Sgt. John C. Vernon, Co. B, 245th Eng. Combat Battalion
Twenty year old John Craig Vernon of Fairfield, Iowa was drafted into the U.S. Army in March of 1943. He took Infantry Basic Training at Camp Robinson, Arkansas and was selected for the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program). He was eventually sent to Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana where he studied civil engineering until his freshman ASTP class was canceled by the Army. Late in the fall of 1943 John was assigned to Company B of the newly activated 245th Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. John served with distinction with the 245th Eng. Combat Battalion during the war, and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor at the Kyll River on March 6, 1945. He was discharged from the U.S. Army in February, 1946 and spent the next 50 years as a successful licensed engineer working on various civil engineering projects for the Federal government and later the State of California. One of America's Greatest Generation, John quietly passed away in his sleep on March 21, 2009.
In January of 2001, John wrote about his first hand experience with the sounds of war:
"The sounds of war are many. They vary in volume and tone but are always loud. Cannon shells whistle. You learn that a loud whistle means that the shell will land nearby. Softer whistles are shells passing over your head. When the shell hits nearby there is a tremendous explosion, a great flash of white light, and a blast of hot air. The blast of air can knock you down, but if you are already on the ground, it will lift you and slam you down. Shrapnel flies everywhere. It wounds and kills.
Mortar shells don't whistle until they are almost upon you. They travel at a much slower speed than cannon shells. Mortar rounds explode with a lesser volume of noise and throw shrapnel in all directions. Mortars are anti-personnel weapons.
A rifle makes a sharp crack when fired. Machine guns make staccato stuttering sounds. The German machine gun fired a such a high rate that it sounded like the ripping of fabric. Tanks make a metallic, grinding sound while they are turning and clatter as they run straight.
When a sturdy German road block made of large tree trunks solidly anchored at the sides of the street in a German town was blown up, you not only experienced the tremendous roar of the case of TNT exploding, but you also saw the big pieces of trees fly through the air and then heard them crash through roofs of adjacent houses.
Often the sounds come piling up in confusing combinations. A convoy of trucks is travelling along a road with the familiar sound of the engines and men talking while riding in the back. A guttural growl is heard ahead as a flight of German fighter planes dive, one after the other, on the truck column. You see the winking lights of the leading edges of the wings and then hear the sound of the aircraft machine guns firing on you. Then comes the shattering bellow of the first fighter plane passing directly over your head. The assistant driver on your truck stands up in the ring mount and you hear the great roar of his .50 caliber machine gun firing at the second plane coming at you on his strafing run. The column of trucks quickly comes to a halt and you hear the shouting of men as they bail out of the trucks and head for whatever shelter they can find.
Daniel Sweeney's scream was terrifying when a piece of shrapnel tore his rifle from his hands. He was not injured, but he was mentally damaged. The wounded cry for their mothers, for God, and for the Medic. Men screaming was very demoralizing. You never forget the sounds of war." John C. Vernon, January, 2001
Humor is hard to find in recollections of WWII combat in Europe. John shared a candid perspective on the life of a young squad leader in combat when he wrote the following of his experience at Ehrang.
"When my squad arrived in the town of Ehrang on the Kyll River, we immediately began searching the houses for the sturdiest one that we could find for shelter. Although the town was still partially occupied by German forces, we quickly found a good house with a cellar, the ceiling of which was supported by heavy beams. Within half an hour of entering the town, German artillery began shelling us. I ran for the cellar stairs, but my foot became caught in a partially opened C-ration crate, and I fell on the floor. The rest of my squad ran right over the top of me and down the cellar stairs. When I finally arrived in the cellar, I had brought the C-ration crate with me. Because I was the last one down, I had to sit in the potato bin, the least comfortable spot in the cellar. As we waited out the barrage, we ate the C-rations." John C. Vernon, July, 2000.