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Walt's Daughter

Army at Dawn - recommended book

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While I was at the 36th Combat Engineers reunion, several of the members highly recommended the book, Army at Dawn. So this weekend I visited Alibris Books and ordered it. I will give a synopsis on the book once I read it.

 

This World War II history focuses on the North African campaign, which was, at first, very difficult and costly to the American soldiers and their commanders (Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, et. al.). This learning ground toughened up the Americans, and prepared them for the European campaign.

 

I also ordered the book, First Across the Rhine: the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion in France, Belgium, and Germany.

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Received both books this week and can't wait to read them. Boy oh boy, I need more time to read. Now if I could only conquer this need for sleep every night... :lol:

 

Here's a bit more info on An Army at Dawn and the write-up I placed on my Books Page.

 

An Army at Dawn - The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 - by Rick Atkinson - Published Henry Holt & Company - First Edition 2002

 

This book was highly recommended to me by several members of the 36th Combat Engineers at their September 2005 reunion. I just received my copy today.

 

In the first volume of The Liberation Trilogy, the book begins on the eve of Operation Torch, the daring amphibious invasion of Morocco and Algeria and proceeds to tell the hard fought battle across tough terrain and an even tougher enemy; Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox and the well-trained troops of the Germany. The Allies, particularly the Americans, discover how woefully unprepared they are due mostly to their inexperience. See how North Africa becomes the proving ground for their officers as they learn to lead, and how an entire army learns to fight against defying odds.

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Ah, another yeah vote for this book. Thanks Jiggs. Now that I have your vote of approval, I know that it IS a great book. Can't wait to read it. Of course I looked through the photos first. Always do that, then go back and read it when the opportunity arises.

 

Hope all is well on your end. :D

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Marion: A good book to read is Lt. Coll Sherman W. Pratts (Ret) book "Autobahn to

Berchtesgaden. (Gateway Press Inc. 1992). Sherm joined just prior to ww 2. Served in the 3rd Inf Div as a enlisted man till getting a battlefield commission. He was C.O. of

L company 3rd Bn. 7th Inf Reg. 3rd Inf Div.during a lot of ww 2. He was one of the few that survived from Africa to Austria. He gratiously sent me a copy of this book, autographed, and with a warm note on the flyleaf which I may someday send you.

(no, not the book as it is treasured).

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Thanks for another recommendation Joe. Will add that one to my ever-growing list too.

 

Just started reading Army at Dawn on Thursday. Already enjoying the read. Since the 540th were there from the beginning, it will cover a lot of the same ground that my father's unit traversed.

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A new friend, Rob Stephens, son of 540th member, Lt Robert D Stephens, recently wrote a letter to author Rick Atkinson, regarding his books, and touching on the subject of the role the 540th and other engineers played in the ETO. Rob also told Rick about me and our website. Rob sent me a copy of the email he sent to Rick, and in turn I sent an email to the author.

 

Imagine my surprise when I received a response a few days later...

 

Thanks for your recent notes, Mr. Stephens and Ms. Chard, which I very much appreciate. I can't promise that I'll do justice to the 540th Engineers--there are, of course, units from 61 American divisions in Europe by 1945--but I'm happy to have their contributions brought to my attention. If you have a particularly vivid letter or two from the European Theater, I'd be delighted to see them. Otherwise I hope you'll be sure that copies of your materials are placed in a good archive for use by future scholars; I'm particularly partial to the U.S. Army's Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA, which has a good website.

 

Again, I'm grateful to you for taking time to write.

 

Best regards,

Rick Atkinson

 

I in turn responded to his email, and sent the following:

 

Dear Rick:

 

Thanks for your response. I was very pleased to receive an email from you.

 

I have numerous personal stories/anecdotes from "my boys", so it's always very difficult to select just a few, but I feel these really stand out. I have chosen what I feel are a good cross-selection of humor, fear, companionship and hope.

 

The first is from David Wagner, 39th Combat Engineer. He and I have been communicating for several years, and his memoirs will be sprinkled liberally throughout my documentary. This is a rare glimpse of humor from the Anzio Campaign.

 

The men featured below, are still in communication with me.

 

========================

 

Dear Marion,

 

It was great speaking with you today and I'm sending you the Great Stake Race now before I get to copy the history which should be done in a couple of days.

 

 

The Great Stake Race at Anzio Downs

Or

The Mare's Tale

 

 

About the fourth day after landing on the Anzio Beachhead we relieved the 179th infantry and took up their positions. After about five or six days we were relieved by the SSF ( First Special Service Force) and dug in a defensive line along the Mussolini Canal.

 

 

The Mussolini Canal was dug to drain the Pontine Marshes so that the land could be used for farming and small towns. The earth that was dug up was piled on one side of the canal and created a bank or a berm which was about 9 or 10 feet high and about 15 or so feet thick.

 

 

Two men would dig a dugout which was shored up by whatever fence posts or other wood that we could find and had a roof of about 5 feet of earth which protected us from anything but a direct hit. Tony and I dug ours and even lined it with burlap. We slit open sandbags and used the material like wallpaper.

 

 

Close to our dugout was one which held Fred Stuart and Danny Stiglitz. Now Stuart was a bit older than Tony and I and he liked Tony. One day he asked me if I would object if Tony and Danny traded places. I didn't mind so we swapped partners. Fred Stuart had two gold teeth in the front of his mouth and we jokingly took to calling him "Copper Tooth." He had a sense of humor and didn't seem to mind.

 

 

One of the guys in the company found this horse, a brown mare with only one eye. Old Coppertooth ( he must have been about 28) was a farmer and knew how to care for animals so he was given the horse.

 

As long as we were down behind the bank the Germans couldn't see us so he used to ride the horse when he had a spare moment. He told us that the horse could run like the wind. He used the company's commander's jeep to measure off a 1/4 mile stretch and drove a fencepost to mark the end. He used to run the horse there and the horse knew just where to stop and turn around.

 

 

The SSF which was just off to our left had also found a horse. Their horse had a 50 caliber slug in him which some of the farm boys got out and nursed him back to health. Since we used to go out on patrol with the SSF the word got out that we had a racehorse. The SSF boys thought that their horse was much faster than ours.

 

 

So...........................one day one of them came over and challenged us to race our horse against theirs. Coppertooth conferred with Tony and they thought that with our horse we could win very easily and make some money ( We hadn't been paid for several months ). So Tony came over to me and said, "Wag, you're a darn good talker so you go around and collect the bets from all the men in "F" Company.I did and collected over $500 that would be bet on the race. That was a lot of money.

 

 

When the race was all set to go off, the guy from the SSF insisted that a 1/4 mile run was not long enough and should be at least 1/2 mile long. So a jeep was used and 1/2 mile was measured off.The two horses were at the starting line and one of the guys pulled his .45 and fired the starting shot. Our mare took off like greased lightning and left the other horse behind. We ( F Company ) were already counting our winnings and congratulating one another.

 

 

However......strange things happen and they surely did that morning. Our horse had a fantastic lead but when he got to the place where he stopped every day and turned around, he just stopped and refused to go any further. The SSF horse just breezed on by and won the race.

 

 

With a heavy heart I had to turn the money over to the SSF. And when all the guys in F Company complained to me I told them to go talk to Coppertooth and Dickherber, I was just a bookkeeper.

 

 

This story has been told and retold at our annual reunions for many, many years. It was just one of the crazy things that Tony Dickherber and I got involved in.

 

 

David N. Wagner

Co. F

39th Combat Engineer Regiment

 

=======================

 

The next is from Bill Douglass, another dear friend and member of the 1301st Engineer General Service Regiment. Bill is a real fan of Patton, and this story tells of a personal encounter with the illustrious general.

 

Dear Marion:

 

You indicated your desire to hear of General Patton and I happen to have a brief anecdote that you may enjoy.

 

My unit had stopped at a chateau near Nancy, France for a brief overnight; our first night under cover in a couple of months. One of the fellows found a collapsible top hat which were quite popular in France. The next day, in the back of a 6X6 truck with about a dozen other Engineers, I pulled off my helmet, put on the top hat and was doing my rendition of Maurice Chevalier's "'Thank Heavens for Little Girls". About the time I got started, a jeep flew by and our truck suddenly came to a screeching halt. Who should appear at the tailgate, except the old man himself with his pearl handle revolver strapped on. He shouted. "who was that SOB with the top hat on" to which I responded . He directed me to fall out and for the next two or three minutes, dressed me down with every word of profanity I had heard of and then some, also dwelling on my family lineage in the same tone. I was dirty, unshaven and scared to death. He reached over and grabbed my shirt pocket flap and I thought he was actually going to hit me. He asked if that pocket had a button on it to which I affirmed resulting in another barrage regarding wearing of the uniform. After he finished with me then he glared at the men in the truck and shouted out, "you engineers boys are doing a damn good job, keep it up" and with that he was gone.

 

The occasion got my CO's attention and he got my mine. Any words Patton left out were deftly covered by the CO.

 

General Patton was a professional soldier; egotistical as hell, but a real soldier.

 

Needless to say, I became the recipient of barbs from the whole company for weeks on end.

Hope you enjoy my experience. I didn't!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Respectfully,

Bill Douglass

 

======================

 

The next, is taken from a several year journal, expertly kept by good buddy Carl Furtado, 36th Engineer Combat Regiment. This excerpt gives a glimpse into the final days of Sicily and the Salerno assault.

 

Sicily Italy & Bizerte Tunisia Africa, August, 1943

 

 

Our forces are pushing the Germans back towards Messina. Patton pushing east from Palermo and the British have broken out from Catania and pushing north. August 18th- the battle for Sicily is over. For days the Germans have been evacuating their troops and equipment across the Strait of Messina into Italy and our troops are in Messina. Aug 21st- the 36th left Sicily to go back to Africa and back to the Bizerte area. It was a better trip back, as the ship was larger, a LST, and the sea was calm. We landed and were truck to a bivouacked in the hills outside of Bizerta where we spent the night under the stars. Our tents and bed rolls never showed up. Put Chalky in my jacket to keep us both warm. Here we have being changed from Amphibious Engineers to Combat Engineers and getting a change in equipment. So, it’s at the front from now on for the 36th. Also we have been assigned to the Fifth Army and attached to the VI Corps. They say this is the big landing and it’s going to be in Italy. We have been changed from D+2 to D, not good. This place is crowded with troops, both American and British. The harbor is full of ships, Navy ships, transports, and landing ships of all types. We have been moved down to the water edge, ready to board ships. The 31st- British troops have been pouring down from the hills to join us here at the harbor. All our equipment has been packed loaded on trucks and sent down to be loaded aboard ships. All we have now is what we are carrying on us.

 

 

Salerno, Italy Sept. 1943

 

 

Sept 3- We get the news that the British have landed in Italy. They struck from Messina and have established a beachhead across from Messina in Italy. They are pushing inland to the north and east. The 5th- hiked down to the docks in the boiling sun with full packs and it was hot. Boarded LCT’s in the harbor which brought us to Lake Bizerte to load on LST’s and then we moved outside of the harbor. Good move, as that night there was a terrific air raid and they were dropping their bombs mostly on land. The 7th- set sail for our landing area below Salerno at Paestum. The 8th- The Germans found us just before dark and it was one continuous air raid. The 9th- we started landing early in the morning and the reports we are getting is not good, casualties are heavy and having trouble establishing a beachhead for the rest of us to come in. Lot of fireworks going both ways on the ground and in the air. It’s a pretty helpless feeling when you’re on those ships hearing those planes diving in to bomb and hope they haven’t picked your ship for a target. The 11th- we finally got off the ship and on to the beach. Hiked five miles inland and made camp. Our battalions and line companies are up at the front. The 3rd battalion is on the line as infantry and the rest are repairing and building roads and bridges at the front. Had to bring up a radio to the 3rd battalion one day and spent a number of hours with them before I was able to get back. The 3rd was relived after six days on the line. Another of our battalions, the 2nd, was called upon to do infantry work and was on the line for 4 days. H&S is bivouacked near an airport and we are not getting much sleep nights, as the Germans are coming over to bomb the field. The rear echelon arrived finally along with the kitchen and Chalky. The 18th- the 1st and 2nd battalions came in today and the 3rd is still up at the front. The 19th- Jerry has finally had enough and is pulling back for two reasons. They have been taking a lot of fire from the ships off shore and being bombed. They also were holding out until their forces in the south could get up here and join them. The British, that landed south of us, has made contact with us here, so that means that they, the Germans, have joined up and they can fall back. The 3rd battalion came in today. The front is moving up and so are we. We are working on roads and bridges extended through Battapaglia, north and west, and restoring a railroad line in that area. Also clearing towns of the debris caused by the fighting that went on there and the repairing or building bridges that the enemy had damage or destroyed. Sept. 24th- Still moving northwest and not staying in one place more than a day or two. At one of the places we were strafed three times and on the last time our fighter planes showed up. There was a dog fight with us GI’s on the ground cheering our fighter planes on. It must have done some good, as two of the enemy’s planes went down. By the end of the month we had reached Montella, but it was tough going as the enemy had destroyed every bridge and left many mines. The steep grades and hairpin turns didn’t help either. Up at the top the enemy had had a good view of the country below and it’s no wonder we had a hard time advancing. When we have taken the high ground, they fall back to another fortified position on high ground and that’s how it went all through Italy. While we are advancing the civilians are going the opposite way and back to their villages. I’m afraid they are not going to find much left in some of them. Also at then end of the month the rain has started and we are never dry.

 

 

======================

 

The final story (sure you don't have a few months to spare? ) is from Bill Vander Wall, 540th Engineer Combat Regiment (my father's unit), and tells of his experience landing in North Africa in November 1942. I have attached a photo of THE flag, taken when I spent a weekend with he and his wife, Lois. Bill managed to keep the flag amongst his possessions, and was able to mail it home to his parents before shipping home in '45.

 

...I was really seasick, vomiting over the side of the assault boat and the Vichy French started to shell us on our way into the beach. A shell hit between our boat and the one on our left also heading for the beach.

 

I must back up and tell about our experience in trying to get in the assault boats off the mother ship. We had to climb down the rope ladder nets that hung down over the side of the mother ship. It was very difficult to drop into the assault boat because of the high tide surf. Some men missed the boat and fell into the water.

 

As I started over the side to go down the rope net into the assault boat, our 1st Sgt. Arnold Listrani said to me, Vander Wall, you carry the American flag in for our Company. That's all I needed was an extra 6' or 8' pole to carry down the net into the assault boat.

 

When we finally hit the sandy beach and we all ran off the assault boat, the Vichy French opened up out of a pillbox with a machine gun to the men on the beach. We saw the bullets hitting the sand right in front of us. An infantryman on my left was hit. I realized then that they were firing at us because of the American flag. I stuck it in the ground and we remained pinned down on the beach until they brought in a light tank that destroyed the pill box.

 

========================

 

Thanks for the suggestion regarding the U.S. Army's Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA. I have visited the site numerous times and agree it's a great source.

 

I am in constant contact with the Army Corps of Engineers Office of History, and have become very good friends with Michael Brodhead, one of the historians. In fact, my husband and I recently took a trip to the area (Virginia) and got a personal tour of the archives, etc. What a wonderful experience and opportunity.

 

Michael was one of my first contacts while conducting my research, and was instrumental in gathering documentation regarding my father's unit. He and his co-workers are the best of the best!

 

Well I have kept you long enough, so shall sign off and let you return to your work.

 

Kind regards,

Marion

 

 

Marion Chard

Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek

540th Combat Engineer WWII

http://www.6thcorpscombatengineers.com

http://www.6thcorpsmusic.us

 

To subscribe to our email newsletter click here:

http://www.6thcorpscombatengineers.com/newsletteremail.htm

 

Rob and I would like to thank the busy author for taking the time to respond to us.

 

:armata_PDT_37:

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Pritzker Military Library

610 N. Fairbanks Court, 2nd Floor

Chicago, IL 60611

312-587-0234

 

Member reception: 5:00pm

Interview with Ed Tracy and Live Webcast: 6:00pm

 

Books are available for purchase at author events courtesy of The Book Stall at Chestnut Court. Library members receive a 10% discount.

 

Rick Atkinson is the recipient of the 2010 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing. He is currently at work on volume 3 of his trilogy about the American role in the liberation of Europe in World War II. The first volume, An Army at Dawn, won acclaim for its brilliantly researched, deeply felt narrative of the Allied campaign in North Africa. It was followed by The Day of Battle, which interwove portraits of Eisenhower, Patton, Roosevelt, and Churchill with unforgettable images of soldiers confronted with the transformative effect of fear and violence. He is also the author of In the Company of Soldiers, which followed the 101st Airborne Division and Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq; Crusade, a narrative history of the Persian Gulf War; and The Long Gray Line, a narrative account of West Point’s class of 1966.

 

To read more...

 

Rick Atkinson at Pritzer Library

 

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A new friend, Rob Stephens, son of 540th member, Lt Robert D Stephens, recently wrote a letter to author Rick Atkinson, regarding his books, and touching on the subject of the role the 540th and other engineers played in the ETO. Rob also told Rick about me and our website. Rob sent me a copy of the email he sent to Rick, and in turn I sent an email to the author.

 

Imagine my surprise when I received a response a few days later...

 

 

 

I in turn responded to his email, and sent the following:

 

 

 

Rob and I would like to thank the busy author for taking the time to respond to us.

 

:armata_PDT_37:

 

Just wondering why the 34th wasn't mentioned.----- Just wondering ..

 

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Received an email newsletter from Rick Atkinson, letting me know his third book is ready for publishing.

 

The Guns at Last Light

 

I look forward to reading this. And yes folks, he covers the invasion of southern France. We are not left out!

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