Remembrances: Larry Coppock--About Dad: A Letter to My Sisters About Dad
Update regarding the research on dad's experiences in World War II. Dad completed his initial enlistment in an artillery unit from 1938-1942. Sometime between 1943-1944 he enlisted in the newly formed 89th Infantry Division (commonly called the Rolling W).The 89th was one of the divisions that comprised the Third Army commanded by the renown General George S. Patton. The 89th completed several training exercises in the United States before shipping out from Boston to the coast of France in December 1944.
Sub-elements of the 89th that dad was a member of included the following: 353rd Infantry Regiment, Company F, 3rd platoon, 2nd Rifle Squad. Rifle Squads were at the core of what the Army was all about. These were the soldiers on the front lines; that's where the action and the camaraderie is most evident. Of the twelve men in dad's squad, I have only found one living thus far- Lester Devore. I drove to his home in Delevan, Illinois last November. I taped our two hour conversation. Devore was a private; Dad was a sergeant and the assistant squad leader. Dad was 31, Devore five years younger. Both quite a bit older than the average G.I. Devore recalled memories of how Dad carried out one of his duties as the 'booby trap' man. He said that dad saved his life and the lives of several soldiers by dismantling these booby traps that were connected to dead bodies or weapons/souvenirs that soldiers took for their eventual return to the states. It was a 'rite of passage' of sorts as best I could tell from Devore.
He also spoke of a patrol that he, dad and a German-speaking American soldier were ordered to conduct surrounding the events of the battle of Eisenach. Company F was about to accept the white surrender flag the Germans were waving on the outskirts of Eisenach when they were unexpectedly fired upon by the Germans. They were caught by complete surprise. They ended up having to bombard Eisenach as the German force had been ordered not to surrender it, although they eventually did.
Back to the patrol. It was at night and just the three of them. They were sent out to gather information on the location and strength of the German force that they were up against. It was very dark, so dark, said Devore, that you barely see beyond a few feet. The patrol encountered trouble as they neared their objective. As they heard Germans approaching their position they tried hurriedly to position themselves in shrubs and foliage adjacent to a wooden fence. The other two soldiers- Devore and the one who spoke German from company headquarters- were short and could get themselves into the fetal position away from the trail. Dad was too tall at 6'1". His boots stuck out, exposed on the trail but he hoped the darkness would serve as a safety shield. They lay deathly still as the superior German force rolled a machine gun down the trail and rolled it right over dad's boots. Dad stayed silent so as not to give away their position. They couldn't make out what it was. According to the German -speaking American soldier, the Germans remarked to one another that they thought they had rolled over rocks. Devore said that when they returned safely to headquarters, dad was visibly upset and shaky. (I can't understand why!).
Dad was transferred to another squad as he couldn't perform the booby trap duties anymore. Probably a culmination of doing this for so long and coming so close to death.
I have interviewed about 20 veteran 89ers or their surviving spouses, all between 77-84 years of age. Devore is 83 and has an excellent memory. I have discovered that several members of the squad have since passed on to the Lord- either through their surviving spouse or through soldier interviews. My hope of finding any more of them alive is fading but I continue to try.
One tragic incident happened (within the squad) when Albert Dodd was killed by his best friend Charles Hudson. Hudson was cleaning his rifle and it discharged accidentally and hit Dodd in the head. Devore said that they were in a state of shock and only Roy Kennedy, a lanky Tennessean, reacted quickly with First Aid. But it was too late. Dodd died soon after. I have heard several vets speak of this tragedy and how it affected all of them but especially Hudson. Hudson was transferred from the squad and was never heard from again. Dodd was officially listed as DOW (died of wounds), drawing a distinction between killed in action (KIA).
Many of the 300 plus 89ers who were KIA died as a result of being shot by snipers, in battles near cities like Kaub or St. Goar and events surrounding the crossing of the Rhine. German 88's opened up and took out some of the paddle assault boats that they were crossing in.
I have found only two officers alive that were in dad's company. One was Lt. Earl Oot. He has written me two letters. Oot is 83,a semi-retired attorney, living near Syracuse, New York. Oot was a real smart leader and well respected by everyone that I have interviewed, except Pvt. Marlen Pressley. Marlen told me that Oot volunteered them for every task that came their way. Marlen noted,' I just wanted to do my job and get back home.' In qualifying his remarks, he said 'Oot was a good leader.' Oot always looked to save lives. His platoon captured 107 Germans in one day, including a Major General and his entire staff and subsequently freed 3000 prisoners.
One of the other lieutenants, who shall remain nameless, was not so popular. He abused the privilege of rank on several occasions. His motto was 'follow me boys' during battles but in reality he led from behind, according to Devore. He was not respected by the men he purported to lead. Devore mentioned several other examples that were more blatant. It was not difficult to draw key distinctions in leadership styles from this lieutenant and Lt. Oot. Devore recalled having to talk another member of the platoon out of shooting the lieutenant in the back at the Rhine crossing. He was suppose to provide cover fire upon their exit from a DUKW boat but apparently was more concerned with his on safety. Devore told the other soldier,' We might need him for something later.' Such was the case in war.
One thing that Devore told me about dad that meant the most was that you could count on him. He said 'You could always count on your dad. He was trained well, intelligent and did a good job. He was quiet like me. He didn't associate with most of the other guys. He was slow moving like he was always thinking as he walked.'
I was making a presentation in Chicago before a church men's group of about 70 guys soon after I had interviewed Devore. I related to them what I was doing with the research project about dad. Afterwards, a 72 year old man approached me and said," My father died when I was 2. I wish that I had done what you are doing now". I almost broke down.
As I have related these stories to Mama, she said Dad never told her anything about any of what I had learned. Just a little about the Rhine crossing (she thought it was D-Day). That's what started me going on this- I wanted to know what really happened, where he was and who he served with. Well, now we know at least some of the story. And, I was glad to hear that dad saved men's lives. In some ways that may have been more difficult than squeezing the trigger on his carbine.
Not so with John Harjo. He was nervous and quick to the trigger. He was a Creek Indian from Oklahoma and the squad's BAR man. He and Augtin Guitterez were best buddies. One day the platoon was zigzagging across an open field in a brief skirmish trying to avoid German snipers. Guitterez's gun accidentally discharged and hit Harjo in the back of the shoulder. It was just a flesh wound, however. Guitterez carried Harjo's pack for two-three weeks while he recovered. One of the Company's Captains asked one of the sergeants to wake Harjo after a night of binge drinking and when the sergeant did Harjo just beat him to a pulp. (I thought sergeants were over privates, heh?) Harjo's quick trigger killed 6 Germans who were trying to surrender but no one said anything. It was war. All this was related by Devore and a phone interview with Marlen Pressley who was a good friend of Roy Kennedy. Roy hailed from Difficult, Tennessee, just down the road from Defeated, Tennessee (this is no joke, just an hour or so from Nashville) Roy was just a good 'ole' country boy. I have heard nothing but good things about him. He passed away in 1998.
Basically, the 89th went into battle from March to the end of the war in early May. They were the easternmost American division (closest to the Russians and moved to within 10 miles of Berlin). They were the first to liberate a concentration camp-Ohrdruf (a sub camp of the infamous Buchenwald).General Finley made the entire 89th walk through the camp. He wanted everyone to remember the horrific sights and atrocities brought upon humankind; that this was but another reason for why they were fighting. During their 59 days of battle the 89th took over 40,000 prisoners and lost approximately 300 men (KIA) out of 16,000 plus. The 89ers fought with distinction in the Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns including battles like Eisenach, Zwickau, St. Goarhausen, St. Goar, Kaub and more.
Their commander, General Finley, received the Legion of Merit. Members of the 89th received 1 Distinguished Service Cross (posthumous), 1 Distinguished. Service Medal, 20 Silver Stars, and a host of Bronze Stars. Most every man earned the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB). This distinction meant $10.00 more per monthly paycheck to a soldier and later could be a factor in receiving the Bronze Star. After the war, many applied for and received it. Dad received his in 1947 while in the Air Force.
Devore was glad to hear that dad was ok. after the 'patrol incident'. As I shared with him, Dad completed his high school education after the war, became an MP (with excellent ratings), and was a private pilot and soloed before getting ill with kidney disease). He was a fine husband to his wife and a great father to my sisters and I keep on my office desk to this day the steel gold plated New Testament Bible that my grandmother had give to him. I will always treasure it and it's a constant reminder of how we must always look to God for the best that life has to offer. I think dad would say that the Lord blessed his life immensely.
It' been an interesting journey. Let us not forget what these brave men did to preserve
our freedom and our way of life. They are called the Silent Generation. But I prefer Brokaw's characterization, the Greatest Generation.
All my love,
Larry Coppock is the National Director, Scouting Ministries, The United Methodist Church.
He is married and has 3 children and 4 grandchildren. He and his wife Diane reside in Nashville, Tennessee. You may reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.