05 October 2014

Richard Junior Trotter

In 1995 my uncle Darce and his wife Nancy video taped an interview with my grandfather Richard Junior Trotter. At the time of the interview I was self absorbed with a relatively new marriage and the birth of my first son. I am so grateful that my aunt, uncle and grandparents had the foresight to see the value of such an interview. A few years ago I transcribed the recording and added both to my genealogical records.

I was 19 years old, I was close to being drafted so I volunteered [April 1943]. Then I volunteered for the paratroopers because it was $50 extra per month. Three of us left Provo together. We went to Fort Douglas to join and they shipped us to Georgia--Fort June Georgia. We were split up and they put the three of us into Artillery and shipped us to Camp McCall in North Carolina on the outskirts of Fort Bragg. We started to fill out the 17th airborne division. They got our regiment ready to go, through Jump School in Fort Benning.  517th combat team regiment in Italy.

When we came out the rest of the division wasn't ready so they pulled us out of the 17th airborne and sent us overseas to the

[15 August 1944 - Operation Dragoon] The fighting was hot and heavy then. They sent us in as artillery ground troops. In that area the largest artillery barrage in the history of the world, until that time, was laid down there. We fought there for a while and that was the first time some of our guys were killed. When they first formed the airborne they had to drop jeeps with six parachutes. They came in parts that were daisy chained together. You don't make many jumps behind the German lines and live to tell about it. We knew we would be behind the lines. We jumped about 4:40 in the morning. It wasn't daylight yet. There was a cloud cover and I thought I'd seen the ocean. In those days the shoots and that, if you hit that water you were done for. I was coming down sitting like a swing and I dropped through the clouds and hit a stone wall. I twisted my knee… I think I pulled it out of joint because it hurt so bad. I was so damn scared I got it back in I think but it was sore for a long time.

They dropped us a little bit short of the DZ zone; we had a guy in our sortie they put in charge that was a doctor. A sortie of planes you know… I think he was high on pills and had us jump early. We only had about 12 men in our plane. I was only a sergeant and jump master then.
 We had our belly loads; you know, but no artillery, machine guns. In the door of the plane we always had a machine gun cart with rubber tires but the tires were all flat. The first man out had kicked a cart of machine guns out and followed it down… We got about a dozen of us together and we were way short of the zone. You can't do much fighting when there is only a half a dozen of you against the German army. So we crawled around in ditches and that, we damn near got killed one time by our own planes. They spotted us one time, some Mustangs, and they turned loose and raked the devil out of us. We got through that hiding most of the time, you know, trying to work back into Chateau Rosalee in the DZ zone.

This one place we came to had lots of trees for hiding from airplanes. There was an old well there and we got some water out of it. Old Asvito (name sp?) and the end of the break says, "Come on guys it's time to go." He had left his Carbine in his machine gun car. He lifted it up and it shifted some damn way and pulled the trigger on his carbine and it hit him right though (pointing to his chest about at the bottom rib). We were hiding out and he got shot through the lung, I thought he was going to die before he could even get a breath. We had to leave him, all we had, he wasn't bleeding externally but we didn't know what had happened inside. We dumped some old talcum [sulfa] powder and wrapped a bandage around him and left him under a bush there. That same day they brought the gliders in, a bunch of English paratroopers and gliders had come in and they got some jeeps in there. They run with a red cross, English, and we told them where Asvito was. We went on and I never heard another thing for months. We were clear up in Belgium and one day here he came up the road and (raising his hand), "Hi guys." They had got him and taken him back to Italy and patched him up. They didn't send him home but they sent him up to Van Wines.

Then we got with the outfit, well before I actually got all the way back, we kind of set up with some British. We kind of sat on the outskirts and let them do the fighting. They pushed some Germans out for a kind of headquarter outfit. They let them out and we went in to look around and there were some bicycles. We thought, hell let's get us some bicycles because we still had a ways to go. We got around in back and they had an old 1936 Ford convertible. Of course in 1943 that wasn't too old of a car. It had a wood burner on the back. You could run a car on wood, hell I could build a car that would run on wood in nothing flat. I was a motor Sergeant, we got around there and cranked her up and got her perking good. We had a big red call there and we came out of there with two gunnysacks full of liquor and a convertible. We drove into Chateau La Rue, a cross roads, our unit was there. They got in there and held it; and that's how I got back to my unit. I thought I had a car until the officers saw it and they took it away in a hurry because we was hurting so bad for transportation. We used that old car clear until we got into the maritime Alp Mountains. I was a Motor sergeant, but after we got the ships in we would get our vehicles but we were always short of vehicles. One time in southern France, I walked 20 some miles in one day because they had blew a damn bridge out. What few vehicles we had had come in on the gliders and that but we didn't have enough. Each vehicle has an assigned driver and the rest of us walked because when they started making us we was an airborne unit.

Once we got into France, then we swung south back towards the Italian border through the maritime Alp Mountains. We went into old Fort Sospel,
 an old French fort right on the Italian border. The damn Germans had it and it was all underground. We called the air corps in and they bombed it, they couldn't scratch it, not even the big Navy guns off the coast in the Mediterranean. Those bunkers, at the top of them, was concrete bunkers [at a steep angle leaning in towards one another]. It was 18 feet at the top [sloping down on either side] and they had, I can't remember the millimeter at the time but it was on a big hydraulic hoist and they would come up [out of the bunker] and BOOM, then they would sink back down. Those old shells you could hear them coming like a freight train. I think you could run a city block before they got there. They was not effective because we was right in the mountains and it was too heavy. We couldn't blast them out so we set our guns around there and even a little motorcycle come loose out of there they would turn the whole battery loose at it. We finally forced them back out, pushed them into Italy, to the coal valley and we took Fort Sospel. Then they moved a mechanized unit up there to take over and they lost it. The Germans came back and regained it but by that time they had moved us out. Then everything broke loose.

They [the Germans] got going and were moving across the wheat fields there, they had broke through the head rows there in Normandy. Old Patton had run his, he was a… there weren't any other serviceman like him, old blood and guts. They ran their dang tanks out of Bastogne, Belgium and the Germans counterattacked with the bulge. By that time I had had so much time on the lines, I was supposed to go to England on furlough and that was in December. When the bulge come about in the middle of December, they backed us up; every airborne unit we had. The Germans came through like… the whole bunch of them, you remember the bulge. They threw us into the lines in the middle of December.

[15 December 1944 - Battle of the Bulge]
The 82nd airborne, at the time I was still in the combat team the 517th combat team. They attached us to 82nd airborne division and threw us up into the bulge. The 82nd and 101st airborne was there, plus a lot of the others, but that was the two main airborne units. We was on the left flank and the 101st was on the right flank, where the spearhead had come through. It was pretty rough fighting. If you remember the 101st was at Bastogne. Where the general said nuts to, "will you surrender?" They surrounded the 101st airborne and they wanted them to surrender and the general sent back the word "Nuts"; they wouldn't surrender. They held Bastogne but I was right on the other side of the spearhead. We didn't get surrounded. I didn't have a change of clothes, I had a duffel bag, I had one change of clothes and I put it in that bag; from the middle of December until the first of March. That was the coldest weather in Belgium in 30 years. It got 10 below zero, you didn't dare go in a building because they would target them. You didn't dare get around trees for fear of shell burst. The safest place was in a gully or to dig a hole.

They took some pallets out into a field on the snow. Hung a six foot tarp around it and run some pipes from some old trucks, we hadn't had a shower either. They strung the pipes up and had some old pump truck with heaters in them and they had a little trickle. You'd start out on the pallets and strip off your clothes and you'd walk right through. The guys would get in that water and the guys would not get out. They had to send in the officers to kick the guys out. When you got through they had clean clothes in a big pile. All the underwear had been laundered and thrown in a big pile. This was the middle of the winter so the uniform was wool. They didn't have dry cleaners and it was filthy so the washed them. Everybody was out there trying to stretch a pair of pants out big enough to get in… but it was clean.

You are afraid you won't jump, they instill that into you, you know damn well you are afraid. Before you get that far you have made several jumps. You have to make five jumps to even qualify. Then you go on to your training jumps after that. Now a-days we go down and watch the para-sail now and they are so much improved. They still use the old round shoots in the military because the others are too expensive. You always carry two shoots when you jump. You have a chest pack that is in emergency.

They had a points system. If you were married you got five points. If you were wounded you got five points. Herald was married and ???? wasn't but you got five points for being wounded. Well Herald had got shot over there, a damn German sniper had got him. ???? got hit by one of those damn big shells coming down the canyon, by shrapnel. So they both had more points. I could come home then if I signed up to go to the Pacific but no more war for me, I had all I wanted. So I stayed with the 82nd and ???? and Herald came home and we moved into Berlin.

The second army division was moved into the occupation of Berlin in the first 30 days. Then we moved in. It was kind of an honor to move in. They let the 2nd army go in then the 82nd airborne. So I was in Berlin 30 days after the end of the war. I was in Hitler's headquarters, the Reichstag. In fact, I have that old picture of it in there. That was before… of course there was no such thing as the iron wall. I've got pictures, you'd fraternize with the Russians, drank their Vodka. Where the iron wall is, or was, they had put a great big billboard. They had Stalin, they had Roosevelt, Truman. But someplace in there it shows before the iron wall was ever built in Berlin.

I've always had skin trouble but of course if you have a little stuff wrong with your skin you don't get out, if you could walk they used you. Well I ended up in the hospital in Berlin, because of my skin; thin skin, allergy. I got in a C-47 and flew from Berlin to Paris. They were flying a few home but it was pretty slow. Then they sent me to Brincks, France to a hospital ship. Well that was all right. Big wide isles, two bunks high, sheets on your bed, all you could eat. You could even go down in the middle of the night and the cooks would cook you a steak, in the middle of the night. We went over with hammocks, 5 high, isles (holding hands less than three feet apart) with your duffel bag and have a guy get sea sick above you. They started feeding at four in the morning until ten at night. If you could eat it, they served two meals a day. It was a mess… terrible. I came all the way home from Berlin to the state of Washington in a bath robe. They sent me from Fort Lewis to Fort Douglas and I was discharged from there.

When I came over that hill and saw Utah valley I decided I would never leave again. People don't realize what World War II was. What did they kill 10,000,000 people? It was huge; it was like Gloria was talking about. You couldn't go down and buy a tire. You couldn't buy a pound of butter. You couldn't buy steak unless you had rations for it. No Sugar, no coffee and that was for civilians. No gasoline without ration stamps, that was in this country. When this country got together and went all out. They say the gulf war in the desert, hell that wasn't even a skirmish. Vietnam was a policing action it wasn't an all out war. It wasn't a war it was a policing action, we never declared war. If it had been an all out war we would have annihilated them….

517th Parachute Infantry Regiment unit history - http://www.ww2-airborne.us/units/517/517.html
The Battling Buzzards Home Page - http://www.517prct.org/
WW2 Airborne Historical Company - http://www.battlingbuzzards.org/
Paratroopers' Odyssey - A History of the 517th Parachute Combat Team - http://517prct.org/documents/odyssey/odyssey_history.htm