The 377th AA(AW) was at Camp Gordon Johnston from Jan 13, 1943, to about March or April 1943. The museum has a an itinerary of the 377th in Europe submitted by Maj. B. D. Rhea MD.
Joseph A. Tedesco: I was 21 years old when I went into the Army. I took my basic training at Fort Eustis, Virginia. I was sent to Camp Stewart, Georgia. It was an anti-aircraft outfit. There were four batteries to a battalion and I was put in Battery D. They made me a gunner on the 50 caliber machine gun. There were two sections to a battery and each section had 40 millimeter guns. They had a Sergeant, 2 Corporals, 2 truck drivers plus 12 men in each section. We would go to the firing range and shoot at a sleeve target that was towed by an airplane. It was pretty hard to hit the target, but the more we shot, the better we got. We also had to leam how to identify German airplanes. One day we loaded all of our guns and trucks on railroad cars and went to Camp Carrebell, Florida where we were to begin amphibious landing training. They would put us in LCI or LCP Boats and go out into the Gulf of Mexico about a mile, then they would turn around and head for shore. Sometimes the landing crafts would hit a sandbar, they would let down the ramp and we had to get off. Sometimes the water was two feet deep and other times it would be up to our chest. While we were there, we went through the infiltration course. We had to crawl under barbed wire while they were shooting live ammunition over our heads. One night, they took us to a tall building that had a cargo net over the side. We had to get on the net and go down it into a boat that was at the bottom. They had some soldiers at the bottom that would swing the net simulating a ship that was sinking. We went back to Camp Stewart and our Colonel made us pitch our pup tents on the ground in the open field.
In July, we went to Tennessee for maneuvers. It was hot and dusty and our Colonel would not give the drivers any rest so they had a bad time staying on the road. One day, a truck with some soldiers in it from another battery went over a cliff. Two soldiers were killed and the rest were sent to a hospital. Then our Colonel decided to change out drivers. We stayed in Tennessee awaiting orders to go overseas. We finally went to Camp Shanks, New York and got on a ship that took 14 days to cross the Atlantic. We landed in England and took over a vacated school Chat we used for our barracks. In March, we became part of the 4111 Division area and my gun crew was sent on maneuvers with them up in Wales. We had to waterproof all of our guns and trucks and then we went out into the channel. One night while we were out, we were attacked by German E-Boats and lost 749 soldiers and sailors. The Army kept it a secret for 40 years. Today there’s a monument in honor of all the men that lost their Jives that day.
While we were in Wales, my Sergeant got sick and went to the hospital. He never came back, so the Captain made me acting Sergeant. When we got back, I saw some strange trucks in the motor pool. They were called half tracks and had four 50-caliber machine guns mounted on a turret. These guns could turn all around as well as up and down. An officer and a Corporal came over to me. The officer said he would like me to take command of one of the tracks but said I would only be a Corporal. He said he knew I would be a Sergeant soon, but he still wanted me to take the half track. He said I had to make up my mind what I wanted to do. I told him I would take the half track, so the Corporal that was with him became a Sergeant instead. Now I had to pick my own men for the track. There would be only five of us and a driver. I picked men that I knew were good with the machine gun and also a good driver.
The invasion began on June 6th and my battalion went in at Utah Beach on the 12* of June. The 4th Division had gone in on D-Day, June 6th. My half track was sent to the 42nd Field Artillery. They had four tanks with 105mm Howitzers. Their Captain treated us as one of his own soldiers. He made sure that if we needed anything we got it. We would get all our rations and our clothes if we needed any from them in convoy. After we took Cherbourg, we were in what they called The Hedgerow Country. The Germans had dug into the hedgerows and had good cover in which to hide. Our infantry was losing a lot of soldiers and could not make any headway. General “Teddy” Roosevelt was given the job to get the infantry moving. The General got the idea of using the half tracks up front to strafe the hedgerows because we had so much fire power. Each one of our guns would fire 500 to 600 rounds a minute. So on July 12th we went up front. I set up in a field and had my men dig their fox holes about 30 yards from the track. My Captain came up to see how we were set up and asked me where my fox holes were. I told him where and he said to “dig them around the half track”. I told him I thought it was a bad idea because the Germans would try to knock out the half tracks and a near miss would put my men in danger. He said “that’s an order.” So while he was still there, I had my men start to dig. As soon as he left. I told my men to use the holes they had first dug. The Captain went to another track that was two fields away from mine and he told that Corporal the same thing he told me and that’s what the Corporal had his men do. We were hooked up by phone to an officer who was up front and could see the Germans and he would tell us when to shoot and when to stop. We would shoot so much and for so long that sometimes one of the barrels would burn out. We had eight extra barrels that we had tested on the firing range. With special gloves, the men would change the burned out barrel and keep on shooting. That first day, my driver started to cry. He couldn’t take it so I put him in a fox hole and told him to stay there so he would feel safer. When we got back that day to a safe area, I told my Captain that I wanted a new driver. I told him why and so he gave me someone else. We went up again the next day and did the same thing. That night, a good friend of mine who was on the track two fields away would not say anything. He was always joking around and laughing, but this night he wouldn’t say anything. I asked him what was wrong and he said he felt funny and could not explain how he felt. He said he wasn’t sick or afraid, he just felt funny. I told him to stay behind the next day but he said he was going up anyway. By this time the Germans knew just about where we were and the shells were getting closer. One exploded pretty close so I told my men to get into the fox holes. The next volley came in and a shell hit a tree two fields away. When it exploded, it covered all of the half track and the fox holes. The driver was hiding under the track so he didn’t get hit and he came running to me and said all the men were wounded. I told him to stay with my men and I ran over to the track. The first hole had the Corporal in it and he had a big hole in his hip. I used both my first aid kit and his to bandage his hip and he said to look after the rest of the men. I checked the holes on that side and they were empty. I ran around the track and the last fox hole had my friend in it. I knew he was dead because he had shrapnel holes in his back and his helmet. 1 took him out of the hole, dragged him away from the track, and covered him with a blanket. By this time, our Captain heard about it and came up. Well I was so mad at him, that I made a lunge towards him but he held out his hands to stop me and said, “I guess you were right about digging the fox holes away from the track,” but it was too late… I lost a good friend. We heard later that Teddy Roosevelt asked our officers, “what are your half tracks doing, they are killing all the Germans by themselves,” so I think we did a good job because now our infantry was starting to gain ground.
Next came St. Lo. This time the big brass got the air corps to help. Three thousand airplanes were to leave England and bomb the Germans. The artillery was to mark the front lines with smoke shells and the planes were to drop their bombs beyond the smoke onto the Germans. Well the first wave of planes did, but somehow the wind drifted back blowing the smoke onto our soldiers. Before the big brass got word to the planes, we lost a lot of soldiers and also a General NC Near.
The Falaise Gap is where we had thousands of Germans surrounded and the English were to close the Gap to the North of us but they must have stopped for tea because thousands of Germans got away to fight another day. We were now getting close to Paris and the 4th Division could have gone into Paris but the big brass wanted to give the honor to the French’s General LeClare. So the 4111 Division had to wait for them to catch up, they got in front of the 4th Division and marched into Paris. We were the first Americans in Paris and the people went crazy. We could not move our track because we would have run over someone. The people were wall to wall on the streets. They would give us wine and flowers and the girls would climb on all the trucks, jeeps and half tracks kissing everyone. They were so happy to be free from the Germans. We spent the night in the park but no one slept because the French would come over with gifts and wanted to talk.
We left the next morning and had the Germans on the run. It was open country and our tanks were moving right along with no trouble. We set up one day near a town called San Quenten. A boy and girl about their teen years came by and were looking at our track. I got talking to them and they made me understand they came from Italy and they wanted me to go see their parents. So I went and their parents were very happy to see us. They made us some coffee that was made of roasted wheat and chicory. It was awful, but we said it was good. The father asked us if the Germans would come back. I told him they were gone for good. He then took me outside and started to dig until he uncovered a long box where he had hidden two bikes. He told us that if the Germans knew he had the bikes they would have taken them. He told us there would be a street dance that night and we should go see it. Two of us went and the people were singing and dancing and, of course, drinking. The men came out to the square and they had two women with them. These two had been collaborating with the German soldiers so they put them in the center of the square and shaved the hair off of their heads.
We were on the move again. We were in convoy when a German airplane came out of nowhere and began strafing the convoy. My men and I jumped off the half track and jumped into the ditches and empty fox holes that were nearby. It was dusk when this happened and by the time it was over and we were able to get back into our track it was dark. There was a smell like someone had crapped in their pants, so we looked at everyone on the track and we saw that one of my men had jumped into a fox hole that a soldier had used as a latrine. This poor guy was covered all the way down the front of him so he had to throw away his clothes and put on clean ones. We had a good laugh over that.
It was stop and go all night and in the morning, we found out why. Our airplanes had strafed a German convoy that was using horses and wagons to move…the road was full of dead Germans and horses. We finally got a tank with a snow blade on it to push everything off the road. The word came down that if we saw horses that were badly wounded to shoot them rather than make them suffer. It was hard to shoot some of the horses because they were so beautiful. It was 2:30PM when we finally got to set up. We dug our fox holes, ate our C-rations and now it was getting dark. My men asked, “Who was going to start pulling guard?” I told them no one because we could see the battalion headquarters in a field near us. I said if they’re here, we must be miles from the front. Besides, we would be up early. The next thing I knew, someone was shaking my foot. I looked up and it was my platoon Sergeant who I hadn’t seen since we left England. He asked me who was on guard and I told him no one. He said the Captain was on the road and wanted to see me. So I reported to the Captain and he wanted to know who fell asleep while on guard so he could court marshal the soldier that fell asleep. Well that’s all I had to hear. My men and I had been together for two and a half years and we were like brothers so I wasn’t going to tell him anyway. When I told the Captain I didn’t post anyone, he told me, “you’re a buck private; who’s next in command?” Each one of my men was called up to the Captain and they all said if Tedesco was not good enough, neither were they. He got red in the face and said he would find someone to take command. We got a new Corporal from one of the 40 millimeter guns. He was with us two weeks and one day he was up in the turret of the gun when off in the distance we could hear anti-aircraft firing. It had to be a German plane so I told the Corporal to get ready just in case the plane would come within our range. Well the plane did come and I am yelling at the Corporal to shoot, but he never did. The phone rang and they wanted to know how many rounds we fired. I gave the phone to the Corporal and he said he did not shoot because he thought they were friendly planes. Later that day, he took me aside and said that he did not know how to operate the guns. I said, “you mean to tell me Chat for two weeks our lives were in your hands and you’re just telling me now you don’t know how to operate the guns.” So I had to teach him all about the guns. The war was something else. Back home the only time we would see someone dead was at a wake. Now all we would see were dead soldiers every day both Germans and Americans so it’s hard to see what the war was [ike. When the weather was hot, they would bloat up to twice their size. Between the smell of all of them, plus the dead cows and horses, it would make you sick. But as time went by, you got so used to it that you forgot what fresh air smelted like. You also had to get used to seeing just parts of bodies and soldiers so burned up you couldn’t tell if they were Germans or Americans.
Our Division was then sent to the Huertgen Forest. This place was hell. You were afraid to put your foot down because the Germans had put mines under the leaves and many soldiers lost their feet and legs. When the Germans would shell us, the shell would hit the tree tops and explode raining iron shrapnel down on us. I was lucky to get the engineers to clear a path up a hill. Once they cleared the path, they put white tape around the trees on both sides and we had to stay inside those white tapes. We were so high up, one day German planes flew by and we were eye level with them. I was the first one to get into the gun turret. I picked up the first plane in my sights and although we were taught to shoot short bursts, I shot almost all my ammunition at the first plane because if I was short, the bullets might hit one of the planes that were behind the first one. [ saw smoke coming out of the first plane so I knew he was hit. He made a right turn and headed towards his front but it was too far to hear if he crashed. We were there from November to December and then we finally got a rest. We drove to Luxembourg and for two days we thought the war was over.
We got to Luxembourg on the 12th of December and on the 16th of December the Battle of the Bulge started. The Germans broke through our lines killing and capturing thousands of American soldiers. There was a lot of confusion because some of the Germans could speak perfect English. They knew all our slang words, all our ball players and movie stars. They would turn the road signs around so we would be going the wrong way. It was sad to see so many of our soldiers running to the rear and throwing their guns away. One officer surrendered 7,000 of his men because they just came from England and did not have time to set up in a good position so rather than have his men killed, he gave up. Our outfit went out in the country about two miles from the town we were in. There we found a mansion that must have belonged to a Duke or Baron. It was beautiful and we made it our command post. The Germans were shooting at us for two days and never hit the mansion. An officer told the Captain to give him a jeep and a radio operator and he would go see if he could find where the Germans were. The Captain said okay and the officer took off. For three more days the Germans were shelling us and we heard nothing from the officer who left. Each day we changed codes for the day. Our radio operator asked the Officer radioing in for the code for the day…the answer he got was the wrong one. So he told the Captain that a German was on the radio who could speak perfect English and that maybe the officer that had left to go up front must have been killed or captured. Our Captain said “let’s get out of here.” He then came to me and said for my crew to take the tail end of the convoy… we would be the last ones out. On the way back to the town that we were first in, a truck went into a ditch and couldn’t get out. Being the last ones out, I couldn’t just leave him in the ditch so we got out our cable, pulled him out and he took off towards the town. We still had to rewind our cable and when we got to the town there was no one there. We came to a crossroad and went across, but that was a mistake because the Germans saw us and started shooting at us. We made a fast U-turn and went back. to the crossroad. This time we took a left turn and two miles down the road we found our artillery set up and they were shooting at the mansion we just left. Our Captain had left an officer and a radio operator in a patch of woods near the mansion. The officer said ten minutes after we left the Germans were in the mansion. Our artillery shot at the mansion most of the day and when we went back, the mansion was nothing but rubble. There were dead soldiers all around the place and trucks were burning up. The American soldiers started to loot any thing they could find but our Captain had them put everything back.
During the Bulge, one of our half tracks got hit. The men were slightly wounded but the track was in good shape. All they needed was a driver. The motor pool Sergeant remembered that I used to drive one when we were in England. So they came looking for me and I went back to the command post. It was there I saw my Captain for the first time since he busted me and he gave me a choice. I could drive a truck or drive the half track, so I took the track. Now I had to wait for a crew. There was a house and a barn there and I killed three chickens and gave them to the kitchen section to cook. They had made a kitchen up in the barn. An American tank came by and the Germans where shooting at it. They missed and the shell hit the top of the barn. I ran to to see if I could help and I met two soldiers coming out of the barn. They said that two soldiers were killed and some were wounded. Just then, I got a funny feeling like someone was telling me to get into the house. So I grabbed the two soldiers by the shoulders and said “let’s get in the house!” We had just made it to the house when another shell exploded. I hit the wall on one side of the hallway and the other soldier hit the wall opposite me. I could feel my right leg burn and my left hand. I looked at the soldier opposite me and his right leg was gone. I looked at myself and I was covered with blood and chips of bone. It was from the other soldier. I yelled for medics and the soldiers in the back rooms came running out and looked after the soldier whose leg was gone. They looked at me and said to run to the barn because there was a medic there. I made it to the barn and they stripped me and bandaged my leg and then took out the shrapnel that was holding my gloves on my hand. They put me in a jeep and I went to a field hospital. I was there for two days and then I went back to the command post. I found out that the two soldiers that got killed were cleaning the dam chickens that I killed. I never heard what happened to the soldier who lost his leg.
We finally got a crew and a new Corporal so we moved out. Now we were near the German pill boxes. The mess Sergeant had a kitchen set up in a pill box that was 200 yards from where we were. We would take turns to go eat two at a time. The Corporal and one of the men were the last to go. The mess Sergeant told the Corporal that he wanted a soldier to help with KP. The Corporal got back and told the soldier who was with him to go back and pull KP. That meant that he had to walk all the way back when he was just there a few minutes ago. That was the last straw. This soldier picked up a hammer and was going to hit the Corporal on the head. The Corporal saw the motion and he ran looking for the First Sergeant. When the First Sergeant came, the men told him all of the crazy thing this Corporal made them do since he was put in charge. The First Sergeant told the Corporal to get his gear and leave. He turned to me and said for me to take over and he would see that I got my rating back. This made the men happy.
We had a mission to go up front again and one of my men said he didn’t want to go. He said I could either shoot him, or have him court marshaled, but he wasn’t going to go up front. Well I knew this soldier had been in the room where all the men got wounded and he did not get a scratch. This happened twice to him so I told him Co stay behind and we went up without him. The next day, we had to go up again, and this time he said he was coming with us. The day before, he just had a feeling that something might happen to him. During the war, there was snow on the ground and one day as the snow was melting we saw a hand sticking out of the snow. We didn’t know if it was an American or a German, so two of us pulled on the hand and out came a dead German soldier. His face was white and wrinkled. We took out his wallet and there were pictures of him and his family and here he was dead at our feet. That’s when we would feel sorry because it could have been one of us. What happened at that place will always be in my mind. There was a creek near by that we would get our water from. We would always put pills in our drinking water, but this time the pills did not work. The reason they weren’t working was because we did not realize that under the snow that was melting and going into the creek, were dead soldiers, cows and horses and we all got dysentery. I was sick as a dog for eight days.
By this time the Bulge was just about over. We had pushed the Germans back to where they started from. We had 19,000 soldiers killed. I don’t know how many were captured or how many were wounded, but I know that the Germans lost twice as many as we did. Our outfit was sent back into France to clean up some pockets of Germans that we bypassed. We were with an outfit that the Captain told me there were 500 German soldiers in a town that was over the hill from him. He said that I could shoot at any time during the night at any movement we saw on the hill because it would not be any of his men. It was here that I almost got shot by one of my own men. That night, we were all sleeping in a large tent when I had to go to the John. I left the tent and when I tried to get back in, I couldn’t find the opening so I was making a lot of noise. All at once, I heard someone from inside the tent say, “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.” That scared me so much that I think my voice changed. I said, “It’s me. Look at my bed roll and you will see that it’s empty and I am outside.” So they let me in but one of my men still had his gun pointed at the opening of the tent.
During our last move, we ended up with the Japanese-American soldiers from the 442nd Field Artillery that had come up from Italy. The Captain called me over and gave me a bottle of whiskey. He saw the gun I had and he said he had one just like it but it was all apart. He found it on a dead German who was in the water and he did not want it to get rusty so he took it apart and could not put it together again. We worked on it until we got it firing again and he wanted to buy mine. I told him no, I was taking mine home. We came to a farm and we had to cross a wooden bridge. The old farmer came out and said the bridge was “kaput”. I didn’t believe him so I got my driver to start across. He was nearly across when the bridge gave way. The bumper caught the bank on the other side and the trailer was holding up the rear of the track. My driver got so mad at me he said, “You got us into this mess so now you can get us out” and he left. I got two trucks to pull me back out. It was lime to leave and I could not find my driver so I drove and got in the convoy. Good thing we had to wait because now I saw my driver and he was drunk. I put him in the track and while we were waiting and old man was picking up all the cigarette butts that the soldiers threw away. When he got near my track, my driver got out and hit the hands of the old man and the butts went flying and the old man ran away.
I had a good friend in the artillery that was a forward observer. He and an officer would go up front and direct the artillery when to shoot, how far and left or right until they hit what they were shooting at. He only had to go up front when his name came up, but instead he would take the place of another soldier whose name came up if that soldier would give him his months’ pay. I told him he was nuts to do that, but he said that if he had my cigarette lighter it would bring him good luck. So I would give him my lighter and he would give me his wrist watch. I don’t know what happened that one day, but he went up front without my lighter and he got killed. They told me they couldn’t even find his shoes, so it must have been a direct hit by a shell. So once more, I lost another very good friend.
As we kept going south, we reached Austria and started to see a lot of slave laborers. They were skin and bones. We gave them all the c-rations that we did not like and they were happy to get them. I saw some slaves skinning what I thought was a deer, but it was actually a police dog. One of the slaves could speak English and he told us that they started out with 3,000 slaves and as the weak ones would fall, the German guards would club them to death. They didn’t want to shoot them because they were afraid that the Americans would come to investigate the shooting.
The war ended while we were with the Japanese and we had to find our battalion, The Japanese-American soldiers got on both sides of the road and began making snowballs. As we drove off, they threw all the snowballs at us. I guess it was their way of saying good-bye and good luck. To me they were the best. We found our battalion and our battery in a small town. We had 500 German prisoners in a stockade. Another Corporal and I got the job of going to the farmers and asking them how many prisoners they needed to help on the farm. Each morning we took them to the farms and dropped them off with a guard and picked them up at 4:30PM.
Now the point system came out you had to have 85 points to go home. I had 120 points so I and some others left for England. We got stuck loading low point men to go to the pacific theater. This was in July. The war with Japan ended in August and we were still in England. Finally we were put on trucks and went to Wales where they put us on a ship that took 14 days to cross the Atlantic. We landed at Camp Dix on the 23rd of October and it took three more days before we got discharged. A group of us that lived in Upstate New York got on a train that would stop at all the towns to let off the ones that lived there. We got on this train at 2:30AM on the 26′ of October and I got to Rochester at 2:30PM. It was a happy day because my family was waiting at the station.
The funny part of this story is that I left home on the 26th of October 1942 and got home on the 26th of October 1945.
This is my story of an old soldier…. Joseph Tedesco
The men on my half track came from different parts of the United States. We would share our last cigarette and share the last bit of food. We showed each other pictures of our loved ones that we left behind. We would write to the wives and girlfriends (and, of course, Mom and Dad) and tell them how brave we were and not to worry about us. We would comfort the ones who lost a family member back home and we would feel sorry for the one who got a Dear John letter from his girlfriend and we would comfort each Other when we were getting bombed or shelled by the enemy. We were together for three years, and I never heard anyone say a bad word about one another…we were like brothers. I was happy when the war ended because now my men could go home to their loved ones but I was sad at the same time because I was thinking of all the soldiers who weren’t going home.
I and millions of soldiers gave the best years of our lives so that our children, grandchildren and those to follow would live in a free world. Thousands of young soldiers gave their lives for the freedom we have today.
From the papers of Harold R. Blckwell, Seattle WA: