Company "A" History

Company Commander


James H. Lloyd

Wounded and Evacuated

Company Commander

1st Lt.

Glenn O. Garber

Executive Officer

1st Lt.

Pete Watral

Liaison Officer

2nd Lt.

Leory Mercher

First Sergeant

1st Sgt.

Mike Lewka

There are few men with us today whose service dates back to July, 1941 when the Battalion was activated at Tent City, Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania as the 28th Division Anti-Tank Battalion, commanded by Major Peterson, who is now a full colonel, commanding an Infantry Regiment. "A" Company's first commanding officer was Lt. Hoover and the 1st Sergeant was Rover Gilbert, the only man known whose voice had a greater range than that of a movie sergeant, greater even than Sgt. Koczon's.

Those were the days when we were the "Arsenal of Democracy" and we were getting a year's training "just in case". Consequently, most of the equipment was improvised; an automobile rear-end from the nearest junk yard for a carriage, a stove pipe for a tube, and two pieces of angle iron for trails made a mean anti-tank gun; mean at least for the men who had to polish it for the Saturday inspections.

Soon after it was activated, the Battalion moved to A.P. Hill, near Bowling Green, Virginia. It was on this move that a loving cup disappeared from the Red Fox Inn and a showdown inspection of all barracks bags - a favorite pastime of the army - was made, but that is not where it was finally found.

After several weeks of training in anti-tank tactics, attending demonstrations, and making morale-building trips to Washington and other near-by places of interest, we moved back to Indiantown Gap in September, 1941, and soon after to the Carolina maneuver area, where Major Hernandez became Battalion Commander. It was here also that our unit became known as the 28th Division "Fire Department", because of the clanking of the brake drums on the improsived gun carriages.

Maneuvers were ended by December 6, 1941, a great day for all of us. We had done our bit for the Army. Many of the men were expecting discharges so they could return home and take up their lives where they had left off. Then came December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor...War...everything suddenly had a different meaning, the game was being played for keeps now.

Early in January, 1942 the entire 28th Division started by convoy for Camp Livingston, Louisiana. A blizzard was raging and so were we, that being the reason we were not frozen. It was the first time a full division had traveled by convoy such a great distance.

Basic training started over again at Livingston. Several men had been transferred and at one time "A" Co., had only fifteen privates. After the K.P. and guard details were made up, the remainder of the men fell out for training, both of them. But then replacements came in and were welcomed with open arms and a big chicken dinner.

The division hid away in the swamps of Louisiana for several months of training, until Winchell discovered it and turned on the red hot heat of publicity. He seemed to think we should be fighting the war in Europe instead of on the Louisiana bayous, so some one started pushing a pencil and we found ourselves in Camp Hood, Texas, detached from the 28th Division and officially designated the 628th Tank Destroyer Battalion.

Intensive training was continued at Hood. We participated in several demonstrations, some of them being photographed for use in training films. Another large group of replacements came to us at Camp Hood, bringing the Battalion up to full strength.

In September the Battalion moved to Camp Bowie, Texas, where 1st Lt. Lloyd became "A" Co.'s Commanding Officer, then on to Camp Gordon Johston, Florida, in January, 1943. Things easy to remember there were the "Top Hat" and the incident at the Beachcomber. One man will long remember coming home with only one shoe after losing the other in the mud in a race with an M.P. He won the race, though, and that was the important thing.

The Battalion received its first M-10 Tank Destroyers at Camp Gordon Johnston, after much fuss, bother, and consultation, we were allowed to take a swift glance inside and then finally to drive them. Here we got quite a bit of amphibious training also, assaulting the shores of Dog Island several times.

After moving to Camp Rucker, Alabama, training on the M-10s was intensified, though many say that intensified is not the word. Sherman may have been right about war, but this training was even worse. Our first training in artillery methods was taken at Camp Rucker. And the unit citation from Major General Oliver, Commander of the 5th Armored Division, for our part in the artillery preparation prior to the crossing of the Roer River, is ample proof that the lessons had been learned well.

In June, 1943 the Battalion moved to the Tennessee maneuver area. There we learned about combat living conditions without realizing it. We learned many things that later paid dividends in actual combat. Each man became proficient at his own job and worked well with the others. At first, some of the officers spent much of their time in the PW cages, but they learned a lot and the unit began to look like an aggressive fighting team. Another thing we learned at this time was to pitch pup tents by the numbers, with an aiming circle.

From Tennessee, the Battalion returned to Camp Rucker, where most of us were given furloughs, then on to Camp Pickett, Virginia. There some time was spent in advanced amphibious training.

In November, the Battalion moved to the mountains of West Virginia. There sub-zero weather seemed to be the usual thing with several inches of snow most of the time. This was really life in the raw; much too raw for most of us. But we survived just as we did similar weather conditions in Europe but this time under enemy fire. Men never know what they can take until they are given the test.

Thus we were all glad to move on to Fort Dix, New Jersey, though we felt that each move now brought us one step nearer the gangplank and no one was anxious to walk up that. We knew that would come eventually though, and at least we would be living in houses at Fort Dix. (Incidently, as it turned out we were quartered in an old CCC camp there on the opposite side of the Fort from town, about six miles from the first outpost and we had to pass through two M.P. gates to get into town).

The concensus of opinion of all ranks and grades was that this camp was it. thus it became known almost unanimously as "This Is It" camp. Many of the men were lost to the company here for one reason or another, some even going so far as to shed their uniforms for those long lost civvies.

In reality, this camp was it. It was a nightmare. Turning in clothes. Drawing more clothes. Turning in more clothes. Put 'em on. Take 'em off. Put 'em back on. The M-10's were turned in also. Day by day the supply sergeant's sparse locks were turning grey, for much depended on him at this stage of the game and he showed his worth by re-equipping the Company in such an admirable manner. Show-down inspection followed show-down inspection, of clothing and equipment, for this was an important part of the processing for overseas duty that was to come very shortly.

Five-day furloughs were given to all or nearly all, and some of the men even made it home for Christmas. We seemed to be continually passing in review and formal retreat became routine. Many of the men lived near Fort Dix and they scurried back and forth between home and camp whenever possible. The others kept "Mike's Joint" in Wrightstown sold out, or nearly so.

Came the day we were given our shipping number, duffle bags were stenciled, clothing was checked for individual markings, security measures were laid down to the Company, and naturally we were restricted to camp. Everyone supposed that we would get no more passes and it looked as if our future was definately cut out for us. There was a wonderful collection of long, drawn faces as we plodded through the first heavy snowfall of the season to the train for Camp Shanks, New York, and overseas.

In a few short hours we were in Camp Shanks trying to make ourselves comfortable. No passes were forthcoming and again we were subjected to those eternal inspections. After seventy-two hours of processing of men, clothing, and equipment, we were pleasantly surprised by being given passes and everyone who possibly could, went to New York City. Unfortunately, there were big K.P. and guard details to be taken care of, but most of the men found a way to get out of camp for just one more fling at the States and then another and another. But finally, as all things good and bad do, our good thing came to an end and on the afternoon of January 27, 1944, we boarded a train which shuttled us to the Hudson River, then a ferry across the river and there before us was the thing which had occupied our minds most of the time for the last month, the gangplank.

On board ship, pandimomium reigned. Everyone struggled to get into one of those contraptions that pass for bunks, to make room for the next fellow. Out of chaos finally came order and then sleep.

Morning found the ship far out at sea and we had missed a last glimpse of the Lady with the Torch, but worse than that was the rolling and heaving of the ship. (Yes, the ship.) Many were the gills that turned green, but not with envy. The food was none too good but that mattered little, because no one seemed to have an appetite anyway. The fish in the Atlantic must have enjoyed the voyage though, because they were fed well. But just as we had everything else, we sweated this out and found that it was not too bad.

The sea was fairly calm, with only a couple of very rough days. There was one submarine scare, and once there was an immense amount of flak thrown up at two German reconnaissance planes. We were sailing on the Acquitania, a British ship. The ship had no escort and that didn't help our feeling at all.

Webmasters Note: The History of 628th references the Acquitania. However, the correct spelling is Aquitania.

On the morning of February 6, 1944, land was sighted and everyone rushed to the open decks, not for "Emergency Muster" but to get a glimpse of terra firma in any form. The ship dropped anchor in the harbor at Greenock, near Glascow, Scotland and we slept on board that night, being awakened the next morning by the platoon sergeants yelling: "Get you stuff together". We unloaded in one of Scotland's famous drizzles and boarded a train for the heart of England and a camp known as Packington Park.

In Packington Park, we were issued our equipment for trainings and the invasion of the continent, which we were certain was to take place, but when and where was anybody's guess and there was plenty of guessing, too. Choice rumors were a shilling a carload.

The stay in Packington Park was mostly taken up with the study of artillery work with our three-inch guns, and maintenance of our destroyers. Then we went to South Wales for three weeks of maneuvers and practical experience in the things we had been studying. This experience proved to be very profitable later, on the continent.

Upon our return to Packington Park we stored our equipment and moved to Dorchester on the coast of England to mother a few hundred thousand troops who were to make that first rough landing on the French coast. We felt relieved now that we knew what we were to do, and settled into the important SOS work of equiping the invasion army. Our first view of an enemy air raid on England came at this camp. The camp, incidently, was called D-7 P, the P being for Poundbury.

June 6, 1944 an incredible number of planes of all types filled the sky and radios blared the news of the invasion of Fortress Europe. We kept marshalling troops who were going across the Channel to join in the fighting until we were relieved and started preparing for the trip ourselves.

Leaving Camp D-7 P we went to Camp D-2, readied our equipment, then on the Camp D-3 for a few days of the same kind of marshalling that we had been doing. From there we loaded on LSTs in Portland Harbor. Our stay in England had been almost half a year and not altogether unpleasant, either. Some happy memories linger with us still, of the country and their quaint customs, and some of us can remember those English lassies, poignantly.

We left Portland Harbor at 0800 hours on the 29th of July, 1944 and the next day "A" Company unloaded on Utah beach on the coast of France. Air raids were frequent and everyone was a little jittery from the firt taste of actual war that was in the air. We saw what the invasion had cost in equipment, for the wreckage was strewn as far as the eye could see. We began to realize something of the magnitude of the wanton waste of wealth and human life caused by war. Everyone must have resolved to do what he could to prevent the recurrance of this thing that so saps the life-blood of our country each generation.

Immediately upon unloading, we moved to a semi-permanent assembly area to await orders. There we learned that war is a lot of waiting; waiting for orders, waiting for an attack, waiting to attack, and just plain everyday waiting, the best way in the world to ge a first class case of the jitters.

After receiving orders, we moved to a bivouac area near La Valdecie, France, Here we occupied most of our time cleaning our guns and equipment and getting ready for our initial entry into actual combat. The Company as a whole was ready for combat and wanted to be at it rather than just sitting around.

It was while we were here that first actual contact between men of "A" Company and the enemy took place. This happened August 5, 1944 when Lt. Devine, Cpl. Cwiklowski, and Pvt. Sherman encountered an enemy road block while out on reconnaissance. The Germans opened fire with machine guns and the fire was returned by Lt. Devine's party long enough to determine the size of the enemy force, then they returned to the Company with the information.

The break-through at St. Lo had made the way ready for armor to roll over the Germans and blitz them from their hold on France. And blitz we did, for in the next few days we drove almost constantly, stopping only occasionally to fuel up or to sleep; sleep being the minor item of the two. Our first opposition was composed mostly of harrassing sniper fire and our small arms got a workout. A few times the Tank Destroyers were called upon to fire into houses in which the enemy had entrenched himself. By this time the jitters which usually come at the beginning of any campaign had passed and the men settled into the life of combat soldiers.

"A" Company plus the 3rd Platoon of Reconnaissance Company was attached to CCA of the 5th Armored Division and the first real drive got underway August 8, 1944. For days we followed in column, dodging sniper fire and firing back when an enemy could be spotted. We had chow on the move, fired on the move, and even fueled up on the move. All this time we were driving deeper into enemy territory, cutting a wide swath in the enemy infantry, so that our own infantry could come in and clear the supply lines. On August 12th the 2nd Platton, consisting of two M-10s and a jeep was ordered to secure a road junction. There a German was observed dragging a wounded companion into a house. The Destroyers fired three rounds of HE into the house, killing sixteen of the enemy. Soon after darkness an unidentified column approached from the left of CCA. Sgt. Koczan challenged the leading vehicle but it kept on moving and he fired his pistol at the driver, killing him instantly. The leading Destroyer fired a round into the tail of the enemy column to prevent a withdrawal, then they started working on the column in earnest with machine guns, hand grenades, and anything else at hand. The vehicles were filled with German infantry. The column was left flaming on the road, our first real toll of enemy equipment and troops; eight vehicles were destroyed, 240 men killed or captured and all without a single casualty.

We were still in action near Argentan when the first casualties were suffered. The 3rd Platoon Officer, Lt. Devine was wounded when his vehicle was hit by direct fire from an anti-tank gun August 12th and the injuries proved fatal. A short time later a 2nd Platoon Destroyer was hit by an AP shell. None of the crew escaped. The ensuing action was the hottest yet and we came through a tight spot. However, our Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Hernandez was killed while helping the tankers spot the guns that had stopped the column. Two other destroyers of the 2nd Platoon were hit before the tanks and guns of the enemy could be silenced, but they were not damaged seriously and the casualties were very light.

After bivouacing for the night, the 3rd Platoon knocked out two German tanks, gunners Tartaglia and O'Brien each accounting for one. The next day the same two gunners drew blood again, this time getting two Mark V's, one anti-tank gun, and an armored reconnaissance car. Also the platoon captured 18 prisoners.

August 22nd the 1st and 3rd Platoons were sent on missions around the flanks of CCA, but the hunting was poor and no enemy equipment was destroyed. The next day we were moving in column with CCA, fighting as we drove. The 1st and 3rd Platoons were moved forward as anti-tank protection for the front and flanks of the convoy. The 1st Platoon ran into opposition two miles south of Illy, France. Cpl. Kee was credited with the destruction of one Mark V and an armored reconnaissance car. The platoon knocked out three machine gun nests and killed a number of the enemy. Our casualties were Cpl. John Kurkowski and Pfc. Jesse G. Hunter, slightly wounded by small arms fire.

The next few days we saw little action and outside of a few moves we did little. We received a new Destoryer in place of the one that was lost, and put in a much needed maintenance period on all the Destroyers. Capt. James H. Lloyd replaced Capt. Thomas as "A"'s Company Commander.

The Company was released from CCA and reverted to Battalion control just in time for all of us to be together for the march through Paris, which was a thrill in itself, with vast crowds lining the streets and cheering as we convoyed our Destroyers and other vehicles through the city.

We were assigned again, this time with CCB of the 5th Armored Division and another drive was under way. Our mission was to drive in a north-eastern direction to a predesignated spot near the Belgian border and cut several important roads that Jerry had been using as supply routes and literally run down and destroy any and all columns that could be found. Once again we were eating on the run, fueling on the run and doing everything on the run, for no time was lost in hastening to our destination. At last were there, which was Conde, France.

The 1st and 3rd Platoons set up road blocks around the town and both met some small arms fire. With no casualties to ourselves we wounded several men and took about twenty prisoners.

After leaving Conde we pulled back into France, then into Belgium and finally into Luxembourg, moving a great number of times for such a small amount of country. On these marches we met only scattered resistance. The three firing platoons were put into road block positions. Here we drew two months pay, the first since leaving England. After being paid the entire Company drew an indirect fire mission. Since we were only about three miles from the German border, we set up in our artillery position and proceeded to fire on targets inside Germany, these targets being cities, bridges and road junctions. Most of this was harassing fire and nothing could be claimed as actually destroyed.

The Battle of France was nearing an end and it looked as though the Company was due for a rest before entering into the next phase of the war. There was re-organizing to be done, supplies were badly needed and many other minor items required attention. All of us looked forward eagerly to a break in the fighting, but no one expected too much after seeing for two months how wars are fought and all that must go into them. And it was just as well that we did not let our hopes go soaring to the sky, for they would only have come tumbling down when we were again assigned to CCR and another mission was in the offing.

The Battle of France had been won after two and a half months of hard fighting, with the majority of the German troops being pulled back into their Fatherland, presumably for a last stand. We had seen our supply lines stretching to dangerous lengths and we realized that ther might be a stalemate in the fighting until our gains could be consolidated and a concentrated reoganization be effected. But without a break of any kind CCB was given the mission of making a stab at the Seigfreid Line.

"A" Company was assigned to support 5th Armored's Divisional Artillery in the artillery assault that was to precede the first actual invasion of German soil, and after so doing for nearly four days we were re-assigned to CCB in direct support of Capt. Godfrey's Company of Sherman Tanks. We assembled, were briefed and literally took off.

At 1700 hours on Saturday, September 16, 1944, we crossed the river dividing Germany and Luxembourg and were on German soil for the first time. We could see evidence of the fierce fighting that had been taking place. Everywhere the fields and roads were pock-marked with shell holes as a result of the artillery barrage that had preceded the attack. Without further ado we proceeded to the foot of Hill 375, set up for the night and waited to attack the next morning.

The morning of September 17th our Tank Destroyers were lined up with the Sherman Tanks in battle formation, the signal was given and the assault began. It was here that we heard our first Screaming Meemies. They descended on us in droves with an ear splitting sound, a sound that was to become too familiar to us during the next few days. Their range or deflection was never right though, and they did no real damage except to scare most of us out of our wits.

That first day was a hectic one. After winning Hill 375 we proceeded further into Germany, knocking out a number of pillboxes and shooting and capturing a group of foot troops. About a mile and a half beyond the hill the trouble really began.

As we moved forward through a saddle between the hills, we had to pass a grove of evergreen trees. As Sgt. Graham's Destroyer, which was in the lead, came on a line with the grove, a hand grenade was thrown. Simultaneously, a bazooka was fired at Sgt. Heyward's Destroyer, missing it and going between Sgt. "Chuck" Conner's Security truck and trailer. O.J. Walker, who was riding on the truck, had a word for it; "By God, this is as far as I go!".

And it was as far as any of us went, for in the ensuing small arms battle, the 1st Platoon Sergeant, Sgt. Mike Lewka, caught a bullet in his leg, Security Machine Gunner Spencer Smith got it in the mouth and the platoon was temporarily disorganized while the men cared for the wounded and established radio communication to bring up the medics.

Pulling back we dug in again on Hill 375 and prepared to sweat it out. The night was comparatively quiet, though a double guard was maintained. The next morning we were awakened by enemy artillery, which was trying to adjust on us for harassing fire to allow the infantry to infiltrate. The day was taken up with dodging shells and firing at snipers. With darkness came the thing that we had all been dreading, fog.

That night we again maintained the double guard. Very few of us slept, though we were dog-tired. We were alerted early the next morning by shots and prepared to fight it out with the enemy infantry, but this time they were attacking in force under cover of the fog. The fog was so dense that they were able to get into our bivouac area without detection and the next hour was a hot one indeed. About eighty men attacked our position but by quick and careful action we broke up the attack, killing or wounding most of them and capturing their attack orders. We were constantly under sniper fire and artillery shells and Screaming Meemies were again coming in on us. All afternoon enemy infantry tried to get into our position. They were using burp guns, bazookas, and rifles. Two were caught in the nick of time by T/4 Demont Roller and riddled by the 50 calibre machine gun on his Tank Destoyer. We were forced to fire up our rifle and carbine grenades, using them in the manner of mortars. Many of the men in the task force were wounded. This was the day that Hill 375 was renamed "Purple Heart Hill".

The task force commander learned at the observation post that Jerry was bringing up reserves, which proved to our mission success. We had drawn enemy troops from another sector, thus weakening it so that a large scale attack could be made. That night under cover of darkness and the fog, we moved off the hill and back into Luxembourg, to the exact spot from which we had taken off for the initial invasion of Germany. We were thinking how often and loudly we had cursed the fog and how thankful we were for its cover as we moved off the hot shop on Hill 375.

With the end of this, the Wallendorf mission, came the stalemate in the war that everyone had expected: a pause for re-organization and for supplies to catch up with us. For almost two months we fired indirect missions in support of the Division's regularly assigned artillery. Finally, in the middle of December, we were in on a drive with CCA to the Roer River, which we thought was to open the way for the next phase of the war against Germany. We were shelled from the start to the finish of this mission and, consequently, it was our toughest mission to date. The 1st Platoon leader, Lt. Thomas M. Darrah, was lost on this drive and was replaced by Lt. Aubry O. James.

Immediately after this drive the entire Battalion was detached from the 5th Armored Division and sent back to the Battle of the Bulge, or the Breakthrough of the Ardennes, as it was called. On this mission, we were with the 75th and 78th Divisions at different times, but most of the time with the 82nd Airborne Division. Winter had set in, in earnest, and the entire action was one of misery and suffering from the intense cold. There was an unprecented number of casualties. It was the costliest battle of the war for us, just as it was for the whole United State Army. We lost one entire Tank Destroyer crew, five of the best men in the Company.

A break came in the bitter cold and soon after we were assigned to support Division Artillery in an artillery assault prior to the crossing of the Roer River. Here on the morning of February 23rd, "A" Company fired 80 missions of 1342 rounds. The good weather lasted, real consolidation took place and everyone got ready for the final phase of the war.

Ater the crossing of the Roer we were again assigned to CCA and fought our way to the "impregnable" Rhine.

But the Rhine was not impregnable and with the aid of the 1st Army's surprise "Remagen Bridgehead" it was crossed more easily than the Roer. We were firing artillery for the crossing. It was here that the 1st Platoon took its worst beating. On the morning of March 15th, "A" Company's position received counter battery fire, most of the rounds landing in the 1st Platoon area. Three men were killed and five others seriously wounded, definite proof of the statement that "War is Hell". We moved from there to our alternate area and remained until orders were given for our crossing of the Rhine.

Once across the Rhine it was a repeat performance of our blitz through France, much to our surprise. Our armor was really rolling, prowling,for any and all enemy targets. The three firing platoons chalked up to their credit immense quantities of enemy equipment destroyed, plus dead Jerries and prisoners. One day the 1st Platoon took 70 prisoners from a town smaller than Wrightstown (remember it?). At the same time, the 3rd Platoon was about twelve miles away in Tangermunde having one of the toughest fights yet known. The platoon lost one Destroyer by bazooka fire and Sgt. Swilley was killed by small arms fire. Cpl. Salamone, the Brooklyn Kid, was slightly wounded.

A few days later we were pulled back for what we hoped would be a rest period, but after one day of rest, we were at it again. The mission being to clear a swath to the Elbe, the last river before Berlin. Once before we had been to the Elbe at another point, when the 3rd Platoon was fighting in Tangermunde. The hunting was good and we destroyed more equipment for the Battalion record. After five days, we had reached our objective and were pulled back in reserve.

For weeks we had seen the once mighty Wehrmacht crumbling and we knew that the Battle of Germany was almost over. When the official announcement of the war's end came, we were sitting in the small town of Woltorf, between Brunswick and Hannover. The keen edge of happiness brought by this announcement was dulled by sorrow for those buddies who were not with us any more. We missed them even more at this moment of final victory.

Once again the guns are silenced on the Western Front. The overwhelming might of men with a cause and unlimited material have crushed the enemy. They are no longer the Master Race but the mastered race. They are an active menace no more. Most of us will be leaving these fields of battle soon, some to fight in the war against Japan and some turning homeward to gather up the scattered threads of their lives. But we shall never forget those for who all wars are over forever, those friends and comrades of ours who gave their lives to prove that Freedom and Truth are living, breathing things that cannot be trampled in the dust by maniacal despots striving for world domination. We shall not break faith with them, but pass on to our children and theirs a heritage of Freedom from Fear and Want that is their birthright.