouacking at a mid-point. The evening meal the first day was served on the grassy shoulders of the Autobahn with some of the men lying in the grass and eating from mess kits sitting on the super highway itself.
Traffic was highly congested on the Autobahn. While the entire 8th Armored was moving in one direction, countless American Army trucks loaded with German prisoners of war came from the other direction. Mingled with the GI traffic were a variety of German vehicles-bicycles,horse and ox drawn carts-and hundreds of pedestrians-men, women, and children weighted with packs, bundles, and various articles of household furnishings.
Travelling from the vicinity of Göttingen, the Division moved southeastward through Mulhausen, Gotlia, Jena, Bayreuth, and Wermburg before turning eastward to move into Czechoslovakia. After leaving the four-lane Autobahn the 8th traversed narrow, dust-choked roads winding through countless small villages. To Division drivers who had logged hundreds of miles under blackout conditions, this move was just another day's work. Fortunately a minimum of motor trouble occurred on the march.
After the convoy crossed the Czechoslovakian border residents of eachwayside village enthusiastically greeted the Division. This was the first liberated territory occupied by the 8th Armored since it had left Holland, and the Tornado men were more than happy to see people with whom they could talk and be friends without fear of being fined for "fraternization."
The Division on 6 June closed in the vicinity of Choteschov, Czechoslovakia, with CCA at Tlucna, CCB at Rokycany, and CCR in Dobrany. In many instances each company of the Division was billeted in a separate village and the personnel were given quarters in individual Czech homes. The families opened their hearts as well as their homes to the men of the Thundering Herd and many a homesick soldier felt that he was indeed a member of a "foster" Czech family.
The relationships formed between the men of Tornado and Czech citizens blossomed into many lasting friendships which "international" events helped to cement. On 20 June 1943 Lieutenant Walter Duclous, Division G-2 Section, was guest conductor of the Pilsen Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra. General Devine played host to the Lord Mayor of Pilsen at a formal dinner on 21 June 1945. Various Czech communities invited Division units stationed in the vicinity to participate in the harvest festivals that were a national custom. The recruits of the Czech Army stationed at Tlucna staged a dance in honor of Headquarters Company, CCA.
Answering a frantic appeal from various relatives involved, Major Joseph P. Zizzamia, CCB S-4, furnished an ambulance to transport an expectant Czech mother from Rokyczany to Pilsen. The trip completed, the driver reported that he had "beat the stork."
Arriving in the vicinity of Pilsen the Division was assigned the task of processing more than 34,000 German Prisoners of War located there and guarding various displaced person camps situated in the area. These prisoners had to be fed and processed for eventual discharge or prepared to move to other prisoner of war camps in the American Zone of Germany. In addition to caring for the PW's and DP's, the Division had the mission of guarding various installations in the area such as the Skoda Munitions Works in Pilsen, the "fake" works built outside the city to deceive Allied bomber pilots, and innumerable 88 mm gun emplacements which dotted the countryside.
D Company, 18th Tank Battalion, took over the operation of the huge "Tri-color" Airport at Pilsen. The transition from operating M-24 tanks in combat to managing a major airport was effected without confusion and the tankers quickly adapted to their new roles. The men proved adept at handling the tower controls, weather signals, and beacon lights. Guards patrolled the airfield on a 24-hour basis. Air traffic was extremely heavy; an average day found 50 C-47's waiting on the line for flights to Paris, Brussels, and London, as daily shipments of Allied Displaced persons were dispatched from the field. Company C, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, took over operation of the airport in August.
Daily training schedules were once again posted on company bulletin boards. Close order drill was emphasized as the Division participated in numerous parades in the city of Pilsen. Maintenance requirements became more rigid as the theme of Divisional memorandums began once more to stress the garrison type "spit and polish" that had been the order of the day back in the United States. However rigid the requirements were for the remainder of the Division, the men of C Troop, 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, could boast that "they haven't seen anything" Commanded by First Lieutenant Walter J. Martens, this troop was escort troop for Lieutenant General Ernest Harmon, CG, XXII Corps. This unit served as honor guard for General Patton, CG, Third Army, when he arrived for an inspection tour on 17 July 1945. The members of the troop were justly proud of their appearance and felt they might instruct even the Buckingham Palace Guards on the matter of dress appearance. Their 12 M-8 Armored Cars gleamed with a new paint job and the helmets of the troopers shone, following the application of much "spit and polish." The six motorcyclists borrowed from the 2nd Ranger Battalion added the final refinements to the escort troop.
Personal health of the individual soldier was closely checked as the redeployment program to ship units to the Pacific Theater or to the States went into operation. Throughout most of the months of combat, dental work requiring facilities of a laboratory had been, for the most part, neglected. The T/O and E of the Division had not provided dental laboratory and men of the Thundering Herd had been very reluctant to be evacuated for dental care. Captain William J. Shelburne, Dental Officer of CCA, set up a dental laboratory using captured German medical and dental supplies. The men of the 8th were provided with dentures, and any type of work requiring laboratory facilities was handled.
The Division Information and Education Section was enlarged to carry out new duties in connection with the Theater-wide emphasis on I and E activities. Major Gale C. Corley, former executive officer of the Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, succeeded Captain Arthur Lean as I and E officer. Individual units began their own programs of on-the-job training, and on-duty classes covered subjects ranging from accounting to chicken farm operations. Members of the Division took advantage of all educational opportunities offered and attended universities in Grenoble, Paris, Biarritz, and Shrivenham.
The Division's own newspaper Buffalo Chips provided news, explainations of official policy, and photos of Division-wide interest. The Military Police published their own four-page miniature weekly paper. Entitled The Brassard, it was published in Pilsen and edited by Private First Class Gordon Billheimar.
The recreation program of the Division Special Services Office went into "fifth gear" with the completion of the Rest Center at Babylon, Czechoslovakia. Company C, 53rd Armored Engineer Battalion, completed this project which included a dance hall, a Red Cross Snack Bar, and lakeside piers for fishing or swimming. At the opening dance staged by the Special Services Office the girls in attendance outnumbered the Gl's. This phenomenal record had no equal in Division history since activation at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Other recreation spots were Club Tabasco and Club Elektra, where one could enjoy a draught of Pilsen beer in exchange for a few kronen.
In addition to entertainment facilities operated on the Division level, practically every battalion and many individual companies opened their own clubs. These clubs were GI versions of various stateside bars and were the scene of many a farewell party when the redeployment program began to break up the old outfits. Private First Class William Blevins, A Company, 7th AIB, transformed a dilapidated barn into a New York Fifth Avenue "Hot Spot." To further boost the morale of A Company men, Blevins and Sergeant Thomas Murray, aided by a group of German PW's resurrected an abandoned Diesel bus and began regularly scheduled runs into Pilsen.
The members of the Division enjoyed much entertainment by USO Troupes. The gags of Bob Hope, the quips of Jack Benny, the singing of Jane Froman, and the dancing of Billy Rose's "Diamond Horseshoe Revue" all helped the Herders enjoy their stay in Czechoslovakia. Special Services Office conducted several motor tours of southern Germany. These tours included such points of interest as Dachau Concentration Camp, Innsbruck, Brenner Pass, and the resort at Lake Konigssee. One of the convoys ran out of gas at this latter resort area and the "tourists" enjoyed an extra three days while gas was being brought from the Division supply point. On an island in the middle of this lake stands the castle of Ludwig, the Mad Bavarian, an exact copy of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
To help put the Seventh War Loan Drive over the top a gigantic War Savings Bond Raffle was held on 21 July 1945 with 170 bonds given as prizes to holders of lucky numbers. Top prize was a $1,000 bond and five of these were given away at the drawing held at the Recreation Center. Recipients of the $1,000 bonds were:
Staff Sergeant John O'Donnell, B Company, 49th AIB
Staff Sergeant John A. Anderson, C Company, 58th AIB
Private First Class Robert O'Conner, MP Company
Private First Class Joseph E. Jones, A Company, 49th AIB
Private First Class Cornelius F. Murnane, B Company, 49th AIB.
General Devine was top ranking winner. He won a $10 GI bond. The Division Chief of Staff did not fare so well. His purchase of $40 worth of tickets netted him nothing except 80 blue stubs.
An intramural sports program of softball, volleyball, touch football and soccer was inaugurated in the Division under Capt. W. D. Black, theDivision Athletic Officer. The MP Company stood at the top of the intramural heap in softball when the season ended. A Division Track and Field Meet was held on 23 July 1945 at Klatavy with the 88th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron taking first place. T/5 William Schwitiderman took individual high honors. Eight Herders represented the 8th Armored at the 3rd Army Field Meet the week of 30 July-4 August 1945.
The Division fielded teams in baseball, softball, archery, and golf. Thesoftball team won the XXII Corps championship by downing Corps Artillery in the Corps elimination tournament. Much of the credit for the team's continued success was due to the superb pitching of T/'5 Isadore "Red" Klienman, 58th AIB. Klienman pitched all four games in the 3rd Army Tournament at Nurenberg. Coached by Lieutenant William Honan, the Herders triumphed over the teams of the 26th Infantry Division and XII Corps before being eliminated from the tournament by the 519th Quartermaster Group and the 26th Infantry Division in a return match which lasted 14 innings and found the Thundering Herd on the short end of a 1-0 score.
A composite unit representing each of the Division's battalions participated in a parade of 1 July 1945 at Chlumcany, Czechoslovakia, in honor of all American soldiers who had died fighting on Czech soil. President Eduard Benes returned to his native land after a wartime absence and General Devine welcomed him on behalf of Lieutenant General Ernest Harmon, CG, XXII Corps. A composite unit from each battalion marched in a parade celebrating the announcement of the end of the war in the Pacific. This was the last major appearance of all units of the Thundering Herd.
The entire Division was saddened by the accident in which Chaplain Vaughn MacArthur lost his life. Returning from a visit to hospitals in the Pilsen area, the jeep in which Chaplain MacArthur was riding went out of control and crashed into a tree. His untimely death was a loss to the Division at a time when spiritual values neededre-emphasis. Known as a front-line chaplain, he had made frequent trips under enemy fire to minister to combat troops and to the sick and wounded. Possessed with an ever-cheerful personality and a calm, confident attitude, Chaplain MacArthur was an inspiration to officer and enlisted men alike.
During the month of July important changes in the composition of the Division were effected. On 11 July 1945, pursuant to General Orders Number 72, the 80th Tank Battalion was reorganized and redesignated the 80th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. Composed of men from the 80th Tank, 36th Tank, and 18th Tank Battalions, the newly organized Amphibian Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Guinn B. Goodrich. The Battalion was relieved of assignment to the 8th Armored Division on 29 July 1945 and ordered to Belgium to begin preliminary amphibious training. To replace the 80th Tank Battalion and to maintain the tank-infantry balance in the Division, the 736th Tank Battalion was reorganized pursuant to General Orders Number 74 dated 20 July 1945.
Brigadier General Colson assumed command of the Division on 7 August 1945 when Major General Devine was ordered to take command of the 2nd Armored Division stationed in Berlin. General Devine had commanded the 8th Armored Division from 4 October 1944 to 7 August 1945. He had led the Division into combat and through all action which the Thundering Herd had seen. He was justly known as a "front-line" general and most of the members of the Division had at one time or another in combat seen the jeep bearing the General roll past. The Chief of Staff, Colonel Dodge, accompanied General Devine to his new post, and Lieutenant Colonel L. L. Boyd was appointed as Chief of Staff to General Colson.
With the departure of the Commanding General the Thundering Herd began to undergo a metamorphosis which, when ended, left a unit bearing only faint resemblance to the Division that had landed in France on 2 January 1945. High and low point men left the Division for other units slated to stay on occupation duty or to begin immediate shipment to the United States. New rumors as to the disposition of high point men were heard daily. Some men were actually transferred to the 94th Infantry Division and then back to the 8th Armored as new changes were received from higher headquarters. The 8th was finally designated as a carrier unit for men having point scores between 65 and 84. These rotation points, so familiar to all in the post-war days, were the basis of selecting individuals to move to the United States or stay on occupation duty. The points were accumulated in various ways: dependents (12), combat decorations (5), battle participation awards (5), months in an overseas theater (2 per month), and months in the U.S. (1 per month).
Men with point scores higher or lower than the range set for individuals to stay with the Division were transferred to the 94th, 26th, and 83rd Infantry Divisions, and the 6th Armored Division. Replacements came to the 8th from these divisions and from the 11th Armored Division. The transfer of personnel resulted in the reassignment of some former members of the Division who had been shipped out as cadre replacements from Fort Knox, Camp Campbell, and Camp Polk.
As Technical Sergeant Bernard Chapman, S-3 Sergeant of the 736th Tank Battalion, expressed it, "It's been a vicious circle and I hope end is almost in sight." Sergeant Chapman had left the 8th Armored as a cadre replacement to the 11th Armored Division in 1942.
V-J Day, long awaited by all members of the Division, as well as all Americans everywhere, was finally announced officially on 2 September 1945. This meant that the low point men leaving the Division for other units and occupation duties could expect eventual shipment home instead of to the Pacific. It also meant that the 8th would soon leave Europe, as the point score for shipment to the States was being lowered every month. Typical reaction to the announcement of V-J Day was the oft-repeated question, "When we gonna go home?" T/4 Raymond F. Fannon, Company A, 53rd AEB, after finding a flat tire on his jeep the morning of V-J Day remarked, "This war's not over for me until I'm home." Numerous men of the Division re-echoed his sentiments.
Turn-in of excess equipment characterized Division activities during the month of September. Low point men were transferred to various Divisions with the majority of them being shipped on 9 September 1945. On the 17th of September the 94th Infantry Division relieved the 8th Armored in the Pilsen area and on the same date the Division was relieved of assignment to XXII Corps. On 19 September the Division began the 600 mile trip by motor and rail convoy to Camp Oklahoma City in the vicinity of Rheims, France.
The stay at Camp Oklahoma City was relatively short and unpleasant for members of the 8[h Armored. All "liberated" souvenirs were checked and declared exempt from customs duties, shakedown inspections were held and all vehicles of the Division were turned in to Ordnance. From this time on the Thundering Herd was officially dismounted, but no one cared very much as the trip to the U.S. was uppermost in most minds. Poker games and a "last fling" in France consumed what free time the men could find.
At long last on 26 October 1945 the leading elements of the Division began the 180-mile trip by rail to Camp Phillip Morris in the vicinity of LeHavre. Halting only to settle last minute details, the Division began loading at the port of' LeHavre on 2 November 1945. The trip to the United States was made on the USS West Point, USS Lejeune, USS Vulcania Victory, USS Excelsior Victory, USS Norway Victory, and the USS Victory Hood.
Shipboard life was a far cry from the ETO bound trip of the previous year. Then the thoughts of all men turned to what lay ahead: What would combat be like? Would I as an individual come through all right? Now most of the time was consumed in talking over postwar plans of "Mr. Civilian." Smoking was permitted on deck during the night, lights burned, and there were no submarines to be feared. As the ships neared the United States some headed for the New York POE, others put in at Boston, and the ship carrying the Headquarters Group docked at Hampton Roads, Virginia.
There were no huge ticker-tape welcomes accorded the 8th Armored Division upon its arrival in the United States. The Thundering Herd that landed at various ports bore little resemblance, save in name, to the Division that had departed from New York little more than a year before. The spirit of the 8th Armored Division was scattered throughout the world in the hearts and minds of the men who had fought across Europe under the designation "Tornado."
The 8th Armored Division was deactivated at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, at 2359, 13 November 1945. As Colonel Boyd signed General Orders Number 100, Headquarters, Army Services Forces, Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, he officially ended the existence of the Thundering Herd, but part of the units of the Division were deactivated at New York POE and Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts.
The official existence of the Division can be placed between 1 April 1942 and 13 November 1945. Activated at Fort Knox, Kentucky, by General Orders Number 19, Headquarters, the Armored Force, the Division had originally been slated for a cadre training assignment. Later relieved of this assignment, it had been ordered to begin training in preparation for overseas movement to a combat zone. The road followed by the Thundering Herd had run for thousands of miles through sand, dust, mud, and snow. It had run through the hills of Kentucky, across the bayous of Louisiana, and over the green hills of England. Traversing European rivers, the road had run across the tankers' dreamland of northern Germany into the Harz Mountains and to the rolling terrain of Czechoslovakia. Finally it had ended at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.
The 8th Armored had been given many assignments and had performed all missions successfully. Officially the Division "lived" only three years, six months, and 24 days, at most a short time when some American Army units can trace their existence back for a hundred or more years. But with the passing of time the calendar reckoning becomes less and less important, for the 8th Armored Division continues to live in the memory of each man who was ever one of the Thundering Herd. History has recorded the 8th Armored as one of the great American Army units which helped defeat the Axis in World War 11. The name "Tornado" has been engraved on Victory's shaft for all time by, the members of the Division who individually and collectively formed the team that proudly wore the unit designation, EIGHTH ARMORED DIVISION.
HEADQUARTERS 8th ARMORED DIVISION
OFFICE OF THE COMMANDING GENERAL
TO THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE 8th ARMORED DIVISION
The long awaited V-J Day has arrived. Your job as soldiers will soon be completed. I congratulate you all for a job well (lone and for the part you have played in speeding the arrival of V-J Day.
For me it has been a pleasure and an honor to serve with such a body of men as the soldiers of the 8th Armored Division. Now as we face our new task of demobilization I wish each and every one of you, from the bottom of my, heart, GOOD LUCK.
Charles F. Colson
Brigadier General Commanding