James Tolby Anderson
This article is an excerpt from the memoir of James Tolby Anderson. It was written in 2004 and published in his local newspaper.
"War Time Experience of James Tolby Anderson"
Near the end of May 1943, I was drafted into the United States Army to serve in World War II. On the 7th of June, I reported to Abington, Virginia for initial processing where they told us We would have to report back fourteen days later. On the 21st of June, I left my home as a teenager only to return a couple of years later a war tom man aged beyond his years. I was scared to death but I knew I had to go and I tired not to think about it.
I stayed at camp Lee for about four to five days for testing. On the 27th of June, we took a train to Camp Wheeler, Georgia where we arrived around the first of July. At Camp Wheeler, I Made a friendship that lasted throughout the war and pulled me through the horrors I would later encounter. His name was Edgar Archibald and he was from Pennsylvania. At camp Wheeler, we went through sixteen intense weeks of basic training in the hot southern sun. There, I experience my first taste of death when a draftee died from a heat stroke. That death was hard on all of us but not anything like what was to follow.
Meanwhile back at Camp Wheeler, we were being infantry trained using a 37-millimeter anti-tank gun and a Ml rifle gun. There I was awarded expert marksmanship in my gun training. My group finished our training and was given a furlough. We were to report to Fort Meade, Maryland a week later on the 10th of November. It felt great to be back in the mountains and at home but the nervousness of not knowing if I were to be shipped over seas kept me on edge.
I arrived at Fort Meade, the point of embarkation, on the lOth of November where I received my physicals. A couple of days later, I left there by train going south to Fort Henry where I stayed for a couple of days. Then, I was told we were headed to Newport News, Virginia where that meant I was going over seas!
Upon arrival to Newport News, I was in awe of the ocean because that was the first time I had seen it. I boarded the transportation ship, which was the USS Anderson, on Thanksgiving Day of 1943. I found some joy in the name of the ship that I boarded to ride over the sea and into the heart of the battle.
That first day on the ship we all had turkey dinner but most of the men were a little sea sick so the hallways were filled with puke, but I wasn't sea sick, I could eat anytime at anyplace. I would have been sick if I had known then about the German U-Boats that lurked the Atlantic Ocean like killer sharks! The USS Anderson traversed the ocean like traveling the winding roads back home to nullify the U-Boat.
Eight days later, either on December the 4th or 5th the ship landed in Casablanca, North Africa. Here we were put into tent cities and stayed right on the ocean for two weeks. Next we were put into train boxcars, ten soldiers per car, and rode for several days to Oran, North Africa on the Mediterranean Sea where we spent Christmas. Here, we were trained for a few days then left on a British boat to a port near Naples, Italy where we arrived around the first of January 1944.
In Naples, we were put in another tent city for the entire month which was not the most pleasant place to stay but was net' times better than where my next destination took me. On the first day of February, we traveled on another ship overnight to Anzio, Italy where the reality of war finally set in. As soon as we got off the ship, there on the beachhead, we were in combat and could hear the awful sound of war; a railroad gun was shelling us. I guess those first few minutes in combat are to say the least like changing: a lot of us just stood there in terror. I remember plainly a British Officer screaming at us, "What's the matter with you blokes, do you wanna live always?", as he grabbed me and we jumped in a basement for cover.
After the shelling halted, I walked to the edge of a woodland where everybody had gathered. Three names were called off, James Anderson, Edgar Archibald, and Louis Abruzzi to get in a jeep. We were being transported to the front lines. I don't know how Archibald and I ended up together again, I guess it was in the hands of God as many other events proved to be. For the record on the 2nd day of February, I entered combat.
The three of us joined the 30th Infantry Regiment, Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon 2nd Battalion. Our main job was to get ammo to the front lines for E, F, and G companies. Many times we found ourselves in between the two front lines!
After that first day of combat, we slept in an old barn on the beachhead. On the 3rd day of combat, I was digging a foxhole under heavy shelling while bullets were whizzing by me. There, I came to the realization that the enemy was real and their objective was to kill me! On the next day, I was in my foxhole and heard a loud noise, as I raised up, I realized the noise was American bomber planes. As the first plane dropped its bombs, it blew my helmet off! For some reason, I didn't have my chinstrap buckled under my chin and this prevented me from being decapitated. That was the closest one to me, the others as they exploded, picked me up off the ground. I guess this shows how close to the enemy I actually was! We stayed there on the beachhead with enemies all around us for seven to ten days under heavy artillery fire. The Germans were trying to push us into the ocean while we were pushing inland to cut off a German road. Here we lost over half of each company where each company contained approximately two hundred men.
I was sent along with another man, Norman Mohar who I correspond with till this day, to fix a bridge and lay some sandbags down. This proved to be the worst night I spent in the war. We were shelled all night long, me and him prayed to get hit so we would be sent back home. We could hear the shells hitting the road and ricocheting off making an eerie noise. When we got dug in, I couldn't sleep at all. We were on flat ground so we couldn't raise our head out of the foxhole. The next morning, a US Soldier came running by screaming and yelling that he couldn't take it anymore; the war had driven him crazy.
A couple of days later, an incident occurred that I remember vividly. We had been sleeping in that farmhouse and Wallace Chapman and I drifted off upstairs to write a letter home. As we were writing, a shell hit across the road; about one hundred and fifty feet from the farmhouse. Another one followed that one, landing right beside the house. We dropped what we were doing and ran like madmen. As we reached the outside, a shell hit the house and knocked an entire wall out. We went on around to the front and Wallace had made a right turn to try and make it to the nearby stable. Again, with the guidance of the Lord, I ran back toward the house and got behind an old car. A Lieutenant was screaming to get the hell out and one at a time, we ran across the yard. When it came my time, I took off as fast as I could go and tripped over a grape vine. When I hit the ground, a shell hit behind me and coveted me with dirt. In a ten-minute span, I was saved twice!
The shelling stopped after a little while and we pulled the dead out of the stable. We didn't find all of the bodies until the next morning and the stench was terrible. It was shocking to see Wallace dead who I had just been writing a letter with only a few minutes before hand. I sent home the letter Wallace was writing; he didn't get to finish it. I hope his family found some comfort in that. (There were 8 of my comrades killed in that stable).
We dug in here at the exploded farmhouse. A few nights later, we got news that another farmhouse was hit with a shell and killed many soldiers. They sent us up there to see what happened. As we got there, we could hear men still alive in the fallen house. To our surprise, we dug out all of the men and they were all alive. A few nights later, we had to pick up a soldier who had been blown in half by a grenade. The stench was so horrible that we had to carry him close to the ground. As we carried him out, we began to get fired on by American soldiers. They heard us yelling and promptly quit firing. The next night we had to hoist a dead soldier out of a foxhole with a rope because we thought the hole was booby-trapped.
During all of these removals of dead bodies, the enemy was firing on us. There was no fear like the fear of being fired at constantly. One guy named Cohen nearly got sick every time we removed a corpse. It wasn't our job to carry off the dead soldiers but the GRO"s were overwhelmed with dead bodies. At one time, both sides called off all fighting for three hours to clear the battlefield of the dead. If they could stop fighting that long, why couldn't they call off all fighting?