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Stories of War

Excerpt from "Tanks for the Memories"

Sherman Tank

Lieutenant Jim Gifford joined the 712th Tank Battalion as a replacement in Normandy.

After we landed at the beach, we got up into Ste. Mere Eglise, that was the first town that was in the process of being taken, and there were gliders all over the place. Loaded with gliders. Every field had gliders tipped up, turned over, there were ten, fifteen guys in the nose of them, still laying there, and all their equipment, dead. There were so many gliders that struck things and killed all the men in them. It was pathetic.

I walked up to a glider and I saw all these guys in there and there was nobody you could help, they were all dead, no question about it, some guys had spilled out on the ground.

I saw a Reader's Digest laying on the ground by a glider, and on the side of it, it had an American flag, about an inch wide. I cut that off the Reader's Digest, and I picked up a piece of plastic from the windshield of the glider.

Later, I took the handle off my .45 and I carved a new handle with the plastic, and I put the American flag from the Reader's Digest underneath it. I've still got the gun. It was on my hip all through the war. It was my buddy wherever I was, and I was damn well sure I was gonna bring it home. We were supposed to turn that stuff in when we got back. I said to hell with it, let them find me, I'm keeping this, and I've still got it. I even have a permit for it.

When we got up to the Saar River, we took this little village, it wasn’t even a town. I went into a house there. I went downstairs in the cellar, and there was a pile of coal there. I saw something sticking out of the coal and I kicked it, and these people had put a lot of their private things there — an accordion, and their silverware and stuff which meant nothing to us but the accordion did, because we had a guy, Snuffy Fuller, who was a lieutenant in my outfit who could play the accordion, so I pulled it out, and I told one of the guys, "Take it over and give it to Snuffy." So Snuffy kept that accordion, he used to play it a lot.

Then I decided, well, this is a good chance to take a bath. So I started to heat some water up, and I filled the bathtub. The tub had a window alongside it, and you could look out through the garden, you could look down the slope all the way to the Saar River.

Now I’m just settled in to take my bath and soak, when all of a sudden I see a shell burst down by the riverbank. When a shell goes off, you always watch to see where the next one’s coming. You walk these shells. We got so used to being hit with shells that we knew what they were gonna do. So I watch to see where the next one’s gonna hit. The next one hit closer to the house. Oh, shit, they’re coming this way. The next one came down right below that field. So I grabbed my nose and slid down into the water. The next thing, "Boom!" Right in the garden. Knocked the goddamn window frame and the glass and everything out.

When the smoke cleared, I came up out of the water. The goddamn window was gone, and the glass and the frame and everything was in the water with me.

The next shell — I’m still waiting to see where the next one’s going — went over the house and landed across the road. Then I got up out of the tub and that was it. That was my bath. I made sure I didn’t cut myself, and I dried myself off and got the hell dressed.

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