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.
WWII Memories of SAM J. "Hoppy" HOPKINS, Sneedville, Tennessee: (Transcribed from a tape recording made in 2003)
I remember a cold morning out in Texas they had us up on a lake and had those assault boats which we carried down to the water and we got in and they fired up those motors and those boats would tee totally fly. And they wouldn't slow down for nothin when they were bringing them in, they would just run up on the bank. Well, we were coming in real fast and there was a Colonel with us sittin in the boat next to me and I was looking off to the side and I felt him grab me and he about took a piece out of me. One of the other boats was having trouble starting the motor and we were heading right for it, and it finally did start and got out of the way just before we hit. We had all that heavy clothing on and we'd all drowned if we'd hit.
I can remember us building a bailey bridge in North Africa. The bailey bridge was a good bridge but I didn't like building one, it was too hard to build. They put me up there on one end of those triple decker ones driving them pins and I got sick at my stomach and I thought sure I was gonna fall off. I came down and told em "I can't do it."
Once in Italy we had a fella get drunk and pass out on the hood of his truck. This fella tended to go crazy when he got drunk and he was laying there on the hood when all of a sudden he rolled over and kicked the windshield right out of his truck. I don't remember what kind of trouble he got into for that, but it must have been pretty bad.
I like to have got both Brazier and I killed one time. We hadn't seen war before and they told us to go to the Third Engineers and take a crane. Brazier was a crane operator. On the way we saw some GI's and asked them how to get to the Third. They told us to go to this bombed out village and take a right. I drove on up there leading Brazier in my truck and we heard machine gun fire and saw GI's ducked down behind cover. We didn't realize it but we were driving right in the middle of the front line.
We built a bridge over the Garigliano River on the French front in Italy. They left six or seven of us after it was built to do maintenance on it. They would bring our food and mail up to us about 11pm at night. Breloff got word his mother had died and I really felt sorry for him. We took an awful shelling at that bridge. I remember one spring morning Sgt. Breloff told me to raise the bridge two notches, so I went out there and just as I was getting it done I heard the awfulest noise I ever did hear in my life. I was on the side of the bridge away from our bunkers and I had no place to hide, so I started to run and then just layed down on the ground there and went through that whole shelling. The French said there were 450 shells came in in that 10 minute span. It blew water and mud all over me. I remember thinking that if they'ed just quit long enough for me to run up to one of the dugouts I'd be alright. I'd start like I was gonna raise up to run and here it would come again. So I laid right there and thought it was all over for me. One of our bulldozer drivers noticed that during the shelling a big piece of schrapnel had gone right through the blade of his dozer. But we didn't lose a man during that shelling. Sgt. Breloff had crawled off the bridge into the water. I told him after the shelling that if a shell had hit in the water while he was in there, the concussion would have busted every gut in him, just like it did the fish when we threw handgrenades into the water. I remember a 40 year old British soldier sitting near the bridge saying "this isn't bad duty yank."
One day we were going through the chow line and they had ham. Nice big pieces which was something really unusual. Brazier and Rappaport a Jewish fella, were in line just ahead of me. They threw a big piece of ham on Rappaport's biscuit and Brazier said, "put it in there Rappaport" pointing to his own plate. Rappaport said, "No I ain't gonna put it in your plate",to which Brazier said "you got to, cause you ain't allowed to eat pork, put er in there." To which Rappaport replied, "I'm gonna eat it." Brazier then said "Well eat it and go to hell, I can't help you."
Another thing I remember about ole Rappaport was him stealing one of our boat motors and selling it while we were still in the states. He'd do anything that Rappaport.
While in France we went up to St. Lo during a time when part of the town was still burning. Me and ole Wissy, we called him "Wissy", he was a Pollock from the west coast, he and I and a few others were taking some bridging material up to St. Lo. I got unloaded and we were waiting on Wissy and when he finally joined us he came in drunk and crying saying he'd killed Burkhalter. We asked him what had happened. He said that just as you come into St. Lo there was a cement wall holding back some water forming a pond and Wissy said he'd run off into the water in his truck and when Burkhalter opened the door the water just rolled him out of the truck and now he was missing. Well that got us tore up and we got some fellas to bring a wrecker but even that couldn't pull the truck out. Well we waded that pond looking for Burkhalter while old Wissy was balling his eyes out. We could not find Burkhalter, so we headed back to where we were bunked for the night as it was nearly midnight by then. While sitting on our bunks we heard snoring. Looked around and there was Burkhalter. He'd passed out drunk on his bunk. He must have made his way back to camp while we were out looking for him.
There was a fella in our outfit that was from up state New York. He played the fiddle and said he was a blacksmith back home. One day I saw him lay a piece of primer cord on an anvil. I asked him what he was doin and he said he was gonna hit that cord with a hammer and see if it would explode. I told him I didn't think he ought to do that. But he said he was gonna do it anyway. So I stepped away from him and he hit that cord. We never did find that hammer.
One time in Italy I was getting releived one night, and there were two boys told me the spring offensive was starting tonight. At exactly 11pm I heard three or four of those 90mm start shooting. And just as they finished some 800 artillary pieces opened up on a mountain, throwing shells and phospherous at the Germans. I hurt my back and they took me down to Caserta and put me in the hospital. The front started moving forward really fast and so they took me up close to Rome, and from there I caught a ride back to our outfit.
There was one ole boy in our outfit who found an old GI overcoat that came plum down over his knees. We had another boy who was a replacement that had just entered the service. One night I was walking across our bridge and the replacement came up to me asking if I had a handgrenade. He was the kind of fella who always thought the worst of any situation, and he started telling me that he'd seen a German go into our bunker at the end of the bridge. He wanted a handgrenade to throw into the bunker. I told him we weren't gonna throw a handgrenade into the bunker until we were sure who was in there. He said "well he had on a big long overcoat like the Germans wear." I yelled for who ever was in the bunker to identify themselves. Turns out it was the fella in our outfit that had found the long GI overcoat. That replacement would have killed him if I'd given him a handgrenade.
A couple of times I remember fellas doing funny things while under fire. One time some tracer rounds came in on us and I saw one of our motorcyle riders laying down under his motorcycle. Well I thought they'ed killed him, but it turns out he was just taking cover under his motorcycle. Another time me and another fella were sitting in the cab of my truck, and another one was sitting on the cargo box behind the cab of the truck. All of a sudden a round came in and hit right beside the truck, shook the whole truck and that boy on the cargo box made one leap around the side of the cab and in on top of us. He swears that round came right between him and the cab of the truck before it hit the ground.
One time over there in Italy, near the Piedmonte area, five of us put up for the night in a field hut near a mountain. I dropped my trailor and we decided to drive over the mountain. It was a nice black top road and we came to a little town. So we parked and started to take a look around and all of a sudden here came five Germans walking up the road. We didn't have weapons and they didn't have any guns either and we just walked by each other and they didn't say a word and we didn't say a word either. We decided to head back over the mountain.
At the end of the war, just before I was due to come home, a fella borrowed my Eisenhower jacket. Each morning there was a truck that would go into Paris and he was gonna go and wanted to wear it. While he was gone I got word that I was gonna ship out at 11pm. Well, he got back to where I was just before 11 and I asked him for my jacket and he said he forgot and left it in Paris. I had to come on home and I never saw my jacket again.