For Memorial Day, Adam Andrzejewski shares stories from his grandfather’s experiences in a tank crew during America’s World War II invasion of Europe.
The 2014 film Fury starring Brad Pitt showcased the Sherman tank commanders of World War II in the European theatre. While American tanks were lighter, more maneuverable and easier to fix, the German tanks possessed heavier armor and bigger guns. Therefore, battlefield victory was an achievement requiring smarts, guts, quick-decision making and learned instincts.
My grandfather, Sgt. Donald Norris of Sugar Grove, Ill, and Lt. John Howard of Winnetka, Ill fought in the 745th Tank Battalion, First Infantry Division alongside each other in a three tank, fifteen-man unit. Both fought from the earliest days of the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Both defended and crossed the Ludendorff Bridge over River Rhine at Remagen, Germany moments before its destruction on St. Patrick’s Day, 1945. While both officers received battlefield commission and promotion, Howard meritoriously earned two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts; Norris earned the Bronze Star and carried a piece of molten tank turret in his calf until his peaceful death in 1990.
Both men depended on each other to survive the war. Here’s just one of their stories:
During the block-by-block cleanup of German cities, my grandfather enjoyed the warmth of his woolen cap rather than the chill of the “steel pot” helmet, especially during cold weather. Lt. Howard spotted Norris, and would have none of it – ordering Norris to put the helmet back on. Soon after an unseen German pillbox disabled my grandfather’s tank. Bailing out, Norris took a sniper shot to the head. The steel pot, though dented, held strong.
On this Memorial Day 2016, I’m only able to write this piece because of Lt. Howard’s forceful directive to my grandfather. It was a generational gift culminating in 79 descendants. Surviving the war meant that my grandparents Don and Marna Norris could raise ten children, including my mother Janet. Don and Marna would have 23 grandchildren. Today, my girls are three of their 46 great-grandchildren.
Read the rest of the story here.