Remarkable stories of war told by those who fought for a proud nation. Their words. Their voices. Our first episodes tell riveting stories from World War II, then we move on to the Vietnam War and other dramatic conflicts.
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I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.
Warriors in Their Own Words is our attempt to present an unvarnished, unsanitized truth of what we have asked of those who defend this nation. Thank you for listening, and by doing so, honoring those who have served.
Today, we’ll hear from Corporal Chuck Miller. Miller served as a tank loader, and eventually a tank commander, in World War II.
Cpl. Chuck Miller:
I went in at 18, just had turned 18. I went in February of 1943. Well, I joined the 3rd Armored Division at Saint-Jean-de-Daye, France. In England, I had been in the replacement pool, and I was detached to a 48 ordinance battalion. And we waterproofed a bunch of tanks, and took them to Normandy. I landed before the Third Armor did. I landed nine days after D-Day, and I worked the beaches, picking up ordinance supplies, driving a truck for about a couple of weeks. And then finally, they got the replacement pool set up, and I was pulled right out and sent... The third Armored finally landed, and had their first action, and needed replacements. And I was about one of the first And that was in Saint-Jean-de-Daye.
Well, the tank commander, initially, orders everything, and generally, it's over radio. You're wearing a helmet with earphone in it, and intercom. And you hear them tell you, the gunner to lay on certain... and he estimates the range and everything. And then they tell what kind of ammo you want to use in the 75. Whether it's AT or AP or APC. And the loader loads, whatever shell they put in there. And then, he lays on the target and fires. And then of course, that shell comes out, and I have to... we start firing. Generally, if it's firing at a tank or anything that's armor, we use an AP or an APC. So that's continue to load that shell. And of course, the 30 caliber machine in is mainly just to get range or hitting the infantry, or hanging around. And I had to keep loading that too.
And of course, then you, if you get in a real hot battle, you're going to have the turret floor covered with shells, and you have to, whenever you get chance, you have to eject those out, the porthole on the side. You have a porthole there. In that early tank that I was in, that first tank only had one hatch on top. And that was the tank of commanders. All three of you had to go out one hatch on the top, and so there was no way you could get rid of them except out the porthole. You had to keep your ammo in order. And Jenny, if you rack up your rack, you had to get it from either in the sponsor or from the... the assistant driver had a rack behind his seat, and he had to turn around and hand shells up to you through the basket.
They're fairly heavy, but I really couldn't tell you how much they weighed now. But of course, when they got the nineties, that was quite a bit heavy head shell. But I never had to mess with one of those because I was never in a T-26. We had one per company, and that was just the one that Bob Early had, and Smoyer.
We had three main 75 shells. Which was the HE, which is the high explosive, and the AP, which was the ammo of piercing. And then the APHE, which was the... they would pierce and then also explode. Of course, the 30 caliber, every so often, they had tracers in those.
Unless you happened to hit on the side or in the back, or if they were up at an angle where you could hit them underneath, you couldn't penetrate with them. Even when we souped up the 76, when they come out with a 76, it still wasn't effective. And until we got the T-26 with a 90 millimeter, we just dead ducks. It's just about if you fought tank to tank.
We were interviewed in Cologne, by a lady, a correspondent. And it was in all the papers back home, and it said... The one, she asked us about the tanks. And I remember Bob Burley saying, "Our tanks weren't the drop of hot water on a hot stove." And they said, "Chimed in Corporal Charles Millers. Does it make us feel real bad to think our people at home think we got the best equipment when we know we haven't?" We knew we didn't have the best equipment. Only thing you could do is hope that you got the right shot at the right time, and couldn't penetrate. And that is until we got the T-26. And of course, with its 90 millimeter, and our armor. Now the thing, we could move our turret 360 degrees, we could. And our tanks move faster. We had more maneuverability. You could out maneuver a German tank, and they didn't have 360 on there. They could only turn so far with their guns.
It was around January, sometime about the 7th of January. We were moving from Grand Sart, Belgium, to Sart, Belgium. And we were going in line across the field. And the first thing that happened, we hit a mine, and it blew, it flattened two bogies, and took the rubber off a number of the track treads. But we were able to keep going.
But then, we got further in, and we were... As I remember it, we saw a tank beside a barn in this edge of this town. And that's what I was laying on, when we got a shell. All I knew was a flash came down in front of my eyes, and a shell came, and took a whole or... about like that out of the cupola ring, threw the hatches open, and took my tanker metal head off, about right through there. And then went on back and took the anti-aircraft gun off. And of course, he fell out of my back, and I didn't know what was going on. Of course, normally when you got hit, they got your range, and they hit you till you burn. And time, I could look around, my system driver had bailed out, the loader had gone through the hatch and out his hatch. And finally got the tank commander off my back Bill Hay was his name. And I crawled out, and we had a basket on the back of the tank, built on where we kept the duffle bags and carried back out.
I was planning on rolling off of it onto the back of the tank and down. And I'd done something that I had trained never to do, was leave the gun turn to one side or the other. And when I rolled off, I went clear to the ground. Of course the snow was yay deep, about two feet deep, and it broke my fall. And I scoured. They were shooting a 30 cal, or they were shooting machine gunfire all around the tank, and I was able to crawl around to back the tank.
And when the tanks started backing up, almost ran over me, now realized I had left the gun over the driver's hatch, and he couldn't get his hatch open. So, that was something, it was a no-no, as far as I'm concerned. But I had goofed. But they left it in power traverse. So when he started backing up, jiggle around and come around, he was able to open the hatch and come out too.
But I, with the rest of us, we ran down to a little stream there, and went up this bed stream. Of course, I got back to where the other tanks were. And everybody thought I was... they was trying to get the medic because they thought I was hurt. Because I was just pushing my back and everything. I was just solid blood from Bill Hay.
You shouldn't, but you just lose it all there. For a minute there, you just don't know what's going on. And all you can think about is getting out of the tank. Maybe I should've taken control and kept firing the gun. But when you hit like that, and you have somebody dead on your back, all you can think about is just getting out of the hell of thing.
Only thing we had was when you rode in the tank, was you had a crash helmet, what we called a crash helmet. But that was mainly for banging around, so you didn't hurt your head. But as far as protection, no there was no protection. You just wore your regular clothes. And so there was nothing different protection.
I don't know exactly how to explain it. But everybody was for everybody, and you stuck together, and you knew that that guy was going to be there when you needed him. Each crew member knew what their job was, and they were trained to do it, and they did it. I don't think I was ever in a crew that I had any problem with each one of the members doing what they're supposed to do.
Oh I lost a lot of friends. Yeah. As far as just the immediate tank crew was, was Bill Hay, of course. And then at Blasien, Germany, when we were going on the Cologne planes, which they told us that was the tank country we were really going to be…First thing that happened that day was, that we were lined up, and they pull out at this at a line formation from the edge of this town going in to Blasien. And there was a bunch of slit trenches out, they wanted cleared out, and they sent the B company, which generally worked with us. They're like tank company. And they sent their M-5s out there to clean those out, which they did, except they were all knocked out, the whole platoon, just one after another, before they could even do anything, hardly.
We were supposed to not move out until... On our left, there was a farmhouse out there. And all the buildings out there, and there was a bunch of a unit of tiger, or I don't know, a tiger. But anyway, a German unit over there with F Company was supposed to be over, and take care of them before we moved out. They gave us the order to move out, and as soon as we pulled out, they said, "Slow, stop." Says that hadn't been taken, "Pull back." So we pulled back. And so then, when they finally said, "Well, that's taken, go," we pulled out, well, they knew exactly where we were. The Cologne planes weren't what... wasn't good tank country after all. Because their anti-aircraft guns or their 88s, which was dual purpose anti-aircraft or tank, they had them dug in the ground, and had camouflage nets over them. And you'd look it out there, and you couldn't see them anywhere. And they'd fire, and you wouldn't even know where it's coming from. And they started hitting our tanks and we lost... I don't know how many we lost when he first came out. And we finally threw all the smoke we had, that's another round. We had a smoke round. And we threw that, and then we had a little mortar, as built up in the side of the turret. And we'd fire fired all our smoke mortar shells out there, and we came back, and then they got another company with us. F Company then came with us, and we had more tanks, then we went out, and went on across. Except we're right about, halfway across the field, and our driver didn't see the bomb crater. And we ride off into a bomb crater nose straight down.
What happens is, when it turned over, you got all this stuff in there sponsoring your tank. And all that stuff fell out on me, and I had to get it off me, and then turn... It was my responsibility to turn off the main power switches behind me. Climb, I got all that done. The whole crew had bailed out, and I was the only one in there. But I got out. And as soon as I got out, I could see why they bailed out, because we couldn't have got out without a maintenance, a T2, which is called a T2, to pull us out.
And I climbed up out the hole, and found the rest of the crew laying on the ground behind the big... The Germans used to dig their potatoes, and they'd put them in piles, and cover them with straw and everything. And they were laying behind that pile of potatoes. And I laid down next, right next to my tank commander, and the other rest of the crew was down my feet. And there was another crew of F Company. I've never known why I knew it was F Company, but I've always said it was F Company. They were just a short distance from us. They had lost their tank, and was out on the ground. And we got a shell come in, and hit them right in the midst of them. And I can still see this fella getting up and starting to run, and dropping to his knees, and turning around, looked like he was looking back for help. And he didn't have sign of a face, his whole face was gone. And that same shell, when it hit, I didn't know it had hit, had hit Juke. Ray Jewels was his name, laying next to me. And I told Joe who was a driver, I said, "We ought to get out of here. Let's get away from this area." Because there's a lot of imagery walking across at that time, coming across the field there.
So, we got up, and it was getting up, and I nudged, Juke to get him to come, and he didn't move. And I looked, and he got a big hole in his head. He'd been hitting and he was dead. And Joe, he'd been hit in... he had a hole in his crash helmet, where a piece of shrapnel had hit flat ways. And he had a big knot on his head, and he was dizzy, and he had some shrapnel in his shoulder. But we got up, and I helped him, and he leaned on me, and we got clear back to the town we came from, with the rest of the crew.
And after we got back over there, I kept having trouble with my ankle. It'd give away on me every once in a while. And I kept looking, I had hover shoes on, rubber hover shoes, fire buckle hover shoes over my boots. And finally, I undid them, and peeled them down. Well, the hole popped open on my... And I saw the blood down in my shoe. And finally, I took my boot off and it was full of blood, and I'd gotten a shrapnel in my ankle. And that was it. But it was going inside, in the ankle, and it didn't hurt, except when I got... It was so small, the piece was that it. But they took us back to Stohlberg. The medics in Stohlberg took Joe and I back there, and they programmed, got the shrapnel out of his shoulder, but they couldn't get at it in my ankle. And they just put a bandaid on it, and send us back.
I went through the rest of the war with it, and then after the war's over, and we moved back to Low Town Mountain, Munster bei Dieburg, which is close to Frankfurt. And I kept having trouble. And my ankle would give way with me at times, and especially when I wore boots. And so, I finally went to the first sergeant, and told him, either let me wear low top shoes, unless get that out there.
So they sent me back to the medics, and they took x-ray and found it, and I went to the hospital in Frankfurt, and they removed it. And I was in the hospital about 10 days. But they got... I have trouble with it now, but I just cut the tendons on two toes. But that was all.
The next day after I was hit, and Bill Hay was killed, they Gray's registration came up, and they removed the body but they didn't have to do the cleaning up, of course. And we had to clean up the tank, like Bill's brains were laying in my seat, and blood all over. We had to take all the shells out and wipe them down, clean the blood off of them. And then the radio was covered completely with blood. It was gruesome. And I didn't really even talk about it for years. After I come home, I never even talked about it. But you finally get over it, and talk about it now. No problem. It was in your mind all the time. You didn't talk about it. But when we got back to maintenance, have it worked to have the tracks, and the bogeys there fixed. I found an old blanket in an old shoulder hat, and some cardboard. And I traced my foot, and made a pattern out a cardboard. And then I convinced to sew, and I made me some boots, which came up all about halfway up my foot. And I did away with my boots because they was tight. And I just wore those in my hover shoes. And that just made all the difference in the world. I didn't have trouble getting my feet, getting hold after that. And also, while I was there, I made a hood for myself. I took a shelter half, and a blanket, and made a square, and then cut it down, and tacked it to my back. And kept my head former too. They weren't prepared for it. For a winter over there. They didn't issue anything, any warm clothing. We didn't have long johns or any, at that time. When we first went, in fact, I had sent home, my mother had taken some old track pants. Either one of the elastic in the bottoming. Of course, it didn't have a fly in it, so she put a fly in them for me, and that's what kept me warm.
One night we were in this little town there, and we were building, we got out of the tanks from living, staying in these houses at that time. But I had one crew man, he was in my crew, started crying, and just going on that night, and his feet were frozen. And I finally went up, I went to CP and barred a half-track, and come down, picked him up, and took him back to the medics. And in the medics, the rooms were just, guys were laying on the floor. All of them had frozen feet and fingers, and we never did see this boy. He never did come back to us.
Actually, I was in the first tank, like I say, was hitting the Bulge. And the reason I got out of that was... that made me tank commander. But then, I was a kid, I was the youngest. In fact, my driver was one of the old timers that'd been in the unit since it'd been started. And he used to kid me like a baby. He'd go out and loot and bring me back dolls and stuff like that. And he didn't like that, anyway, me being up the tank commander.
So he went first sergeant, and says he won. He didn't think so. Well, he says, "Well, you can be the first." I didn't matter to me. He said, "You can be the tank commander." But I had a friend of mine who was in the first tank I'd been in. Drill. Joe Floy, one that got killed next. He was a tank commander and he needed a gunner, so I transferred to his tank. And of course, then he was killed in the next action. And I went to another tank after that, and made it all the way through under that tank, and at the end of the war.
We had a liaison assigned to each company from the air corp. And they had a special radio where they could talk to their pilots. And he rode right along with us, and communicated with airplanes when we were getting their support. And it was really good when you'd see one of those P40 sevens die riding ahead of you. And you'd hear a big bomb, boom, and go up over, you knew, rest assured, when you got up there, there was going to be a tank laying on its side there. Because they really did the job.
Well, I think the more you fired a gun, even though your tank commander was estimating ranges, you yourself knew after you had fired, and what that range was, and knew, you know could estimate it yourself. It's so much different now. The tanks now, they have a laser and everything, which we didn't have. Everything had to be done by eyesight for laser. For not for laser, for estimating ranges.
I don't think I would've trade it for anything. I think, I'd say, I didn't enjoy it at the time, but I sure enjoyed the guys that I met, and the guys, that friendliness and everything. And then, say, we still meet, I don't know what it is about it, hut we enjoy meeting and talking every year, about it.
You wonder what happened to some of these guys that you never heard from after the war, and you knew what happened to them. And of course, there's guys that I've wanted to go see, and of course, now they've passed away. And you'll never see them now, and you just wonder, you should have gone, back when you were younger, and got together, and enjoyed their company, right?
I don't know exactly how to put it, other than what we went through and lived through it, and how close we were as a unit. The five minute a tank, to start with, and of course, then your platoon of five tank crews. And of course, third of the company. Everybody knew everybody in the company, just about it.
Of course, when you started getting replacements, a lot of times, you didn't get too acquainted with them before something had happened. But a lot of those, they all made it through too, And you became good friends. And it just continued.
That was Cpl Chuck Miller.
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Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.