Feburary 23, 2010
[Editor's Note: Veterans share their war experiences in a series of articles for Military Vehicle Magazine]
by Eugene W. Jenista
My three years in the U.S. Army during World War II had a number of frightening experiences, but my harrowing jeep ride has to be just about the worst. I was in the 553rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, a part of the 87th Division of the Ninth Army in Europe. Our weaponry included 40mm guns and .50-caliber machine guns.
It was after the Battle of the Bulge when things started moving up into Germany. When our battalion would move to a new location, it was the custom to take a few men ahead to be stationed at a highway intersection with a sign “55rd this way.” The last truck would pick these men up. I was chosen to be one of these men. Thus, I was part of a small group of men who were taken by jeep well before daylight to be dropped off at selected spots.
Unfortunately, we had the misfortune to get into a convoy of heavy equipment moving up under blackout conditions. For safety of men and equipment, blackout conditions means that each vehicle has only the little pin point blackout lights that cannot be seen from the air. Convoy vehicles follow one another at about 10 miles per hour. In front of us was a heavy truck and behind us was a Titanic-sized General Sherman Tank, with a big-city driver! Traffic was stop-and-go, bumper-to-bumper.
Being in a tiny little jeep in front of a 30-ton tank was scary enough, but this tank driver went out of his way to frighten us. The noise of that huge powerful engine and the rattle of the tracks would scare anyone in the day time, but this was in very dark, blackout conditions. We only had the two small blackout lights on the back of our jeep.
“How well can he see us?” we all wondered. He could crush us like someone stepping on a tin can. A Sherman tank looks mighty big when you are just in front of it. The jeep driver was nervous, and tried to stay as close to the truck ahead as possible. The lieutenant was pale, too afraid to talk. Russ (my buddy) and I in the back seat were petrified.
When we would move up, the tank driver would gun his engine, come up on us at a good clip, and stop at the last second, usually less than a foot from the jeep. Once, I swear, he came up as close as six inches. I could reach out and touch that Sherman tank! He was probably laughing, having a good time; we were not laughing and mighty glad to find a place to turn off and get out of his way.
If that tank driver survived the war, he is probably telling his grandchildren how he scared the hell out of some guys in a jeep, on one very dark night!