"Brig. Gen. "Iron Mike" O'Daniel
Major General John W. O'Daniel was the best field General in the entire U.S. Army. We Dogfaces of the Third Infantry Division felt damn lucky to have him as our leader.
He was never far from the front and was often right in it. He did not rely on others to tell him what was going on. He was there seeing it for himself. It was not uncommon for him to swoop low over his advancing troops in a Cub plane to drop a note, giving instructions, or to warn of the enemy's location.
The Division was seldom off the lines for more than brief periods. Iron Mike always took advantage of those brief periods to address his men. It was always a formal dress parade event where he awarded medals to those who had earned them since the last parade. We would then march past the reviewing stand to the tune of Dogface Soldier. Iron Mike would salute the first contingent of troops as they approached the reviewing stand and he held that salute until the last soldier in the regiment was past.
There were three regiments in the division: 7th, 15th & 30th. I was in the 30th. He reviewed the troops one regiment at a time. The entire division was too large to be reviewed at once.
Commander of the 30th Infantry Regiment was Col. Lionel C. McGarr. Iron Mike began every speech to us with: "Colonel McGarr, Officers and Soldiers of the Thirtieth Infantry Regiment, you haven't had rest. You don't want rest. You want Glo-o-o-ory!" Then, he would review our performance since our last break from the front and tell us how great we had performed and how proud he was to have such men under him.
Every speech ended exactly the same: "Soldiers, sharpen your bayonets. I'll meet you on the objective." He meant every word. He would be on the objective only minutes after it would be taken. We always knew that he was somewhere near.
General O'Daniel knew what it was like to lose a loved one in combat. He had a son in the paratroops. Private John W. O'Daniel, Jr. was killed during the Normandy invasion. He was among the first paratroopers to drop behind the beachhead.
General O'Daniel never mentioned his loss to the troops, but we all knew about it and felt his pain with him.
The last I heard of Iron Mike, he was a Corps Commander in Korea. They were still calling him Iron Mike.
Lt. James Alfred Pringle
Of all the soldiers that I was associated with during my two years of duty in Europe, Lt. Pringle was the most influential on me.
When I joined the Third Division in November 1943, I was assigned to his squad. He was the squad leader and held the rank of Corporal at the time, even though the position called for the rank of Sergeant.
Corporal Pringle was about ten years my senior. He was with the division when it landed in North Africa a year earlier on November 8, 1942. He fought in all the Division's battles in North Africa, Sicily, and, up to that time, two months in Italy.
Corporal Pringle was about six feet three inches tall and spoke with a strong but soft voice. When he spoke, you listened, not because you were intimidated, but because of the respect he commanded and for the respect he had for everyone. He never gave orders. He gave instructions. He never raised his voice when directing us.
We all called him "Jim". He never asked that we be informal with him. We all felt so comfortable around him it just seemed right. He was also obviously comfortable with it. Later when he became a commissioned officer, we still called him "Jim", except in the most formal military situations or in the presence of other officers. The informality never interfered with his leadership. His decisions were never questioned.
Jim always put the well being of his men above his own. At the very beginning, I knew that this was the man I wanted leading me into battle. He never disappointed me. He was my leader, my father figure, and my friend.
Corporal Pringle did not remain Corporal long. As the war ground on, he was promoted to Sergeant (squad leader), Staff Sergeant (section leader) and then, Tech Sergeant. As Tech Sergeant he was given command of the platoon. After he was our Platoon Sergeant for a few months, he was offered what was known as a battlefield commission. But, there was a catch. The Army had a regulation that did not permit a soldier to be promoted from enlisted man to commissioned officer and stay with the men he had been leading. The Army was concerned that, because of prior friendships and informalities, the officer might have difficulty maintaining proper discipline and respect.
Jim told them that if he had to leave the men he had led for so long, they could keep the commission. He just wasn't interested. After about two weeks, they caved in and told him that they were waiving the regulation in his case and that he could stay with his platoon and receive the commission.
Tech Sergeant Pringle became 2nd Lieutenant Pringle and moved up from Platoon Sergeant of 1st Platoon to Platoon Leader of 1st Platoon. By the time the war ended, Jim was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and became our Company Executive Officer.
Jim was awarded the Silver Star Medal and the Bronze Star Medal, both for performances beyond and above the call of duty under enemy fire. He definitely set the example for his men. He was admired and respected by all.
Many years after the war, at a Third Division reunion, Jim brought the notebook that he kept throughout the war. In it he kept the names of every man that had been under his command. It was also a journal where he recorded the names of every man that was killed or wounded, with some comment about the circumstances of the unfortunate event.
He passed the notebook around for all to thumb through. When I had my turn with the notebook, to my surprise, the last entry was a reminder, "call Brownie." I asked him about the entry and he told me that he had made the notation on the plane that flew him from Europe to Miami. I had been returned to the US ahead of him. His plan was to spend a day or two with me in Miami before going on to his home in Oregon. He said that he had tried to call me, but that the operator told him that my parents no longer lived at that address.
When I was inducted, I was still in High School and was living with my parents in Northwest Florida. Later my parents moved to Miami, and shortly before the war ended, moved to Dade City. I had not thought to give Jim their current address, so he thought I would be in Miami.
Seeing the note "call Brownie" in Jim's notebook was like being elected President of the USA.
Lt. Hyman Pergament
On Anzio Beachhead one night in March,1944, I became suddenly ill. Vomiting and diarrhea struck without warning. I was a mess. My Platoon Sergeant sent me back to the battalion aid station near the front. They wanted no part of me. I needed a bath and a change of clothing. They sent me to one of the hospitals farther back, near the beach.
The doctor there had me swallow two huge pills and sent me for a shower. When I got out of the shower, clean fresh clothes were waiting for me.
I spent the rest of that night and the following day in recovery. By nightfall I was much better and ready to return to the front. I was provided with transportation back to my battalion command post. I reported to the officer in charge and told him that I was returning to my unit. The officer told me that if I hurried I could catch a jeep that was outside preparing to leave for my area of the front.
I ran outside just as the driver started the engine. I asked if I could hitch a ride. The driver replied in the affirmative. It was very dark, but I could see that there was a passenger in the front, so I jumped in the back.
On the way up I learned that they were going to our mortar positions that were a couple hundred yards behind the front. After we arrived, I asked for directions to Jim Pringle's machinegun positions. I had never been to these mortar positions before and did not know their location relative to our machinegun positions.
One of the soldiers began to give me directions when the soldier that was in the jeep as a passenger cut him off. Taking over the conversation, he began to give directions that immediately told me he had no knowledge of frontline positions.
The first thing that he told me was that Pringle's guns were at Garibaldi's tomb. He then began to tell me how to get there. I knew that Garibaldi's tomb was in no-man's land. It was constantly changing hands. Both sides wanted it for an advance-warning listening post.
I tried to tell the soldier that Pringle's guns were not at Garibaldi's tomb. I also pointed out that other parts of his information did not match the facts that I knew. He still persisted in trying to give me directions.
I finally said to him, "Look fella, you're all wet. I'll get back without your help." The soldier became irritated and told me to go ahead and get myself killed then if I were too stubborn to listen. I told him that I would look out for me and that he should look out for himself, and I wished him luck.
On his return to Battalion, I had the jeep driver drop me off at the place where we picked up rations and supplies every night. I had been on ration detail several times and knew my way from there quite well.
A few weeks later we were pulled off the lines for a breather. We were bivouacked in a pine forest near the beach. The first morning that we were there, a 2nd Lt. approached my platoon. We were just lounging around enjoying the filtered sunlight streaming through the trees. I watched him as he stopped to talk to a group of men about twenty yards from me. Some of the men appeared to be pointing to me.
The Lieutenant started walking straight toward me. As I got up to meet him I thought, "Now what have I done?" I gave him a salute that he returned.
The Lieutenant opened the conversation with, "Do you remember me?" I answered that I did not. He then said, "I'm the fella that was all wet." Then I remembered the night at the mortar positions.
I apologized to the Lieutenant and explained that in the darkness I did not know that he was an officer. I told him that if I had known, I would have been more respectful and that my choice of words would have been different.
He then introduced himself. He said, "I am Lt. Hyman Pergament and I have come to tell you that you were right, I was all wet." Then he explained that he had just arrived from the States that night, and had been briefed at the battalion command post as to the frontline situation and as to where different units of the battalion were located. He acknowledged that he didn't get as much from his briefing as he should have.
I was very impressed with an officer that could not only admit to an enlisted man that he was wrong, but one that went to so much trouble to find out my name and to look me up weeks later to apologize.
Lt. Pergament was assigned Platoon Leader of the mortar platoon of Co. H the night he arrived. He remained in that capacity to the end of the war. He had a very high concern for all enlisted men and was always going out of his way to help them.
He served in a dual role as Company Executive Officer and was responsible for censoring all of the soldiers' outgoing mail. From reading all their letters, he got to know much about each man and his personal relationships back home. He became a father figure to many of the men.
Lt. Pergament and I got together several times after the war. We met at several Third Division reunions and also have visited in each other's homes. Every time we met he would remind me of our first meeting and of my insubordination. He died a few years ago. I miss him along with all the others.
Third Division soldiers are treated to a first-hand account of the air war in Pont A Mousson, France.
Foxhole View of the Air War
This is written to honor and acknowledge our brave airmen of WWII. Their casualty rate was second only to the infantry. When you factor in time of exposure, their casualty rate was the highest (per hour of exposure) of any other branch of service.
From our front line positions in Italy, we would observe heavy bomber missions as they passed over us and into enemy territory.
The German 88mm AA gun was a very versatile and lethal weapon. They used them as anti-aircraft guns, long range ground-target artillery, and sometimes as direct fire flat trajectory weapons against tanks and infantry. Because of this, there were always hundreds of these guns behind their front line positions. Our planes could not fly over our front lines without drawing fire from these potent weapons.
We would watch the formations as they approached enemy territory. When the first wave of bombers was directly over us, little puffs of black smoke would appear all around the planes as these guns challenged their intrusion. The sky would look like a polka dot quilt with bomber formations painted on it.
As soon as the black puffs began to appear, the planes in each group would move closer together to present a smaller, though a more concentrated target, and to give themselves more concentrated firepower against enemy fighters that would be diving on them as soon as they were out of the range of these guns. They would get so close that their wing tips would almost touch.
We always knew when one of them had received a disabling hit. The wounded "bird" would move away from the others lest its fire and explosion would endanger the others. When we saw a plane move away from its group, we began to look for parachutes. We knew how many men were aboard each plane, and we would count the chutes, one-by-one, until all aboard were accounted for. I can tell you this, there were too many times when we did not see enough parachutes.
Occasionally, an 88mm AA shell would apparently hit a plane directly in its bomb bay, because there would be a bright flash, and in an instant the plane would no longer be there. Then, a few seconds later, you might see a wing tumbling crazily toward the earth, and a portion of the tail section descending in a spiral, but no parachutes.
Each bomber group was made up of five bombers and we would watch the planes return from their missions, again flying through a black polka dot sky. We would take note of the number in each group as they returned. Seldom did a group still contain the number that they started with. Following the main body of planes would come the crippled ones, each one alone and desperately trying to stay aloft a little longer as they too ran the polka dot gauntlet again.
I will forever recall the night raids. We would hear the planes as they approached from the south, but we could not see them. By the time they were overhead, the enemy search lights would appear, bright, narrow fingers of light reaching miles into the night sky. There would be dozens of light fingers dancing crazily across the night sky, all sweeping back and forth in an unsynchronized crisscrossing of fingers, as each light swept across the sky in every direction trying to find the invaders. It would not be long before one of the fingers struck a plane. When a light swept across a plane, its reflection returned a bright flash for all to see. After passing over the plane, this finger would immediately return to the plane and hold it steadily in its blinding light. Then all the other fingers would converge on that area of the sky and, one by one, our planes would be caught and exposed in these many fingers of lights from which they could not escape.
Then came the 88mm AA and, what were black puffs of smoke in daylight, were now bright flashing lights like hundreds of fire-flies on a warm summer night. Again, the planes would come together in tight formation and continue on their course, with the damaged ones breaking away from the others. At night it was not possible to count all the parachutes. We could only see the ones that happened to pass through one of the fingers of light as it descended into enemy hands.
I would be very remiss if I failed to mention the pilots of the smaller planes. The P-51's, P-38's, & P-47's. These planes were used in a variety of roles, from escorting the bombers to protect them from enemy fighters, to dive bombing and strafing enemy supply lines, and direct support to the ground forces. While the larger, more cumbersome heavy bombers relied largely on providence for survival, these smaller plane pilots relied mostly on their skill and daring to survive, especially when engaged with enemy fighters.
More times than I can remember these brave, daring, men have come to our aid, diving in low against intense enemy return fire to take out tanks and guns that were giving us a bad time.
We owe a lot to those brave men. Because of their successful missions, the skies were eventually almost entirely rid of enemy planes, thus making it safer for us doggies on the ground. Thank you all!