From Yank Magazine
Staff Sergeant Lafayette Pool
THE TEXAS TANKER
(reprint from YANK – The Army Weekly – 1945, by SGT Frank Woolner)
BEYOND THE SIEGFRIED LINE IN GERMANY
Here in the mud and wind of approaching autumn, in a town which is clamorous with the crump of enemy mortars and the sigh of our own shells passing overhead, elements of an elite American unit, the 3rd Armored “Spearhead” Division, were poised, waiting for the word which would send them slashing into greater Germany.
In the new attack, tankers of this big striking force would have one regret: that S/Sgt. Lafayette G. Pool, lanky, one-time golden glove champion from Sinton, Texas, could not be there to lead the assault.
In an armored division which earned the name “Spearhead” the hard way, battling through France and Belgium, Pool distinguished himself for all time. When he was wounded recently, his commanding officer, Lt. Colonel Walter B. Richardson, of Beaumont, Texas, said: “Pool is the tanker of tankers; he can never be replaced in this regiment.”
The Colonel had good reason to make such a statement. During the great armored drives of the American First Army across Europe in the summer offensive of 1944, S/Sgt. Pool led his task force in 21 full scale attacks. He is definitely credited with 258 vehicles destroyed, 250 German prisoners of war taken, and over 1,000 dead before the guns of his Sherman tank, IN THE MOOD.
On a windy hill in the Siegfried Line recently, Pool cheated death again but, in the action he was wounded and so sent back to convalesce. His record, however, stands. He is America’s first ace of tankers. He is a soldier’s soldier.
I heard Pool’s story from a man of the old crew, a man who had been there when the final shell struck his tank. In an anvil clash of sound, a pungent, dark explosion laced with sparks, Jerry finally broke up the team of American kids who had harried him across a continent.
“It was a lucky shot for Jerry. We were sitting around in the wet darkness, batting the breeze as all GI’s do in moments of relaxation, and listening to Jerry’s mortar fire punch the ground. A thin spatter of rain beat on the tarp over our heads. It was doughboy weather, mean and muddy“. The big medium tank crouched in the muck, its long 76mm gun peering around the corner, daring Jerry to come on. This was a road-block of the 3rd Armored Division.
There was a screen of armored infantry out in front – brave men in wet foxholes. The doughs were old hands at this game – you couldn’t see them and, excepting by accident, you couldn’t hit them: they were too well dug in for that. But let Jerry attack and they’d be there all right, savoring the terrible exultation of the soldier who has suffered much and who hates the guts of his enemy.
There was one man on guard in the road-blocking tank: the rest of the crew sat around under the tarpaulin drinking hot nescafé, and cursing each other amiably. It was dark, but you could see the guard in the turret, raincoat buttoned tight. He looked statue-like until he moved, slowly, like a mechanical man, to gaze carefully into the murky distance.
Cpl. Wilbert “Red” Richards, a pint-sized GI from Cumberland, Maryland rubbed his eyes and wondered irritably “when the hell we’re goin’ to start moving?” Pfc. Bert Close, a thin, studious young man from Portland, Oregon, grinned and said: “Eisenhower’s waiting for old Pool to get back. Can’t spearhead without Pool.”
We’d heard a lot about Pool. In the armored forces there aren’t many aces because everything works as a team. It’s infantry-tank-artillery-airplane, and everyone slugging shoulder to shoulder with the next guy.
“How about this guy, Pool?” we asked. “Was he finally killed?” “Killed!” shouted three voices in unison. “There ain’t a Jerry shell in the world that could kill Pool or any of his crew. The best those squareheads could do was to wound him in the leg. He’ll be back, and then God help the panzers!“
“What was he like” we inquired. The redhead, Richards, sat up and squinted his eyes. He passed a hand through his flaming red hair and scratched his skull reflectively. “I was Pool’s driver,” he said, “and I guess I knew him as well as anybody in the regiment. He was a tall, skinny guy with a bent schnozzle. He got that in the golden gloves. Know what he used to call me? Baby! Imagine that! But he knew I could drive that old tank. He used to sit up there in the turret – you could tell Pool anywhere by the way he sat up there, more out than in!”
“He rode that tank like a Texas bronc. Well, he used to sit up there and give us orders through the intercom phone just as cool and calm as though the big show were a maneuver. All Pool wanted was to get out ahead of the other tanks so he could kill some more Jerries“.
“You know, we had three tanks. Lost the first at La Forge, when a bazooka round hit us. The second got straddled with bombs at Fromental. Pool just got to hating the Germans a little more, if that could be possible. Of course the crew’s all broken up now. Pool went back with that leg wound, and so did Oller. Bogg’s eyes were irritated by dust, and he’s in a rest camp. That leaves Close and me. We don’t get no rest at all, do we Bert?“
Faint skylight flickered on Close’s glasses. He said dryly: “Ten minutes after Red left Pool’s tank he was driving another one up front. The Colonel said: ‘Richards, you want to go back?’ That dope said: ‘No Sir, Give me and Close another tank to drive.’ The Colonel did just that. I was assistant driver – what could I do?“
“You could see that Close hadn’t wanted to do anything. I think Pool would’ve gone back himself if the medics hadn’t held him down,” Richards chuckled. “He hated Germans, and he thought that he could lick ’em all. The guys used to draw straws to see who’d lead the spearhead. Pool would have none of that. He’d just say, ‘Ah’m leadin’ this time,’ in his old Texas drawl – and stand there, grinning, while we cussed him out.“
“But we’d go along just the same. By God, I think we were more scared of Pool than of Jerry!” “Remember?,” he turned to Close, forgetting us entirely in the way of men who have waded through hell together, “Remember the day….“
So we just sat back in the wet darkness, with the rain on the tarp and the mortar fire for background, and listened. When the division – it was the “Bayou Blitz” then – was activated at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, back in 1941, Pool, a skinny kid from Texas, was right there in ranks. He came from the old 40th Armored Regiment, medium tanks, which was famed for its cadres, and he was a rugged Joe.
He was over six feet tall, wiry, with the sloping shoulders of a boxer and a twisted nose to remind him of the golden gloves. There was the beginnings of a legend around Pool even then. He’d won the sectional 165 pound crown at New Orleans, Louisiana, that year, but turned down an offer to go on to Chicago and the national final golden gloves tournament. The reason? Pool was a tanker first and a boxer second: his outfit had just been allotted a few of the latest medium tanks. In action, as in the ring, Pool punched hard and accurately.
He hated German theory and believed that he could beat the Wehrmacht gun to gun, and man for man. He wanted tough assignments. He asked for the dubious honor of leading those powerful armored attacks which knifed through the Nazi legions during our summer offensive.
Pool’s crew was ideal for the task. Besides Richards and Close, there was Cpl. Willis Oller, of Morrisonville, Illinois, gunner and T/5 Del Boggs, of Lancaster, Ohio, the loader. Boggs fought with a special fury: he’d had a brother killed in the war. Oller, gunner of “IN THE MOOD” is alleged to have seen all of Normandy, France, Belgium, and the Siegfried Line through the sights of his gun! He was very quick and alert.
Richards recalled a night when the spearhead had driven deep into German lines from from Origny, in France. It had become quite dark when the order finally came to halt and coil. Pool opened his mouth to say – “Driver, halt”, but found himself looking at a big Jerry dual-purpose AA gun in the gloom ahead. He said: “Gunner, fire!” And Oller, with his eye perpetually pressed into the sight, squarely holed the enemy weapon before the German crew could recognize the American tank.
Night actions were commonplace to the crew of “IN THE MOOD”. At Colombrier, France, Pool’s leading tank almost collided with a Jerry Mark-V Panther, pride of the Wehrmacht. The Panther fired twice, and missed. Pool’s single projectile tore the turret off the big German vehicle.
Again, at Couptrain, the armored column reached its objective deep in the night. Besieged on all sides, unable to send help forward, Colonel Richardson listened to the radio report of the battle from Pool’s vehicle. He heard the Sergeant say joyously: “I ain’t got the heart to kill’em….” And then, over the airwaves came the mad rattle of the .30 caliber bow gun. And again the fighting Sergeant’s voice “Watch them bastards run. Give it to’em Close!” Surrounded by dismounted enemy troops, Pool and his crew fought steadily until morning brought reinforcements.
The amazing score compiled by the Texas tanker and his gang is fully authenticated. At Namur, Belgium, they knocked out a record twenty-four hour bag of one self-propelled sturmgeschutz and fifteen other enemy vehicles. It was great stuff for Pool. He was proving to himself, and to the world, that the American soldier is more than a match for Hitler’s “supermen.”
Again, at Dison, in Belgium, as the spearhead neared the great city of Liege, Pool distinguished himself. Acting as platoon leader, he characteristically decided to use one tank, his own, to clean out an annoying pocket of resistance on the left flank of the route they were travelling. After finding and destroying six armored infantry vehicles, Pool discovered that the head of his column had been fired upon by a German Panther tank. Hurriedly he gave orders to his driver to regain the column. Upon arriving at the scene of action he immediately observed the enemy tank, gave a single estimate of range to Oller. The gunner fired one armor-piercing projectile at 1,500 yards to destroy the Panther. The column went forward again. Pool at his accustomed place in lead.
Although Lafe Pool lost two tanks to enemy action, he remained as nerveless as a mechanical man. The crew drew added confidence from his bearing under fire and as a result they worked beautifully together. From the day of the great breakthrough in Normandy, they had smashed the Wehrmacht before them, burned its vehicles, decimated its troops. These men seemed impervious to German shells. Twenty-one times they had led the irresistible drive of the American armor and remained unscathed in this most hazardous task of total war.
Now, after crossing France and Belgium, smashing the famous outer fortifications of the Siegfried line and taking part in the action which resulted in the capture of the first German town to fall to U.S. forces. Pool and his crew turned their faces toward greater Germany and the last round.
The town was Munsterbusch, south of Aachen. Desperately, as the Westwall crumbled into ruin, Panther tanks of the Reich came out to duel with Shermans of the 3rd Armored “Spearhead” division. Pool’s tank, strangely enough, was working as flank guard of the task force that day. Watchers, including his Colonel, who also rode in a tank saw the bright lance-shaft of German tracer hit the turret of “IN THE MOOD”. The big Sherman faltered. Inside, Pool said calmly, “Back up, Baby.” And, as Richards backed the tank slowly, the second shell hit them well forward.
To Close, Oller, Boggs, and Richards, there was only the space-filling, bell-sound of the hit, the acid stench of powder and the shower of sparks. They didn’t know that Pool had been thrown clear, his leg bleeding profusely from a splinter wound. Richards continued to back the tank, carrying out his last order from the Sergeant.
Colonel Richardson saw the “IN THE MOOD” slowly reach a cut bank, tilt, and with the agonizing slowness of a nightmare, topple almost upside down. At that moment Oller felt the hot blood on his legs and knew that he had been wounded. Richards, Boggs, and Close were unhurt. All four men crawled out of their tank. Medical aid men had already reached Pool, now two of them came forward to attend to Oller.
Pool cursed the Germans bitterly as the aid men bandaged his wound. As they placed him on a litter he twisted suddenly and said: “Somebody take care of my tank.” Exit, for the time being.
Lafe Pool, ace of American tankers. He thought he could beat Jerry. He did. He proved it so often that the record is an almost unbelievable document of total victory. In the arena of armored warfare, S/Sgt. Lafayette Pool, golden glover from Sinton, Texas, bowed out at a climactic moment. From the beaches of Normandy to the dragons teeth of the Siegfried Line he had been the point of the “Spearhead.”