When I stumbled upon the site of the 85th Engineers of WWII, while doing an Internet search, I never imagined that I would be able to amass so much information. I soon thereafter contacted the webmaster and proud son and nephew of the O'Barr's that fought in the European theatre. He shared his wealth of knowledge with me and told me of the combined ventures of the 36th, 540th and 85th Engineers.
I asked him if I could share this information with the rest of his world, as as Rod said, "Please feel free to use whatever you wish. The intent of this site is to honor these brave men. The more exposure, the more they are honored."
And so this with this in mind, I will bring you the stories of Mel, his brother and several other heroic young men of the 85th Engineer Heavy Ponton Battalion.
Pictured above is William "Little Man" Gentry of Yakima, Washington. Bill celebrated his 89th birthday in June of 2004. He was one of the oldest enlisted men in the Battalion during WWII. Bill is the unofficial poet laureate of the 85th Engineers. What follows are some of Bill's writings from World War II...the history of the 85th captured in rhyme.
I'm an engineer and a mechanical man. I have no fear and shall do what I can.
We'll plant the mines and build the bridges. Build the roads over mountain ridges.
We'll clear the way for the Infantry. Get the snipers from every tree.
We can dig a hole in nothing flat. When the machine guns begin to rat-a-tat tat.
We can drive our trucks over any road. Built of logs or just plain old 'dobe.
We'll knock out the pillboxes by the score. Now can you ask for anymore.
There is no river that is too swift for us the fighting 85th.
We'll build our bridge of Ponton boats and try our dam'st to keep them afloat.
So wait for me, we'll be back some day. When we pay the axis for starting this fray.
The Old Man Patsy
Patsy was a mighty man, a mighty man was he. And even tho we did our best he'd still make us dress right dress.
He'd make us do close order drill, even double-time us up the hill. He'd make us count, in cadence count, so folks could hear us all about.
The guide is right, the guide is right. Cover down and cover off. Oh boy, Oh boy, what a sight. Work for you tonight.
Patsy liked his inspections so he could cast his reflections. Dirty bore, filthy chamber, nasty sight. Boy oh boy, you'll work tonight.
We wore ODs and ties on pass tho the mud was up to our knees and past. We'd shine our shoes and shine them bright. If not, Oh boy, no pass tonight.
Every morning while eating chow, he'd parade around in his GI gown. Shave his beard; wash his face, while we'd all line up for the big rat-race.
After all is said and done, we don't believe he'd ever run. To leave us there to fight the battle, as if we were a bunch of cattle.
He hung around GH-2. Until they told him he was done, to become El Captitan. You should see him strut. (Man O Man)
The night we left for the city of Rome, Patsy left us for a trip home. Rumors spread and rumors flew and we finally met him again on the Blue Danube.
Somewhere near Oran, where the sun is like a curse. And each day is usually followed by another slightly worse.
Where the brick red dust blows the shifting desert sands. Where a Yank man dreams and wished for greener, fairer lands.
Somewhere near Oran, where women are never seen. Where the sky is never cloudy and the grass is never green.
Where the Jackal's nightly howl robs a man of blessed sleep. Where there isn't any whiskey and the beer is never cheap.
Somewhere near Oran, where the mail is always late. Where a Christmas card in April is considered up to date.
Where we never have a payday, and we never have a cent. But we never miss the money because we never have it spent.
Somewhere near Oran, where the snakes and lizards play. Where a thousand more flies, replace the ones you slay.
Please, take me to my hometown and let me hear a Church bell. For this God forsaken outfit is a substitute for hell.
The land that has everything that no one wants. Could be the shadow of Mohammed that still has his haunts. The dirty, filthy Arab and his flea bitten ass. We don't know how he lives as there isn't any grass.
And on guard at night you can hear the Jackals howl. No bullets in your piece as he starts off to prowl. Those beautiful, moonlit, cool summer nights. Makes one believe that the world's all right.
The fall has come and the rainy seasons here. You haven't had any knick knacks, not even a can of beer. We sleep in the mud and we work in the rain. But the Yanks are still coming like an endless chain.
Those dust storms and sand storms that we all went thru. Yes Sir, and we done it all for you. That hot desert wind that we all call Sirocco. Burns you to a crisp, until you're almost loco.
Those millions of flies, mosquitos and snakes. Makes a person wonder if he has what it takes. But after all the torture, heat and thirst. You'll admit it to yourself, that it could have been worse.
Just a Ditty
The 85th landed on Italian soil, From that time on they commenced to toil.
You can see for yourself what was done, And folks it wasn't all in fun.
So the 85th sends its' message of cheer, That all will be done for, victory in the New Year.
We Won't Forget
From olive trees near Venafro. Where ancient trees grow row on row. The surrounding mountains capped with snow. How many died there? We'll never know.
They traded the enemy shell for shell. And took the place where comrades fell. Amidst the whistling bursting hell. How many died there, we'll never know.
They are all brave, both old and young. All are heroes, some unsung. They gave their lives without regret. These men, these men. We'll never forget.
(Written in a foxhole)