Permission to add the Louthan Interview to It Took A War has been granted by the Louthan family and the Handley Regional Library Archives.

 

 

Interview of World War II Veterans conducted by Harold B. Phillips

for the Handley Library Archives

and the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society

 

Today is January 20, 2004

 

The Veteran is Mr. William H. Louthan, Jr.

 

 

Iím Bill Louthan, Winchester, Virginia, raised here most of my life, age 80.

 

Your date of birth?

July 12, 1923. Was actually born in Pennsylvania, lived there temporarily, moved back to Winchester, lived here the rest of my life. Still here.

 

Did you go to school in Winchester?

Graduated from Handley High School.

 

Were you in the Cadet Corps at Handley?

No. They did not have a cadet corps at Handley when I was there. I graduated from Handley in 1941.

 

I spent some time in the National Guard while I was in high school. I joined the National Guard for a year or two before I graduated. In fact I was in the National Guard in Headquarters Company of the National Guard 116th, when they were taken into service. Due to the fact that I was a senior in school that year, in fact there were several of us going to school, they gave us the opportunity to get discharged and finish school or go with the National Guard. So I decided to get my discharge and finish high school.

 

I was drafted later on, in February 1943. I answered the draft and went in as a draftee.

Ended up in Fort Knox, Kentucky; that was the home base for armor recruits. Took my basic training there.

 

What was that like?

Just the basic training. March, march, march. It was the basic camp for the Armor School and Armored Divisions. But we didnít do much riding, we did mostly walking. When I finished basic training, the last armored division had already been formed. So, they didnít have anything for us to do, so 3,000 of us ended up in a replacement camp in Kentucky.

 

They told us when we went in, ďwell youíre going to be here for a few weeks or few months.Ē We ended up spending six months there. We went over everything from basic training for six more months. We were just a bunch of replacements; they had no place for us.

 

Did you feel prepared with a double dose of training?

We didnít know what weíre being prepared for, tell you the truth. That was Camp Campbell, Kentucky, which is now Fort Campbell. That was not the most pleasant place to be in the summer time. It was hot down south there. We finally moved out from there and ended up at Fort Meade in Maryland where we were getting prepared to go overseas. We went through all the preliminary stuff there, getting your clothes all marked, getting ready for shipment overseas.

 

Did you get a leave home in the process?

I got a leave home actually before I left Camp Campbell. From then on we were in.

 

How did it feel coming home in uniform?

It was a little strange. I only had the one leave. That was a fast one. We didnít spend too much time at Fort Meade. We ended up at Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts. We were all there just waiting to go overseas. We sat around doing nothing, practically. Barracks bags packed and ready to move. I guess I spent just about a year in the states altogether. We got on ship in Boston Harbor to go overseas in February, 1944 and got out in the harbor and the ship broke down. Took us all back to camp again. We spent two more weeks there and got back on the same ship again. That was February. We took off for England and landed in England.

 

Did you go in convoy?

Yes, we traveled in convoy through the North Atlantic. We were on the ship for 14 days.

 

Did you get outside?It must have been cold.

It was cold. It wasnít too bad. We got outside because I got seasick in the compartment in the fourth deck below. I stayed outside as much as I could to keep from getting seasick.

 

We landed in England and went into a replacement camp over there. They evidently had replacements all over that island. We didnít do a whole lot there. We did a lot of basic stuff, like we did in basic training, just waiting for the invasion to come off.

 

What crew position were you trained for in the Armor?

No particular position. They put you where they want you. They put on your records what youíre trained in and what youíre qualified in.

 

Did they have you as an armored infantryman?

Just armored. I was qualified in a couple weapons, a machine gun and things like that. We waited around camp there in England. We could tell things were getting close because there was an awful lot of airplanes going over at night toward France.

 

Did they let you go around and visit places in England?

We didnít have too much chance for that; things were pretty tight; travel was tight, that island was getting pretty full of people. Sometimes they would have little tours we had an opportunity to go on, but I wasnít too much interested in that at that time.

 

We knew where we were going. We found out through the grapevine that we were set up in replacement packages Ė 100 men and officers Ė and we found out later that we were already assigned to a division. When that division landed in France then we started moving toward the port of embarkation to join the division we were already assigned to.

 

I landed in France in the beachhead. They took us in boats. They didnít have any docks then. It was eight days after the invasion Ė the 14th. We went in and joined our division that we were assigned to.

 

Did you have to wade ashore?

We hit dry land. Those little boats they brought us in on we could get pretty close. They

had pretty well cleared out a lot of the barriers by that time.

 

Was there a lot of debris?

There was an awful lot of debris on the beach at that time. They had ropes up marking

passage ways for us to move inland. We were told not to get out of the passage way

because the beach was still littered with uniforms, trash and vehicles that were still

there from the invasion. We walked on past that and went inland.

 

Did the German Air Force make any raids on you?

No. We didnít see any at all. They were pretty quiet. We went on inland and joined our division. When I joined the 2nd Armored Division I was excess baggage. They had these people coming in who were excess baggage and we just sat around and did nothing for a good while.

 

Our outfit didnít do much of anything until we made the breakthrough in July at St. Lo. We were in a little town called Kanesee near St. Lo. We moved off then and I traveled as excess baggage until we hit an area over in France where we got shelled pretty heavy. Couple fellows in our outfit were killed. One of the boys was riding as a gunner in an armored car sorta blew his stack and they took him off and put me in his job as a gunner on an M-8 armored car. From then on I was the gunner on the M-8 armored car.

 

We went through the hedgerow country and left the hedgerow country and started going into the open country at that time. We started moving on fairly fast then.

 

Our recon division. We werenít actually involved too much in combat. We were reconnaissance. We would go out and reconnoiter the area and see what was out there and act as flank reconnaissance for the division. Thatís what we were doing when I was wounded. The division was moving toward the neighborhood of Paris. We were pulling flank reconnaissance for the division for several days. One day they called us back. We pulled into an area to gas up and get supplies. We took armored cars around the field and drove them in under trees to camouflage them from the air. We had been moving for several days. We made a cup of coffee real quick and got a cup of coffee down. And we heard a shell coming. We hit the ground beside of my car. There were three shells. Two of them landed out in the field where we were and the third one hit the tree right above us. The boy right in front of me was killed. I was hit. They hauled us off to the infirmary. That was the end of my exploration of France. I never did get to Paris. I was back in the hospital in Bath, England, when Paris fell. I heard it on the radio. I spent a couple of weeks back there before heading for the states. Eventually, we ended up coming back to the states, a pretty good group of us wounded, on a British ship. We got back to New York and ended up at a distribution point for people coming back from overseas. I was only there a week. I called my wife and she came up and visited me up there, one night in New York.

 

We were shipped out and I ended up in a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia: Lawson General Hospital. Iíll never forget it. It was an amputee center. That was about October, 1944, I guess. I was there for a good while because I had a little problem with my wounds healing properly. Back then the Army didnít sew up an amputation. They left it open to let it drain to make sure, because when you were hit in the fields over there they were fertilized so much with manure and they were afraid of infection setting in. So it was a slow healing job. Finally then you have the operation and get ready to come home. I had some problems with the silk ties that they tied them up with working out every time I would get ready for my operation. I was there from October and finally was discharged on July 2, 1945, and headed home.

 

When did you get married?

I got married about nine months before I went in the service. I was married in 1942. So about nine months of marriage before I went in the service.

 

Did you get to see her during the year you were in the states?

No. There was not much freedom back then. Not many passes back in those days. Too far away from home. When I was at Camp Campbell she did come down and spend about a week or two down there on the base before I was shipped out. We got together for a couple weeks down there, then she went home and I went to England.

 

Did you have any trouble with the mail?

No. Not too much. Mail was pretty good. Went through pretty fast. We didnít have a whole lot of time to write.

 

The breakout you mentioned. Is that the breakthrough at St. Lo?

Yes. We were near St. Lo.

 

How did the French react to you coming through?

Very nice. They were very happy. They were a happy bunch of people. They were all along the roads anytime we rode through the little towns out waving at us.

 

During the siege prior to the breakout there must have been a lot of destruction and devastation of the St. Lo area.

Yes. When we were sitting in England the bombing raids pretty well softened up things, all night long sometimes. I donít think the troops were really expecting to hit the hedgerow country that they ran into over there. That hedgerow country slowed up things for a good while. Finally, when we made the breakthrough we got out of the hedgerow country and we were seeing what happened in opening up that hole for us to get through with the armored vehicles. We saw a lot of the devastation that the bombing had done in these towns.

 

By the Air Force?

Yes. They pulverized things over there.

 

Did you get to see Patton?

No. Patton was with the 3rd Armored and I was with the 2nd Armored. They were on our right flank going down. We didnít run into Patton.

 

How did they keep up with you and provide you rations?

In our armored car we had a big place there where we kept out K Rations. We lived on K Rations. Once in a while we stopped to get a hot meal. But, mostly it was K Rations. We had our choice of three or four K rations. You could open it up and eat whenever you wanted to.

 

How did they get you supplied with gasoline?

They kept up with the units pretty good. We stopped to get rations and gasoline and thatís when I got hit.

 

The famous Red Ball Express?

Going along as a service man you donít realize where you are a lot of times, you are just another cog in the wheel. Itís something. I donít remember a lot of it. Itís been so many years - 60 years. My memory is not that good anymore.

 

When you were out doing the recon, how many vehicles would be in the group?

We had four jeeps, what they call scout cars, and there were four M-8 armored cars in our company and one 75 millimeter howitzer. That was our Company C. When we went we went as a company.

 

Did you ever engage as a company?

No. Not while I was there. We werenít supposed to. We were just supposed to get information and get it back to the main forces. We were never really with the main forces, we were out in reconnaissance. We let the main forces know what was around them.

 

I donít suppose you were there long enough to be pulled back for R & R.

No. When we started moving in July, when they made the breakthrough around St. Lo, things were moving awfully fast then. One day after another you didnít know where you were going half the time. I donít know when they got a break. The day I got hit was about the first day we had a break since we went through there. We pulled back one time we went down [because] when we made the breakthrough we found out we were about eight miles ahead of the rest of the division. We got to a little town where we were supposed to have a division, the Germans [had] cut off, and the 3rd Armor was on our right flank. They threw a counter attack at us and we got the hell out of there real fast and went back and set up camp for a day or two behind the artillery. We were moving fairly steadily along, not too fast. But once you get into the open country going towards Paris things started moving a little faster.

 

Did you ever meet anybody from home?

I met one fellow in the camp in England, Meredith Shoemaker, I knew in Winchester. He was with another group. Heís the only person I met overseas that I knew from back home. I was with a bunch of strangers.

 

When you got involved did you feel that you were prepared for it?

When you got over there and got into it you really didnít know what the hell you were doing for a while! You did what you were told. I was a private. I was a replacement. I was put in a job and I was told what to do and that was it.

 

If that tree had not been there, you probably wouldnít have been hit as bad as you were.

Thatís right. If we hadnít pulled in under that tree. At that time that was what you were supposed to do for camouflage. You tried to camouflage your vehicle so if the planes came over they wouldnít see you, they wouldnít strafe you. So we pulled in all the vehicles around the field under trees. We were just unlucky enough to be the one the shell came over and hit. As I say, there were three shells and the last one got us.

 

The other two were out in the field?

The other two went over us out into the field. Nobody got hurt. They got us back to the hospital pretty quick. We got back to the field hospital and the arm was gone. The doctor told me there is nothing I can save there. So he cut the rest of it off and did a little first aid on it. Then they put us in an ambulance and started back to the field hospital. We rode for a long, long time. Seemed like we never would get there. Things getting a little hurting then. We got to one hospital and they couldnít take us because they were working with too many Germans. Wounded Germans. So they passed us on, said go on to the next hospital. We rode for a few extra hours to get to a hospital because they were busy working on Germans.

 

Did you start getting worried then?

No. I was lucky I guess in a way because that hot shrapnel seared the blood vessels on my arm. I didnít lose a lot of blood. I never had a tourniquet on. It was fortunate the way it happened that, except for hurting from the wound, at least I didnít lose a lot of blood. The guy that was laying in front of me, when I got back to the hospital in Bath, England, I found out that he had just died that day in there. He got the full force of that blast. I just got part of it. It was close to me. I was laying there on the ground with my arm out like that. It missed my head by about two feet. We were lucky. You get a little bit of luck in these things every once in a while.

 

Did you have any trouble after you got out of the service adjusting to civilian life?

Not a whole lot. Things were fairly quiet then. It takes a while to settle down anytime. Get used to that artificial arm you got on. I got back to work fairly soon after I got back home. I didnít linger too long.

 

Did you use the G.I. Bill?

Sometime, yes. I went back to the job I had. I was assistant manager at the Capital Theater. I went back to work there shortly after I got home. I stayed there for several years.

 

I probably saw you there as a kid.

Probably. I worked there for about eight to ten years. I was there before I went in service and I went back to the same job after I came home. That was in 1945 and I left there in 1948 - 49.

 

Did you stay in contact with any of the guys you met while you were in the service?

No. Never had that close of contact in the service. It was quite a mixture group. A lot of the group I was with was from Massachusetts. The more you move around you go from one outfit to another, you never made a whole lot of lasting friendships. There was one fellow from Richmond by the name of Loving, who followed me on the roster, Louthan, Loving, and we stayed together pretty much all the way through basic training and we went to the same division in Germany and he lasted through the whole thing. Heís the only one that really I had any close contact with.

 

Did you join the VFW and American Legion?

Yes. I joined the VFW and American Legion. In fact, I was the Commander of the American Legion Post, in 1948 I think it was.

 

At the time you were hit did you feel scared?

Oh yes.

 

How scared? What kind of a feeling is it?

When you get there and you get through the operations they put you through, you sort of let your breath out and relax. Confused more than scared. Itís over. I said Iím not going back. Thatís what they call a ZI injury Ė Zone of Interior Ė youíre going home Ė youíre not going back again. That was a relief.

 

Did you stay with the Capital Theater then?

I stayed with them for about four years and then went into the insurance business. 1949 I think.

 

Retired from the insurance business?

Yes. I spent the rest of my time in the insurance business. Iíve been retired 15 years (1989). Getting old now.

 

Other than giving you the opportunity to serve your country, do you think your time in the service was of any value to you?

I donít think that it was. Things were in such a flux then, you were in and then you were out and you were there to do a job and you were home. I guess I grew up a little bit. I celebrated my 21st birthday in a slit trench in France in the pouring down rain. I think you age a little bit, you mature a little bit, probably more so than if I had been home. I enjoyed a lot of the time I spent in the service, in the States, and so forth. I was glad to see Ė I enjoyed a little bit of the time I was in England. You see some different things. The funny part of it is the ship I went over on Ė it took us fourteen days Ė troop ship to go over in convoy. Came back on the Aquatania which was a British ship which did not travel in convoy and came back in five days. Much nicer trip coming back.

 

Did you ever go back to Europe to visit any of the places you went to?

I went back several years ago with a church group on a tour of England and Scotland but I didnít visit any of the places where I had been. What I saw over there wasnít much to visit, it was a camp. An Army camp and thatís about all there was. I went back to see some of the more enjoyable places over there that I didnít get to see when I was over there.

 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

No. Thatís about the history of it. My memory is failing a little bit now. I canít remember a lot of things. Iím surprised I remembered as much as I did, tell you the truth.

 

This book you brought with you is the history of the 2nd Armored Division in World War II. Can you elaborate on what the photographs are all about?

We landed on Omaha Beach. There was right much devastation there. They had roped it off for us to move on in off the beach into the inland area but there was still a lot of vehicles all over the beach and clothing and everything from the landing and the wounded people. You look out on the water from the land, there were no docks there Ė we came in, in small boats and landed there.

 

Did you go by any destroyed German pillboxes or places like that?

Didnít notice any where we went in Ė they were probably in that area but were in a hurry to get us in and get us off the beach. They pushed us along pretty fast.

 

Some of the landing craft actually came up on the beach?

When the division landed there, they landed on the beach during high tide. They stayed there until the tide went out and then they unloaded the vehicles. They waited for the tide to go back out so they could open up the landing craft and drive their vehicle out.

 

When the landing was made on D-day, many of those vehicles never got off the ships. And so many of the service people, because they had to stop, they couldnít get close enough, and a lot of them drowned trying to get into the beach. They couldnít get the ships and landing craft close enough to get them off. When those service men got off those landing craft out there in the water it was deep enough that with packs and things they had on, a lot of them just couldnít make it, they went under.

 

We saw a lot of the effects of that on the beach when we landed because there was clothing from the wounded people and stuff littered all over the beach where we landed. But they had it marked off so that we could go inland.

 

This is a hedgerow?

Thatís a hedgerow. They went through to dig the hedgerow through so they could get the vehicles through. The hedgerow country Ė those hedgerows were six to ten feet high. You had a road in between two hedgerows. Each field was surrounded by a hedgerow.

 

You had to go to an opening. In order to get through they had to take tanks and put plows on the front of them and plow through the hedgerows so they could get through. I know one time when we had to pull back, when we had a counterattack one time, they pulled us back and told us to leave our vehicles. We got there and they told us to go on back to another field. We were going back to that other field and had to jump over a hedgerow. You went over the hedgerow real fast so something wouldnít hit you in the butt when you went over. All the fields in that country just like fences six to ten feet tall Ė hedgerows.

 

There was a lot of fighting in that area. Did they remove remains of the people who had been killed?

Yes. They pretty well cleaned up. When we made the breakthrough at that little town of Kanesee there were some GIs still laying on the sidewalk when we went through. Seeing a dead German laying there never bothered me a bit, but when you look down and see a man with your own uniform on it sort of put a knot in your stomach. The Germans never bothered us. When we went through thatís what we found in one of the towns where the breakthrough was made. They hadnít had a chance to clean up things yet; we went through that fast.

 

What is this?

This is the way we dug in back in the hedgerow country. You were sitting there doing nothing for a lot of the time. I celebrated my 21st birthday in a slit trench back in the hedgerow country. We were just sitting there waiting for this thing to open up and it was raining. You just dug a trench and put a half shelter over it and thatís what you lived in for a while.

 

Did they have sandbags?

No, we didnít. All we had over us was our pup tents. Weíd take our pup tents and make a tent over us. Thatís what we lived under for a while.

 

Those were your hedgerows. That country was full of those things. I donít really think that the American soldiers knew what country they were getting into when they got in there. I think it was sort of a surprise to them.

 

Hereís Saint Lo. Things started off at Saint Lo. Hereís dual hedgerows. Hereís the town that we went through - Kanesee. See there is a dead soldier laying there. They just bombed the devil out of those towns. They spent days and nights just doing nothing but dropping bombs on that area to open it up.

 

Hereís a picture of a German POW. Was that the job of the Recon?

No. We didnít fool with that. We were recon. Now, later on they may have been involved in that. The way we were moving we were strictly doing recon.

 

So, your job was to spot and tell, not to get engaged?

We were just seeing what was out there. We went out one day on a trip and we came back and passed all the infantry boys walking out. They were razing us about riding. ďWeíre walking and youíre riding.Ē We said, ďThatís all right though, weíve been there where youíre going.Ē But, anyway, it was interesting. Iím sort of glad I was in something like that, rather than a foot soldier. That was different country over there, different country. I got this book just for the heck of it.

 

Hereís the row of German vehicles that were knocked [out] at one time there when that breakthrough happened. We saw a lot of German soldiers surrender. A lot of them didnít want to fight. If theyíd get a chance they would throw their hands up. It was interesting. I wouldnít want to do it again. It was an interesting experience. One time was enough. I got along all right. I came out lucky. I lost an arm. I wore and artificial arm for about ten years. I couldnít do anything with it. It got in the way more than anything else. I took the darn thing off and hung it in the closet. Got short sleeve shirts and got along just fine. You learn to do a lot of things when you have to.

 

Well, you certainly look well.The years have been good to you.

I felt good.Iíve been lucky, I guess.My healthís been good except for the last few years.Getting old now and those things start happening.It was an experience.

 

Iíve been going through this book the last couple days, just sort of refreshing my memory a little bit.Itís been a long time.

 

I was never too much interested in going back over there and going through a lot of this.I wouldnít have recognized it anyway now.I think a lot of people go over there have people buried over there.A lot of soldiers were buried over there.A lot of the families I think visit over there.Other than for that reason I donít think a whole lot of people go over there to go through this area where they did before, because itís all different now.Youíd never recognize it.

 

Itís a funny thing.I ran into some units of the 29th Division.When I was in the National Guard it was the 29th Division here.We ran into some units of the 29th Division over there in the hedgerow country when we made the breakthrough there.The 29th Division and the 1st Infantry Division landed where we went in.Thatís where we landed, Omaha Beach.The 29th Division made the initial landing there.In fact thatís where several of our local boys were killed.

 

No, I stayed out, got married, finished high school, worked a while, and said, ďLet them come get me when theyíre ready for me.Ē[Serving in the Army was an] interesting experience.I enjoyed a lot of it, but Iím not an Army life man.Iíd never make a living in the Army.

 

Thank you.

Youíre quite welcome.