|Oral history interview with Guilford "Bud" Wiley by Gordon Doule. Mr. Wiley discusses his experiences in the 12th Armored Division. Guilford "Bud" M. Wiley Jr. served in Company C, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division, during World War II. He saw action in the European Theater of Operations and was wounded on April 12, 1945.
Interview with Guilford M. Wiley
Conducted by Gordon Doule
October 26, 1993
W: I'm Guilford M. Wiley, Jr., with a name like that, everybody calls me 'Bud.' My wife's name is Helen, everybody calls her 'Pat.' We've been married 47 years. We have two boys with their own families. I've worked all my life, for, until I retired five years ago, I worked for Robert W. Baird & Co., a member of the New York Stock Exchange. Went into the service in March of '43 where I'd been a - gave up a deferment at engineering school at the University of Madison. I went into the Mountain Troops, it was a voluntary draft, because I liked to ski, and it took me from May until November to figure out that it was infantry that walked up and down hill. Went back to engineering school under Army Specialized Training at Texas Tech, Texas, by March they decided they didn't need that many engineers and threw everybody in the nearest combat outfit.
Ended up in the 17th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 12th Armor Division. Trained at Camp Barclay, Texas, from May until September. Went overseas in September of '44. Six weeks in England waiting for our equipment - tanks and half tracks. First combat, 5th of December, in Patch's 7th Army. The make up in Europe - each army had two armored divisions with them. The 12th was in combat from the 5th of December until VE Day when we ended up down in Bavaria. An armored infantry division has approximately 15,000 men, and there'd be three combat commands in there, and each one of the combat commands would have three infantry battalions, three tank battalions, three armored field artillery.
Some of the things I remember - the things that are the most vivid - well, actually, I should mention that out of that 243 men and armored infantry battalion, we had approximately 600 men counting placements go through the company. The squad I was in, of 12 men, each one had at least one Purple Heart. Nine guys were killed in the squad out of about a total of 25 - 30 that went through the squad. I think my most vivid recollection was on the 30th and 31st of March. The Germans were pretty disorganized and armored columns were everywhere behind the German lines. We were about 50 miles behind the German lines, self-contained. Late in the afternoon of the 30th the Air Corps caught a German horse-drawn artillery outfit on a mountain road that was so narrow they couldn't turn around, they couldn't do anything, and it was just a massacre. When we came through, the only way to get through was to shove the debris and equipment off the road and down the mountain, or else just grind over it. And there was a German command car that had two Germans sitting in the front seat, they had burned to death, and I had never seen anybody who had been burned to death. Actually a body really shrivels up when it's completely burned, and it's kind of a sick-sweet smell. And the kid that was the butt of the joke in our squad, it hurts to think about it now, we used to tease him something awful. But he didn't really care - I don't know what kind of a background he came from, but, he didn't care if anybody teased him or anything else, just if somebody paid a little attention to him. In fact we gave him a hair cut once, it was so bad that he never took his helmet liner off after that. But he took one look at that car and got sick to his stomach and said, geez, that's gotta be the world's worst way to die. Well, the next morning the Germans were running and our squad was in the lead, and the armored tanks column was running. We had a tank and a half track, a tank and a half track, for the first ten vehicles. And the infantry's supposed to protect the tank, and the tank is supposed to blow everything out of the way. Well, I ordinarily stood in the ring mound of the half track, but that day I got up on the back deck of the tank, and we had the army's best weapon was on the back of that tank - a air-cooled 50 caliber machine gun. And that thing had a trajectory so flat that the bullet only fell a foot in 750 yards. About noon we stopped and they brought up gas to gas everybody up, but they didn't have enough so they put all the gas in the tanks 'cause they'd only go about two miles on a gallon of gas. There wasn't any left for the half tracks. So we took off again, and about 2:30 in the afternoon we came over a hill and into this valley, and what we didn't know was the town we came into, was a German Corps headquarters, there was about 500 infantry in there. And the thing we really didn't know was in the next town, which was about a mile down the valley, was a whole SS Panzer Division, with a three mile front, there were about 15,000 guys down there. We didn't know, we went blasting through this town, and got about two-thirds of the way to the next town and we were drawing anti-tank fire. The weather was dry and it was dusty, and all of a sudden the tank I was on slammed on its brakes and stopped. And it was so dusty that the half-track in back, where my squad was, didn't see him stop and almost closed up on the tank. What had happened, was a German jumped up with a Panzerfaust, which is a German one-shot bazooka. And the tank was so close they couldn't lower the gun enough to shoot at him. And I didn't see the guy. But he stood right up - he must have had lot of nerve. And he shot the gas tank on my squad's half track - the gas tanks were right in the middle of the half track, and because they only had about a quarter of a tank of gas, this whole thing exploded. Five guys got killed there, and the other six that came out of the half track got wounded because we were catching heavy fire from the hills. This [ ] that I mentioned, who had looked in the German command car, came out of the tank on fire like a torch. He ran in a circle, and he ran towards me, and he got about, maybe, ten yards away, and his hands were up in front of his eyes and his mouth was open like he was trying to yell but not a sound was coming. And he just melted like a candle, and he turned black like a marshmallow and his body shrunk to about four feet and fell over. I jumped off the tank and I was in a half-track right alongside it. And the way the tanks were set up - there was five tanks in a tank platoon, and they could all talk among themselves, but only the platoon leader's tank can talk back to company. The platoon leader stuck his head out of the tank and sniper shot him through the head and he snuck back into the tank, and he was spurting so much blood he scared the guys inside, and they wouldn't answer their radio, and they backed up and started to leave. And the other four tanks figured they lost communication, so they followed him, and all five tanks left. And there was nobody left up there except the 2nd Squad, or what was left of it, and part of the other part of the 2nd Platoon that tried to come and get the boys out, couldn't do it, and they lost a number of men. And one of my good buddies who was a migrant worker from Texas, was laying across the road from me, and he said, 'Is there room for me in your foxhole?' 'Cause I could see the bullets all around him, I says, 'Yeah, but we're alone up here and I'm not gonna stay.' I said, 'Can you get up?' And he says, 'I think so.' So I met him in the middle of the road, and we ran and walked all the way back to where the company was in the town we'd just come through. And there were bullets all around but they never touched us. They shot one through cuff of my pants, but it's amazing how hard it is to hit somebody with a rifle bullet when they're running. Later he, I found out, got a letter from him, he went back to the States, he had 23 separate bullet shrapnel wounds, his arm was broken in three places, he was pretty badly burned, but he made it. Felt pretty lonely - all 11 of the guys that I had started the morning with there wasn't one of them left.
Another day that wasn't a whole lot of fun, it was my last one in combat. It was the 11th of April and we pulled into a town about 10:30 at night. We'd been going all day, and I guess the guys were a little careless - everybody was tired - and didn't dig in as well as they should have. We could hear German tanks out in the field so we knew there was a problem around there. The next morning our squad was gonna lead off again and I was up looking at the map in the company headquarters and all hell broke loose. What happened was, about 500 yards out in the field in this little town was a German Army barracks. And in the morning about 500 of them got a white flag, and started marching down the main road into town, with their weapons slung on their back, and they got about 50 yards from our first foxhole and they threw down the flag and started firing. They overran the first half track and blew it up, and I heard this, I ran down the street, and the platoon leader was with me, and I went and laid in a ditch and started firing and he ran into the barn that the rest of the platoon was in. And I never saw the guy but my buddies told me he was about 60 feet away. And he fired at me and just as he fired I turned my head to the right. The bullet came right through the front of my helmet, and not out the right side, but it must have been at an angle 'cause it made a ding on the bottom of the helmet. If I hadn't turned my head it would have been right direct. It just creased the side of my head and it bled like a son of a gun, and I couldn't see, and the first thing I thought, was, 'Jesus, he shot me right through the eye!' And then I thought, 'Well that can't be or I wouldn't be thinking about this!' [laughter] But the platoon lieutenant that was with me, I didn't know what happened to him when he ran in that barn, but he came back out to go where some of the other boys were, and he had a pistol on his hip, just pulling that pistol out and he got shot, right on the hand, and the bullet deflected off that pistol - blew a couple of fingers off - but it would have shot him right through the gut. That pistol saved his life.
We went back in the ambulance together and I would have kind of liked to have kept that helmet for a souvenir but we didn't know how close the war was over. He threw up in my helmet so I threw it away. A guy from Appleton, John Crook, took command of the squad that I had and they went out on the point like I was supposed to. He got killed about 11:00 that morning by mortar burst, so I was pretty darn lucky. I was in the hospital when the war was over and I didn't want to take a chance on being put in another outfit, 'cause the standard procedure was, when you came out of the hospital, they'd send you a [ ] be replaced, and you'd ordinarily get back to your own unit. But with the war being over I wasn't so sure, so I took off and hitchhiked back to my outfit, and I caught up with them right on VE Day, and I thought there would be a hell of a party, and there wasn't. Everybody was just sitting around - they were just so damn glad it was over and they were still alive. It sounds like a let-down, but it wasn't. It was some feeling.
I finally got back to the states - oh, I had a chance to stay - you had to have 72 points to come home and I had 67. But I had two Purple Hearts from a couple of nicks that I'd gotten, nothing serious, but that one through the head and then I had a piece of shrapnel through my leg once before. And if you had two Purple Hearts they gave you the choice of coming home for a 30 day furlough and then taking your chances on where they assigned you or you could go in the Army Occupation, and the guys says, you got three days to think it over, and I said, I thought it over. Anyway, I had a chance, so I stayed in the Army Occupation in Germany and I had a chance, when it started to snow over there, to go to Garmisch-Partenkirchen where the Germans had had the '36 Olympics. They put in a rest and recuperation center down there. I could have gone down there as a ski instructor, cause I had been in the 10th Mountain Division. And I said, do you guarantee to send me home when the snow melts, well, no guarantee, so I passed that up. I came home and landed in Newport News the day before Christmas. And I was out of the Army a couple days before New Year's.
That was the end of the Army but it wasn't the end of the story. I got married in September. And in April I had tremendous chest pains, I was back at the University in Madison. And they diagnosed it as TB and it was service connected, because I'd had a [ ] test which proves whether you have TB or not, a week before I went in the Army. And they said that the condition was moderately advanced, it had to have been running for something like, probably, two years. So it was service connected and I spent five and a half years in the hospital at V.A. Hospital at Wood. My wife went along and took a job in an orthopaedic ward. She's a registered nurse in the Army Air Corps. Then there was a year and a half after that that they wouldn't let me do anything, so I went back to Madison, finally after ten years, and I graduated when I was 31 instead of 21. Probably the only guy around that took 14 years to get a four year degree! That's a long time ago. Just came back this September from a - 12th Armor Division's had 47 reunions. The first one was in Germany after the war was over. I hadn't been to one for 30 years and I went to Las Vegas in September, and made sure that a number of the guys I really wanted to see were there. And it was really kind of fun, 'cause I hadn't seen these guys for 30 years. I think the thing that I'm most proud of, during that period of time in the hospital, all the guys I knew, every one of them, came to see me, they took their vacations.
D: That should make you a very proud man. A very proud man. You must have deserved it or they wouldn't have done it.
W: They were good guys.
D: I know. Could you tell me who was the most interesting person that you possibly met, that stands out more than the others? With a bunch like that, of course, it's kind of hard to pick out one.
W: They were all different, but one of them was a 2nd lieutenant that went overseas with us. Being a 2nd lieutenant doesn't automatically make you a real jerk but if you've got the tendencies, it gives you the opportunity. Glenn [ ] lives in Sun City, Arizona now. He was always right up there where he was supposed to be. He was a good guy, he never...he was just a good guy. Actually, I mentioned I had a nick in my leg from a piece of shrapnel. In January we were attacking a place called [ ] and we were just catching hell and weren't getting anyplace, it was bad news. We had to get out of there, we threw the smoke in and we started back. And about half way through this big open field, it's colder than hell, snow all over, we're trying to make a stand, there were some kind of kind of half-dug trenches there and stuff, and the Germans turned a 20 mm. anti-aircraft guns on us, so we were getting air bursts about 20 feet in the air. And one of them burst right in-between Glenn and me, and I got a piece in my left leg. Blew the binoculars right off his chest, never touched him. He was a good guy.
Another guy by the name of Jim [Gow] was a couple years older than the rest of us and he thought he was real tough. And when he came in the squad I hated him. I thought he was the world's worst jerk. He was at this reunion, and I asked him, I says, how come you was such a jerk when you came to our outfit? He says, I transferred in and I was a sergeant, and I thought that's the way we were supposed to act! [laughter] Anyway, my first time in combat, me and a guy by the name of Tom [ ] from [River] City, Ohio, dug a hole together, and it was raining and snowing, it was about 32 degrees, it was absolutely miserable. And we were on the back side of the [ ] line, the Germans had the [ ] line. We were there for three days, and just to keep warm we kept digging, and we got so got so damn deep we couldn't get out of the hole. We had to build steps to get out of the hole. And during that three days I got to know Jim. He was a real good egg, too. Definition of a good egg. Somebody who was where he oughta be when you needed him. 'Cause it's a fact some guys disappeared when things got hot, you don't hear any talk about that. That's a funny thing. We had a guy - the top age in the Army was 38 and the infantry was 38. We had a guy by the name of Charlie [ ] was 38. When we trained in Texas and stuff, the 25 mile hike, he never made more than a mile and a half and he'd drop out. And when we got overseas when it came time to make an attack, or something, if he got a sniffle he'd find the nearest bottle and get so stinking drunk he couldn't walk. Well, everybody was kind of glad, because Charlie just couldn't cut it. You couldn't depend on him for anything. So finally he got transferred to service company, gas detail. And one day the gas detail went to the wrong town to gas the boys up and the Germans captured him. So from then on, Charlie marched every day - first towards Russia - and then back the other way, so he made up for all those 25 mile hikes that he missed in Texas. But by god he lived through it.
D: Thirty-eight years old.
W: We had some real jerks too. The captain of our company was a real, real jerk. For instance, when we got assigned to the 12th Armored Division, about 60 guys from Army Specialized Training came in there. Kids are all going to college. And this outfit, the 12th had been in existence about 18 months. So he got all the non-coms together and said, we got smart college kids coming in here, all trying to take your stripes away from you. Oh, man, did we get a rough reception. But the guys that came from ASTP, they did well. Anyway, first night of combat we relieved the 26th Infantry Division. It was an L-shaped town, and the Germans held one part of the L and we held the other. And the captain was this jerk. So if a combat command in the basement of the house, as far back as he could get, away from the line was, and had his [ ] digging a foxhole in the basement, tell you what kind of a guy he was. Well, nobody held it against anybody for being scared or anything like that, but if you pretended that nothing happened and you were still a big shot, then the guys really couldn't stand it. And he just lost complete respect for the other guys. Actually, this lieutenant was from our platoon took over the company. [Dombos] started - I don't know where he disappeared after that, but after the war he came back and wanted his job back as company commander, and it didn't happen. Because the guys just wouldn't take him back. He stayed in the regular Army and about five years later committed suicide. But he was a real jerk. So you see, I don't know, something about the infantry, it's black and white. There isn't any gray. Either you're alive or you're dead or you're a jerk or you're a good guy. One of those four things.
D: And you had to live together so closely, too...
W: After the war, six of us wrote a book about C Company, 17th Army
Infantry Battalion, and covered every day in combat. We had a great time writing that book. We found a champagne factory up in the country. I had mentioned that horse-drawn German artillery outfit that we over-ran. Well, the paymaster wagon was in there, and there was all these stacks and stacks and stacks of brand new marks. We figured it wasn't worth anything but just in case everybody took a handful. We found out that the champagne factory didn't know the difference, they took the money. So we had all the champagne we could drink for six weeks. And we had an interpreter that talked to the printer and we had a good time.
D: This is while you're Army of Occupation?
W: Right. We started that book about a month after the war was over. It took about six weeks to write it.
D: How long were you in the Army of Occupation, then?
W: Well, the war was over on the 8th of May, and I got home two days before Christmas.
D: Oh, well, then you were there plenty of time to drink a lot of champagne.
W: We tried.
D: Were you in Germany at that time, or in France?
D: Germans make awfully good wine.
W: They call it 'sect' is what they call it over there, they don't call it champagne. S-e-c-t.
D: That's almost the word for dry in French, s-e-c.
W: Maybe that's where it comes from. It was just plain champagne, as far as I could tell.
D: I happened to wind up one time in Reims, France. As a matter of fact, I was in Reims, France, the day the surrender was signed in the red schoolhouse and I didn't even know it. I drove right by the schoolhouse, and I found out two weeks later in the Stars and Stripes that it was going on when I was there. I was there on a pass. Well that's very interesting.
How do you think your experiences in the war changed your life? I know that's a tough question.
W: [ ] slowed it up a little, about ten years cut out of it...about three in the service and seven that I didn't do anything, but it put my priorities pretty well. Anytime I really wanted to do something, I did it. I didn't put anything off. So Pat and I had a pretty nice life. I was fortunate enough to take a job that allowed me to have flexibility with my time. I went back to Germany 20 years later. And I put together a little book with pictures and so forth, and sent it to all the guys in the second platoon and that was kinda fun. Actually, we got back to that little town where the half track got blown up, had a movie camera, I drove through town about the same speed a tank would go and let that camera run, and I took it to a division reunion in Cleveland in 1964. And they had it over in the corner of the room and the guys got a real kick out of that movie.
D: And you're a skier, too, that's very interesting.
W: That 10th Mountain Division was a real outfit. It was almost all college boys and professional ski instructors. When you went in the Army they gave you the AGCTR Army Ground Classification Test, and it was kind of a half-baked intelligence test and informational test. And an ordinary infantry division would average about 70 on that test. You had to have 110 to go to Officer's Candidate School. The whole 10th Mountain Division averaged out 129 on that test.
D: They were smart guys.
W: Actually, they took the highest casualty rate in the United States Army for days in combat. They broke open the Po Valley in Italy, and they tried it three times. And they did it by climbing up a mountain in the middle of the night. The Germans didn't think anybody could come up. And they came right up in back of them and blew them off.
D: Isn't that where Monte Cassino is?
W: No, it's further - that was [ ]. But nobody else could have climbed up that thing. They climbed up there with ropes, and the whole bit. Actually, [ ] who was the best ski jumper before the war got killed in there. Then his kid brother who wasn't nearly as good, Art [ ], was the best ski jumper after the war but his brother was a lot better than he was.
That's a long time ago.
D: Yeah, that's about it then I guess, too. What experience do you like to recall, of all of yours, what was the...I suppose getting out of the hospital was probably one of them.
W: Nothing compared to that!
D: Does one experience kind of stand out more than others?
W: Well, I mentioned the two, but I don't know that you'd like to recall. I'd like to know I was around to recall.
D: Well I know one thing that fits in with how I think your experiences have changed your life - you've kept yourself in good physical condition. I think that's been pretty typical, don't you? Of WWII Vets. It's obvious that we're living longer...
W: I don't know, I just came from September from this division and some of the guys are pretty rough shape. So I think most guys it really took something out of them.
D: Well, I certainly appreciate your allowing posterity to record your experiences. If you have something further, I'd be glad to hear it.
W: Not really, not for the record.
D: This is kinda off the record.
W: I came out of the thing - the division had three Battle Stars. I had two Purple Hearts. And two Bronze Stars. It's kinda interesting - that's the lowest medal you can get for sticking your head up when you shouldn't.
D: The Bronze Star.
W: But there's also two kind of Bronze Stars. One of them reads...I think they gave one of these to damn near anybody who survived. And it read 'For Meritorious Achievement in Ground Operations Against the Enemy.' They gave one of those to almost anybody.
D: Yeah, 'Meritorious Achievement.'
W: The other one is for 'Heroism in Ground Combat.' That's the lowest one on the scale for pulling the trigger. And the Silver Star, the Congressional Medal of Honor. Oh, that reminds me. Talking about jerks [laughter]- we had a platoon sergeant that, you could never find him. And I don't know whether it's true but somebody told me he got a Silver Star and I don't know why that would ever happen.
D: 'For a Jerk.' That probably thrilled everybody.
W: He never had enough nerve to come to the reunion, I know that.
D: Do you really blame him?
W: No, I really don't. This is just talking to you.
D: That's exactly what I want.
W: This guy, this little town after I got blown up, this is the town I got hit in the head, it was right here.
D: Right on the spot.
W: Right on the spot. This is the description of when we went back to this town where my half track blew up and I think it's kinda interesting. I was right about here. [ ] got shot. And I didn't know how bad he was hurt, he got up and he was holding his elbow, and he says, 'I'm shot in the elbow, where's the battalion aid station?' I said, 'Back there someplace,' and he ran off. I never saw the guy that shot him and that didn't do him any good at all. But anyway, my first thought was, you lucky son of a gun, you're out of it. That was bad enough to get you home. And then I went in the hospital, too, [ ], we lost a lot of guys at [ ] for a couple weeks. And while I was the hospital I heard he died. He died of shock, geez, I couldn't believe it.
D: Yep, a lot of people...
|Oral History Interview with Guilford M. Wiley, Jr.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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