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The 808th Tank Destroyer Battalion

invites you to enjoy this site while learning about WWII and tank destroyers

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Memories of the men of the 808th TD

The following short stories are memories 808 tank destroyer veterans have shared. Some are told by 808 TD vets, others are retold by family members.

Again, there are links to more memories in the green band above.

808ers during winter trainingIf you know or knew an 808 tank destroyer vet and wish to share memories,send them to me, I will publish them here. If you know one of our vets, please try to share a memory or two. The 808 vets are getting on in years, when they are gone the memories will be gone with them. Don't let their efforts be forgotten! The memory doesn't have to be a long one, just a sentence or two is great. Added together enough sentences will help us never forget and will help others to know what WWII was all about for our soldiers.


 Raymond Sawyer

shared this memory with The Tennessean Newspaper.

Raymond Sawyer reached into the cardboard box and pulled out two red, tattered armbands with swastikas on them. His old hands shook as he lifted the armbands to the living room window so he could see them better in the light. On the other side of the glass, a blue jay ate seeds from a birdfeeder.

But Sawyer didn't notice the budding of spring in the front yard of his Franklin home. The armbands and other mementos in that box took him back to a freezing, deadly month in Belgium more than 60 years ago. A month he barely survived. A month when young soldiers, like him, fought and bled in what history books now call the Battle of the Bulge.

"It stays with you," he said, sitting at a table next to the window. From the box, he pulled out a wad of paper towels and unwrapped them. They covered a metal spoon and fork used by a German officer in the field, a Nazi symbol engraved on their base. They were strange to look at up close because for a time, in the early 1940s, a human being knew that corroded metal so personally. His mouth once tasted its bitter flavor, maybe even only a few moments before he died.

Sawyer also unwrapped a German bayonet and a medal with that unsettling swastika image on it. They were the souvenirs he collected from battle, but as he sat at the window, talking slowly in the sunlight, you understood that he didn't need anything to remind him of his role in history.

Training saw tragedies

In 1942, Sawyer was a handsome 20-year-old kid with an innocent, boyish face. He lived in Brentwood but worked at Union Station in Nashville, checking baggage. But that ended in December when he was drafted.

He trained at Camp Hood in Texas with other members of the 808th Tank Destroyers Battalion. They worked hard in the months leading up to their departure for Europe, but the excitement for Sawyer began while he was still in America.

"When I was stationed in Wisconsin, one Saturday night, we were staying in a two-story barracks, and one Saturday night everybody was gone, but just four or five of us," he said.

He went to bed, but woke up suddenly about 2 a.m. He looked out the window and saw bright lights, but he couldn't make out what was going on.

"I jumped up, put my clothes on and went outside," he said. "The top of the barracks was on fire. I woke up the other fellows and told them to get out of there."

A few firefighters arrived with a fire engine, but since it was the weekend, they had a half crew. Sawyer was recruited to help, and he grabbed one of the fire hoses.

"They turned on the water, and the pressure flopped me around," he said. "It was like holding a young bull. You ought to try that some time."

They finally got the fire out. A few firefighters went upstairs into the charred remains of the barracks and found, what they thought, was the source of the blaze.

"They found a fellow in bed up there burned up. They figured what happened to him, he came in intoxicated and was smoking in bed, set his bed on fire."

A few weeks later, Sawyer and 4,000 other men took a 13-day boat ride across the Atlantic Ocean to England. From there, they went to France.

"They did everything after dark, so one night we crossed the English Channel and landed at Utah Beach," he said. "The next night, we was up on the battle lines fighting."

Fighting was 'miserable'

Sawyer was one of five guys crammed into a M-36 Tank. They rolled across the countryside, shooting 90-millimeter rounds into other tanks, trucks and German dugouts. When the tank fired, it lifted the front end of the metal beast and hurt the ears of the men inside. They drove through explosions and heard enemy bullets bouncing off the tank's metal plating.

"There was a lot of gunfire and smoke and it rained every day," Sawyer said. "One of my crew said, 'I can't take this anymore.' He took his rifle and put it down there on his leg and pulled the trigger. He went somewhere. They took him off."

About three weeks later, the tanks pulled into a deserted town. Buildings stood in ruins with gaping holes from artillery rounds. Crumbled bricks covered the streets. The tanks stopped.

"We all got out, all but my driver. He stayed inside," Sawyer said. "We was standing on the side and our leader, he told us, 'Y'all go look around. See what you can find.' "

The men scattered, but they soon heard the screech of an incoming shell. It exploded in the spot they'd just been standing.

"Our commander, he was blown all to pieces. My driver, he rolled out of the tank and ran around there and looked at him. He just took one look and went to pieces. I mean just had a fit. Medics came and took both of them off."

The explosion caused the supplies on the outside of the tanks to catch fire, so the men hurried to put them out. Sawyer's tank would have to get a new driver.

The tanks pushed on. They drove up to a stream late one afternoon and started driving across. It was only about knee deep, but it was wide.

"We got about halfway across, and all at once a big wall of water, about 7- or 8-foot tall, came and covered us complete up," Sawyer said.

It wasn't raining, so the best they could make out, the Germans had destroyed a dam, releasing the torrent of water.

"We stayed there all night and about the middle of the day the next day. Finally, somebody came in a flat-bottom boat and got us out. We was wet, the bedrolls was wet. The next night, it started turning cold. I never was so miserable in my life."

But, he fared better than the man he met a few nights later in a barn.

"I was going to stay all night, and I was in there a few minutes when I heard somebody moaning," he said. "A German soldier had been wounded. He was in really bad shape. He kept a-moaning and a-moaning. I knew he wasn't a threat to me. I didn't bother him. I just laid down and went to sleep. The next morning, I left at daylight and he was still there lying there moaning. I don't know what happened to him. He probably died."

Bulge memories blanketed in snow

The war seemed to be going well for the American soldiers. They kept pushing the Germans back, and there was talk the war would be soon be over. Then came Dec. 16, 1944. The Germans launched a major offensive, cutting through the Allied lines. Stuck deep behind the German lines was the town of Bastogne. American soldiers defended it.

"They had some of our men surrounded right here," Sawyer said, pointing to Bastogne on a map. "They called on (Gen. George Patton) to see if he'd help 'em. We came up this way."

It was December, and a recent heavy snowfall covered the hard ground in a thick, white blanket.

"It was pretty bad. I remember the weather more than anything else," he said. "I had to dig a foxhole and get some branches off trees and put them in the bottom of the hole there. I covered it up with some branches and that's where I slept. The bad part of that is you get under there and get kind of warm a little bit, and they'd come around about one or two o'clock, wake you up and say it's time for you to stand guard. It was pretty rough."

The battle went on in the cold until Jan. 14. The men didn't know it was over. They just kept pushing forward, Sawyer said. It was the last German offensive of the war, and weeks later, Sawyer's tank would be rumbling through the German countryside.

War ends during leave

Sawyer opened an album on the table in his Franklin home. He flipped through several black and white pictures of him and his buddies on tanks. On one page, he pointed to a small card — a Christmas card from Patton to his soldiers. Sawyer smiled with the same sweetness as the pictures of the young boy in front of him.

"I went over there in August and I came back in August," he said.

When he returned from Europe, the army sent him to Alabama.

"They told us, 'We're going to give you six weeks training and send you to Japan,' " he said.

More fighting loomed in front of him. But it was in his blood. His father served in World War I. He'd had relatives who fought in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and the War of 1812. The Pacific theater of World War II was about to be named to that list.

"I came home on a week's leave, and while I was home, the war ended," he said. Japan surrendered.

He closed the photo album. He put the armbands and other artifacts back into the cardboard box. He stood in the quiet house and seemed to want to say more. He mentioned something about young people not understanding the sacrifices that took place in World War II.

"It was the most important war we've ever been in," he said. "If they had lost it, well, I don't know where we'd be today."

 

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