Military Ordnance

 

Staff Sergeant Lafayette Pool


(Reprint from Journal of Military Ordnance – March 1998, By: Dean and Nan Kleffman).

PAGE ONE of THREE

 

THE
FORGOTTEN
TANK
ACE

 


Staff Sergeant
Lafayette G. Pool
An American To
Remember

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By
Dean and Nan Kleffman

March 1998

    This story is about a tank commander who destroyed 258 enemy vehicles, but he never was awarded the Knights Cross. He was never presented to Hitler, he never wore a fancy black uniform with death heads and S.S. runes, and he never commanded a Panther or Tiger. The reason? He was an American GI and he set the above record in a Sherman tank! Contrary to popular belief other countries besides Germany were capable of producing tank aces too.

    Staff Sergeant Lafayette G. Pool was typical of some of the fine tankers produced by the U.S. Army during World War II. Pool was born on July 23, 1919, on a farm in Odem, Texas. He graduated from high school in Taft, Texas in 1938. Pool tried to enlist in the Navy. He was turned down due to an eye injury, although his twin brother was accepted. he then enrolled in an all boys Catholic Academy where he graduated as class valedictorian. Afterwards, he enrolled in Texas, A and I College, as an engineering major.

    He quit to enlist in the Army on June 13, 1941. He took basic training at San Antonio, Texas, and then was sent to Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, to the newly forming Third Armor Division. Pool joined the Third Battalion, 32nd Armored Regt, when the division was reorganized in January of 1942. He took time out from training to get married to Evelyn Wright in December of 1942.

    Pool had been a boxer in college and he joined the division's golden gloves team. He became regional champ in his weight class and was to go to the national meet in Chicago, Illinois in the spring of 1942. He turned down the opportunity because the division had gotten a shipment of new M-4 Sherman Tanks and Pool wanted to start training with his men on the M-4 immediately.

    Pool was a tall, lanky 6'3" Texan, who drove his men and himself and trained them rigorously. He always wanted things done right and would not tolerate slipshod methods, whether in maintenance, gunnery, or driving. He demanded the best out of his men and he got it.

    The 3rd Bn, 32nd Armor moved to the Desert Training Center near Victorville, California, followed by final training at Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.

    Before sailing to England in September, 1943, Pool was promoted to Staff Sergeant in Company I. He was also given the opportunity to go to OCS, but he turned it down as he was later to turn down a battlefield commission stating "I just want to have one of the best tank crews in the division."

    His crew consisted of driver, Wilbert "Baby" Richards, one of the best drivers in the ETO according to Pool; Bert "Schoolboy" Close who was just seventeen years old and was his bow gunner. Given the choice of prison on a manslaughter rap or the Army, Del "Jailbird" Boggs elected to be Pool's loader. Willis "Groundhog" Oller was the gunner. Pool said of Oller "He could shoot the eyebrows off a gnat at 1500 yards." He was very quick and alert. One time near Origny in France it was getting dark when the order came down to halt and coil up for the night. Pool opened his mouth to say "Driver, Halt," but found himself looking down the barrel of a German 88mm in the gloom ahead. He said "Gunner, Fire!" and Oller, without hesitation, holed the enemy gun before its crew could recognize the Sherman Tank.

   While in England Pool did some more boxing. In Liverpool in early 1944 he boxed against Joe Louis. It was ment to be an exhibition bout, but Pool got a little too enthusiastic and rapped Louis a few good ones. Louis then put his arm around Pool and said "White man, I'm going to teach you a big lesson." He then proceeded to give Pool a good going over, although there was no knockout.

    Pool is what we would call today a "hard charger." He was also inclined to have things his own way. He believed that the quickest way home was to smash the German Army to pieces, and he believed that he was the guy with the crew and the tank that could do it. He made friends easily and also made enemies. He had a quick temper and was not above ignoring orders when they didn't suit him.

    Pool landed at Normandy in June, 1944. His battalion fought its first engagement on June 29, 1944 near Villierfossard, northeast of St. Lo.

    The loss of Pool's first tank "In The Mood," (all succeeding tanks were called "In The Mood!") was to a Panzerfaust at the village of Les Forges not far from the beach-head. Pool's crew survived and got a new Sherman, and pushed on undauntedly against the Panzers.

    Falaise Gap on August 7, 1944, was the big battle and Pool was, as usual, right up front. As the 3d Armored Division was near to closing the ring with the British forces around the Germans, Lt. Col. Walter B. Richardson, commanding task force Y of CCA, 32nd Armored heard Pool say over the radio "Ain't got the heart to kill um," meaning the Germans. The rattle of machinegun fire came over thr radio followed by Pool's Texas drawl "Watch those bastards run, – give it to 'em Close."

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