Old friends shared memories of war

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 7, 2000

GETAWAY – Charlie would never let his friend Sherrill Ward speak about those days more than 50 years ago.

Tuesday, March 07, 2000

GETAWAY – Charlie would never let his friend Sherrill Ward speak about those days more than 50 years ago.

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"I visited him almost every year since," Sherrill said last week, gazing at Symmes Creek from his home’s sun porch.

"We talked about everything, mostly history, stories," he added, his 83-year-old voice almost chuckling.

"But he wouldn’t ever talk about the war."

Charlie Pitt passed away Monday, Feb. 28, in Lowell, leaving his friend alone the next day to finally unravel their greatest story.

"I got to thinking yes, sir, we were right in it in those days."

Their story tells of whizzing German buzz bombs that blasted French and Belgian towns morning, noon and night.

It tells of Army truckers who delivered supplies to generals and infantrymen in war torn Europe.

It’s the story of a friendship.

Drafted into the U.S. Army in October 1943, Sherrill spent months in training at Ft. Thomas, Ky., Massachusetts and Texas before his 13-day steamship trip to Liverpool, England.

Then, the Army stationed the young man at Warminster, where he awaited his turn on the Normandy invasion route.

Sherrill remembers General George S. Patton, old "Blood and Guts" himself, speaking to an outfit at an adjoining camp.

"Patton had a voice you could hear anywhere," he said. " I can hear it just as plain as right now ‘Men, with your blood and my guts, we’re going to wipe out a hell of a lot of Germans.’"

Lost records canceled Sherrill’s company’s assignment to the invasion’s second wave – the one decimated by German forces entrenched above Omaha Beach.

"After I got there, I ran into a boy in that outfit One hour after they landed, there were 13 left out of 383 men. They were our replacements."

The young soldier, who also had broken his foot in training, eventually lost his infantry status. Sixteen days after D-Day, he hit the French beaches with the 4261st Truck Company, where destiny took over.

"We got acquainted immediately," Sherrill said, now speaking of Charlie.

"We were stationed about nine miles south of Versailles," he said. "There were two drivers per truck. Charlie went with me. We loaded at the English Channel, made the trip from there to Paris and back to the channel and then back to our company area.

"The route we drove was called the Red Ball Highway – the main supply line. It took five days to make the trip and you had to carry your own gas."

They slept fitfully outside the truck for an hour or two each night, hoping Nazi bombers wouldn’t train their sights on the vehicle.

Each day, they listened carefully for German V rockets.

"It was like a pilotless airplane," Sherrill said. "You could hear them screaming overhead. We called them buzz bombs."

When the rocket used up its fuel, a weight-like mechanism tilted it downward. The explosion could destroy entire buildings, gouge deep pits in highways and obliterate supply trucks.

"If we’d hear one, we’d stop and get out and hide behind an electric pole. They were real thick and we’d watch it and keep the pole between us and the rocket."

At the Antwerp, Belgium, harbor, Christmas 1944, the two friends endured the screams of 31 buzz bombs every 30 minutes.

"Well, they would drive you crazy," Sherrill said. "I saw many men go home in straight-jackets."

The two truckers’ routes changed many times during their duty years. Sometimes they delivered supplies to General Bradley’s forces. Other times they carried fuel to Patton’s tanks, being careful not to let the crafty general hijack their fuel.

French villagers along the supply routes would open their homes to the soldiers who had come to liberate them from the Germans.

"In northern France, we had been sleeping in mud and rain for two days," Sherrill said. "When we drove into Bethleyville, we asked this farmer if we could sleep in his hay loft.

"He said, ‘You can’t do that,’ then smiled, ‘but you can sleep in one of our beds.’"

They slept on the floor, then the next morning the family offered what food they had left. But Sherrill and Charlie found an Army chow line and took plates of food back to them instead.

"They didn’t want to take it. I can remember that as plain as day Me and Charlie both did.

"That’s another blessing I’ll never forget."

Why? Just to give something for somebody in need, Sherrill said.

"We knew what we were there for and it was just a job but ," he said, his eyes holding memories for both himself and Charlie.

"I know I’m proud of what I did," he said. "I experienced so much after we got together.

"We developed a real friendship right there in the fields of France."

During Sherrill’s two years of service, he never got hit.

Charlie didn’t lay claim to such luck. A buzz bomb struck a building near him once, knocking him to the ground amid rubble and dead villagers.

Flying shards of stone made his Army jacket look like a sieve, Sherrill remembers.

Charlie suffered the rest of his life because of injuries he received that day.

The friend left for home in December 1945. Sherrill followed in January 1946. In 1948, they caught up with each other.

The two soldiers visited almost every year, kept up with each other, aged with each other – creating more stories to stash away amid memories of the great war.

"We had a lot in common ," Sherrill said.

"A lot to talk about those years."

And they still do.