WORLD WAR TWO EXPERIENCES OF JAMES TOLBY ANDERSON
Near the end of May 1945, I was drafted into the United States Army to serve in World War 11. On the 7th of Junes, I reported to Abington, Virginia for initial processing where they told us we would have to report back fourteen days later. On the 21st of June, I left my home as a teenager only to return a couple of years later a war torn man aged beyond his years. I was scared to death but I knew I had to go and tried not to think about it.
I stayed at Camp Lee for about four to five days for testing. On the 27th of June, we took a train to Camp Wheeler, Georgia where we arrived around the first of July. At Camp Wheeler, I made friendship that lasted throughout the war and pulled me through the horrors I would later encounter. His name was Edgar Archbold and he came from Pennsylvania. At Camp Wheeler, we went through sixteen intense weeks of basic training in the hot southern sun. There I experienced my first taste of death when a draftee died from heat stroke. That death was hard on all of us but not anything like what was to follow.
Meanwhile back at Camp Wheeler, we were being Infantry trained using a 37 millimeter anti-tank gun and a M-1 rifle gun. There I was awarded expert marksmanship in my gun training. My group finished our training and was given a furlough. We were to report to Fort Meade, Maryland a week later on there 10th of November. It felt great to be back in the mountains and at home but the nervousness of not knowing if I were to be shipped over seas kept me on edge.
I arrived at Fort Meade, the point of embarkation, on the 10th of November where I received my physicals. A couple of days later, I left there by train going south to Fort Henry where I stayed for a couple of days. Then, I left there by train going south to Fort Henry where I stayed for a couple of days. Then, I was told we were headed to New Port News, Virginia where that meant I was going over seas!
Upon arrival to Newport News, I was in awe of the ocean because that was the first time I had seen it. I boarded the transportation ship, which was the USS Anderson, on Thanksgiving Day of 1943. I found some joy in the name of the ship that I boarded to ride over the sea and into the heart of the battle.
That first day on the ship, we all had turkey dinner but most of the men were a little sea sick so the hallways were filled with puke, but I wasn’t sea sick, I could eat anytime at any place. I would have been sick if I had known then the German U-Boats that lurked the Atlantic Ocean like killer sharks! The USS Anderson traversed the ocean like traveling the winding roads back home to nullify the U-Boat.
Eight days later, either on December the 4th or 5th, the ship landed in Casablanca, North Africa. Here we were put into tent cities and stayed for two weeks. Next we were put into train’s box cars, ten soldiers per car and rode several days to Oran, North Africa on the Mediteranean Sea where we spent Christmas. Here, we were trained for a few days then left on a British boat to a port near Naples, Italy, where we arrived around the first of January, 1944.
In Naples, we were put in another tent city for the entire month which was not the most pleasant place to stay but was ten times better than where my next destination took me. On the first day of February, we traveled on another ship over night to Anzio, Italy where the reality of war finally set in. As soon as we got off the ship, there on the beach head, we were in combat and could hear the awful sound of war. A railroad gun was shelling us. I guess those first few minutes in combat are to say the least life changing, a lot of us just stood there in terror. I remember plainly a British Officer screaming at us, “What’s the matter with you blokes, do you wanna live always?” as he grabbed me and we jumped in a basement for cover.
After the shelling halted, I walked to the edge of a woodland where everybody had gathered. Three names were called off, James Anderson, Edgar Archbold, and Louis Abruzzi to get in a jeep, We were transported to the ffront lines. I don’t know how Archbold and I ended up together again, I guess it was in the hands of God as many other events proved to be. Ror the record on the 2nd day of February, I entered combat.
The three of us joined the 30th Infantry Regiment, Ammunition and Pioneer platoon, 2nd Battalion. Our main job was to get ammo to the front lines for E<F< and G companies. Many times we found ourselves in between the two front lines!
After that first day of combat, we slept in an old barn on the beach head. On the 3rd day of combat, I was digging a foxhole under heavy shelling while bullets were whizzing by me. There, I came to the realization that the enemy was real and their objective was to kill me! On the next day, I was in my foxhole and heard a loud noise, as I raised up, I realized the noise was American Bomber planes. As the first plane dropped its bombs, it blew my helmet off! For some reason, I didn’t have my chin strap buckled under my chin and this prevented me from being decapitated. That was the closest one to me, the others as they exploded picked me up off the ground. I guess this shows how close to the enemy I actually was! We there on the beach head with enemies all around us for seven to ten days under heavy artillery fire. The Germans were trying to push us into the ocean while we were pushing inland to cut off a German road. Here we lost over half of the company where each company contained approximately two hundred men.
I was sent along with another man Norman Mohar, who I correspond with till this day, to fix a bridge and lay some sand bags down. This proved to be the worst night I spent in the war. We were shelled all night long, me and him prayed to get hit so we would be sent back home. We could hear the shells hitting the road and ricocheting off making an eerie noise. When we got dug in, I couldn’t sleep at all. We were on flat ground so we couldn’t raise our head out of the foxhole. The next morning, a US Soldier came running by screaming and yelling that he couldn’t take it any more, the war had driven him crazy.
A couple days later, an incident occurred that I remember vividly. We had been sleeping in that farm house and Wallace Chapman and I drifted off upstairs to write a letter home. As we were writing, a shell hit across the road about one hundred and fifty feet from the farm house. Another one followed that one, landing right beside the house. We dropped what we were doing and ran like mad men. As we reached the outside, a shell hit the house and knocked an entire wall out. We went on around to the front and Wallace had made a right turn to try and make it to a near by stable. Again, with the guidance of the Lord, I ran back toward the house and got behind an old car. A Lieutenant was screaming to get the hell out and one at a time, we ran across the yard. When it came my time, I took off as fast as I could go and tripped over a grapevine. When I hit the ground, a shell hit behind me and covered me with dirt. In ten minutes span, I was saved twice!
The shelling stopped after a while and we pulled the dead out of the stable. We didn’t find all the bodies until the next morning and the stench was terrible. It was shocking to see Wallace dead who I had just been writing a letter with only a few minutes before hand. I sent home the letter Wallace was writing, he didn’t get to finish it. I hope his family found some comfort in that. ( there, 8 of my comrades were killed in that stable)
We dug in here at the exploded farm house. A few nights later, we got news that another farm house was hit with a shell and killed many soldiers. They sent us up to see what happened. As we got there, we could hear men still alive in the fallen house. To our surprise, we dug all of the men and they were all alive. A few nights later, we had to pick up a soldier who had been blown in half by a grenade. The stench was so horrible that we had to carry him close to the ground. As we carried him out, we began to get fired upon by American soldiers. They heard us yelling and promptly quit firing. The next night we had to hoist a dead soldier out of a foxhole with a rope because we thought the hole was booby trapped.
During all of these removals of dead bodies, the enemy was firing at us. There was no fear like a fear being fired at constantly. One guy named Cohen, nearly got sick every time we removed a corpse. It wasn’t out job to carry off the dead soldiers but the GRO’s were overwhelmed with dead bodies. At one time, both sides called of all fighting for three hours to clear the battle field of the dead. If they could stop fighting that long, why couldn’t they call of all fighting?
It was near the end of May now and we were going to push out on the 22nd of May. The night before, five guys and I were sent to build a wall for the command force. We finished the wall before daylight and as I left, a machine gun opened up. I hit the ground immediately. While laying on my belly, I could hear the popping directly overhead. It cut down all the weeds around me and they covered my entire body. The gun continued firing for three to four minutes and when it finally quit, I ran to catch back up.
We pushed out that morning and I had to deliver some ammo. While doing that, I got pinned down by a sniper for nearly three hours. His first shot missed me but I didn’t move an inch for a total of three hours. A sniper was the most feared by the soldiers. I heard more shelling on that day than any other day of the entire war. We fought the enemy hard and got them on the run and pushed them off the mountain. We engaged for the next twenty miles all the way to Rome, Italy. We entered Rome on the 5th day of June, the day before Normandy. I had to guard the gate at the entrance to the Vatican for four hours as soon as we entered Rome.
We were garrisoned in Rome for two weeks. Then they took us back down to the beach at Anzio and a little port along the Italian shore. There we set up our tents in a cornfield and took amphibious training and mountain training. I have a vivid memory of seeing a little Italian girl there on the road beside the cornfield. She had an armful of chocolate candy and said, “hello carmello”. We finished our training there around the 14th of August where we were loaded on ships and going to be landing on an enemy controlled shore somewhere. There were loaded many ships as we sailed out of this port near Naples, Italy because they were transporting the entire 3rd Infantry Division.
The following night on the ship, we slept some and then was awakened by just before daylight by our battleships that were shelling the beach to soften up the enemy so we could land. Also, lots of planes were bombing the shore. They told us to hang on that we were going in. The ship dropped anchor and we hit the shore. We lined up on each side and they lowered us into the water which came up to our waist while wading on into shore. As we waded onto land, I could hear an see our troops yelling and screaming at the enemy, “come out you son of a bitch, come out and surrender!!”. The enemy was up on a big mountain just across a highway that ran parallel to the beach.
As we turned right on the road, they started shelling us first with smoke shells, then next came the real shells. We ran like madmen because they were zeroing in on us. We had forty pounds of ammo on our backs that we shedded so we could run faster. The road turned left after a few hundred feet and they could no longer see us. Shortly, we came to a house and French speaking women were ther with cold drinks for us. That’sd when we found out we had landed in France some where near Marsallies or St. Tropez in southern France the 15th day of August . This landing took place in Southerrn France from the Mediteranean sea.
After we left the house, we went on around the side of the hill still on the road where then I looked down below and there lay a wounded German Soldier. I went down and looked him over and made sure he wasn’t armed. After that, I left him and two of my buddies went down to bring him up the road so he could receive medical attention. They then found out that he had a payroll on him to pay his troops with and also found out that in his satchel contained sixteen hundred dollars.
We then continued on our way and came a little farther down the road and found that the sea was once again on our right where we found out that we had landed in a good place. The enemy had fortifications there with pill boxes armed with machine guns and mine fields facing the sea there. We landed on one side of a peninsula and the other side was where the fortifications was. Our forces knew where to land.
We traveled on into the night where we slept on the side of the road. That next morning we continued on that same road and came to the outskirts of a town of Brignoles. There we took it easy for awhile and then around noon, the major told us to go from house to house and search from top to bottom, every room and even the basement for the enemy because he thought he was trying to hide from us. About that time, a sniper was up in a tree harassing our troops. Very shortly after that, one of our tanks came up and the officer told the tank commander what was going on and to go fire an explosive shell in the tree top. He did that and not to long after that, that was the last we seen of that sniper. After that incident in that town, it seemed as if our boys were constantly on the attack from day to day. When the enemy was routed from one defensive line, they would fall back to line already prepared by slave labor, etc.
On one rainy afternoon three or four of our boys, including me, were following real close behind, I believe, five of our tanks, this was in early September, I remember when the tanks would stop I would get close to the exhaust because it felt warm to me. I was chilly because I was quite wet. While the tanks were stopped, I heard a loud noise, and learned later that the lead tank had been hit and knocked out by enemy Anti Tank gun.
A little later I heard one of our tanks firing about that time our small truck caught up with us. We got on it and the tanks move on quite fast as we went up a small hill and around a slight curve, there below the road was a knocked out tank gun, and five dead enemy soldiers, who looked like they were burned beyond recognition. We stayed there a few hours and moved on out.
Awhile on a few days later we were told that our whole battalion was going to move to another sector of the front. We were going to be transported. Some rode on big trucks and jeeps and some on tanks. About six or eight of my platoon loaded on top of a big ammunition truck. Our driver knew that would have a time keeping up so he fell in behind the convoy. We followed for awhile, then fell behind. After awhile we came to a crossroads. One went left and one went right, our driver took the right one. He went and went down through a plain. Our boys became concerned that we were lost and would soon be in enemy territory. So we pecked on the cab of the truck and got him to stop. He then turned around and went back to the crossroads, and to the left one. After awhile we found the convoy, boy we were glad.
Before our troops went back into combat again the kitchen of each company were brought up and each one prepared hot food. Our kitchen set up in a small field. After I was served I went down and sat down among some orchard trees. There I heard a loud explosion, pieces of meat or flesh fell all around me. I soon found out that one of the boys from another platoon had sat down on a personel mine that was planted beside a little building. After that we moved on. We were now entering the Vosges mountains of France. We were in these mountains for the next month and a half or more.
Our troops would be constantly on the attack, they would push the enemy off one hill and they would fall back to positions already prepared on the next hill. This went on and on until we were out of the mountains. All this time we went through forests lands, this was bad because when we were shelled by mortar & artillery, it caused a lot of tree bursts. This was very bad. It caused a lot of our boys to get wounded, and killed. I’ll mention a few more things that happened in the mountains. We came to the town of Besancon, it lay between two mountains. There was a small river running through the town, the Germans had blown the bridge across the river.
My platoon was called upon to make a bridge over the water, and to make a ladder for troops to climb up the bank on the other side. The company obtained lumber from some where. The next day after the engineers put a replacement bridge where the old one was. That day we were on top of our big ammunition truck, and we seen a crowd in the town square, and they had two French women and they cut off all their hair. We were told that the women befriended the German soldiers. Which had just retreated from the town. After that we moved on in pursuit of the enemy.
Our regiment had established a rest camp quite a ways back to the rear. Two guys from each platoon would be sent back there, where they would get showers, clean clothes and shave and have good cooked meals. This would last for several days, then they would return to the front.
Late one evening, five of us were told to take ammunition to a rifle company, we started out through the woods, we kept going and never could find the company. So we decided that we better turn back, and all at once we came under mortar fire. We began running back to the rear as fast as we could, the shells were cutting off small bushes and I jumped over several of them. By the time we got out of the forest it was dark, and they had quit shelling us. The I felt blood running off of my fingers of my right hand. I told the other boys and they took me to the company aid station which was in a cellar under a house. I had been wounded in my hand, lucky for me it was a small wound. This happened on October 27th 1944, just 3 days before my 20th birthday! A few days later my whole platoon came under artillery fire and one of our Sergeants was killed. When one or more would get killed it hurt us, but I guess we had become accustomed to all this. We just have to go on.
As we were getting about out of the mountains, we began to see smoke way ahead of us. We seen this for several days. As we came closer we seen it was coming from a town. We soon discovered that the enemy had burned the whole town. The name of the town was ST. DIE . We didn’t know why they burned it. By this time we came to mostly level land, it was quite a large plain.
The enemy retreated quite fast and we came to the town of Strausburg, France. It was on the Rhine River. They retreated across the bridge over the Rhine into Germany. After they crossed they blew the bridge. We found some prisoners that they had left in a compound. Two of them were the ones that was captured little over a week before from the anti tank platoon. Boy were they glad! One of those boys was killed later in Germany. After this we turned to a new front, which was called the Colmar Pocket. This was a pocket of enemy that had been by passed I think , by General Patton’s armored division.
Late one evening we came to the top of a fairly large mountain, there was a small road went left down what looked like a long ridge. Just after dark four of us were set with a stretcher to carry out a wounded soldier. As we came back on this road, we were stumbling along in the darkness and of course it was hurting him every time we would stumble, he would cuss us. I told him that he should be thinking about something else.
A little later that night some of us were sent to carry ammunition to one rifle company down that same road. The next morning after the enemy had been chased out, four of us were sent to the same road to bring out a dead soldier. He was shot square between the eyes, probably by a sniper.. The evening before our battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Fredrick R. Armstrong was killed by mortar fire. I don’t know who carried him out. We also discovered that the enemy, the night before had a machine gun on a very large cliff over looking the same place that we had been several times that night. I’ll never know why they didn’t mow us down.
We later moved down the main road which varied right down the side of a mountain and to a little town of Kyserburg. We never realized at the time that we would be there for 4 or 5 weeks. The town was between two hills and the road went out on a little plain but on the left there was still a hill. This was where our troops were dug in. It was right between our lines and the enemy., which of course is ‘no man’s land’.
For the next 3 to 4 weeks my platoon laid Concertina barbed wire between the lines. This was very very dangerous. The wire came in round rolls, one guy would hold on to one end and another would pull it out. Two went down side by side ,then one was put on top in the middle.We laid this wire in front of our three rifle companies, E,F, & G. This place on which the enemy was called the Colmar Pocket.
One night I was working close by the wire and my foot caught a trip wire, to an enemy mine. I heard the cap go off and the mine didn’t explode. I fell to the ground and called softly to the boys and told them I was in amine field. They told me to lay still and they would go and get the combat engineers, and have them to sweep me a road out of the mine field. “OH”—I didn’t think so much about it then, but I know now that the Lord was taking care of me. After we got all the wire laid, we booby trapped it. We would take hand grenades and pull the pin about half way out, fasten them to the wire and tie off a wire so they would pull the pin on out.
One night as we left where we were doing this I coughed some, as I had a little cold. The enemy started shelling us with mortars, the boys said, “Stop it Andy dam it, you are getting us shelled”. We got the job finished a few nights later and we standing close together. We must have been making some noise, because the enemy started shelling us with Mortars. Our platoon leader was with us that night at least one shell landed among us. It killed Corporal Shanks, critically wounded Corporal Norman Mohar and wounding Pfc, Louis Abruzzi, this was about the middle of December of 1944. we were glad to have this job done. ( actual date Dec 30th or 31st )..
We were to spend Christmas in the little town on Kayserberg. Of course this was just another day to us. We were on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Of course we slept some in between. After Christmas it began snowing. A lot of the time it was almost to our knees. While the snow was still on, we got ready to attack and push our way out of the Colmar Pocket. They painted the tanks white and issued mattress covers for us to put on over our heads. We wrapped our helmets with white cloth. This was mid January of 1945. The enemy was pushed out about the middle of February.
They retreated across the Rhine River again and blew the bridge behind them. There was a small town across the river, we watched our fighter planes dive bomb and strafe the enemy town. It had began to warm up by now .It must have been an early spring.
We were then put on trucks and took to Nancy, France where our troops were given river crossing training. After about two weeks, we moved one night back to the front lines. This time the enemy was attacked on their home turf. We found out that we were entering Germany. They retreated fast all the time for about two days. We soon found out that they were retreating to the Seigfried line which was called dragons teeth made of concrete, and lots of pill boxes with machine guns.
At this time I was told that it was my turn to leave the front and go on leave for about two weeks to Brussels, Belgium.. This had been the case since down in southern France, two boys from each platoon would go on leave about every two weeks. “Boy” was I glad, because things were really heating up as we were closer to the fortified line. Well, I stayed about one week in Brussels, and it took about another week to go and come back. I had a good time, but I ran out of money. One day while there, I was out walking and I ran into our former platoon leader, Carl Wyatt. We talked and were glad to see each other.
When I came back our troops had reached the Seigfreid line and had pushed on and crossed the Rhine River. Boy was I pleased. I rode across the Rhine on a pontoon bridge, in a big truck. They had pushed on quite a ways when I got back to the platoon. Pushing on through that part of Germany was done quite easily, because the enemy didn’t stand and fight like they once had. We pushed on from town to town. One day just after a small town had fallen to us, we were told that President Roosevelt had died, and we were told to fire one shot in the direction of Germany, in salute to him. I believe this was early April 1945.
In a few more days our troops came to Nurenburg, we found out it was a big city. I was told later that Naziism was born there. The enemy put up a quite big fight for the city. I don’t know how many troops were involved. I know that our 3rd Infantry was engaged in the battle. It took 4 to 5 days before it fell to our troops. During the battle our E company commander Captain Carpenter was killed by enemy machine gun fire. Our troops stayed a day or two there. Then we again were in pursuit of the enemy. One evening we were loaded on truck and etc. and traveled all night down the Autobahn, the German super highway.
About daylight we came to the outskirts of Munich, this was quite a big city. By that evening we rode through on a big truck, just before the city we seen fields full of enemy soldiers who had given up without a fight. They were surrendering by the thousands. As we rode along main street a column of the enemy was marching to the rear, the whole length of the city. By now it was the latter part of April.
One night came a very large late spring snow. It was really slick. I was riding on a light truck with several enemy soldiers that we were taking to the rear. And the truck slid over the hill and turned upon its side, throwing us all out. Germans and all. We had the soldiers help us to turn it back on the road. Then we took them to Munich to the compound. We stayed in the city that night, then returned to our platoon the next morning.
A few days later we enter the country of Austria. It was about the first of May. Our outfit didn’t engage the enemy in combat anymore.We went on a pieceand entered the town of Salzburg, Austria. Our division occupied the town and surrounding country side for a little over a month. While in Salzburg, I visited Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden whish was on the side of a hill. After that we traveled by truck back up through Frankfurt, Germany, We rode all day to the little town of Kassel. It had been completly destroyed by bombs during the end of the war. We stayed in some big buildings on a hill above the town. We stayed there as occupational troops until I left out about the first day of November,1945. I had my 21st birthday before I left on October 30th, 1945. When I left Kassel, I was taken to Stuttgart, Germany, where I was to join the 12th Armored Division and come home with them. Well, this started a long journey out of the Mediteranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean.
On about December 2nd, just before dark, we came into New York Harbor. It was late enough so we could see the torch of the Statue of Liberty.Boy did this look good to us. “OH”—on our way home we came into a big storm. We got off the ship and were put on a train and taken to Camp Kilmer New Jersey. After one day and night, we got on a train again and were sent to Fort George G Meade, Maryland, for our discharge. We were checked by different doctors and interviewed by others. I’ll list my campaigns that I were in combat. Begin with ,Rome-Arno, southern France, Rhineland, and Central Europe and now decorations: Good Conduct medal, Purple Heart Medal, European-African- Middle East Service Ribbon-, Distinguished Unit Badge, Croix. De Guerre with Palm, ( This is a French decoration) Bronze arrow head—( for amphibious landing) Bronze Star. Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and World war 11 victory Ribbon, also Presidential Unit Citation.
I received my Honorable Discharge on December , 7th, 1945. I went by taxi into Washington DC where I caught a train out at 9 PM/ I rode all night and got into Abington, Virginia about 8 AM the next day. Then boarded a bus and came through town of ST. Paul and Clincho, Virginia. I got off there and got a taxi home. I arrived home about 5 PM on December 8th, 1945. Amount of time I spent in the service was 24 months and 9 days in foreign service and 5 months and 8 days in the U.S.
One thing I forgot to tell. During my combat service my platoon lost 11 guys on Anzio and many wounded. Sgt Joe Bachusz was killed in France—total 12 killed.
While over seas, I was in seven foreign countries: North Africa, Italy, France, Germany< Belgium, Austria and Switzterland.
My work history is: about 22 years in the coal mines. 2 years with the Dickenson County Commisioner of Revenue, years 1958-59. A little later I worked for the Dickenson County Treasurer from 1961 through 1967. I also served out the unexpired term of Eli Southerland on the county board of Supervisors. Southerland was killed in a mining roof fall-. I was member of HAYSI Rescue Squad for more than 15 years
On August 10th 1946, I married Faye Owens.We had 5 children, 2 sons and 3 daughters. We have 10 Grand children and 8 great Grand children.
I realized soon after I got home that the Lord took care of me over there and continues to take care of me 58 years later
Everything I have said is from Memory. I have an excellent memory. I can remember things back when I was about 2 years old. Some say that they want to forget the war, well, I don’t want to forget all those awful things that I experienced in the war. There’s no fear like the fear of war. I was raised near where I live on Crooked Branch near Sandlick
James Tolby Anderson