"Dear Mr. Elson," the e-mail began. "I received these tapes [the Tanker Tapes Trilogy on CD] last week and they are great! My dad was Sgt. Guenther Jahnke of B Company, 712th Tank Battalion. He never attended any of the reunions, but he used to get Xmas cards from several of his buddies; a couple of names I remember were Louis Gruntz and Ed Swierczyk. My dad didn't talk much about his experiences, so I don't know a whole lot about what he did and now it is too late to find out very much. I wish I'd started fifteen years ago. My dad enlisted about February 1941 and went to California with the cavalry, so he was with the outfit all the way through. He was wounded twice, first near St. Leonard, which I think was shortly before Falaise, and then again late in the war, but I don't know when or where. My mother has a letter from him that mentions freeing a concentration camp, which I assume would have been Flossenburg. I remember him telling me he was on a ship coming home when the war ended, so I'm guessing it was because he had enough points; maybe because he had a wife and dependant (I was born in October 1944). I know it is a longshot, but if you know of anyone from B Company who is alive, kicking and lucid, I would appreciate hearing about them. Sincerely, David Jahnke, U.S. Army, Viet Nam, 1970-71."
I forwarded David's e-mail to Louis Gruntz Jr., whose father David mentioned, and Louis sent David the following reply:
"Hi David, Like your Dad, mine never talked about the war in any great detail either, until 1994. I was going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage and my Dad wanted to get me out of my depressed state. He and I (just the two of us) went on a two-week trip to Europe, we rented a car, and armed with a copy of the B Company history, we traveled the route of the 712th from Normandy to Amberg, Germany, where the 712th was stationed during Occupation. I made a journal of each day's travel and what Dad told me at each location. We repeated this journey again in 2000 with my mother and two of my children when we returned to Europe for a monument dedication in Periers. The monument depicted a 712th tanker, Tullio Micaloni, who was killed in Periers. On this trip my son and I either audiotaped or videotaped my Dad's stories.
"On the first trip with Dad I remember stopping on Sunday to go to Mass in a small town in Germany when Dad related the following story: It was right about the time they had moved into Germany, and at that time, the 90th Infantry Division and the 712th were leapfrogging with the armored divisions in the move across the country. The 90th and the 712th would advance and then stop and let the armored division move through. It was during one of these stops that the opportunity arose for the GIs to go to Mass that Sunday. Dad explained:
“When we got into Germany, in about the first or second town, it was a Sunday morning and we wanted to go to church. And so we went to church. The American soldiers sat on one side of the church and the German people sat on the other side of the church. I was sitting next to an army buddy of mine (Sgt. Gunther Jahnke) and he spoke German. They wouldn’t even look at the Americans, they were scared to death of us; they looked straight ahead in church. And so the parish priest announced something to the German congregation in German, and when he finished speaking they looked around and smiled at all the soldiers. When that happened, I asked Jahnke, ‘Jahnke, what did he say ?’ Jahnke said, he told them, ‘These men are soldiers of God, you don’t have to be afraid of them.’”
"I wrote your mother of this story when she contacted my Mom and Dad in 2003. At the time I recall my mother saying she remembered your mother from several of the early reunions of the 712th.
"I am attaching a photograph of your Dad. I believe it was taken at Fort Jackson in late 1943. The others in the photo from left to right are Victor Karbowski, Stanley Muhich, Joseph Cavalieri, your Dad, and David Dickson. Muhich was KIA in Germany and Dickson was KIA during the Battle of the Bulge. My Dad said Dickson had a premonition of his death; he told my Dad, "Louie, if I live past tomorrow, I will visit you in New Orleans after the war. He was killed the next day. ... Louis Gruntz, Jr., Jefferson, La."
David wrote the following reply:
"Thanks for the information and the pictures. My mother did tell me the story about the German church. Both of my dad's parents immigrated from Germany and when I was a kid, all the adults spoke German at family get-togethers. ... My dad told me once about crossing some river on a pontoon bridge with a new driver in his tank who was unable to keep the tank tracks on the pontoon tracks and they went over mostly on the ridges. On the far side he demanded a different driver. I don't suppose there is anyone left who would remember such a minor incident.
"It was interesting you mentioned the monument at Periers with Tullio Micaloni. We had a tog we named Tippy, but my dad always called him Tullio and I could never figure out why.
"Well, thanks again for everything. Dave"
Thanks for reading.
-- Aaron Elson
Comments? email me, put "your blog" in the subject line, and I'll post all appropriate comments at the end of the entries.