Category Archives: L: Misc Stuff

7th Armored Div Tanks at St Vith

Thank you, Field Marshal

To speak in the language of today — which I usually do not — I want to “Give a Shout-Out” to Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, former commanding officer of the British Army in World War ll, whose command also briefly included the unit in which my father served. This somewhat unusual salute is the result of the following story.

On December 16, 1944, on the cusp of the coldest European winter in a century, the German army launched an offensive through the “impenetrable” Ardennes Forest into Belgium, thus beginning what would be the largest battle in the history of the United States Army; the Battle of the Bulge.

At that moment, my father was a staff sergeant and commander of an M4 Sherman tank; a member of Combat Command B (CCB) of the Seventh Armored Division, currently in Heerlen, Holland expecting — after just completing a long difficult campaign securing the Scheldt Estuary — to wait out the winter before the all-out push into Germany.

When the German army came swarming West in many locations over a broad front, the principal objective, initially, was the Belgian town of St. Vith, which contained an important crossroads, as well as a vital railroad junction. In fact, the only railroad line from that area to the west; something upon which the German Army was counting quite heavily.

So late in the afternoon of the 16th, my father, and the rest of his unit were ordered to travel overnight, some 60 miles to St. Vith; there to establish a defensive perimeter, and hold the town against the German onslaught.

After forcing their way through the chaos of retreating American units, CCB Commanding General Bruce C. Clark organized his, and remaining US forces, and set in to defend St. Vith. Recognizing how vital the rail-head at St. Vith was to the German plan, the order was to hold the town at all cost.

After several days of repelling constant, brutal, probing in-force, and finally a massed assault, by the German Fifth Panzer Army, including, among others, the elite 1st SS Panzer Division, the so-called “Adolf Hitler Division”, Clark’s CO sent word up the chain of command that if they continued to hold, his unit would shortly cease to exist. Word came back that every hour the Germans could be delayed was vital, and to buy as much time as possible in an Alamo-like fight to the last man in the snows of Belgium.

It was at this time that the American command determined that they could not effectively orchestrate forces in the northern portion of the battle area, including St. Vith, and over the objections of tactical commander Gen. Omar Bradley, command of the “Northern Salient” was passed to Field Marshal Montgomery.

The Field Marshal visited that most critical location of his new command, St. Vith, and determined that it was not necessary for these men to perish. He would instead reorganize forces in the north into a stronger defensive line and ordered Clark to execute a fighting retreat, buying as much time as was possible for the vaunted Patton, and other reinforcements to arrive.

On Dec 23, taking advantage of the falling temperature which had turned deep mud into frozen ground, CCB of the Seventh Armored, and the other units under Clark’s command gradually withdrew in the action which would later become the U.S. Army’s textbook example of the use of armor in defense. All in all, these units held St. Vith for six days, against overwhelming odds, totally disrupting the German timetable. “The Battle at St. Vith” was later cited by the commanding general of the 5th Panzer Army, General Hasso Von Manteuffel, as the key event in the failure of German forces to succeed in the overall offensive.

After finally yielding at St. Vith, CCB of the 7th Armored Division received General Eisenhower’s personal thanks, a nights sleep, a couple of hot meals, and orders to return to the front. After a month of bitter fighting, a sign was erected on a road to the east which read “You Are Now Re-entering St. Vith Courtesy of the 7th Armored Division”, and the Battle of the Bulge was over.

So on this 70th anniversary, I want to honor and to thank my father, S/Sgt George A. Shropshire of Aurora, IL, and my namesakes, S/Sgt Thomas Forkin of Pittsburg, PA, and S/Sgt Dale Hoskins of Ramsey, IL, and the rest of the allied forces who fought with such valor. But a special thanks to you, Field Marshall Montgomery, for the decision on December 22, 1944 which saved the life of my father, two years before I was born.

Driveway Leaves

Autumn Leaves in the Driveway

I’m posting this a bit late. It is from Nov 9th, 2014

A couple of days ago in my driveway. Sigh, It’s almost over.

Soon the frost on the pumpkin will be replaced by snow, as “the long, dark, teatime of the soul” begins again, interrupted only by the brief good cheer of Christmas (and of course the annual January trip to Vegas and L.A.)

BrownOctLeaves

“Brown October Leaves” – Milwaukee 2014

I hope I’m not breaking a rule (or a law) by posting the following in its entirety. But these last couple of mid-October days in Milwaukee have reminded me of a Rod McKuen poem of which I was very fond very nearly fifty years ago.

Leaves fall down now, brown and beautiful, brittle to the touch
lying on the ground or filling public fountains.
Swirling down the street, catching in the gutters
and diverting little streams of water.

Brown October leaves, trampled under foot
banged about by brooms that sweep the gutters clean.

I remembered today that among the silly things you saved
was a brown and yellow leaf
pressed between the pages of a book somewhere.
We found it in the park, remember?

I shook out every book I owned to find it.
Still it’s lost, or owned these days by Hemingway or Whitman.
Maybe even Gertrude Stein.
Would she know what to do with a brown and yellow leaf?
And would she give it back?

Tds-18-Tom-Camera

Post 100 – Thank You

Today’s post is, shockingly, number 100. To mark this milestone, I have little to say other than to thank all of you who have read, and hopefully enjoyed my little stories. And of course hope that you will continue to do so.

As I record the memories of my earlier years, more occur to me, so there will be more to come. And I have barely touched on my time in the Navy.

But to begin a new century (?) of postings, Number 101 will introduce a new category, “Home Again – The Later Sixties”. I hope you will enjoy multi-part saga of my return to the world.

Once again, thanks to all of you for taking a look.

TDS

12073_577180672330434_1230183880_n

A Sunday Drive – Nov 3, 2013

I originally posted this on Facebook last Nov 4th and have finally gotten around to posting it here. It’s a bit out of season, but I don’t want to forget again.

*******************************

I drove to Aurora yesterday, and because it was a great fall day I took the long way; down old IL Rt 47 from Lake Geneva. There along the way, despite the car dealerships, and under the superimposed clutter of Taco Bells and Wendys, Anytime Fitness and Advance Auto Parts Stores, were many examples of the small town America which I remember.

And this reminded me of something else. The opening title sequence of the movie “Hoosiers” which, if you love the autumn, and are nostalgic for simpler times, is truly one of the great things ever to be put on film.

The Eve of May – Milwaukee

April 30, 2014

I took a bike ride today; not a long one (about 7 miles), and not the first of the year, but a good one nonetheless — 50°, a cloudy but interesting sky, and everything washed by recent rains. Just a good day to be peddling along Milwaukee’s North Shore.

Green grass, crocuses, bluebells, daffodils, and even a few tulips bordering a carefully tended lawn. Leaves sprouting from bushes, and trees finally showing the fringe of green.

What I think of as early spring is about two weeks late in Milwaukee this year. But that’s okay. Today, on the eve of May, all is forgiven. Welcome back.