Letters From Readers -- Military History Magazine September 2006 | HistoryNet
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Letters From Readers — Military History Magazine September 2006

8/23/2006 • MH Issues

NOTHING (WRONG) UP HIS SLEEVE
In response to J.H. Thompson’s concern about the U.S. Navy’s insignia and names for the positions (“Letters,” April 2006): Some rates have had the rating badges on the right sleeve and some on the left since at least 1841. The reason varied, but in 1913 the “right arm rates” were the seamen rates. This was further refined in 1941 to specify the seaman branch: boatswain’s mate, turret captain, signalman, gunner’s mate, fire controlman, quartermaster, mineman and torpedoman’s mate. All other rates wore the badge on the left arm. This was changed in 1949 to the current policy of all insignias being worn on the left arm. Therefore, pictures of boatswain’s mates, such as BM3 Thomas, taken during WWII show the insignia on the right arm.

With regard to the remainder of Mr. Thompson’s comments about the Navy’s structure, he’s mixing apples and oranges. In the Navy the rate refers to the pay grade, the rating refers to the occupational specialty. In the example of BM3 Thomas, his rate is petty officer 3rd class; his rating is boatswain’s mate. The use of “rank” for Navy enlisted personnel is incorrect.

Lieutenant Michael A. Yates
U.S. Navy (ret.)
Mesa, Ariz.

In regard to J.H. Thompson’s letter regarding rank and rate in the April 2006 issue, John Thomas’ boatswain’s mate 3rd class rating badge is not reversed. At the time, all members of the seaman branch, or deck force, wore their rating badges on the right arm. They were the ratings associated with seamanship, gunnery, navigation and signals, skills paramount in the sailing navy. Boatswain’s mates were senior in precedence, followed by gunner’s mates, quartermasters and signalmen. Turret captain was a senior gunnery rating, usually for chief petty officers. Torpedomen also had right arm ratings. All other rating badges, including those for the engineer, artificer, aviation, etc., were worn on the left arm.

The boatswain’s mate 3rd class designation did not appear until war’s end when all badges were shifted to the left arm. In the old Navy that junior BM rating was called coxswain, another job description from the sailing ship days. It was my own path to advancement when I was promoted from seaman 1st class to coxswain on November 1, 1941. In those days I never heard anyone talk about “grade.” It was always referred to as one’s “rate,” as first, second or third class.

Ed Ries
San Diego, Calif.

CORRECTIONS TO CORRECTIONS
William S. Storey’s letter in the March 2006 issue was incorrect in stating that the 3rd, 4th and 36th Infantry divisions joined the Seventh Army for the invasion of southern France. The units were the 3rd, 36th and 45th divisions. Also, the 442nd Regiment was not part of the 3rd Infantry Division — it was part of the 36th, from October 11 to November 9, 1944. David B. Leber was also in error when he states that the 30th Infantry Regiment was in the 7th Division — it was a part of the 3rd, when that division was part of the Seventh Army.

Patrick D. Heagerty
Manlius, N.Y.

BOVINES IN THE BOCAGE
After reading your excellent overview of that nasty action in Normandy’s hedgerow country in the April 2006 issue, I was reminded of something my tour guide told me of how the Allied forces had an assist in intelligence from an unexpected source. If you ever visit Normandy and stop at one of the hedgerow-enclosed fields, you will discover that the cows are both friendly and inquisitive. According to my source, the troops quickly learned to look at the cows. If they were grazing around the field or came to greet the troops, you could be pretty certain that there weren’t any German emplacements in that particular bocage. But if the cows were clustered at a corner or were dead, that was a tipoff that the enemy was there.

Steven Lopata
Little Rock, Ark.

FIRST IN ST. LÔ?
My compliments to Daniel R. Champagne for his informative and well-written article on the hedgerow fighting in Normandy that appeared in the April 2006 issue. I am a bit disappointed, though, that Mr. Champagne did not include at least a mention of the contribution of the 115th Infantry Regiment in the account of the final capture of St. Lô.

It was in fact the 1st Battalion of the 115th, along with Task Force C, consisting of the 29th Division’s recon troops, tanks from the 747th Tank Battalion and 12 M-10s from the 821st Tank Destroyer Battalion, that captured St Lô, not the 116th Infantry as implied in the article.

Having served with the Maryland Army National Guard in B Company, 1-115th, for almost six years beginning in 1985, I am well aware of this battalion and regiment’s fine history. In 1985 the 1-115th was considered one of the best combat units in the reserve component thanks to the able leadership of then–Lt. Col. (now Lt. Gen.) H. Steven Blum, who went on to command the 29th Infantry Division (Light) and is now the commanding general of the National Guard Bureau.

Ron Griffin
Oshkosh, Wis.

In regard to the feature “Battle of the Hedgerows” in the April 2006 issue, as a former member of Company C, 134th Regiment, 35th Infantry Division — albeit not at the time of the fight for St. Lô — I can tell you that the 134th Infantry was actually the first unit to enter St. Lô. According to the 134th’s regimental history, All Hell Can’t Stop Us, its troops were instructed to stop on the outskirts, but their advance took them into the city before they were finally halted and instructed to fall back so that the 115th could have the honor. After I joined the 134th on January 8, 1945, the old-timers always claimed they were first into St. Lô, and the issue has been debated at postwar reunions ever since.

James G. Graff
Middletown, Ill.

THE COST OF LIBERATING ST. LÔ
I bought your April 2006 edition and was gratified to find mention of the 134th Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, the unit I served with from Normandy until the end of World War II. I have always felt that my illustrious regiment has been sadly neglected. Numerous accounts about the Battle of St. Lô give credit only to the 29th Division. This time you even provided a beautiful painting of our boys fighting among the hedgerows.

I was the intelligence specialist technical sergeant assigned by Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force to this unit, frequently serving as a POW interrogator. Your article reminded me of a memorable incident during that time.

On about July 15, 1944, our regiment was ordered to take the most difficult objective yet — the tall, forbidding Hill 122 dominating the town of St. Lô. We first had to capture the hamlet of Emilie, which had to be taken in house-to-house fighting. We had to beat back 12 German counterattacks between July 15 and 17.

I came face to face with the horrors of war. I received a call at regimental headquarters to come down to one of the battalion command posts. As I approached the CP, I observed a truck being loaded with dead GIs. The corpses were being tossed on top of each other until they were heaped higher than the cab of the truck. This was my first sight of dead bodies, and at age 20 little did I realize that such horrors would soon be commonplace and would continue for another nine months. In fact, I was in for a sickening experience the very next hour.

The battalion commander asked if I was the guy from intelligence who could identify German units. Yes, I could. “OK,” he said, “I have a mission for you. We have a bunch of dead Krauts lying out there in no man’s land. I want you to get out there and tell me what unit they’re from.”

Two GIs drove me to the edge of a wood. “You see this large open field and the woods at the other end?” one said. “That’s where the Jerries are. They probably can see us. It’s your job to crawl into this field until you find the enemy bodies.”

I remembered my lessons from basic training: Lie very low, keep your helmet low and crawl forward by using your elbows, while bullets whiz over your head. Slowly I crawled toward the German lines, thinking: “Have they seen me yet? Am I going to be killed so soon — a week after I’ve gotten into combat?” Suddenly I was staring into the contorted face of a dead enemy soldier. Horrible! Clenching my teeth, I drew out my bayonet and slit open his tunic. I reached into his inside pocket and withdrew his Soldatenbuch. Every German soldier carries his soldier’s booklet, which lists his military history as well as his current unit, and which he must present on payday.

I noticed about six more bodies lying in the vicinity. I crawled to the next corpse — one lying on its stomach, emitting a putrid stench of rotting flesh. I had to turn the body over, and in so doing uncovered a dried-up pool of blood. It was the only way I could reach the soldier’s book. I heard some distant shots. It was time to get out of there. Keeping my helmet pointed toward the enemy, I crawled backward to the edge of the woods, where my buddies were waiting.

The lieutenant colonel grinned when I showed him the enemy identification. “Sir,” I announced, “you are facing the Panzer Lehr Grenadier Division. This is one of the Nazis’ elite divisions, commanded by General Fritz Beyerlein, one of Adolf Hitler’s favorite generals.”

We took Hill 122, the road into St. Lô was open, but at what cost? Of the 1st Battalion, one company was down to 40 men. The attack ended July 19, after 11 days of fierce fighting. The road into town was one long series of shell holes and bomb craters, full of water. Our jeep driver had to zigzag around them, only to arrive in a town that was totally flattened, except for the church tower. There were no civilians left, but it was the first sizable town that we had “liberated.”

Eugene Swartz
Knoxville, Tenn.

TWO PAYNES
The illustration of the Battle of Agincourt in the May 2006 “Personality” department on P. 64 was credited to Henry A. Payne. It was in fact Harry Payne who painted it as part of his “Glorious Battles” series published in 1915.

Gary L. Strand
Springville, Iowa

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