Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pierce Tidwell and the World War II Honor Flight

Friday, April 23rd will live as a memorable day in the lives of eighty seven veterans from the west Georgia and east Alabama areas who took part in the Honor Flight to Washington DC.  “Royal Treatment” would be the apt term to describe the adventure, tour, and special guidance ladled out for those of the “Greatest Generation” who fought for world wide freedom.
   Pierce Tidwell, who served in 1944 on the USS Cepheus and its 38 mm gun crew, was part of every one of the fighting theatres back in World War II: European, Pacific, China, Burma, India plus Korea. For him this trip was, “Impressive and more.”
   Pierce’s daughter Alice Brown picked him up in Greenville and he stayed overnight with her in Fortson as it was an early 4:30 wake up call for the vets to report at the airport at 6 am in Columbus. After breakfast at the airport, the special accolades began with the crowds clapping, cheering, and waving flags not to mention councilmen, the mayor, and other political representatives there to thank the vets for their spirit, sacrifice, commitment, and service. 
   It took time to load and unload the travelers, Pierce said, because there were a lot of wheel chairs.  For every veteran there was usually one guardian.  Pierce, an active and outdoors gentleman, shared a guardian with another veteran and they both enjoyed making the acquaintance of guardian Chuck Hecht, administrator of Muscogee Home Health who stayed close and really took care of them.
   The man in charge at the airport sent the veterans off with the message, “See you tonight about 8 o’clock,” but Friday traffic bumped their ETA back three hours later just giving the vets more time for camaraderie and to tell tales.
  The travelers were met in Washington by “Big Brass” or generals who welcomed them and thanked them for their World War II service. They loaded buses and went to the World War II Memorial located on prime real estate on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
   The memorial was built to honor the 16 million who served in the armed forces, the more than 400,000 who died, plus the millions at home who supported the war effort. It was built from $197 million in donations and completed in 2004. Pierce especially enjoyed seeing the pillars for each state, Freedom Wall, and the Field of Stars. The veterans made a group picture there and will be given a video of their day long trip.
   Boarding the bus where they ate box lunches, the veterans toured the Korean Memorial which is near the Lincoln Memorial and the Reflecting Pool.  The granite memorial and impressive sculptures contain the classic message reminding viewers that “Freedom is not Free.” Pierce enjoyed seeing the Iwo Jima Memorial immortalizing the famous photo of soldiers struggling to raise the flag.
   A highlight for Pierce was touring Arlington National Cemetery a sight he had driven by but never toured.  The veterans filled four large trams and took a couple hours to go through the 690 acres where war casualties, presidents, chief justices, explorers, and historical figures are buried. “The immaculate maintenance and beautiful lay out are so impressive,” Pierce said.
   The group’s last stop was to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Pierce said he was positioned within ten feet of one end and saw everything perfectly. The veterans were amazed at the soldiers’ precision special march and salute that takes so much practice by the all volunteer group.
   This Honor Flight was precluded from being given the usual military salute by fire trucks hosing down the plane because of its late departure from Baltimore as they were delayed by Friday evening traffic on the Beltway and the illness of one veteran. But the camaraderie on the trip was special too as Pierce learned that veteran Roy Goolsby’s brother was on the flight and lives across the street from his sister Betty Brown in Manchester!
   Returning in the late hours to Columbus was the biggest treat of all as the weary veterans were met by a group of well wishers totaling 12-1300 waving flags and cheering.  A band played military songs as the veterans walked in and met their families.  Pierce had a throng of family and friends numbering over twenty five including his sister Betty Brown, Irene Matthews and Janice Garrett from Gay, nieces and nephews and their families, Piece’s daughter Alice and her daughter Ella, Pierce’s son Bo and his daughter Beth and friend Chase Hudson.
   But the day was memorable for the heroes and as Pierce said, “Grand: everything I expected and more.”

Thursday, July 8, 2010


American Legion Camp Cecil Perkerson Post 186 held its annual picnic on June 19, 2010 at the American Legion building in Greenville.  The room had been recently transformed by Toots Hobson (center, below) into a history lesson with posters and photos of twentieth century wars and battle pictures plus local memorabilia.  

The tables were decorated in festive red, white, and blue and a delicious cookout was finished with churns of homemade ice cream and pound cake.  Rob Cato and John Norris presented clips of the American Veterans interviews being conducted and Sally Neal was recognized for interviewing and publishing the memories of Meriwether veterans. Dan Gabriel was thanked for his technology wizardry and equipment used in the interviews. 

 Post leader Buster McCoy (right) recognized and named Edward Hobson (left) the Legionnaire of the Year 2009/2010 for his Outstanding Service and Dedication to Post 186.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Greenville’s American Legion FDR Post 186 has been conducting interviews at Camp Cecil Perkerson of our World War II veterans for the Library of Congress’ Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans’ History Project

The following interview of Nathaniel R. Crowder, better known as Dickie Crowder, was conducted on January 14, 2010. Mr. Crowder passed away on March 5th.
In his own words, this is Part One of his interview.

Dickie Crowder:
I grew up on Crowder Road, Warm Springs and have been there all my life except for my military overseas tour. I attended elementary school at Durand School through ninth grade and then high school for three years at Manchester High graduating in May, 1940.

Everybody worked at scratching out a living, times were better after the Great Depression. I was tired of school and begged not to have to go to school but my parents wanted me to be a county agent. When I was digging foxholes in Italy I said if I ever get home I am going to stay at home. My sweetheart waited for me, we married, fixed up the tenant house on the farm and have been living there sixty years.

I didn’t enlist; I was drafted. I was attending West Georgia College and had been there two years. I paid for college with money I made in 4-H Club showing beef cattle. I showed Herefords; there were only three breeds then: Angus, Hereford, and Shorthorn.

I was drafted. The draft started in1940 and men would go in and get twelve months training. Every month a new group would go in. The Japs hit Pearl Harbor December 1941 and I was notified in the mail to come in. Draft classifications went from 1A to 4F. In June, 1942, I was at West Georgia College and they had lowered the draft age from 21 to 18 and colleges had a quota of men to send into the military. 

Dickie Crowder in uniform

I went to Fort McPherson in Atlanta where they examined me then let me come home for four or five days. They issued us uniforms, then sent us to Camp Wolters, Mineral Wells, Texas, the Infantry Replacement Training Center. We had to walk and run everywhere we went-like to run us to death!

I spent fourteen weeks there. I was trained to shoot the Garand M1 Browning automatic 30 caliber, 30 caliber lightweight and heavy weight machine guns, 60 mm and 81 mm machine guns-the implements the infantry toted everywhere. The heavy machine guns even had a water cooling thing on them. We shot Springfield 1917 rifles too and shot tank grenades with it. Basic training did not teach saluting or parading, but trained us to go fight.

After fourteen weeks, we were sent to Pennsylvania’s Shenango Valley on troop train then to a tar paper shack in Rhode Island as it was near Newport News, our port of embarkation. I walked off the train and onto a ship July 13, 1943 that sailed the next morning and in seven days we were in Casablanca, French Morocco. We unloaded and tried to find out where we were. (They never told you where you were going because the enemy might find out.) Got the GIs on a train and they took us through the country for five or six days. It was a double header coal burning steam engine. We went through the Atlas Mountains crossing Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia to Iran and Algeria. We were covered by the black coal smoke from going through hundreds of tunnels.

Outside of Iran we joined the 34th Infantry Division, an anti tank company of the 133rd Infantry Regiment. They had fought through Africa and lost half their men
That was August 1943. We slept on the ground, saw so many shooting stars, and had the chance to swim in Mediterranean Sea.

We went to battle training. Our artillery would fire barrages and we’d move up and pray the boys moved their guns right so we would not get hit. After training, we came back to Iran and prepared trucks, guns, and equipment for the invasion of Italy under Commanding General Charles Bolte, a two star general.

The Africa campaign squad I was in was an anti tank squad of six men counting the truck driver. We fought with thirty mm guns and learned they just bounced off German tanks. They we were in the desert of Africa, sandy and windy and dusty and we saw this jeep coming with a red tag with two silver stars and I said, I bet that’s General Patton. The jeep stopped and this sergeant went to him as he was the high ranking soldier there and saluted him and Patton asked him some questions: “Where’s your rifle, son?” Sgt. Wiggs got his rifle and presented arms and Patton took it and couldn’t see through barrel because of the dust. Patton threw the rifle on the ground and cussed and told him if he had to fire, he couldn’t, he’d get killed and no one would care.”

We got our equipment ready for the invasion of Italy. We invaded on the 9th September 1943 in Salerno. We were not an invasion force but were equipped to invade. The Germans had retreated so we had a beach head to land on-an amphibious landing. They knew old Dickie was coming. On the ships we manned the guns because there was only a skeleton crew so we manned the twin 20 mm antiaircraft gun. It took three or four days in convoy going slow to get to Italy.

Going over we saw only one plane, probably taking pictures. Each boat had a cable with a balloon up at about 150 feet to keep planes from dive bombing you. Planes have to dodge the balloon and get thrown off course to get to the boat.

We landed at Salerno beachhead without trouble and went to our area and got grouped up and began to chase Germans. We were the rear guard action. We were sitting on top of a 2 ½ ton GMC six by sixes, Dodges came later but couldn’t climb the mountains. The Dodge trucks had wenches and we had to use the wenches to pull them up the mountains. But there was no need to go into the mountains because there were no tanks there.

We chased Germans out of area south and east of Naples. Every two or three months we’d get relieved for a weeks rest fifteen miles back of front lines. If Germans happened to break lines, we had to be ready. While we rested we would clean equipment and get new replacements for the men killed or wounded.

One time traffic was bumper to bumper and all of sudden, boom, boom, and German guns shot toward us and a shell hit fifty yards away. We scrambled off the truck and start digging foxholes; we could see the flash of guns but what we were hearing was delayed. Then our artillery threw a shell into them. The German blew up bridges, culverts just about anything to delay our advancing. Progress, the news reports would say, was measured in yards. We worked our way through mountains and over the Volturno River-it was either mountains or mud. In January we made it to Cassino.

Cassino was where the big monastery was, the Germans had a mainline defense across Italy and Cassino took four months to capture. There was a river in the valley down from Cassino and we couldn’t get across river at that time. We were sent to the mountains to be litter bearers and bring back the wounded. Then they pulled us away from there and set us up with anti tank guns 1000 yards out of Cassino expecting the Germans to break through and our job was to stop them. After a week of watching the monastery and the German jeeps going back and forth, they called and wanted us to shoot down the steeples that the artillery shells had not hit. We knew it would bring down German artillery fire on us. I was on my gun.

This old house we were staying in was bound to get shelled. The third day they shelled us good and heavy. A couple men were wounded but nothing serious. When the barrage was over here came this Italian mother with her thirteen year old daughter. She pulled up the girl’s dress and down panties to show us that most of the girl’s buttocks were blow away by shrapnel. There was no bleeding because the hot metal shrapnel sealed it, the girl was not crying because of shell shock. The people had been hiding under the house. We doctored it with sulphur and sent her to medics.

After 2-3 weeks there we were moved to a staging area. Rumors were flying that we were “Going home” to tour the U.S. selling war bonds. But it was just rumors, we were there to get us ready for Anzio Beach. I came down with malaria fever and they shipped me to a hospital. American nurses gave us pajamas and pills. I was in the hospital for ten days. I asked to be put back in outfit but had to be put in the “repo depo” or replacement depot down in Naples where soldiers unloaded from their boats and were sent to the different units. We could see Mount Vesuvius there as it erupted.

Meals: Two meals a day. We stood in chow lines all day-five to six hours in a chow line. But when we were mobile there were K rations and Z rations. The K ration came in a box sealed in heavy wax, like a Cracker Jack box size, with breakfast, lunch, and supper units. A can of potted meat, four crackers, package soluble coffee, pack sugar, and four cigarettes. The dinner unit had same thing but lemonade and cheese and the supper unit meat was meat and vegetable hash or stew. We got onions from the Italians or potatoes or stole chickens. We had a gas stove made by Coleman that would hold ½ pint gasoline to heat water for coffee. We threw the soluble coffee away and got ground coffee in twenty pound cans. We could heat water for coffee in coffee cans holding it with pliers over the heat. I learned dirt won’t kill you. The coffee was dirty but still coffee.

On to Anzio, Rome, and Victory
The war in Italy was fought by the U.S. Infantry and the British and it slugged through mud and over mountains. They used mules to bring us ammunition, food, and water to the front lines. The Germans had laid mines everywhere to catch us even as they retreated.

Anzio was south of Rome and there were six divisions of Germans there that stopped our invasion. We unloaded on ducks and were the first platoon when we heard a shell coming. We had heard of the Anzio Express, a gun the Germans had built on a railroad car and then backed it into a tunnel where the air corps could not reach it. The gun killed five of our men and they had just been put in our company and had seen no action.

We sat at the coastline or Beachhead for 2-3 weeks before being sent to the main line of defense to replace the troops there. I stayed there 43 days and nights in a dugout-no bath, no shave, no change of clothes, and what little water we got we made coffee out of. But on May 23rd we made the big push and broke through. What started in January was finally over and the Germans were badly beaten so we moved toward Rome. We were told we were the first army in history to have captured Rome from the South.

The Allies liberated Rome on the 5 day of June 1944 and the crowds welcomed us cheering. We went though Rome the next day at 40 mph in our truck. We got this hard candy in our rations and the people were waving and cheering us on and we threw them the candy. We could see the Coliseum in distance. Then it was back to rear guard action as the Germans were retreating and putting up a good bit of resistance.

We stayed in the Apennine Mountains that winter. There is a big valley between Florence and Bologna and we wanted to break there before winter set in. It snowed the first of December and we didn’t see the ground until the first of April. It was stand still action with a lot of artillery firing.
We had a three day battle before we got to Liverno and Pisa, but the Germans threw up a strong hold and we had a battle with them. We got in the middle of town and were stuck where the convoy stopped, and we could hear and see a German plane coming. We jumped off our truck and ran to the doorway of a building and thank goodness it was open. The pilot kicked out antipersonnel bombs (like grenades) and they were dropping down everywhere. Our truck driver was wounded by small shrapnel.

We went on with little resistance. The Italian countryside was not pretty. They tell me Italy is a pretty country but it was too torn up then. In Pisa, we went right by the Leaning Tower and up the interstate highway-they already had an autostrasse. But we turned toward the mountains to relieve an outfit that was fighting there and give them rest. I was promoted to truck driver and one day a special service officer called our company and wanted to go into Florence. “Crowder, you’ll be a good one to take us.” The officer knew the way into Florence and directed me to his meeting and I had to wait 1 ½ to 2 hours so I wandered around and peeked into buildings. I was a country boy and didn’t know the history of Florence. I did not see the Ponte Vecchio Bridge with the shops, but I saw this cathedral with lots of art work. Time was up and I took the officer back and went back to the company and into the mountains. It was late September and we wanted to break the German main line defense and get out of mountains. They stopped us. We were moved around, slept on the ground when we could sleep. 

 Two men in a dugout at Montecatini
We were with rifle companies or just behind them. One sunshiny afternoon all action that night and daytime had been quiet so I and six litter bearers put white crosses with adhesive tape on our helmets and left behind all our weapons even pocket knives. We worried if German machine guns would open up and mow us down. We heard “halt” and three German soldiers who spoke in English asked if we were looking for our comrade. “Got any cigarettes?” they asked and we loaded them down with them. We talked about when the war would be over and we all hoped it would. We saw a human side of the Germans and they thought like we did, we just all wanted to go home. The Germans pointed exactly where to go to find the wounded man with his leg torn up that was on patrol the night before. As we left, we looked back, but the soldiers had disappeared-they were very good at camouflage.

Then winter set in. The snow looked like baseballs falling. Things were at a standstill. But we had better clothing than our first winter and good sleeping bags.

April 16, 1945, we broke through and went into the Po Valley. My unit, the 133rd Infantry Regiment was the first troop into the Po Valley or what we called the “Promised Land.” We saw big Navy trucks and boats going to put a pontoon bridge over the Po River. We started toward Milan where the big opera house was. This was May and we were told the war was over, but when we would drive by convoys of Germans, we didn’t know if they would shoot or if they knew it was over.

 The Po Valley was the "Promised Land" to GIs as WWII neared its end. Crowder took this photo from his truck as he crossed the pontoon bridge over the Po River ferrying POWs.

Finally there was no more fighting. About 3 one morning we loaded our truck and moved out driving 170 miles back to Bologna to the pontoon bridge. We moved POWS to a compound-driving for three days straight. The Germans were ready to give up. I lay down on the cement floor at my company and slept twelve hours. I woke up, ate, and I went back to sleep. The next morning had to go get more POWS.
There really was no celebrating; everyone was somber. There were various rumors that the SS troops, Hitler’s elite troops were going to raise hell and we were to be sent to stop them, but thank goodness they never showed up.

I never learned to speak much Italian other than put my knuckle into my cheek and say buono. The Italian people and Partisans finished driving the Germans out and they placed Mussolini’s bullet filled body and his mistress on display. At a service station an Italian had pictures of Mussolini and his concubine hanging by the feet. I tried to buy them, but he refused to sell them. That would be a souvenir. Over the years friends have asked what souvenirs I brought home; I really just wanted to get Dickie home!

We moved to the city of Torino and camped. There were older men who had been in service awhile and who could have gotten out 3 or 4 times that were sent home first but they still had to have replacements. There is a lot of planning to do to end a war. We waited around and cleaned equipment and generally refused to do calisthenics. We played ball though.

I drove trucks from Torino to Genoa and the Italian Riviera for the rest of my time overseas unloading soldiers and going back for more-there was no time to rest or play. We were there a month before we moved across the northern part of Italy to Trieste. From Trieste we moved to Austria and Yugoslavia. There were a lot of street fights and they wanted us to be MPs, but I’m not going to arrest the first soldier no matter how drunk he is because he would try to kill me. I would ride right past unless he had fallen and I could take him back to his outfit. The Italians and Yugoslavs had big parades that ended in street fights that we were supposed to monitor.

Finally they took us by train to Rome (which I didn’t get to see) and then to Naples to get on the boat to go home. We waited three weeks for boat to get back to take us. We got home (U.S.) and unloaded from the troop carrier on same gangplank at the Hampton Road point of embarkation that we left on. Then it was back to Camp Patrick Henry, then into rail cars going to different parts country. I went to Fort Gordon near Augusta and on 9 November 1945 was discharged from the army six days after I got off boat in Newport News.

From time I left Fort Mac to getting back to Atlanta and saw my sweetheart, I never saw a person I knew in my life. Met and made friends with soldiers from all over the United States though. Woodbury, GA was stamped on some of the boxes that got to us.

The Dangers
I always felt fortunate to have fought against Germans instead of Japs. Thinking back over the greatest dangers I was in: once we heard a German shell when we were crossing the Volturno River and we caught it. We had to ford the river to get away and our truck was the second truck to go over. Our driver loosened the fan belt to help it go through. The Germans had a machine gun 200 yards away that was shooting over the tops of our heads. He couldn’t lower his gun evidently and we worked under those bullets all night long. We used cables and wenches and got the truck across.

The next day was the first day I saw a German aircraft dive bombing a bridge. They came down the valley no higher than the roof tops of a one story building. The pilot would wave at us, drop bombs, and then disappear.

The thing I was most afraid of was shells coming at you. You could hear them coming and soon learned if one was coming directly at you. The shells would hit the ground and shrapnel blown around 20 to 25 feet where it burst and riddled. 150 feet away, you were safe. The tubular mortar shells at Anzio Beach were awful. Two men from the rifle company and three from gun squad stayed in a foxhole all day and just moved from day to night duty. Every night someone would go back 750 yards to get rations. One night it was quiet and I got out to relieve myself and I heard something thump, thump. I dove back in the foxhole where the three men were and just got in when two mortar shells hit not fifteen feet away. I heard the sound when they fired-doesn’t make much sound. But we had to get water and rations, and they constantly fired flares to try to spot us.

We had a battle one afternoon when they put us at a spot where they were expecting the Germans to attack at daylight. We were in a big old farmhouse and we set our gun on the road where the Germans would travel so we could knock out their tanks. We dug our guns in a circle, 18 inches deep to protect the tires. We dug and dug and found chips of pottery and pitched them out of the way. We got the truck into a garden area, put our camo net over and went to the ground floor where the livestock were and used their feeding troughs for beds. Our driver got Italian wine and drank so much he passed out. The Germans shelled us at three in morning. I drug the driver into the house as he was laying on ground. The shutters were closed on the upper floors and nobody answered, but about mid morning we heard the squeaking of shutters opening. “Americans?” They could tell by our uniforms we weren’t German and they hugged and kissed us and we got in with the Italians pretty good. The mother cooked us a spaghetti dinner. I watched her make the dough and strips and she used a rock oven and cooked bread. Her spaghetti was more like lasagna pasta strips.

Once we got into an olive grove and got into a “Bouncing Betty,” a small land mine or tin can loaded with metal scraps and a cylinder with a charge of dynamite. The Germans had rigged it with trip wires and a charge and it would bounce off the ground. We had a man get cut right in two the first night.

Seeing so much death had an affect. Our commander went crazy as he had lost a lot of men in Africa. Some soldiers refused to go back into battle and would walk right toward the Germans. I saw two men shoot themselves to keep from going back into battle-one shot himself with a Thompson in foot.

Living on C rations was no picnic. They came with three cans: one of meat, beans or stew or hash and hard tack biscuits that were so hard we would throw them in puddles and they would still be there days later.

I saw some modes and practices of farming that were fifty years behind us-plowing fields with an ox pulling wooden plows shaped from a crooked tree. They had huge hogshead barrels and we saw girls walking carrying these on their heads.

The Italians had weak wine with all their meals-they were very poor and their country torn to bits. I didn’t see many Italians as they all left the areas where the fighting was. When we did see families, they always asked for salt and soap.

We were paid every three months $42 a month then they added 10% to that when we went overseas. I had my paycheck sent home. Others were paid in cash and most gambled playing poker or craps. One guy asked me to keep his money for him as he had won 600 dollars gambling. If you didn’t gamble there wasn’t a point in having money on the front lines-we could not even buy Coca Cola but they would try to get us Cokes twice a month.

Back home
I dreamed of being home for three years and what I was going to do and say. Then I get home and I am altogether different. My family said I talked blue breeze I was just so relieved to be alive and home. I almost didn’t recognize family members who had grown up.

I had called my girl friend in Atlanta and told her what time my bus was leaving from Augusta with soldiers. I remember seeing her and her friend come in the bus station and we had a good embrace and kiss. She had written me everyday, but mail call was every two or three weeks and then I would get a handful of mail. My sweetheart wrote everyday, my mother wrote twice a week and my aunt and sister wrote every week. I am sure a lot letters never got to me, but I was very fortunate: a lot of close calls, artillery and mortar barrages, I dreaded most the machine guns you couldn’t get away from, but snipers were not after buck privates! Shipped home on the boat, I was promoted to corporal then made staff sergeant and finished as supply sergeant for our company. 

Dickie Crowder's mother gave him a special book of prayer published by the Methodist Church when he left to go overseas. He carried the book in his jacket for three years while he was in WWII.

Men with a 57mm gun

 Crowder met and made friends with soldiers from all over the United S. The two shown above are Gerald Betro from Walpole, MA and Willard Wiggs from Onawa, IA. They were with Crowder for most of his time in Italy. Most veterans interviewed always remember seeing a familiar face or old friends when serving in WWII, but Dickie Crowder said from the time he left Fort Mac to getting back to Atlanta, he never saw a person he knew.