My Uncle, John A. Stanton, joined the army before world war 2. He went overseas with the first American troops in 1942 as a member of the 20th Engineer Combat Regiment, which was redesignated as the 1340th Engineer Combat Battalion on Jan. 21, 1944. Uncle John served in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, Lexemberg, Germany, and was in Checkosolvokia when the war ended. His beachead landings included North Africa, Sicily, Anzio, and Omaha beach on Dday, I think in the 2nd wave. I am getting this information from a battle map that he sent home in late 1945, which is now framed and hanging on the wall of my den. He once told me this map was presented to the battalion by General Patton, and all surviving members got one along with a mailing tube. His was mailed to my father, his brother, in late 1945. Hard to believe that this man was in virtually every major battle the American forces fought in the European theatre of war. Including the Huertgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge.
I remember how my Uncle, John Stanton, said he landed on the beach in North Africa in 1942. He told me the troopship he was on had engine trouble in the Atlantic on the way over and the convoy sailed on without them. He said they finally caught up to the convoy off the coast, and the ship was either torpedowed or hit by a shell. Anyway he said that the ship was on fire and he jumped over the side, and he landed on his first beach head holding on to a rope, being towed by a small boat.
Uncle John said he was separated from his unit in North Africa, did not give any details, probably at Kasserine Pass. He said he caught up with the unit at the embarkation port for the invasion of Sicily and all his friends that were left were very glad to see him. They thought he was dead. His second beachhead was the invasion of Sicily. I don't remember any stories of Sicily.
The only stories I can remember of Italy is in fragments. I can remember the word volunteers, something about behind the lines and covering the beachhead and this one story that I do remember well. He told me he saw a group of American Rangers stop a German tank attack by jumping on the tanks and destroying them with explosives. No details, just that.
His unit was pulled out of Sicily and Italy and sent back to England, probably because of their beachhead experience, to prepare for the Normandy invasion. I only heard one story of England. He said they were used to clear mines off the British beaches, put there when Britian was expecting a German invasion. He told me his Captain was killed doing this. I don't remember a name, but remember Uncle John said he was a good guy.
I never heard him speak of Omaha beach, but do know he was there, probably in the second wave. But my father, his brother, said he told him that he helped put steel landing mats down, and they laid them over bodies of American soldiers. He told my father they didn't have time to move the bodies and pieces of bodies.
I do remember one Normandy story. He said a group he was with was fired on by a sniper while resting. He said they flushed the sniper out and he saw it was a young kid. He said he stopped the other guys from firing, ran the kid down, spanked him and turned him over to the MP's. And another time that he went to the bathroom in a minefield and didn't know it until later.
And another story about the breakout from Normandy. While waiting to attack the German lines, they were bombed by American planes. He said he ran into a shed close by, and hid under a heavy oak cart, and there was another soldier under the cart with him and they just looked at each other while the bombs were falling. I read that same story in Ernie Pyle's "Brave Men" years later. Have often wondered about it.
He said his battalion was also in the liberation of Paris and it took a week to regroup them.
The next story was about the Huertgen forest. I remember he said it was the worst of all. Uncle John joined the army with a friend, Craymon Cook. This is about the time he told me how to dig a foxhole. He said never dig it deep. Just dig it deep enough to get your body below ground level while lying down. He said, "Craymon's not in that grave in Latta, he's buried in the Huertgen forest. He dived into a deep hole with some other men and a shell buried all of them."
His unit was pulled out of the Huertgen forest when the Battle of the Bulge started. Don' t remember any stories, but do know the combat engineers were on the northern shoulder of the Bulge, and were very involved in combat. Might be one story, but don't know where it happened. He said he took his boots off and went to sleep in his foxhole. When He awoke he raised up and all he could see were German tanks coming straight at him. He laughed and said, " I ran five miles in the snow barefooted."
Another story, in Germany this time, I think. He said they were on a hill overlooking a town and didn't know if German troops were in the town or not. He said two of the company got in a jeep and went down to the town very fast, rounded a curve around the first house and disappeared. He said they waited a while, heard no gunfire or anything. So two more volunteered to go, got in a jeep and the same thing happened. So he said he, along with a few others, volunteered to go see what happened. He said they walked down very cautiously, encountering no resistance, and when they looked around the house there was a very deep crater in the road. Both jeeps had crashed in the crater. There were no German troops in the town.
I think in World War 2 that the combat engineers were considered to be some of the best American units, operated in battalion strength, never really belonged to any Army or division, and were sent to one hot spot after another. I do know Uncle John was with the 1st Army, The Third Army and the Fifth Army, maybe more, all at different times of course. The battle map hanging on my wall verifies this. When the war ended he was in Checkoslovokia.
I remember after the war, John came home and walked in the yard at his mother's house. She said, "Hey, John", and he replied "Hey, Ma". and that's all that was said. They never even touched. A very stoic family indeed.
John had been home about two weeks when one day a man knocked at the door of my father's house and asked him if this was the home of John. Daddy replied no, but I am his brother. The man said, I just wanted you to know I was with John when he was killed. When he found out John was still alive, this was one happy fellow. I think they had a good reunion with much whisky involved.
This was not suprising, though, because Uncle John told me his battalion was virtually wiped out and reorganized five times.
After the war, Uncle John married, but his constant drinking destroyed the marriage. He had two children, a boy who died young, and a daughter still living. He was very stoic, never talked much when sober, but when very drunk, a story about the war would appear out of nowhere, told with a faraway look in his eyes, as if he were talking to himself. Even with the drinking, he always worked every day and remained always very good to his family.
He died in 1997, alone in a one bedroom apartment. He called my mother about a month before he died and told her he was dying. He told her he was to be cremated because he had seen so many bodies and parts of bodies and knew what happened to them. He told her that he did not want to decompose. After his death his daughter came to make arrangements. But she told me that she had to do nothing. All the arrangements had been made and paid for. All she had to do was collect the ashes. And all his personal affairs were in order too.
She requested and received his army service records and was very shocked. She said all she could remember is that he was always drunk, very good to her, but always drunk. I think Uncle John really died in World War 2.
I once asked Uncle John how many battle stars he had. He said eight, and his service records verify that he had eight. I think that is all a person could get for the European theatre of war.
Landing, A Story about John A. Stanton