Many years ago, Uncle Dick’s youngest son Ted had to write a paper for college, so asked his Dad for some of his childhood memories. We’ll write about those in another story. Uncle Dick also wrote to Ted about a bit of his WWII experiences. Knowing that he was in the 243rd Field Artillery, I have woven what Uncle Dick typed to Ted with a history of the 243rd . from their website of:Uncle Dick’s memories are in bolded black and a larger font, and the History of the 243rd is in normal type. Uncle Dick's daughter Julie who proofread this story for me wrote back: “Thank you for writing Dad’s story, Pat. He would have been 92 this September 16. I miss him.”
My time in the Army was 3 years 4 months and 19 days with about 18 months of that over in Europe. I was in a heavy artillery outfit—the 243rd Field Artillery. I was 19 when I went in and felt very patriotic about it all. I wanted to do my part for the defense of this great country of ours. I felt very lonesome at first but it was something you got used to.
When I was in the South taking my Army training it was in Mississippi (at Camp Shelby) that I got my first taste of discrimination. It was strange to get on a bus and see that all blacks had to go to the last seat across the back. They never argued about it, they just did it--that was the law. I felt sorry for them, and I’ve been happy to see the change come about.
The 243rd Field Artillery Battalion fought in World War II under General George S. Patton in the Third US Army. The battalion is one of a very few who used the 8 inch gun, which fired a 240 pound projectile as far as twenty miles. The huge gun came in two loads and was towed with tractors and put into position with a crane.
In June 1944, the 243rd boarded the ocean liner The Queen Elizabeth with 15,000 troops. After six crowded days on board, they arrived at the rainy coast of Scotland.
Once in England, the 243rd was assigned to Camp Stanage Park, just inside the Welsh border of Knighton and Bucknell. The battalion was assigned to the 3rd Army under the leadership of the already famous Gen. George Patton, Jr. The 3rd Army units began its drive towards Normandy at the end of July.
“The battalion boarded LST’s in the Weymouth Harbor on the morning of Saturday, August 5th. The naval craft moved out of the harbor to join a huge convoy bound for Utah Beach.”
The first real fear that I can recall was when we boarded the LSTs (landing craft) in England and headed across the English Channel to Utah Beach. The sea was just full of ships at the time, but you never knew if you were going to plow into a mine or not. It was rather shocking when we landed in France to see the buildings, houses and churches all knocked apart by shells but then you got used to that too. It was pretty rough sometimes especially during the winter months or when there was cold rainy weather but during the summer it wasn’t too bad. After a while you didn’t think the war was ever going to end—it just went on and on.
The ships beached late on the night of the 6th, two months after D-Day. On the night of the 9th, combat orders came to the battalion for the first time. It was to go into position outside of St. Malo.
The fortress citadel of St. Malo was being held by a garrison commander who would not give up in the face of long odds and a lengthy siege seemed quite possible. With the huge guns used on the citadel that day, the ‘Madman of St. Malo’ gave up and the 243rd were successful.
The 243rd now moved on with the 8th Corps to begin the siege of Brest on the coast of Brittany.
“The march across the peninsula was one of the highlights of life in France for the men of the Battalion. Thousands of French people, joyously celebrating the liberation of their home country, lined the road from St. Malo to Lasneven to watch the American troops moving up for the battle.”
During the Brest campaign, the 243rd destroyed 23 enemy gun positions in one week. As the campaign wound down, the 243rd was sent to the Front near Metz. This five day march provided the men with a rare sight-seeing tour—Rennes, Laval, Le Mans, Chartres, Paris, Chalon-su-Marse and Verdun. It was now the beginning of October, 1944.
The 243rd fought all through November and December, moving to cross the Moselle River and follow the doughboys and tanks as they approached the Saar.
A few days before Christmas, the first heavy snow of winter fell and soon froze the ground. The ice and snow continued until late February. Meanwhile, the tide of the Battle of the Bulge began to change.
By mid- March, the 243rd was near the Rhine River. “At 0230 on the morning of March 28th,Charlie Battery fired a six-round concentration in support of VIII Corps troops northwest of Weisbaden, and the 243rd had fired its last round in the European war.”
“During its eight months of combat, it (the 243rd) had participated in the major battles of St. Malo, Brest, Metz, Thionville, Saarlautern, Dilligen, Endsdorf, Saarbrucken, Moselle-Saar Triange, Ardennes, Saar River and Rhine River. It fought under two armies and four corps, gave support to 16 Infantry Divisions, four Armored Divisions, two cavalry squadrons and two Ranger Battalions.”
I missed seeing your mother very much and I tried to write every day. It was hard sometimes because of censorship you couldn’t say too much about where you were and what you were doing. We were engaged when I went overseas. I didn’t want to get married yet in case I came back maimed or hurt in some way.
Europe was great. I always took every advantage of any sightseeing trip that came up. I once had a two week vacation to the Riviera. We were camped near Munich in Southern Germany at the time. Then I went over to London a couple of times, saw Big Ben, Tower of London, Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace and most everything else.
Uncle Jack Kinsella adds this story that Dick told at Algonquin one year: “He told us about a time after Germany had surrendered and his unit was stationed just outside some German town—a town just a few days before his unit had pounded the hell out of with their big shells. It was announced that the townspeople were having a concert that night in a park in the center of what was left of the town. He decided he would like to go but none of his buddies were interested. So he went alone. After getting there he looked around and then realized that he was the only American soldier there—he was surrounded by hundreds of Germans. Dick said, “I was scared as I couldn’t help thinking, I hope none of them know it was my group that had destroyed their town.” It turned out OK. He enjoyed the concert and no one paid any attention to him.”
Most of this was done after the war and then after that I came home. Your mother and I were married soon afterward, on May 3, 1946.