Nov 8, 2016
I was born July 6, 1921 in Hepner, OR. At the age of 2, my family moved to Bend, OR where I will always call home.
The threat of war in the early forties made every young man fear entering the service. I did not desire the Navy so I hoped the Army would draft me. I got my notice and went to Portland for a physical. But I failed, so I came back to Bend to work and forget about the Army.
Dad and I got jobs hanging doors on Army barracks in Corvallis and when we were done there, they asked us to do the same at an Air base in Moses Lake, WA, so we moved the family in Dad’s 36 Plymouth pulling a trailer. About half way, both tires blew and we had to leave the trailer behind with all our belongs in it. After a week or so, we had raised enough money to back and retrieve it…fortunately, it was still there.
While in Washington, I got another notice. This time I was not so lucky and I became a member of the US Army. I found myself with a group of strangers, we looked strange and felt stranger. We were a sorry looking bunch but as luck would have it, I met some pretty good guys and I got to stay with them all the way through the war.
They shipped us to Fort Douglas in Utah and then down to Camp Hann in California near Riverside where we became a part of the Coast Artillery Antiaircraft, 119th Battalion. I was a part of Headquarters battery where I became the small arms repairman along with being battery Carpenter because of my skills there.
Basic training was a rough transition. I had never been raised up under such strict rules. Every part of your day was regimented. But I survived and soon found my new job along with small gun repair, driving the supply truck, I would have this job all the way through the war.
After some further training, we were given a 12 day furlough before shipping out. I decided to hitch a ride north back home to Bend. I got a ride with a plump old fellow in a Lincoln Continental. He drove up the old I-5 highway at speeds of up to 100 mph. I sure got home fast!
We embarked in New York in the fourth largest passenger ship in the world, the Mauritania, it held 16000 of us. I never knew water could be stacked up so high. We went up and down waves so big they could hide the whole ship. I had top hammock of four that would swing back and forth with the pitch of the ship. Eating was an adventure where we would hang on to a pipe with one hand and eat with the other. 50 gallon barrels were placed every few feet for the guys who got seasick and could not hold their food. Man, I was sure glad I didn’t get the Navy.
While in England preparing for the trip to France, we set about the task of waterproofing our trucks. That was sure a chore. While I was there I had a trailer fall on my hand breaking four fingers. There was no hospital around, so we just wrapped them up and kept going. When I finally got to a hospital, they had to re-break them and set them in place. I had to fight to get back to my outfit and headed to Normandy with a cast on my right hand.
We left England on four LST’s and landed on Utah beach 30 days after the initial invasion. We arrived at 6PM and waited in the dark there. I have never seen it so dark. We heard planes overhead and could hear gun fire in the distance. We disembarked and had to keep our lights off following the truck ahead. It seemed hours before we stopped for the night by a bridge we were to protect. The Germans bombed and strafed us all night. I tried to sleep to no avail. I spent most of my time trying to take off all of the waterproofing that I had installed.
The next morning, I saw my first dead German. He had been lying not 50 feet away. He wasn’t more than a kid……but then, I thought….so am I. As a scared young man, sleeping under the trucks and in dug fox holes, I found myself wondering why I was there. It didn’t really seem my fight and these guys looked the same as I. The war was a cruel confusing thing.
We rolled through France and found ourselves by a farm when the Germans found us. They strafed us and blew the tires on my trailer that had 500 lbs of TNT in it. The first time they came at us, I got as far as the ditch. The second wave hit the ditch and took out the man next to me, the bullets went right by my side. So, you can imagine that by the time they got back, I was across the farm and into the woods for better protection. It was there that the fun and excitement stopped and I realized it was kill or be killed. 4 to 6 inches and I would not be here today to tell this. After the strafing, I ended up dragging that trailer for some 35 miles before we stopped for the night.
I recall one move where we stopped after dark and we were told to park our trucks for the night. I found this lane with trees on both side that I felt was a better secure place and settled in under the truck. In the middle of the night, the Germans hit us with all they had. Their 88’s were clipping the tops of the trees that were not that tall. One shell whistled through the canvas back of my truck. It didn’t take me long to roll out from under that truck and run down the hill to better protection. We then got our chance to shoot back with our 90’s. We lobbed shells back and forth.
It was about that time that my hand began to itch and smell. I went to see the medics and the doc there got angry. The cast should have come off weeks before. The cast got cut off and I regained use of my hand and fingers but boy, were they stiff. It was months before I got full use of them.
We moved up the Moselle River in the direction of Belgium where we took part in the liberation of the town of Vendun where WW1 ended. The name of our outfit is on a monument there. It was here that we were given a 7 day leave. I went to Paris and into Southern France to an old castle called Mt St Michael.
We then began shuttling infantry to the front line and prisoners back into France. Most of the prisoners were just happy that they did not have to fight anymore. We did this under the cover of darkness watching the tail lights of the truck ahead. So, if they went into the ditch, so did you. One truck hit a landmine, killing some and injuring others. We loaded them into our trucks and kept going, leaving the dead behind to be picked up later. I broke down and when they fixed my truck, they kept my co-driver. I had to drive in the dark in unfamiliar territory by myself. It was scary but I made it.
We were then sent back up to the front during the Battle of the Bulge where the Germans made one last push back to Belgium. It was a hard and dirty fight with some Germans dressing like us and driving our rigs. It was hard to know who the enemy was.
On one trip, one of our planes was shot down and landed in a motor pool that I was close by. The plane carried two thousand pound bombs. The explosion blew a hole in the frozen ground 35 feet across and 15 feet deep. I dove under a trailer and things fell all around me. One of the planes motors dropped a few feet away from me. When I got my wits about me, I helped with the wounded. Eight ambulances took away the injured. It was sickening. When I got back to my truck, I found a bullet lodged in the padding of my drivers seat. I kept it all these years.
We crossed the Rhine on pontoon bridges that were just like big rubber rafts. They had metal rails laid out between them around 4 feet. These tracks were just wide enough for our tires and as we pulled out trucks with big guns across the half mile stretch, the trucks pushed down on the rafts so hard that they nearly went under. All this under enemy fire with shells coming down all around us. Somehow we all made it and were now in Germany. We crossed the Danube on Mayday of 1945 and moved into our last position. On May 9th, the firing stopped…the war had ended.
We were given leave and I chose to go to Austria and do some skiing and then down into Italy.
After the war, I didn’t have enough points to go home so I was sent to Metz, France to oversee a gas station there. Truck loads of dead people were shuttled through that station. I had a detail of German prisoners who were tasked with running water and garbage to and from the kitchen. On the prisoners did not want to be discharged as he said he had no home to go to.
Finally, it was my turn and I was sent home with four of my buddies. We loaded into a dutch ship and headed back to New York. 23 of us in a room 14 feet wide and 30 feet long. Four bunks high with two feet between. At sea, we hit a storm with 118 mph winds. We stayed in our bunks and rode it out. I knew for sure I was not Navy material as I was sick all the way home.
We were lined up to go on a plane but the line stopped some 35 ahead of me and I had to go by train. We later heard that the plane went down by Billings killing all aboard. On Dec 18, 1945, I was discharged and sent home arriving before Christmas.
It was a joyful Christmas being back with my family. After Christmas, I went to work for my dad in construction. After that, two of my brothers and I formed a company building barns. We also built three houses and a motel.
I was married in May of 1947. In 1950, work became scarce so Eva and I moved to Portland where I found work building homes. I stayed with that company for 14 years. One of the houses that I built won first place in Sunset Magazine. After a recession and some health issues, my wife and I formed C&E enterprises. We moved to Sisters where we built 47 homes in Black Butte Ranch. Health issues forced me to retire, turning over the business to my three sons.
I have enjoyed a good retirement of 35 years. In 2009, I lost my wife of 63 yrs. At the age of 94, I still struggle with my health along with my hearing and seeing. But, I still live by myself in Snowberry village with family and friends nearby
In those three years in Europe, I drove a truck more than 27000 miles through England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and even Spain.
I had three stripes on my sleeve, one for each year, five battle stars for five major battles, several ribbons but the best being an honorable discharge.
I am Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis, a proud member of the Bend Band of Brothers.