By Former T/5 John K. Lester

    I joined "B" Btry., 29th Field Artillery, 4th Motorized Division in January, 1942. It was later to become the 4th Infantry Division. After extensive training in Camp Gordon, Ga., Fort Sill, Ok., Fort Dix, N.J., Camp Gordon-Johnson, Fla., Fort Jackson, S.C., etc., we shipped overseas in January, 1944. Our destination was England. We were stationed in the town of Axminster. We then continued amphibious training at Slapton Sands. I remember the practice landings on the English beaches. I was a jeep driver and my vehicle was the first to disembark when the ramp of the LCT was lowered. For some reason or other, about 3 or 4 weeks before D-Day, my job was changed to assistant driver for T/5 Joseph Fedish, who drove one of the M-7's (self propelled 105 howitzer).

    On "D-Day", June 6, 1944, "B" Btry. lost its entire firing battery which consisted of 4 self-propelled 105 howitzers, when the landing craft (LCT) struck a floating naval mine about a mile off Utah beach. It is my understanding that it sank almost immediately with the loss of all 60 men and equipment. When I reached the beach on another landing craft and learned of the loss, I was devastated. How quickly I lost so many good friends and buddies. What a way to enter into conflict. The rest of that day draws a blank. I can't recall much of anything. I do remember being with Pfc Richard E. Showalter and T/4 George Doolittle that first night. We didn't know what was happening. Everything was very confused.

    On June 7th I was reassigned. I went back to being a jeep driver for a forward Observer. That was my job through all 5 Campaigns and battles through VE-Day, May 8, 1945. These battles and campaigns included the hedgerows, Cherbourg, the St Lo breakthrough, the drive to Paris, Belgium, Siegfried Line, Hurtgen Forest, Luxembourg, the Battle of the Bulge, and the pursuit into Germany. I was with the first Americans in Paris on August 25, 1944. We supported the French 2nd Armored division in the liberation of that city. That was a most exciting day.

    I can't remember names of the many small towns and villages that we overtook. Time and places didn't register. I had close calls, saw many of our soldiers, the enemy, and civilians that had been wounded or killed. It really bothered me at first but, after a few weeks, it seems that you start to get used to it. You try not to let it bother you anymore. I was very fortunate that I was able to survive the 337 days of combat without injury. One time I thought I was hit bad by German artillery. I was seeking protection under my jeep, during a German artillery barrage, when I was jarred by a deafening explosion. My head, ( I was wearing my steel "pot"), and shoulders were splattered with what I instantly thought was shrapnel. Thanks, possibly, to some of the forced labor that had to work in the German munition factories, what I was splattered with was dirt and debris. The "88" shell had landed about 5 or 6 feet from my jeep. It was a Dud and sprayed me with the dirt it had dug up when it landed. If that had been a live shell, or had traveled 5 or 6 feet farther ?????. I always had to be on the lookout for any signs of land mines. I had to be very cautious at crossroads because the Germans almost always had them zeroed in by artillery fire. "Booby" traps, open areas, artillery tree bursts, snipers, etc., kept you on the alert at all times. Myself, a radio operator, and a 2nd Lt. comprised our observer party. We alternated with another similar group. When we were back from the infantry, if telephone communication lines were needed, I would use my jeep for running telephone lines from the artillery to the infantry. I had a large reel of wire mounted on the back of the jeep. I would also be involved in keeping the lines operating. One thing I want to mention is that I had a good buddy, who was a member of one of the 105 gun crews. He always had a foxhole ready for me, if it was needed, when I returned to the battery area. His name was Richard E. Showalter. Another important member of my unit was William (Bill) R. Cook. He distributed one of the most important things that we looked forward to - mail, and occasionally, a package from home. I still see Bill a couple of times a year. We both belong to the 4th Infantry Division Association and have been meeting at mini re-unions in Pa. & Ohio.

    There are so many more things I could write about but, it would be a never ending story. Some of it would seem unbelievable to most of the people who read it, so it's probably better left unsaid. I still miss my buddies and often wonder why I was spared. I'm proud that I participated in the invasion and the subsequent liberation of France, and the rest of the European countries that had been dominated by Hitler's Germany. I was honorably discharged, via the point system, on August 26,1945 at Fort Dix New Jersey, after my 32 day recuperative furlough.

    My awards include the following: American Defense Medal, American Theater Medal, ETO ribbon with bronze arrowhead & 5 campaign stars, Good Conduct Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Germany clasp, Bronze Star Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Belgium Croix de Gerre, & World War II Victory Medal. I have since been awarded the New York State Conspicuous Service Medal by Govenor Hugh L. Carey, the French Medal of the Jubliee of Liberty (50th anniversary of D-Day - June 6, 1944), & the French War Veterans - Liberation of France Medal (50th anniversary of D-Day - June 6, 1944). I have the Commemorative Medal for Americans ( 50th anniversary of World War II). I also have a lifetime membership in the Military Order of the Ardennes and have the Grand Cross of Homage Medal. I am very proud of all my awards and, my service in World War II.

             John K. Lester
E-mail address: johnklester@juno.com

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