Westlake, OH, USA
|43rd Mechanized Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron|
|Posted on: 7/25/2017 6:57:07 PM|
|I was delighted to finally meet William C. “Bill” McCormick on a pleasant Sunday afternoon, April 20th of 2014. The connection was fairly commonplace: in 2005, Bill’s oldest daughter Barbara married my father-in-law Tom. On this day, the families had gathered in Mentor, Ohio, to celebrate Easter.|
I took this opportunity to strike up a conversation with Bill, during which time he nonchalantly mentioned his service performing reconnaissance for General George S. Patton’s Third Army during World War II.
And I just about fell out of my chair.
As he shared a handful of captivating stories of his exploits in the European theater, I listened raptly.
Like most veterans, Bill hailed from humble beginnings. Growing up in Depression-era Greensburg, Ohio (now Green), twelve miles south of Akron, the McCormick family managed the hard times better than most owing to their 5-acre farm and ability to grow their own food.
Following the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which Bill learned about over a radio while seated beside the family Christmas tree, he presumed that any war pitting the United States against Japan would be over before he was draft-eligible.
Such wasn’t to be the case.
Bill turned 18 on August 1, 1943. Shortly thereafter, he was ordered to report to Fort Hayes in Columbus and was formally inducted into the U.S. Army on October 29, 1943.
Following basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas and additional training at Camp Gordon, Georgia, he shipped out from Boston on June 27, 1944 aboard the RMS Aquitania. To avoid prowling German u-boats, the ship sailed a serpentine path, docking in Glasgow, Scotland a full eight days later.
After another month of training in the South of England, on August 5, 1944, Bill was transported to Utah Beach as part of the Allied invasion’s second phase to expand the burgeoning continental foothold which would enable a sustained assault on Germany.
As a member of Troop A, 43rd Mechanized Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Bill and nine squad mates traversed Western Europe in an M8 Light Armored Car sandwiched between two jeeps, each armed with a center-mounted .50-caliber machine gun. Their assigned duty was to ascertain the strength, disposition and probable intentions of enemy forces, route conditions, locations for bivouac and terrain features.
Here are just a few of the experiences which Bill recounted in his memoir Advance Men: My Reconnaissance Tour With Patton’s Third Army:
Sometimes, our convey would navigate its way into a small French town; we generally avoided the larger towns and cities, preferring to leave those to the more robust divisions of Patton’s Third Army. Some of these towns appeared, at first glance, to be completely deserted: doors were closed, windows were shuttered, nary a soul could be seen strolling across the street or tending a garden. But invariably, French civilians would reveal themselves, peeking out from cracked doors and shutters. Pure and simple, they were just scared. And who could blame them? For all they knew, we could’ve been a German patrol. When they discovered we were Americans, they threw open their doors and shutters and came flocking out to us in droves bearing flowers, Cognac and all manner of gifts to express their appreciation! We experienced this phenomenon on more than one occasion and it always provided a warm feeling and peace of mind that I was one of the good guys!
We were on walking patrol near a road at the foot of a hill one afternoon. As we ascended the hill, we heard the sound of a car approaching from the opposite direction. We immediately sprang into action, staged our vehicles into a roadblock and ordered the car to stop. With three .50-caliber machine guns and a 37 mm gun trained on their car, the passengers inside quickly exited and put their hands in the air. We then discovered their identity: two German soldiers and two French girls out on a double-date! We found it rather comical that, while the soldiers were armed, their guns weren’t loaded! We confiscated their guns and ammunition and turned them over to the FFI. [French Forces of the Interior, the French resistance fighters in the later stages of World War II.] What the FFI did with them, I have no earthly idea.
For the most part, we were mobile by day and stationary at night. But for whatever reason, we crossed the Rhine River into Germany when darkness had already descended. Because most of the existing bridges had already been destroyed to prevent German troop movement, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had constructed a temporary bridge for Allied use. Soon after crossing the Rhine, we found a barn and spent the evening inside. When we awoke the following morning, we discovered a number of dead horses inside — unfortunate casualties of war. If we had known they were there the night before, we still would’ve stayed because a roof over your head trumped just about every other consideration.
While on our usual reconnaissance patrol, I spotted three German soldiers armed with rifles walking in an open field off to my left. I radioed this information back to Sergeant Reed and then our jeep set out after them. Once they spotted us, they took off running but, because they were on foot, it didn’t take long before we caught up, trained our weapons and had their arms in the air. We were all surprised to discover that they were just kids, no more than 14 or 15 years old, clad in German army uniforms and scared to death! We took away their guns and just like undersized fish in an angling competition, we let ‘em go.
Following the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on April 12, 1945, Bill observed the following:
On or shortly after April 12, 1945, we received word that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had passed away. When I heard the news, my first thought was “How are we going to win this war now?” I had no idea who Harry S. Truman was and this just compounded my anxiety.
But by this time, German resistance had been reduced to barely a trickle and it became increasingly obvious that the end of the war was nigh.
This was confirmed when we captured a group of German soldiers who were attempting to maintain control of a hill. With the aid of several other squadrons, we surrounded their position and the enemy promptly surrendered without either side firing a shot.
About 1 month before V-E Day, as we were on routine patrol, an L-4 Piper Cub flew overhead directing field artillery units toward German positions just beyond a nearby hill. Given the dearth of enemy resistance, I made the foolish presumption that the coast was clear & there was no danger afoot. I couldn’t have been more wrong and was about to come face-to-face with my own mortality.
As Bob Ford [driver of the lead jeep] and I approached an open field, I asked him to stop the jeep. He exited and took the opportunity to relieve himself, I scooted over to take the wheel and we nonchalantly chatted about what we were going to do upon arriving back home. Suddenly, we were besieged by German machine gun fire!
If you’d like to read more about Bill’s adventures, visit advancemenbook.com.