Deadrick Interview


Interview of Robert Deadrick, by James Triesler, conducted at the Virginia War Memorial on October 24, 2007.


Deadrick: My name is Bob Deadrick and I live in Richmond, Virginia.  I had my 90th birthday just a few days ago.  My unit was the Seventh Armored Division that was engaged in Europe right on through the war, from a few days after D-Day until the very end of activities in Europe.


Triesler: How old were you and in what year did you go into the service?


Deadrick: I went in 1944. Well, actually it was more like 1942, and two years of training in the states.  And I went to several camps in different states in the United States.  The Division was organized in Camp Polk, Louisiana.  And traveled to California to the desert out there and trained.  At that time we thought we were going to be activated and go straight to North Africa. They were having North Africa battles at that time, but it never did turn out that way.


Triesler: Now were you always part of the 7th Armored?   Did you know you were going to be in the Armored Division when you entered the army?


Deadrick: Well, I was at VMI and graduated in 1940 and on graduation we knew we were going to be going, because the war had already started, but they did not call me to come and go in [the army] until two years later.  And in the meantime, I worked for the TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) as an engineer and got a sort of a toehold before I had to go in.  In 1942 I went in.


Triesler: Now when you were serving in Europe, did you ever get to see General Patton?


Deadrick: A couple of times.  Once was when we were in England for a few weeks before crossing the Channel, General Patton spoke to the entire assembled Division.  And he was a character, gave a lot of practical tips on what to do and what not to do.  For instance, on a trip across Europe as a Division, their orders generally were shoot at anything that’s questionable at all.  Pick a fight, don’t try to avoid it.  Practical things like that.  The men needed to know from the very top that that was the policy of the Division, to be mean.  An armored division was mostly tanks and heavy armored equipment that was intended to be moved quickly past and change direction and take on anything you encounter.


Triesler: Did you have to move artillery with the armored division?


Deadrick: The artillery with an armored division was light artillery, 105 Howitzer mounted on tank chassis.  And there were 6 guns to a battery and 3 batteries to a battalion and there were 3 battalions of artillery, which is 18 guns, 3 battalions of infantry and 3 battalions of tanks, plus the supporting units.


Triesler: And did you say that you had seen Patton at other times also?


Deadrick: Well I almost saw him one time. We were crossing the Seine River just south of Paris and when I pulled up to the spot where we were supposed to take off in pontoon boats and establish a bridgehead on the other side of the water, he was there. I didn’t see him, but there was some right intense artillery fire coming in and I heard that he said “I want this bridge finished by sundown” and right about that time several general shells came in and everybody got down in the ground, hidden, stood up, brushed themselves off, and he said “well by tomorrow anyhow.” I missed that little encounter.


Triesler: What was your job with the 7th Armored?


Deaderick: The Division was split into three units.  And each of the three units formed a column going across Europe through France, Belgium, and Holland.  And the column was lead by a few tanks, a few half-tracks, and behind them the remainder of the column.  My job was field artillery forward observer.  My job was to accompany the lead elements and in every situation where we encountered resistance to be in a position where I could observe everything and get on the radio and call my battalion which was a mile behind and have them go into action and start shooting. And then my job was to adjust the artillery fire onto the targets.


Triesler: Did you have certain places you would try to go to that would help you observe?  By that I mean, in your daily routine did you look for certain things to help you see better?


Deadrick: Well there was two different kinds of wars was fought. Going through Europe in the first half of the battle it was always moving forward.  Forward, forward, forward.  Moving right on from one town to the next, stopping whenever there was resistance and having a small battle, in some cases a big battle. And that was a mobile condition. Then there was the winter campaign when things bogged down, except for the Battle of the Bulge. And in the spring the resistance was nearly as strong and also as we advanced into Germany the Germans were more resolute and they would back up and have an opportunity to form much larger units to oppose Americans and that would have a stable condition where we’d be for a week or two weeks in a regular battle going on. Usually break through, as a matter of fact always break through, and move rapidly and then have another good size battle.


Triesler: Would you yourself have to go up to church steeples to be an observer or trees or steeples, or what would you do?


Deadrick: In this last half of the war in Germany I did that all the time. When we would pull up in a stable condition I would be lucky enough to search around and find a good place to observe from so I could see and set up my radio and expect to be there for a while. And that was much different from the mobile war that took place all through France.


Triesler: Did you have to worry about snipers or did you have much encounter with them?


Deadrick: Very occasionally. On two occasions we lost two or three men and that’s all. It wasn’t a really big thing.


Triesler: Would someone be with you to help protect you while you were observing?


Deadrick: No, I had a radio operator and a jeep driver that we went together as sort of a team and I had 5 or 6 men in a half track who would usually be a half mile behind the lead elements. And they would be a relay station. I would give my orders, they would pick it up, the small radios that I had would not reach all the way back to the battalion. They would relay team. And in stable conditions they were also a survey team, we surveyed a lot of the targets.


Triesler: Now where were you during the Battle of the Bulge?


Deadrick: I was in Holland when the battle started and I took a jeep and driver and we were ordered to go to the town of St. Vith in Belgium when the battle started. I believed that the Division would follow within 24 hours. That was on the 17th of December, the day that the Germans attacked, and we went south and encountered Germans on the way.  We never got to the town of St. Vith, and from then on we were constantly engaged.  I was never out of the battle all the way through from the very beginning to the very end.


Triesler: Did you encounter a lot of German tanks in this time period?


Deadrick: Not as many as I thought I would.  From time to time they would attack or defend themselves using tanks.  But it was usually infantry and small mounted field guns, antitank weapons, and of course they had a few of the great big 88 millimeter German 88’s, famous for being such a high velocity gun.


Triesler: Were you in foxholes a lot at this time?  What protection did you have?


Deadrick: Very seldom because it was a moving division.  It went all the way through France into Luxembourg. Turned north and went into Holland and from there, like I said, the Battle of the Bulge started.  We had two or three weeks of real intensive, hard luck type fighting.  And then we crossed the river, the big river.


Triesler: The Rhine?


Deadrick: Yeah, right at the point where they had the Remagen Bridge and from then on it was sort of a break through and [we would] stop and fight and break through again.


Triesler: I know a man who lives in Maryland named Demetri Paris and he was at that bridge.


Deadrick: I think it was the 9th Armored that actually retook that bridge and sent people across at great risk.


Triesler: Yes, that’s what Mr. Paris told me.  They were there and they were the first group to take the bridge.


Deadrick: I think we came in a day after they took the bridge.  My Division arrived and we were there probably three or four days waiting until they could build pontoon bridges across.


Triesler: Do you remember where you were when the war ended?


Deadrick: Actually, I was on the shores of the Baltic Sea.  I was doing reconnaissance up there.  The war was winding down.  It was not real intense fighting. That’s where I was.  As matter of fact, my driver and I pulled out into the open and were amazed to know we were that close. There was a big ship anchored a few hundred yards out and a little ship docked.  We got in the boat and went out to the ship.  It had been deserted so we captured the ship and called ourselves heroes.


Triesler: So it was a German ship?


Deadrick: It was a German Tanker.  The war ended a very few days after that.


Triesler: Did you get to meet any of the Russian soldiers after the war?


Deadrick: I did.  We were held up in a small town in Germany for a few days after the war ended.  We knew we were in a Russian area, and that they would be coming in to take over and we would leave, which is what happened.  When they came in, they came into this town in two great big trucks and there must have been two great big soldiers in each truck.  Just packed in like sardines. And when they got in and got out they ordered every citizen out “get out, take care of yourselves, we are taking over your town.” We had been there for several days, the Americans had, making friends with the German people. [They were] very nice. But the Russians were totally different, they didn’t speak to each other, they didn’t speak to the civilians, to us, they just moved like little machines going about their business. The Germans wanted to give us anything they could. They gave me a great big beautiful silver bowl; they didn’t want the Russians to have it.


Triesler: So you did get to meet some of the Germans at the end of the war?


Deadrick: Yes, I did, and we were there for three or four weeks after the war, waiting for transportation home.


Triesler: Did you take many prisoners near the end of the war?


Deadrick: Personally no, that was not my business.  I saw many, many hundreds of them and I picked up some of the things that they discarded [that] they knew they wouldn’t need. For instance a real nice knife, a camera, things like that.  They were off to a prison camp.  They just threw their personal belongings aside rather than carry them.


Triesler: Were you able to bring those things home?


Deadrick: This particular knife I brought home and I use it in my shop.  I took it on a Sunday School picnic once, after the war, and some boys were throwing the knife at a tree to see if they could stick it in, and broke it in half. That was the end of that particular souvenir.        


Triesler: Did you write a lot of, and receive a lot of letters, after the war?


Deadrick: I received [mail] very frequently, yes I did. But, I didn’t get to write much.  For instance I was wounded and I was in the hospital and it was weeks before I was able to write. Of course the folks back home didn’t know [I was wounded].


Triesler: Were you married during the war?


Deadrick: Yes, I was married a year before I went overseas.  So, during this time I was in the hospital and I couldn’t write.  I was shot in the backside and had to lie on my stomach. Wasn’t a good situation; I couldn’t write.


Triesler: What happened the day that you got wounded?


Deadrick: It’s too much of a story to tell the whole thing.


Triesler: Were you awarded any medals for your service?


Deadrick: Yes, twice I got the Bronze Star award and I was awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds I received.


Triesler: When you wrote home did you have any kind of a code to get around the censors?


Deadrick: Oh no, we didn’t try to do that. It didn’t seem important really, and my letters were not long and detailed. I was told after the war, and it was during the war too, to act as a…to check the letters that were going out. What did we call that?


Triesler: A censor.


Deadrick: A censor.  So, all the letters that my men wrote, I had to go through them. And they didn’t try to sneak any information out. But, if they were we just took a big black ink [pen] and marked out what they were trying to send.


Triesler: What was your rank? You mentioned “your men.”


Deadrick: Well, I was a lieutenant. I never got to be a captain ‘til the very end of the war.


Triesler: Do you recall when you left the US anything about where you left from or the ship you went over on?


Deadrick:  Our division, 15 or 16 thousand went on one ship, the Queen Mary, and instead of it going in a convoy this ship was so fast it could take a zig zag trip and made it real fast.


Triesler: So you weren’t worried about submarines?


Deadrick: We were worried. We were real worried. And of course being packed in like that if a sub had attacked it would have been a horrible, horrible loss. The first day out of NY they test fired a cannon that they had up on the deck. And everybody below deck, the whole ship shook, thought we had been attacked


Triesler: Did you have many men per room or what was it like on the boat?


Deadrick: Well it was like a big auditorium. Each deck, several decks down. And they were stacked 3 or 4 high, I don’t know what you call them beds or bunk beds.


Triesler: Were they more solid beds or were they like a canvas hammock almost?


Deadrick: I can’t remember.


Triesler: Did you get seasick or anything?


Deadrick: No, I didn’t at least. I guess some did.


Triesler: So you went over to England?


Deadrick: Went to England, landed in Scotland and took a train to the Southern part of England. I can’t remember the name of the town, right outside the town was Stonehenge. And we were there for several days, several weeks actually. We got to see a lot of the English people, did some training in England.


Triesler: Were they nice, the English people?


Deadrick: They were very nice. We were paying them for everything we did, every time we went out the U.S. government paid them. When the tanks rolled on the streets and ruined them we replaced them.


Triesler: Could you listen to radio and be entertained when you were in England, or even in Europe?


Deadrick: Yes, in training we could.

Triesler: It wasn’t American radio though was it?


Deadrick: No it was typical English radio, morning broadcasts. On the continent we couldn’t do that because I think it was a security thing that it gave away your position.



Triesler: Did you have any problems with German planes when you were on the continent or England?


Deadrick: They were a constant nuisance, but that’s all. They weren’t a real hazard to constantly being attacked. They would have 2 or 3 planes come over and attack real quick and fast as they could fly away because the air was dominated by the American Air Force.


Triesler: Did you have air raid sirens you’d worry about?


Deadrick: They had that in England, but when we went on the continent there was nothing like that.


Triesler: When you went across the Channel what kind of boat would that have been?


Deadrick: Uh, I think it was an LST tank carrying ship. Of course the whole division couldn’t go on the ship but this ship could come right on up to the beach and unload right on the beach. We wouldn’t have to wade through the water like D-day people did.


Triesler: So how long after D-day was it when you went over?


Deadrick: We left NY harbor on June the 6th, day of the Invasion.  It was a big relief to know that the Invasion had already happened and we would not be in that. Of course we should have known that an armored division would not be used for that.


Triesler: What did you end up doing for your career after the war?


Deadrick: When I got out of the service I went back to Lexington, had been very close to several of my professors and one of them told me “you come back here and I’ll find you a job.” Which he did.  He called a company in Cleveland, Ohio, big engineering company and they said send him up here we’ll take him. So I went on up there after a few days, and spent eight years in Cleveland. One day they called me to the office and said “Deadrick we want you to go to our San Fran office and take over the structural division there.” I thought that was great, but when I went home and talked it over with my wife and we decided we really didn’t want to live in San Francisco. I knew I would never get another opportunity like that with that company and I had always wanted to live in Virginia.  So I just took my vacation that year, came to Richmond, looked around, got a job with a well known, prominent architect in the area. And that’s where I stayed.


Triesler: Were you born in the Richmond area?


Deadrick: I was born in Stanford, North Carolina, and lived in Winston-Salem for a few years and moved to Fredericksburg about the time I was in grade school. And that’s where I left to go to Lexington to go to school.


Triesler: May we use this interview as part of our project?


Deadrick: I’d be happy to have you do that. I’d be proud.


Triesler: Is there anything else you’d like to share about the war?


Deadrick: I don’t think so.  I try not to think about it too much. Some incidents were very harrowing that I find hard to talk about. [I am] going to try to dodge those.