Paris Interview                                                    


Paris: I went down to the draft board and I learned for the first time that I had a deferment in my office. [They] felt I was going to be needed, so they had a deferment. We had friends in Fort Leavenworth so one of them had moved to Omaha, Nebraska. I wrote to him, a Colonel, and said can he help me get this thing changed, which he was able to do. The next thing I know the clerk of the draft board called me Joe Horah (he’s a local lawyer). He said, “You went out of channel.” I said, “No, I came to you first.” He said, “Well they lifted your deferment so you can enter.” So [I] went to Fort Leavenworth and took a couple of exams there and then entered.

I had basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Thirteen weeks of training at Fort Knox, then I went to the Officer Candidate School for three months. About half of them made it through and graduated and they commissioned half of them infantry and half of them cavalry. Well I was commissioned cavalry although I didn’t own a horse [and had] never rode a horse. They didn’t have armor those days. And I reported then to Fort Riley, Kansas where they had established the 9th mechanized division. They didn’t have armor, as I mentioned, so we were formed out of the 2nd cavalry and the 14th cavalry and it was an elite unit in the army then, with their fancy shiny boots and their spurs and their sand brown belts and the officers carried swagger sticks and so this was the elite unit. They later established the armor branch and we were changed from cavalry to armor, but the original men we got and the officers were cavalrymen with that spirit of the cavalry, “draw your saber and charge,” a great spirit.

So they were also good because when a private entered the cavalry down there his first job was to go down and clean the stables. And when he arrived at the stables there was a sign over the door that said, “Take care of your horse, we can always get a new private.” So they learned to take care of their horses because they had to, and they did the same with the tanks. They were great tankers. We would stop and they would immediately get out and check the tracks to be sure that they were tight and they weren’t loose. They’d do all the work. They’d get the rammer staff and clean the gun out between combat actions. They were all good soldiers for being cavalrymen. And they had a good cavalry spirit, the spirit of getting through and charging.

Well that was it. Our first action with the 9th Armor Division in Europe was during the Battle of the Bulge. We were sent. There [were] three combat commands in the division and each one of these had a battalion of tanks, a battalion of infantry, a battalion of artillery, which are the combat arms, and they had support by recon, engineers and signal and other people, medics and so on. So you’re complete within yourself. And these three combat commands were widely separated when the Germans attacked. We were to go up there with the 2nd infantry division, and the mission was for the infantry to attack and open up a hole and we were to pour through with our tanks and armored infantry, which was all mounted, no marching men, all mounted on halftracks, and go to the Roer dams and capture them so the Germans couldn’t blow the dams and flood the Roer River Valley that would put up a geographic barrier against us. That was our mission.

We arrived up there on the 14th of December. Our commanding officers went forward to meet with the infantry officers to plan how we would move through them and attack, but it never came about because on the next day, the 16th of December, the Germans attacked in force, and we were in the area of Saint Vith, which was the main German attack, the 5th Panzer Army and the 6th along side of them. The 5th Panzer Army attacked our area. There was a great road map at Saint Vith and they were to go from there to the Port of Antwerp where all the American supplies were pouring in, and it was Hitler’s idea [to] cut off that seaport and thus cut off all supplies, which were pouring in ammunition and troops. It was a faulty idea. The main attack was lead by a fellow named Piper, Colonel Piper, who’d been a real young man. He was soldier and in Russia he was known as the murderer. He burned down two villages there completely and so he was a real tough guy. And he was in charge of the panzer unit that attacked there. And, of course, it was a surprise to us as it was to everybody clear up to Eisenhower and the rest of them, and the next 6 days were just confusing.

I’d have my five tanks and I might be sent down to hold a bridge one day, protect it from Germans crossing it the next day. I might be on a ridge or the next day to hold a crossroads or something else. Missions every day and you didn’t know where you were or what you were doing. And each time they give you a mission they tell you who is on the flanks on the right or the left. I could never see any other troops on the right. Many times my tanks would be 50 to 100 yards apart and the German army could march right through at night, and they did in time and we didn’t know it. So it was a mixed up operation constantly moving. We were supporting the 106th infantry division attached to them because we were separated from our division headquarters. And the 106th [infantry division] had two regiments surrender on the second day.

We were supporting the third regiment and we convinced them to hold off. Then the 7th armored came in with CCB and we joined up with them and our commander, who was General Holk, who was senior to their newly appointed General Bruce Clark, but he said he had more armor experience than our General Holk, who was a great leader in combat. So we became part of them and together we were holding that same place, which became known as the “goose egg.” So this went on for a day and night. I might add some thing, you see in a lot of the movies and the pictures you see [it] has deep snow and it’s very dramatic to show these pictures, but there wasn’t any snow for the first seven days. The first snow we saw was on the 24th of December. It was cold as the devil. They said it was the coldest winter in fifty years. The tanks were cold.

I recall one night I got hold of Paul Fisher, a lieutenant in the next platoon. I talked to Paul to figure out what we could do that night because we didn’t know the situation and about that time a farmer came through with a wagon and I thought, “well that’s peculiar,” and so I stopped him and the back was full of straw. So I pulled back the straw and there was a thermos jug and we call them “marmite cans,” and they use them in the post to take food out to the range and they use them in combat to take out food and the only thing we could figure was that he was taking hot food to the Germans in back of us. And that was the first we knew that they had gotten through behind us and you don’t tell your troops that. You’d have a problem if you told them that. We took care of the guy and all night we could hear that horse pulling that wagon and that was the first real inkling we had that we were in deep trouble.

The night before we could get out we were on radio silence, so we could listen but we didn’t broadcast, and the company commander said the 82nd airborne was somewhere in the rear of us and they’re going to try to open up a road in the morning and we’re going to try to get out. And so I went back and alerted my tanks. I went on foot to each tank and got them all ready and I had put my tank in a farmyard there and it was a lot of straw, manure and muck in there and I took some tree branches and put them to break the silhouettes of the tanks so that the gun wouldn’t show against the stars and [I] spent the night there. The person in the house kept going out to their barn and I finally had to take care of him because that could have been a radio wagon. It was only then we began to learn that the army didn’t alert us. The area we were in had formerly been part of Germany. Those people favored the Germans, not the Americans. The Army had a major failure in not telling us this earlier because we had instances where we should have known about that, we wouldn’t have been so careful not to hurt somebody because they were helping the Germans. And they spoke German in that area.

At any rate, when morning came I alerted the tanks to move out and found that I was stuck in the ground, I couldn’t move. Sergeant Wellesley, my driver, [was] the best driver in the US army. He saved my life twice, that driver did. I called the Platoon Sergeant as we came up the road and said “knock me free,” and so I alerted the men in the tank, “hang on we’re gonna get hit.” He hit us in the front and didn’t move it. He hit us the second time and broke us free, and so [I] immediately got in the road to lead my platoon, and a German gun in the rear of us fired on me and missed me. And I said “ho.” Wellesley the driver stopped. The next round went back and I wondered how long it takes to reload a German gun, which was probably a horse drawn artillery piece. An anti-tank gun of some kind. Anyway he shot at me three times broadside and missed. He must have been a hell of a poor gunner. My driver would respond, and we did get out and the whole battalion got out. One company laid back to hold off attacks so we could get out, and it was so mixed up that even my battalion commander Colonel Engman didn’t know where we were going. At one point we were stopped and he radioed up to higher headquarters for permission to take different roads to get out of there, which we did. The books called that the goose egg at Saint Vith. That was the 23rd of December and we had been in six or seven days and nights in combat in fairly good strength yet.

The supplies had been able to get to us with gasoline and ammunition through the service company men in the trucks. So we were in pretty good shape at that time really. On the way out we did lose tanks to the Germans who were zeroed in on some of those crossroads. I think in one place we lost four out of five tanks in one platoon. They were just zeroed in on that spot. But otherwise we were in pretty good shape, except I’d lost some men and tanks. Late the next month, Paul Fisher, the other lieutenant in the platoon, came to me and said, “Lets go back and see if we can find one of your tanks.” He had a photographic memory of terrain; I found that out in our desert training, maneuvering out there. So we went back, and sure enough he went right back to the place were the tank had been and there were two bodies still in the turret. They were frozen but beginning to thaw, the winter was beginning to break. It must have been early or late February by the time I got there. Surprisingly enough the ground was bare there and there was a wooden cross and it said in German “three American soldiers,” and I thought, this is unusual they didn’t burry their wounded. I can’t figure out what that meant there.

We found a graves registration unit and they had been working near the Herdgin forest, where we lost a lot of men. The tree bursts were just killing the men in foxholes. They were really busy there. I asked them, “Anything unusual?” He said, “Yeah, every man has no boots on. The Germans took the boots off everyone they shot.” At any rate, they had better maps than my tactical maps. Very detailed. I took a pen and said “here there’s a tank, there’s two men in the turret, here are their names, and they still have their dog tags on,” and the only thing they took off the tank was any removal of sights that they could get off. That way we knew that they wouldn’t be missing in action and not identified. They promised me that they would go right up and get them. Later I checked after I got out of the service with the families and found [it had been] taken care of, and I was glad it turned out that way.


Triesler: What was your rank at this point in time?


Paris: At that time I was a second Lieutenant. I had five tanks in the platoon; each tank had five men in it so I had twenty-four men and myself. It wasn’t until later in the war that I got promoted to first Lieutenant. The twenty seventh infantry was with us. It was a good unit. They took what tanks I had left away. I had the M-5 model at that point. They gave me some M-4s, which people call Shermans, but we call them by their model number. They gave me five of those, which had been on lease to the British, but they had never used them. They were miserable, they had steal tracks and on that frozen ground you couldn’t control them. They had a diesel engine, which were very powerful but were [difficult] to start. They had a little gasoline engine in there. We would start the gasoline engine to warm up the diesel engine.

At that point they decided to bring us back to the division, which we had been separated from for several weeks by then. Colonel Ingham said that I would lead. My radio name was “squirrel”; his was “gopher.” He was from Minnesota. He said, “You lead out.” So we got out on the road and it was one of those with a crown on it. Sergeant Wellesley, who was a magnificent driver, was there. The tank just suddenly started to slide off into the ditch, which was filled with telephone wire and signal cord. We must have torn up a hundred miles of it. He finally got back up, but started sliding down the other side. There was no way we could control it. I called up Colonel Ingham and said, “Gopher, there’s no way I can lead them back, I can’t control these tanks.” So he said ok and they bypassed us.

I grabbed a couple of trucks with fuel and some other lost guys. One guy had a jeep and another had a halftrack. I said, “Gather here and we’ll move into this village.” They said, “When are we going to leave?” I said, “When spring comes.” We didn’t really know where we were then or where the Germans were, but we settled down there. I needed some dental care and I found a field office and got some rations. We just moved in with these people in this little village, I can’t remember the name of it today. Finally we got word that we could come back and we rejoined with division. We were on the secret list all this time. We don’t know when we were put on. None of our actions were being covered and the units we were with didn’t report us and the Stars and Stripes and the newspaper reporters didn’t come around. In late December the general in command of the division wrote a letter complaining about why we were still on [the] secret list. They didn’t want the Germans knowing we were there. I suspect they knew we left Fant Camp, Louisiana. I suspect they knew when we arrived [in] York and were on the Queen Mary, the whole division was on one ship. First class cabins you know. We had twelve second Lieutenant’s in one cabin. Anyway we were on the secret list. After the war we were recommended for the presidential unit citation. The awards branch of the army rejected it. They could find no evidence that we had been in combat.

After the cold war we got the German records. What had happened, they were attacking at Saint Vith, and this commander was calling back to his headquarters and saying that he was attacking the 9th armored division. At Bastone we had another combat command there that lost heavily trying to defend it, and they said that they were attacking the 9th. So they gave us the name “Phantom Division.” It was known as the phantom because they didn’t believe that any division could be that far out. The fact is that we were three separate units not under division control. It was after we sent these German records to the awards branch of how they had been delayed at all these points that we got the citation. Fifty-seven years after the action it came through. The gears grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine in this case. I don’t know if we hadn’t gotten those records [if] we would never have gotten the recommendation. It took a long time. They lifted it about January 5, 1945 because I’ve got two newspaper clippings which say that the secrecy has been removed from the 9th armored and we can now report what they’re doing and so on.


Triesler: You have a patch about Ramagin on your vest there. What’s the story about the bridge at Ramagin. What was that about?


Paris: Well the history of the bridge was it was built in WWI and named for General Ludendorff, called the Ludendorff Bridge. It was a twin track railroad bridge. The track came down across the river from Ramagin across the Rhine. It’s very wide and very deep and vast into the town of Irple, and there’s a big high hill called Irple Lie and there was a tunnel in it. The trains went through the tunnel. The Germans of course had destroyed all the bridges and they were holding a few so their soldiers could escape across if we advanced further.

So we were approaching under the same command under General Hogue, and we hit what’s called “The Plains” and I was in the lead much of that time because I had an aggressive bunch of boys, they were great soldiers. We weren’t running into a lot of opposition, just scattered opposition, now and then an antitank gun. On March 6, 1945 the Colonel sent for me and he was in a little room, like a one room schoolhouse building, and the General was there. I didn’t know him by sight but I figured that this was him. He said to me, “Lieutenant, do you know where you are?” I said, “No sir I've run off of my maps, I have no idea.” He said, “We’re about fifteen miles from the Rhine River. There’s a railroad bridge there and I want you to go up there now and see if that bridge is standing.” And hell, I didn’t want to go. So I said, “General, I don’t think I can make it. The gas trucks haven’t caught up to us and I’m low on gas.” Well generals don’t listen to excuses from second Lieutenants. He said, “You leave at 2100 hrs.” That’s nine p.m. He said, “Don’t engage in any fire fights,” but if somebody fires at you you’re damn sure going to into a firefight, but he was an engineering officer lets say. But at any rate, I didn’t like the idea of moving a night over strange roads that I didn’t know and I was certain I couldn’t see a bridge in the dark. So I went back and told the platoon and they were very unhappy about it. What I said was, “We’ll move out, I’ll lead and if any of you get low on gas get to high ground so you can relay my radio signals because I can’t radio back that far.” And by relay it meant that if you call somebody back there two or three times and they don’t answer somebody in between would say, “He’s answering you. You can’t hear him. I’ll relay.”

So when the answer would come back they would relay it to me or I could relay it through them. I said, “If my tank gets low, I’ll take it on high ground and leave it with the crew and I’ll get on the next tank and lead you.” Just before nine we warmed up the engines. Just about five minutes to nine, Colonel Ingham called and said, “Squirrel, this is gopher, over.” I said, “Yes Gopher, go ahead.” He said, “Scrub it.” And I didn’t want to violate any orders; I wanted to make sure I understood it. So went back and I said, “Gopher did you say scrub it?” He said, “Scrub it.” I said, “What do you mean? Do you mean don’t go?” He said, “Squirrel, don’t go.” So we shut off the engines and were quite glad. Outside of that I could have been the hero in all the history books as the first one to get there.

At any rate, we were at a town called Staht Mechanine. It had been bombed to hell. We were leading the next morning, early, and there was a lot of rubble in the streets where they had been bombed, so we had to call in dozer tanks with the blade on the front to clear it out, so we were a little late getting started. It didn’t move fast enough for Colonel Ingham and he called me and said, “Go up and take the lead, they’re just not moving.”

The opposition wasn’t too great. If we ran into some infantry opposition in the woods or something, we’d call up our infantry and they’d go in and clear it out. The way we used the tanks when the mission was to get to a village, we would not enter the village because we were dead ducks in tanks. We would circle the village and let the infantry go in and clean it out house by house. Well that was the tactics we used approaching the bridge. There wasn’t too much opposition. Not like the movies that show them coming up and firing and all. Well anyway, when we arrived up there, I was on the ridge and decided it was Lieutenant Grimble; he had the new M-26 tank, and we looked down, you could see that bridge across that river and civilians and soldiers were moving across it.

He notified the Colonel that the bridge was standing. The Colonel said, “Move down into town,” and we did, and our orders by the corps was to go to capture Ramagin and then go along the west bank of the Rhine River and go to the town of Senseg on the Ahr River because Patton’s 3rd army was going to cross there. That way we would hold a landing place for him. This was an order from the corps, which a higher head quarters unit and way up the line. Well when Colonel Ingham radioed General Hogue, he said, “The bridge is standing.” General Hogue’s answer was, “Sure would be nice to have bridge.” He wouldn’t order the change of a corps order because he’s a west pointer and a career, so he goes to the division commander, General Leonard, and he’s a career officer too. It wasn’t until four hours later that Ingham radioed back and said, “I’ve ordered the infantry to cross, we’re going to cross.” Four hours later General Hogue called back and said, “Seize the high ground and dig in.” Well that’s alright with a soldier and infantry man particularly. What had happened was the two of them had conferred on it, then went back to higher head quarters to get permission to change the corps order. Surprising enough, when it got up to Eisenhower’s staff his operations officer didn’t want to capture the bridge, he wanted to continue with the orders that he’d devised. But it’s a good thing we did. We were quite lucky as I mentioned, we had little opposition on the way there. And besides that bridge was built in WWI, and the Germans at that time, everything they did was preparing for the next war that they were gonna have. When they built the Autobahn, that wasn’t to help the civilians, that was to move military traffic around. Well when they built that bridge they had cavities in the key places to put explosives in. At the end of WWI that was occupied by France and they filled those cavities with concrete. So they had to put them up on that bridge where they could be seen.

I could still picture looking down from the high hill on the west bank, I could see the engineers going out and clipping those wires. The courage those guys must have had to go on to that bridge. Just about that time two explosions went off, one on the bridge, a minor one, and one on the approach, which was designed to prevent vehicles from getting through. It was very successful; it blew a big hole in the approach to the bridge. I could see the infantry going across. We didn’t know it at the time, but the Germans had some poor explosives. This was an assignment that you don’t send your best soldiers on, to guard a bridge, you send your no-goods, so they weren’t very capable people. There were several factors in our favor, the fact that they couldn’t hide the explosives in the key parts of the bridge, the fact that it was a poor commercial type of explosive, and the fact that they wouldn’t go off. They tried desperately. So they all fled back into this tunnel. Our engineers hastily covered that hole and our first tanks started to cross. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon when we first saw the bridge and started to cross.

Later that day Colonel Ingham called me. We were being fired on from the west bank where we had come from by guns who were firing down on us. Colonel Ingham said, “Go neutralize those guns.” Kent Hecker has this in his book but not in detail. So I took my tanks around, my five tanks. I thought, “If I go up that hill we expose the belly of the tank which is very thin and they’ll knock us off.” So I had them all dismount and tankers don’t like to dismount. I left the drivers in the tanks. I sent two crews around the side, with five men in each. I said, “We’ll keep in touch and I’ll signal you.” So when we got to the top I watched to see if there were gunners there. So I stood up and started up. I had a carbine at the time, and they just surrendered that quickly. When I got there I found out that they were Hungarians. I had to figure from their language. So they naturally surrendered immediately. We couldn’t take prisoners as a tank outfit. So we just said, “Put your hands up and go back that way.” So they all quickly did.

I had some thermite grenades, which I put in the gun tubes, which melted the inside of the gun barrels. I got the platoon together and we went back down. I said to Sergeant Taylor, “Come with me. I can’t reach the Colonel to report. The guns are silenced.” All Heckler says in his book is that Lieutenant Parrish was sent to silence the guns up on the ridge near the church. The rest of the story never got in the records. What happened was I took Sergeant Taylor. By then it was dark. They were still firing in Ramagin. There were still a few snipers and dedicated soldiers still in there. I said, “You walk on the other side of the street in about 20-30 feet in the back so we don’t get hit by the same fire.” So we started down the street and suddenly we came under fire from a sniper or something, and I hit the pavement. There was a truck there, a two and a half ton truck. I rolled under the truck and who was under there. The company’s First Sergeant. This was our mess truck. They were a great bunch of guys. They were always with us fixing hot food. We’d be in combat and they send up word to send somebody back because they had hot food. So I’d send back one crew at a time to get hot food. Wonderful! Now they do it commercially in Iraq. They’ve got a private commercial civilian truck. I don’t fancy it. You want your buddies feeding you, you know? They want to save your life as well as theirs. They want to give you hot food. These were great guys.

I found the Colonel and I said, “The guns are silenced. They won’t be firing any more.” He said, “Good. Now you go to the edge of town. When this word gets back they’re going to send everyone they can to hold this bridge. The town will be so packed with trucks and stuff.” They have narrow streets in those little towns. He said, “Stop everybody and have them dismount.” So I took my crew back out to the coast. Sure enough, almost immediately they started arriving in convoys. I would go up and say, “Who’s in charge of this convoy or serial?” They called them serials, different parts of the convoy. Serial one, serial two. Who’s in charge? It might be a captain. It might be a colonel or somebody. I was a lieutenant then. I’d go up and say, “You’ve got to stop now. Dismount.” “Why are we here?” They didn’t really know. They’d been pulled out of the line or a rest camp somewhere. They thought they were going to a rest camp some of them. I said, “We just got a bridge across the Rhine and we’ve got to get across, but you can’t take vehicles any further. Dismount.” I’d give them a little sketch to tell them how to get to the town and the bridge. By then it was dark and you couldn’t see the bridge. “Where do we put the trucks?” I said, “Turn right and go down.” I was sending them down the way we were supposed to go in our attack! I’d tell the first truck, “Go down here about a half a mile or a mile pull off in a big field and make yourself comfortable.” I sent several convoys down that way. The books now report that in the first 24 hours that we crossed, 8,000 troops got across on that bridge in the first 24 hours. I took my tanks across the next morning at about 8:30, 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning. By then I wasn’t needed there. So I took them out. My mission was to stop any counter attacks from up river. I knew that kind of operation because that’s what we did in the desert training. So that’s what I did. We spent a couple of days down there, and went back down through the town of Irple.


Triesler: I have a few more questions for you if you have time. Did anything ever happen with Patton’s Bridge? Remember the order got changed. Did you have to go up to that bridge also?


Paris: No. They just scrubbed that whole operation. And that was our part in it.


Triesler: Sir, your name is P-A-R-I-S. Just like the city.


Paris: Just like it. First name Demetri. D-E-M-E-T-R-I.


Triesler: Were you named after anybody in particular that you know of?


Paris: No, no, my mother was English. It has a Greek basis but she didn’t spell it like the Greeks do.


Triesler: I was taking a few notes. You know, if you watch the movies. When you watch…I don’t know if you watch any of those Band of Brothers or anything like that…


Paris: A little bit.


Triesler: When the guys are moving in the movies. You know if you’re trying to get to a machinegun nest or something, and they split up, you see them do things like certain signals you know with their hands. Did you all have certain hand signals that you were trained to use?


Paris: They did it because they didn’t have communications other than that. In the tanks we had radios, see. On my radio I could talk to any of my platoons. By radio I could talk to my company, my company on the company channel and I could call the battalion at the higher level. The only time we used hand signals when we were moving tanks through a lilac area or some area that was uncertain to us and we’d have somebody out front to signal. Otherwise we had radio communications. They were very, very effective. It was an FM radio. Within the tank I could talk to my own crew by intercom. So that was the way I could talk to my gunner and alert him that there was a target. And the loader would hear what kind of ammunition I wanted, armor piercing, or high explosive, or smoke or whatever I wanted. So I could talk to my own crew by intercom and my other tanks by radio. An example of that is, it came the Battle of the Bulge when I thought I was going to get overrun one time and I was pretty widely separated. So I called directly to battalion. Normally somebody else would answer, the company clerk or the executive officer or something. But this time Colonel Ingham answered the thing. I said, “Gopher, I need help. I’m about to be overrun. Can you get some artillery?” He said, “I’ll give it a shot. Where are you?” I gave him what I thought was my coordinate location, but I wasn’t sure. He came back on immediately and said, “I can get it.” I said, “Well give me one round and I’ll adjust the fire.” I alerted my tanks that I was going to get an air burst and for them to lower their hatches a little, but keep observing just so they’d be protected from shrapnel or anything. Shortly after that Colonel Ingham came back. “Squirrel it’s on the way,” he said. I said, “Fine.” And I alerted my tanks. The round was right in front of me about 50 yards at tree height level. A perfect shot. I thought, “My God, how do they do that?” Then I said, “Up two-hundred yards. Give me all you can,” and the artillery just poured in there. So the artillery was just magnificent. They upped the range and it was devastating the effect on these troops that were advancing. They were infantry and not accompanied by tanks.

That night I could hear them moaning and groaning and I could hear the soldiers coming out to get their wounded. I called my troops and said, “Don’t fire. Just stay silent.” Through most of the night they were picking up their bodies out there and taking them back. It’s a good example of how good communications sometimes work instantly so you don’t need signals. When we were with infantry we were usually close enough to them so that I could talk to them.


Triesler: Did you ever have any tank battles where you had to go up against another tank?


Paris: We avoided them. We knew that we were out gunned. They had better armor, better steel on their tanks and better guns. In my platoon I would try to circle around and get shot in the tracks to disable the tracks or in the rear. The German tanks sometimes had steel drums on the back with extra fuel. The times that they’d hit us was when they got us by surprise. You’d come around a corner in a village and there’s a big tank there. I didn’t stay there very long. I got out right away.


Triesler: Did you use your tank ever to rescue men? I’ve been told there was a trap door on the lower part of some tanks or many tanks.


Paris: On the lower side of it there were trap doors for the driver and the assistant driver. We called him the ball gunner. It was a useless position because he had no real vision but he had a machine gun. To drop down and get out. My driver was too big to get through that hole. He never would have gotten it. The other factor is, when your gun turret is in front, they can’t get out of the hatch, the regular hatch. If you happen to get hit in the turret ring where the turret fits on the body that turret’s frozen see? If it happens to be over the driver’s hatch he can’t get his hatch open anyway. You’d get trapped several ways. That trap door on the bottom is a useless thing. I never heard of anybody coming out through there in my company. We had 54 tanks in the company and I never heard of anybody getting out that way.


Triesler: Did you ever get to see General Patton?


Paris: No, not really. He always wanted our division. I learned later in things I’d read including our commanding general’s letters to his wife and his son, who’s a good friend of mine. Patton wanted us very much. He knew Leonard and he knew Hogue. Incidentally, let me tell you something about Hogue. He’s the guy who built the Alcan Highway, and I mean he did it with obstacles. He could get all the men he could, but he couldn’t get equipment. The civilian’s people could get equipment, but no men. That’s how he built the Alcan Highway. On the Normandy invasion he was the chief engineer. He was in charge of getting the engineers ashore. He went back to England, and he was in the Africa invasion. Went back to England. That’s when General Leonard got him in our division. He was a wonderful officer. He would give the mission and let you do it. General Hogue later got another star and got command of the 4th armored division for his fine work in the Battle of the Bulge and [for] the capturing of the bridge. We were the first allied troops to cross the Rhine since Napoleon, and Napoleon was invited in. The war ended two months later. That’s how important that was. So after that they said, “That Hogue’s a good commander.” They gave him another star.

We were put on a different guy who tried to micromanage everything. He said, “I want a tank company and this infantry together.” I lost men and we all lost under his command. Hogue was well liked. In the end Patton got his wish. He got us under his command in the 3rd army. We thought we were through. We had met with the Russians. We didn’t mix with them. We were ordered not to mingle with them. I can’t remember the river, but the Russians were on the other side of the river. We thought, “Well the war’s over for us. We’ve done our part.” Instead of that they sent us down into Czechoslovakia. So we still had five or six days of action. I was in the lead when we reach Carlsbad and we stopped at Czechoslovakia. The infantry in the division that followed us through many of our operations. We would reach the mission and we would pull out and let them come in to clean it up. We’d go on the next mission and they would follow. The 69th infantry came in. One of their squads went over and had a celebration with the Russians. Got pictures and went back in 50 years later for an anniversary. They were ordered not to and we were ordered not to mix with them.


Triesler: When you were leading with the tanks, what was your position on the tank? Were you standing upright?


Paris: Every tank had a commander who waist up was out of the turret. That’s the only way he could see to observe and find targets. If you’d see a target or what you thought was a target, you would use the intercom and call the gunner. He had a sight, but it was very limited. The driver was practically blind and so was the ball gunner. They had little tinny periscopes. I could control the turret manually or mechanically all the way around, 360 degrees, and so could the gunner. So I would say, “2 o’clock.” Well that might not mean anything to him because he’s in the turret. You know the military system where you’re always looking at noon 12 o’clock. So you’d say it’s 3 o’clock or 6 o’clock. So I’d say, “2 o’clock.” And I’d swing the turret around. I’d say, “At the corner of that house there.” I’d lay the gun tube in that direction. He’d say, “I see it.” So I then give the ammunition. I’d say, “AT,” which means high explosive, to the gunner. He would load the gun. Then I’d say to the gunner, “one 800.” That meant 1800 yards. That was my estimated distance. I’m out all the time looking at this. He would say, “Ready” to alert me he was going to fire. “On the way.” And he’d hit the solenoid and fire the gun. Of course the whole tank rocks. That breach block, which is a big heavy piece of steel. It comes back 17”. If you’re anywhere near it and it hits you it’s going to break your arm and your ribs. So you had to scrunch over a little bit. Then that big brass shell case comes tumbling out all smelly and stinky and it’s bouncing around in there. The loader’s trying to get around it. It’s hot as hell by then, see. He’s trying to get ready for the next round. It’s a real tight operation in a turret. They’ve got automatic loaders in today’s tanks, but in those days you had to rely on the man to do that. Of course the tank rocks back and forth so they steady themselves so they don’t hit their head on the side and get a concussion. And that’s the way that you fired.


Triesler: What would you do with the shell once it cooled off a little bit? How would you get rid of it?


Paris: Oh later when things got quieter you’d just through them out, or you might even back up if you thought you might be overcome or you backed behind a ridge or something, you’d toss ‘em out.


Triesler: You mentioned that your driver had saved your life a couple of times by his driving. I just wondered if you could give any more detail.


Paris: Well, as I mentioned, when we pulled out of Saint Vith and that gun was firing on us, if he hadn’t stopped when I said stop and start then we would have gotten hit for sure, because the guy fired three times and missed us. Later when we were under this new command, after General Hogue left, he started a big operation and was pairing up tanks and infantry to attack this way. They said, “3rd platoon and D company will screen the right flank,” which means that if they’re going forward like this they can be hit on the side by guns, so you screen this area to keep the German guns on that side from coming in. I said, “What about this town?” and I called out the name of the town. They said, “Oh, that’s being held by the 89th recon, our troops are in there see.” So I said again, “Yeah, it’s clear.” So we started there and we had to go down a slope. At the top of the hill there was a soldier in a foxhole. I thought, “That’s peculiar, right out here in a foxhole,” but he smiled and waved and I waved at him. We were going down a slope so I was in the lead. Suddenly a gun fired on me, and it was the only time I ever heard the round. It passed over maybe a yard, yard and a half, over my head. Pffff. A bubbly sound as it went over my head. They fired a second time and missed me. I figured well this gun is dug in. What I knew about their tactics, there are a lot of little villages there, ten houses and they farm the land around, half a mile further there’s another twelve houses you know. They’d put their gun by the nearest house it could lay down the road, so the crew could be indoors most of the time and leave one man out to guard the gun. If you look you might find that they used some camouflage. I could spot them; I knew that would be where it was. I figured where this gun was and they fired twice and missed me.

I called the platoon and said, “Withdraw immediately. Withdraw. Don’t get off the road,” because I knew it was muddy on the side. They began doing that. I started firing down there at this point. The platoon behind me didn’t do it. They pulled off and got stuck in the mud. Several of them got killed right there because they had guns up in the barn. Lieutenant Coplan had the mortar platoon. He apparently was listening in somehow and he called the commander and he said, “Squirrel’s in bad trouble, let me fire down there.” They said, “No, that’s in our hands.” He said, “The hell it is. They’re firing on Squirrel, he’s in trouble.” I didn’t hear this because he was calling directly for permission to fire. Suddenly I began seeing explosions down there. He was the kind of guy that would ignore officers above him if he didn’t believe in it. He was a very strong willed guy. I’d been with him many times. He was one of my buddies.

I knew then that he was firing toward that house. I saw all my tanks were out; I said to Wellesley, “We gotta get the hell outta here. Lets turn around and take it easy. We’ve got this narrow road.” He maneuvered that tank around. When he got faced back I said, “Kick her. Give it hell. Kick it in the ass.” I turned the gun tube back toward the village because I knew we were going up the slope. What I had figured was that the reason those rounds went over my head, and I’m in the lead tank, is that his gun was in the hole and he couldn’t lower the gun tube enough to hit me. In other words, it was dug in and it was pointed up and he couldn’t lower it enough to hit me in the lead. But I knew that as soon as I got up that rise I’d be right up to his range. So I turned the turret around and faced the gun back and said, “Go, Go!” and he drove like mad and got us out of there. When we got back I checked the platoon and found a sad thing. One of those rounds that went over my head, the other tanks were up the slope, decapitated the Platoon Sergeant. The gunner was a young man who’d been a motorcyclist and he came to our place. We made him gunner in the tank with the Platoon Sergeant. I can’t imagine what he felt when he turned and saw his sergeant slump down headless.

Well, ahhhh. I got him out and the company commander said, “Lets send him to aid in the back of the hospital.” I said, “The guy will go out of his mind if the last thing he saw was that. Lets keep him.” He said, “Alright.” I had a bottle of brandy I’d been hiding in my gear on the back of the tank. So I got a bottle of brandy and went over and said, “Corporal, here’s something to drink to sooth you down, bud.” Well, he began drinking and he got drunk. I went back and I said, “You’re drunk, Corporal, we’re still on alert. I’m going to bust you to private.” He said, “Ok, Lieutenant, I can understand,” but he was with his buddies. When he sobered up I said, “You are now a corporal again.” I think that that’s what saved him. His buddies were around him and he wasn’t in a hospital with that in his mind.

My best friend, Lieutenant Tryar, was killed. He was one of them who pulled his tank off and got stuck in the mud. He had just come back. He was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and he insisted on coming back with the unit. He made it back with us and this was his first day in combat for him. I had to handle the mail after that. His wife was pregnant when we left. I’ll never forget the letter. The baby had died in birth. She wrote a letter that said, “God couldn’t be so mean to take my baby and my husband the same day.” You feel pretty bad. We weren’t allowed to correspond with them until they determine whether he’s found, killed in action, or missing. I violated the army rules. I wrote her a letter. I said, “Don’t hope anymore. He’s gone. I saw Bob. We both lost him.” I let her know not to grieve and not to keep up her hopes. I called on her after the war and she thanked me for that letter. I did this for a sergeant’s wife too. She was very, very bitter. One of the worst experiences, Sergeant Hudson’s wife. He was a career Sergeant. A cavalry Sergeant. It was very difficult, me sitting with her. She was blaming the army and the world and everybody for this. She didn’t know the details of his death at all, because they don’t tell you that. They’ll just say he was killed in action, KIA. They don’t say how it was. There’s a book written by a man who was in ordinance. I’ve got a copy of it. He was a Lieutenant with a driver. His job was to go out and find tanks and see if they were recoverable, then go back and tell the ordinance where the tank was or the halftrack or gun was. He said one of the worst jobs was to clean out the body parts so that the next crew couldn’t see it. It’s a very touching book. That brought back this scene, because that turret must have been a mess.


Triesler: What kind of gun do you think the Germans had that they were firing at you [with]? Could you tell?


Paris: Everybody says they were 88s, but they weren’t always. They had a 75mm that was a high velocity gun that was a devastating thing. The 88 was duel purpose. It was designed to be an anti-aircraft. It had high muzzle velocity. That’s why their guns were better than ours, only because they had a higher muzzle velocity than ours. Ours went out slow. You’ve got to have a high muzzle velocity to penetrate a tank. That’s why they were better weapons; they were high speed, the 75 and 88 both. Ours were slow, just like the pistol they gave us. I couldn’t hit the side of a barn with that pistol if I was inside the barn. So the first thing I did was I took it out and stowed it in the tank and got myself a German Luger. Later I got a Belgian Browning, which was a wonderful weapon. That’s the weapon I carried, not the army weapon. They’re still using it. It was developed during the Philippine insurrection. We all found ordinance.


Triesler: You just mentioned the Philippines and that reminded me, at the end of the war in Europe what were you concerned about being shipped over to Asia? Did you have any thoughts that that could happen to you?


Paris: I had volunteered to go, but I had found out that I couldn’t for some legal reason; there was some problem with that. So I stayed in Europe shipping troops home. I had a mother and sister, but no wife or children, so I figured I would stay.


Triesler: When’s your birthday?


Paris: July 12th.


Triesler: July 12th. What year?


Paris: 1915. I’m 91 in a couple of months.

Let me tell you a couple things about ordinance, because this is pretty important. There was a guy named Christie, who designed tanks, and he couldn’t get along with ordinance. He’s submit his design and they’d say “Change A, B and C.” He’d say, “The hell with you,” and he’d go change X, Y, and Z. They couldn’t get along together. He invented a suspension system that was better than the loot spring system. We called it the loot spring system. Ours was like this, you know? He took it to them and they turned it down. The British adopted it, the Russians adopted it, the French adopted it, the Germans adopted it, and everybody adopted it. At the end of the war, the last tanks we got was the M24 and the M26. They finally put the Christie system on it. That was toward the last 5 months of the war.

Let me give you another example. The top of the tanks that you see has a 50-caliber machine gun. It’s right in back of the commander. You can lock it in an upright position with the barrel pointing up, but then it’s not usable. If you suddenly come up on a guy in a foxhole with a bazooka, a panzerfaust, or infantrymen, you can’t unlock it in time to use it. If you unlock it and are trying to get it ready you have to reach back here and it’s awkward. The worst thing is that every time the tank lurches that thing hits you on the side of the head and you get a minor concussion. So after you have five or six concussions you say, “The hell with this.” So what we did, we got the mechanics, we got a settling torch, and we got the thing off and moved it in the front where we could use it.

The Browning machine gun, Browning sold that gun all over Europe before the American army would buy it and they’re using it still today. I talked to a young soldier at Walter Reid here recently. I go down to Walter Reid to get my medications. I see a lot of these amputees that are coming back. It’s very sad to see young men in their early twenties with one or two legs gone, or their arm. What the people don’t know is, there’s four to five times more head wounds than there are amputees, which they don’t show you in the pictures. At any rate, I said to him, “What kind of weapons you got?” He said, “Well, we’ve got the Browning machine gun.” I said, “Is it a good one?” He said, “Well the stamp on the line says it was make in 1927.” It was a good machine gun. It operated without fault. Ours never jammed because we set the head space, you have to adjust it right. The Germans had much faster gun. Zip, zip, zip, it sounded like. You were ripping cloth, not AHHAHHAHH. Not that sound, but zip, zip, zip.


Triesler: Did you have a good respect for the Germans during the war, or just dislike? What was your feeling when you were up against them?


Paris: Well of course you hated them, because they were the enemy. That was the only reason, but during the Battle of the Bulge when we learned of the massacre at Malmedy then we really got mad. When we learned that they had infiltrated us with troops in American uniforms and American vehicles, that really turns you on. Many people know about the Malmedy massacre, where the 88 men in the field surrendered. That was Colonel Piper’s outfit; the one I told you led the 5th panzer army. He claimed that he didn’t do it, but they all said that they understood that they were not to take prisoners and so one of the tankers started mowing and everybody started shooting, then they went out in the field and started shooting them in the head if they were moving yet. A lot of those men, a few of them got away they live in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, they managed to get in the woods and tell about it. And then a colonel, in stair colonel who was with us, is the one who went in later and dug the bodies up. That’s proof that the snows didn’t come the first 6 or 7 days. The bodies were covered in snow, but there was no snow under them. He used a magnifying, what do you call it? Range finding?


Triesler: Metal detector.


Paris: Metal detectors to find them and their weapons and so on. Then there were two other massacres that his men did of our troops in my division. The infantry was with us; the 27th armored infantry battalion had 12 men massacred in the backyard of a house. They laid their bodies in a circle and through playing cards on their bodies. I never understood that. That friar put up a personal monument at his own expense. It’s off the main road, you have to walk up through the woods, but he’s got a personal monument. The men of the 27th send him $100 a year to put flowers on that grave. There was a third one, one of our service men. He got murdered, massacred. So there were other massacres by these troops, Colonel Piper’s troops. Piper himself, he was a young man. He was in his mid-20s at the time, but SS. He got his due finally. I just wrote an article, did some research and wrote an article in my tank battalion newsletter about him. After the war he returned to Germany and apparently he wasn’t too well liked or something was wrong, so he moved to France of all places. He lived there several years. One time his house burned down and he was in there. When they called the fire department, the fire department found that all their tires were flat. They couldn’t get the fire trucks down to his house, so some body got even with him. They went up and disabled all the fire trucks, then went down and set fire to his house. Peiper, P-E-I-P-E-R, Joachin J-O-A-C-H-I-N. Colonel Joachin Peiper. A mean one.

So how you felt when you hear something like that? You, well. One day one of the civilians came up to me and said, “There’s two Germans in your chow line there.” “What?” “Yeah, they’re in American uniforms.” So we pulled them out and I turned them in to the MPs. I don’t know whether they were or not. Whenever they did find them they usually shot them. They don’t write this up in the books. If you’re caught in the enemies uniform you’re shot right there.


Triesler: Well you’re a spy then, right?


Paris: Yeah, no trials or nothing. And Peiper and all of his men who committed these never did serve a day. The trials were so screwed up by the American jurisprudence system that they went hearing after hearing and kept knocking them down so none of them really got the death sentences that they were given. He was given a death sentence but he wasn’t killed. There’s a lot of side things that they can’t show in movies or don’t show in records.


Triesler: How did you deal with mine fields? Did you come across any? What did you have to do about approaching potential mines?


Paris: Oh indeed. Well if we thought it was we’d just… let me give an example. Usually we would send for the engineers because they had the detectors and they had the skill to go find them. We wouldn’t proceed and if we did we would only send one tank. Then we would only lose one tank, because they have what they call sympathetic detonation. If one goes off it will set off another mine nearby sometimes, and you’d have a whole minefield, maybe, blow up just because of one. If there was any danger… In the tanks you weren’t at so much risk as someone in a halftrack of a peep, which people call a jeep but we called them a peep back in those days. Peep.

This is one reason why you’re out of the tank, one day we were riding along in a pretty open area and here’s two trees and I think, “Uh oh, what a place to put a wire.” There was two reasons for that. One of them is, you’re riding along in a tank and you don’t see it, that’s why we don’t like moving at night, that wire catches you on here, man you’re dead. The other thing is, it might be attached to a mine. One time I saw these two traps and stopped the driver and said, “Let me examine it.” So I’m looking it over and a twelve-year-old kid came up out of a foxhole and fired a panzerfaust at me, it like a bazooka, the German version of the bazooka, panzerfaust. It skipped across the front and didn’t go off. You had to know where they were likely to put trip wires and stuff like that. Then one time after the war they sent me down to occupy a castle that held a lot of German naval records in it. The Senior Admirals of the navy, one who accepted the surrender of the Germans. I can’t think of his name.


Triesler: Doenitz? Was that it?


Paris: That might have been it. There was a castle there and there was a woman in there. The servant met me and said, “The lady will tell you what you can see.” I said, “No, I tell her. I’m occupying now, I’m the master.” We looted their wine cellar.

Another time they sent me down to guard Theresa Newman. I said to the Colonel, “Who’s Theresa Newman?” He said, “Well she’s being threatened by the Germans.” I said, “Well Colonel, I don’t like this assignment.” He said, “Neither do I, but it came from up above.” I went down to this village down there and got some of the civilian men there and said, “Any German troops here?” They said, “There were but they pulled out.” I said, “Where?” They said, “They went through the forest over there.” So I named them as outlooks for me and said, “If one man gets a scratch on him you’re all going to die, do you understand that?” They said they did. So then I pulled out my gun and thought, “These people know nothing but cruelty, nothing but power.” So I hit one of them right in the middle of his face. I said, “Do you now understand?” “Ja wul, ja wul. Yes sir.” They understood. I said, “You don’t walk on the sidewalks, you walk in the street.” Used to be the blacks, you know, but I didn’t say that. At any rate, so I had them posted on guard. I put one tank on each side of the town.

We had new tanks. You had to run them constantly to keep the batteries up. The generator didn’t kick in until you were at 1800 RPMs. We didn’t want dead batteries. So I went back to the Colonel to get some telephone lines strung in for that town so I could have a connection. When I got back the Colonel said, “I’ll get you some telephone wire strung in.” I said, “I can’t keep my radios on.” As I went back, for the first time I noticed in the field, “Beware Minein.” Both sides of the road were mined. So how lucky we were, because if they fired one round at us what you’d do, two tanks pull to the right and you form a line and fire back. You don’t stay in a column because they’d block the road if you stay in a column see. If they would have had one gun that they left just to fire one round, we’d have been stuck in a mine field. In later years I learned who ordered us down there. My division commander was a strong Catholic, and his son told me that. He said, “My old man was the one that ordered you down there.”