Written on behalf of Claude Davis by Lyle Hicks
The threat of war in the early ’40s made every young man fear entering the service. I got my notice and went to Portland for a physical, but I failed, so I returned to Bend, Oregon to work and forget about the army. I was born July 6, 1921 in Hepner, Oregon, and at age 2, my family moved to Bend, where I will always call home.
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 a week, we’d raised enough money to retrieve it. Fortunately, it was still there.
While in Washington, I got another draft notice. This time, I became a member of the US Army, and I met some good guys whom I got to stay with all the way through the war. The army shipped us to Fort Douglas in Utah and then to Camp Hann in California near Riverside where we became a part of the Coast Artillery Anti-aircraft, 119th Battalion. Given my background, I became the small arms repair man and carpenter.
Basic training was a rough transition from civilian life with its strict rules and every part of the day regimented, but I survived. The army added driving the supply truck to my small gun repair duties, which remained my job throughout the war. After further training, we were given a 12-day furlough before shipping out. I decided to hitch a ride north, back home to Bend. A plump old fellow in a Lincoln Continental drove me up Interstate-5 at speeds of up to 100 mph. I sure got home fast!
The 119th Battalion embarked in New York on the fourth-largest passenger ship in the world, the Mauritania, which held 16,000 soldiers.We went up and down waves so big, walls of water hid the whole ship. I slept in the top hammock of four that would swing back and forth with the pitch of the ship. Eating was an adventure where we would hang onto a pipe with one hand and eat with the other. Fifty-gallon barrels were placed every few feet for the guys who got seasick. Man, I was glad I didn’t get drafted into the Navy.
While in England preparing for the trip to France, we set about the task of waterproofing our trucks. A trailer fell on my hand, breaking four fingers. Without a hospital nearby, we wrapped them and kept going. When I finally got to a hospital, the doctor had to re-break my fingers to set them in place, so I headed to Normandy with a cast on my right hand.
We left England on four Landing Ship Tanks and landed on Utah Beach 30 days after the initial invasion. At 6 p.m., we waited inside the tanks in pitch dark with planes screaming overhead and gunfire in the distance. When it was safe to disembark, we had to keep our lights off and follow the truck ahead. It seemed hours before we stopped for the night by a bridge we’d been assigned to protect. The Germans bombed and strafed us all night.
The next morning, I saw my first dead German, not 50 feet away. He wasn’t more than a kid…but then, so was I. As a scared young man, sleeping under trucks and in fox holes, I wondered why I was there. These guys looked the same as I. The war was a cruel, confusing thing.
As we neared a farm in France, Germans strafed our battalion, blowing the tires on my trailer containing 500 lbs of TNT. The first time they came at us, I got as far as the ditch. The second wave hit the ditch, bullets flying right by my side, taking out the man next to me — 4 to 6 inches and I would not be here today. I took off running across the farm and into the woods. There, for the first time, it became real that I had to either kill or be killed. When it was over, I ended up dragging that trailer for 35 miles before we stopped for the night.
Weeks later, our battalion stopped after dark in this lane with trees on both sides. In the middle of the night, the Germans hit us, their 88’s clipping the trees. One shell whistled through the canvas back of my truck. It didn’t take us long to roll out from under the chassis and run down the hill to better protection. Using the hill for cover, we shot back with our 90’s, lobbing shells back and forth.
It was about that time that my hand began to itch and smell bad. I went to see the medics, and the doc got angry. The cast should have come off weeks before. Boy, had my hand and fingers gotten stiff. It was months before I regained full use of them.
We moved up the Mosselle River in the direction of Belgium where we took part in the liberation of the town of Vendun, where WWI had ended. The name of our outfit is on a monument there. After a 7-day leave, we went to Paris and into Southern France to an old castle called Mount Saint Michael.
We then began shuttling infantry to the front line and prisoners back into France. Most prisoners were happy not to fight anymore. We did this under the cover of darkness watching the tail lights of the truck ahead. Often it meant that if the vehicle in front went into a ditch, so did I. One truck hit a land mine, killing some and injuring others. We loaded the injured into our trucks and kept going, leaving the dead to be picked up later. That night, my truck broke down and when guys came to help me fix it, they kept my co-driver, so by myself, I had to maneuver in the dark in unfamiliar territory. It was scary but I made it.
We were then sent to the front line 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 Allies and driving our rigs. It was hard to know who the enemy was.
On one trip, one of our planes was shot down, landing on nearby a motor pool. Since the plane had carried two-thousand pound bombs, the explosion blew a hole in the frozen ground 35 feet across and 15 feet deep. Debris fell all around as I dove under a trailer, and one of the plane’s motors dropped a few feet from me. I helped load the wounded into eight ambulances. It was sickening. When I got back to my truck, I found a bullet lodged in the padding of my driver’s seat. I’ve kept it all these years.
Under enemy fire, shells all around us, we crossed the Rhine River on pontoon bridges like big rubber rafts. Across the half-mile stretch, the 4-foot metal rails were just wide enough for our tires, and our heavy trucks with big guns nearly submerged the rafts. Somehow we all made it to Germany alive. We crossed the Danube on May Day in 1945 and moved into our last position.
On May 9th, the firing stopped. The war had ended.
We were given leave, so I went to Austria to do some skiing and then traveled in 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. Truckloads 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. One the prisoners did not want to be discharged because he had no home to go to.
Finally, I was sent home with four of my buddies. On a Dutch ship headed to New York, 23 guys slept in a room 14 by 30 feet where rows of beds were stacked four bunks high. At sea, we hit a storm with 118 mph winds. I was not Navy material as I was sick all the way home.
In New York, we stood in line to go west on a plane, but the line stopped about 35 guys ahead of me. The rest of us were sent by train. We later heard the plane went down by Billings, Montana killing everyone aboard. On Dec 18, 1945, I was discharged from the army and sent home to Oregon.
It was a joyful Christmas being back with my family. After the holidays, I went to work for my dad in construction. Eventually, two of my brothers and I formed a company building barns. We also built three houses and a motel.
In May of 1947, Eva and I got married. By 1950, work had become scarce in Bend, so we moved to Portland where I found work building homes for a company for 14 years. One of the houses I built won first place in Sunset Magazine. My wife and I then formed C&E Enterprises, moved to Sisters, Oregon, and 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, though in 2009, I lost my wife of 63 years. At age 94, I continue to struggle with health problems, my hearing and eyesight, 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 27,000 miles through England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Spain. I had three stripes on my sleeve, one for each year, five battle stars and several ribbons, but the best reward was an honorable discharge.
I am Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis, a proud member of the Bend Band of Brothers