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Interview with Claude Woodring [January 2, 2003]

Andrew Fisher:

It's January 2, 2003. This is an interview for the Veteran's History Project. I'm talking to Mr. Claud C. Woodring of 410 Swanson Street, Metamora, Ohio 43540. Mr. Woodring was born in Berkey, Ohio on December 13, 1924. He served in the U.S. Army with the First Division, 18 Infantry Regiment. He was a sergeant. He served in the European Theater of Operations. He came ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He received a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Mr. Woodring, let's start in the beginning with your life prior to your service time.

Claude Woodring:

I was raised in Metamora. I attended all 12 years in Metamora High School. I graduated at 17. When I was 18 on December 13, 1942, I en -- I was drafted into the Army. One of three children, a brother and a sister.

Andrew Fisher:

Where were you when the war started?

Claude Woodring:

I was still in high school.

Andrew Fisher:

You were in high school?

Claude Woodring:

Here, Metamora.

Andrew Fisher:

But you finished school and then you -- and then you enlisted?

Claude Woodring:

No, I was drafted.

Andrew Fisher:

You were drafted. And where did you get sent?

Claude Woodring:

I was inducted May 6th of '43. I went to Camp Perry, Ohio. Shipped from there to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for my basic training. Basic training was to be 13 weeks. At 11 weeks, I was shipped out of Camp Shelby, Mississippi to Fort George G. Meade, Baltimore, Maryland. I went to a staging area somewhere upstate New York. I shipped out of New York on November 2, 1943. Shipped out on Queen Elizabeth. It took seven days to get to Glasgow, England -- Scotland, I'm sorry. We landed in Glasgow, Scotland on November the 9th of '43. From there I went to Dorchester, Dorset, England, assigned to the First Infantry Division Company of the 18th Regiment.

Andrew Fisher:

When you came across on the Queen Elizabeth, did you come across unescorted?

Claude Woodring:

No, sir.

Andrew Fisher:

You came in a convoy?

Claude Woodring:

In a convoy, large convoy.

Andrew Fisher:

I had heard that the Queen Elizabeth was so fast that she could outrun submarines.

Claude Woodring:

She could outrun the subs, but they did change course every seven minutes or nine minutes or whatever.

Andrew Fisher:

Did -- Was there any submarine action in your convoy as you came across --

Claude Woodring:

Not that I was aware of. We didn't -- We didn't know of any.

Andrew Fisher:

So when you came, you came to Scotland and then to England. Did you have some further training in England?

Claude Woodring:

Yes. All of my combat training was in England. To go back to the start from scratch. I was not a good soldier when I first went into the Army. When I went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, the first day I was taking pictures with a two dollar Brownie camera. The company commander objected to that. We had a few words and he stomped on my camera. From then on I did not like the Army's attitude. While I was in basic training and I stated after 11 weeks -- I did not finish basic training. After 11 weeks, my name was posted on a shipping order. I shipped out. I did not get a three-day pass after I was inducted. I did not get a seven-day furlough after basic training. When I left home, I kissed mom goodbye, and I didn't see my mother again until after I got back after I was wounded. All of these things led up to -- I developed an attitude and when I was assigned to the First Infantry Division in England I had a sergeant, Sergeant St. John, he took me aside and beat the hell out of me and convinced me I should become a soldier or I wasn't going to survive the war. He taught me to be a soldier in England. While training in England, I was -- had sniper training and demolition training. I did a lot of demolition training in anticipation of the landing -- prepare for the landing.

Andrew Fisher:

What was your specialty when you left England?

Claude Woodring:

Demolition. I was charged with the job of blowing up the barbed wire on the beach. That's what I trained for, specifically, along with being a foot soldier.

Andrew Fisher:

Did you know that D-Day was coming well in advance or was it the last minute thing?

Claude Woodring:

We knew there was going to be an invasion, certainly, but we had -- we at that level of private don't get any information on when. When we were moved from camp at Dorchester, Dorset down to Plymouth, where we boarded the ships to go across the channel, then we knew that tomorrow was going to be D-Day.

Andrew Fisher:

Did you spend any time on pass or leave in England?

Claude Woodring:

Yes, sir. Every time we could get any free time.

Andrew Fisher:

So you were able to get away from the camp but, of course, you had no information, so there was no danger of you --

Claude Woodring:

No. We weren't going to divulge anything because they didn't tell us anything.

Andrew Fisher:

How did -- How did you get along with the English?

Claude Woodring:

Excellent. They didn't like us but like the old saying "oversexed, overpaid and over here" but I got along fine with the English people. My background is English. My mother was English, and I was interested in the history of England. I spent a lot of time up around Stratford and that area where my mother's people came from. I was all over England, everywhere except London. I never lost anything in London, so I didn't go try and find it.

Andrew Fisher:

When it became obvious that there was going to be an invasion and it was going to be then, what took place? You were shipped then to the landing craft?

Claude Woodring:

We went down to Portsmouth and we were put on LCVP, landing craft vehicle and personnel, and the -- we was on that ship all night, the night prior, June the 5th, prior to the invasion, and when we went across the channel it was dark, of course, at night, but it was almost wall-to-wall LCVP's landing craft. Our landing craft hit a submerged mine two, three hundred yards from shore and sunk. In the process of the ship hitting the mine, one of my buddies went overboard and I let my rifle down to help ease him up. He weighed 200 pounds, I weighed 125 pounds. He won. He was in the water with two guns, so when we abandoned the ship, so to speak, I had two bangalore torpedos and inflated our life belts. We didn't have Mae West. They were a tubular life belt around us. I inflated that and we swam ashore. At this point in time it was just breaking daylight.

Andrew Fisher:

There's been a lot of history recorded that Eisenhower had a tough decision to make, whether to go or whether not to go, and if he didn't go on the 6th that the weather was going to get even worse. Was your trip across the channel pretty rough?

Claude Woodring:

Terribly rough. To the layman, it was stupid to be there, so it was just all the -- all of our ships wanted to just stay afloat to start with. The weather was horrible, windy rough, high waves. Ships banging against each other almost. It was so bad.

Andrew Fisher:

A lot of the troops were seasick?

Claude Woodring:

Seasick. The only time I was ever seasick in my life, 99 percent fear and one percent seasickness but I was still sick.

Andrew Fisher:

And so then you came across in the channel in the dark and then tell about the initial debarkation?

Claude Woodring:

When we -- When I got off of the ship, I swam ashore --

Andrew Fisher:

How far out were you?

Claude Woodring:

Two, 300 yards.

Andrew Fisher:

Fully clothed with --

Claude Woodring:

Fully clothed with all the gear on we had and no rifle and at that point I didn't need a rifle. The day and evening before the invasion the air corp. had dropped thousands of little bombs on the beach to make ready-made foxholes, which were a God send, so I approached the barbed wire, which is strung out in coils several layers thick. You couldn't cut one strand of barbed wire. If you did, it would fly and grab you and tear you all apart and it was impossible to cut through it. It would take too much time. We had the bangalore torpedoes which screwed together with a hand grenade detonator in it and slid them under the barbed wire, pulled the pin, ducked in a foxhole and blew a hole in the barbed wire that was probably, oh, 50, 60 yards wide and all the time there's people pushing right behind you. There are thousands coming on. Probably the only reason I survived the assault on the beach was the Germans could fire into a massive crowd behind me and they weren't worried about the first person up ahead.

Andrew Fisher:

So you preceded the troops onto the beach?

Claude Woodring:

That's correct.

Andrew Fisher:

But before the troops arrived, you had to be the focus of all their firing.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah. The troops were right behind me.

Andrew Fisher:

Directly behind you.

Claude Woodring:

Directly behind me, yeah, off of the same boats and -- or several of the same boats, so there was not a ten-minute lag between when I was there and the next people. There was a mass --

Andrew Fisher:

They were waiting for you --

Claude Woodring:

Waiting for me to get the hole in the barbed wire.

Andrew Fisher:

Now, were there any other beach defenses there that were mines -- land mines?

Claude Woodring:

No. I think the land mines had all been detonated with small anti-personnel bombs that had been dropped the night before but the Germans had concrete pillboxes up on top of the sand dune and they were active but the Navy stood back and set out there and kept shelling those to keep them pretty well down.

Andrew Fisher:

I've been to the beaches and the thing I noticed was that in a lot of the pillboxes the weapons that are still mounted there were designed not to fire out to the water to anyone approaching. They were arranged to fire along the beach so that they could fire at you from the left and from the right and right down the beach. That had to be deadly fire for you?

Claude Woodring:

Correct, cross-fire. Absolutely.

Andrew Fisher:

How long were you on the beach itself before you found -- before you got through?

Claude Woodring:

As I remember, we were on top of the beach -- on top of the sand dunes at the beach probably by two o'clock in the afternoon, maybe a little earlier than that, but at that point the beach was completely full of people and equipment and litter and the tide was coming in.

Andrew Fisher:

So you had --

Claude Woodring:

You had to get off the beach. It was necessary to get off.

Andrew Fisher:

Did you lose a lot of mechanized equipment in that time?

Claude Woodring:

I don't remember. I don't remember looking back that much.

Andrew Fisher:

I see.

Claude Woodring:

I -- No, I don't think there was a lot of mechanized equipment came in where we were because of that humongous sand dune we had to climb, the cliffs we had to climb.

Andrew Fisher:

So from the time you landed until the time you left the beach how much time had elapsed?

Claude Woodring:

Eight hours probably, ten hours. Constant fighting, constant shooting.

Andrew Fisher:

You had constant firing from the -- from their pillboxes?

Claude Woodring:

The enemy, yes.

Andrew Fisher:

It's a wonder that anyone got through that.

Claude Woodring:

Yes. Our company probably lost 90 percent of our people on the beach on D-Day.

Andrew Fisher:

And this was Rommel's -- Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's long held plan to stop them at the beaches.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

He said that if you don't stop them at the beaches you won't stop them.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

So all of the time and effort and money and troops that he put into the defense only held there for eight or ten hours and then you were off the beaches.

Claude Woodring:

They at that point by dark the first night the Germans had left the beach, yes. They were retreating. They were backing away.

Andrew Fisher:

And did they have any other fixed defenses then like in the secondary positions like pillboxes or whatever beyond the beaches?

Claude Woodring:

No, I don't recall any, no.

Andrew Fisher:

I see.

Claude Woodring:

After we left the beaches, we got right into the hedgerow country and that was horrendous fighting, probably as difficult as the beach because of the cover they had. This hedgerow country had been there -- they're little two or three acre field with hedgerows for fences.

Andrew Fisher:

Higher than a man could see over.

Claude Woodring:

Oh, yeah, higher than you could see over. They'd set a machine gun up in the corner of each one of those fields. When you came through it --

Andrew Fisher:

Of all the beaches -- There were five beaches. Of all the beaches, Omaha earned the title of "Bloody Omaha." It seemed that the Canadians and the English had an easier time of it, at least getting off the beaches and even the Americans at Utah had an easier time of it. You had the toughest assignment at Omaha.

Claude Woodring:

That's what they had the First Division for to give them the toughies.

Andrew Fisher:

I see. Only the First Division could have handled that.

Claude Woodring:

I think so.

Andrew Fisher:

So then you were beyond the Atlantic Wall and now you're out in the open. Did you run into a lot of German Panzer outfits?

Claude Woodring:

Every day we ran into the enemy, whether it be Panzer or rear action -- rear guard. After we got through the hedgerow country out into open country, the Germans had to travel at night because we had air supremacy. They -- As soon as it got dark, you would hear the German equipment heading towards Germany. They had a short night and can't travel very fast in the dark, consequently every day about two o'clock in the afternoon or three or noon, whatever, we would have advanced as far during the daytime as they did at night and then there would be another little war fought every day. Every day we caught the enemy and had a scrimmage.

Andrew Fisher:

And they were retreating.

Claude Woodring:

They were retreating. They were heading for wherever.

Andrew Fisher:

I understand that at -- when you went to Saint-Lo and to the Falaise gap that 90,000 or 100,000 Germans were trapped there. Were you in that action?

Claude Woodring:

We were in part of that, yes. The Germans that we captured, though, were conscription army, Czechs, Poles, whoever. They didn't want to fight and they had way -- underequiped. They were still using World War I horse-drawn artillery. These people surrendered by the hundreds. One soldier could take 50 prisoners back and not have a problem.

Andrew Fisher:

I understand -- I understood, also, that although there was all this effort put into the Atlantic Wall that the best of the German army was not there, as you point out, and maybe they were on the eastern front trying to hold back the Russians.

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

Also, didn't the Panzer Division that could have held you back, weren't they held back and not released by Adolf Hitler to come to the rescue of the Germans along the wall?

Claude Woodring:

That's what I understand. That he held them back for whatever reason. I think to protect Germany when it got to the point that they were going to make their last stand in the homeland.

Andrew Fisher:

Well, one of the stories is that he was holding them back for the real invasion, which he thought was going to take place at Calais?

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

Which is the narrow part of the channel. It's only about 20 miles wide and you guys came across the widest part, which is, I don't know, is it 100 miles wide?

Claude Woodring:

I don't know.

Andrew Fisher:

So they made some serious mistakes which you capitalized on, but you mentioned air supremacy earlier. Did you see any German aircraft in those first couple of days?

Claude Woodring:

Oh, yeah. We saw -- Sure. We saw German fighters and bombers.

Andrew Fisher:

And did they give you much trouble? Did they hold you back?

Claude Woodring:

No. They weren't a problem to us. As I remember, the English and American had so many planes up there that we weren't afraid of what German -- but we did get bombed, anti-personnel bombs, a little flutter bomb. Oh, it had a propeller on it and it made a lot of noise. It exploded about ten feet off of the ground. We were subjected to those probably for the first 30 days of the war.

Andrew Fisher:

But, generally, they were -- the German air force by now was ineffective.

Claude Woodring:

That's correct.

Andrew Fisher:

And were not a serious deterrent to your drive toward Paris.

Claude Woodring:

No.

Andrew Fisher:

Now, so you then went -- you followed that drive to Saint-Lo. Was the resistance increasing or decreasing as you moved through France?

Claude Woodring:

Oh, it was starting to decrease. The frequency and the fierceness of the fighting would decrease at that point pretty much every day because the German -- hardline German soldiers were heading for Germany and they had occupation troops that were just holding us up. They were just there to irritate us.

Andrew Fisher:

But you went through that -- going through that country there are a lot of little towns. In those -- Were those little towns full of snipers and machine guns and --

Claude Woodring:

No, not really. The locals had -- The local French people were great. If there was a sniper in a tower, they told you where he was. They were informants. They were glad to see us. They helped us in any way they could.

Andrew Fisher:

Did you get up into that Cherbourg Peninsula at all?

Claude Woodring:

No.

Andrew Fisher:

You came straight across then and you were on a direct route to Paris.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

So then after you went through Saint-Lo and the breakout, was it a pretty fast march then to Paris?

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

You had mentioned walking quite a way.

Claude Woodring:

Yes, very little resistance. We marched 32 miles one day and the next day another 20 miles. Then we got a day break and then we were relieved and started north towards Belgium.

Andrew Fisher:

And where did you go in Belgium?

Claude Woodring:

Liege.

Andrew Fisher:

Liege, yes.

Claude Woodring:

We ran out of fuel in Liege. I remember we were there for two, three, four days while they laid a pipeline up to get fuel to the vehicles and --

Andrew Fisher:

Were you -- Do you remember seeing or being serviced by the Red Ball Express?

Claude Woodring:

No.

Andrew Fisher:

You don't remember that?

Claude Woodring:

I don't recall that.

Andrew Fisher:

I've heard so much about it. I thought they were behind all of you troops. So you went to Liege, Belgium and then now you're getting -- you're getting fairly close to Germany.

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

Certainly the resistance is stiffening as you get close to their homeland.

Claude Woodring:

Yes. The amazing -- The most amazing thing, though, when we went through the Siegfried Maginot Line, walked right through it. There was no attempt to defend that at all.

Andrew Fisher:

The Maginot Line was supposed to hold back the invaders as the national line was supposed to hold back the Germans.

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

But they were, of course, outdated.

Claude Woodring:

Yes. World War I fortification and it had no application in the Second World War at all. They didn't attempt to -- didn't attempt at all to protect it or make a stand there.

Andrew Fisher:

Now, you said that when you got to Aachen you were -- you were wounded?

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

Let's talk about that.

Claude Woodring:

Well, when we went in to Aachen, the night before I was wounded, a sniper had killed a sergeant right next to me, so the following morning -- I knew where he had fired from. The following morning I got one of the lieutenant's field glasses and was looking for him, and I watched the guy pull his gun around to shoot at me. I was looking into the east just like two little mirrors. I couldn't have been dumber than a box of rocks, but I watched him and I can still remember "That son of a bitch thinks he's going to shoot me" and he did. And as I fell backwards, there was a tank right next to me and the tank turned and blew the top right off of that castle, the turret that the sniper fired from, so I know he didn't make it. At that point when I was wounded, it went in the neck left side right next to the jugular vein, came out the middle of my back between the third and fourth rib. It hit a brachial plexus nerve to the left arm. My left arm was useless. They loaded me on a Jeep and took me back to Belgium to a field hospital where they stabilized me, cauterized the wound and loaded me on a airplane and flew me to England, and I was in a hospital in England for perhaps a week to ten days. I got on a Australian hospital ship, came back to New York on a Australian hospital ship. As I recall the trip back, the Australians didn't have anything but billy goat and hard beans to eat. We ate goat and beans but it tasted good. I was headed towards the States.

Andrew Fisher:

Before we get away, getting back to the States, I want to read something here into the record and this says "Citation for Silver Star. Claud C. Woodring, Private First Class, Company L, 18th Infantry, for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Vaubadon, Normandy, France, 11 June 1944 -- when several machine guns impeded his platoon's advance, Private Woodring courageously continued delivering effective fire and neutralized enemy weapons. Later, returning to his unit, Private Woodring remained in an exposed area and administered first aid to a wounded comrade." There's more to this story than just these few sentences on this Citation. Would you tell us about what happened to earn the Silver Star? The Silver Star is the, am I correct, the second highest --

Claude Woodring:

Next to the Medal of Honor.

Andrew Fisher:

Next to the Medal of Honor and not easily earned, so there's got to be more to the story than that. Would you tell us about that?

Claude Woodring:

We were pinned down by two German machine gun nests caught in a cross-fire and my last remaining buddy had just gotten his head blown off with a mortar shell and it -- I kind of went bananas. It infuriated me. I encircled the first machine gun nest with rifle grenades and hand grenades wiped it out. I went to the -- around and came in behind the second machine gun nest and did the same thing with rifle grenades and hand grenades and got rid of both of the machine gun nests that were holding us in their cross-fire, and I guess that's the end of that story. There was no way that our battalion could proceed until we got rid of those machine gun nests and that's what I did.

Andrew Fisher:

That happened on June the 11th, so you weren't far into France. You were only --

Claude Woodring:

No.

Andrew Fisher:

-- five days into France or maybe four days into France by then.

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

So you earned a Silver Star very soon in the invasion.

Claude Woodring:

Yes, and about two days after that there were only two of us left in our platoon, and I was raised to the rank of sergeant and brought in a bunch of replacements and I was then a platoon leader. From then I was a platoon leader until I was wounded. At the point in time when I was wounded, I was up for a staff sergeant rating.

Andrew Fisher:

I've heard stories about being a replacement in an outfit and not a very enviable position to be in.

Claude Woodring:

When we got these replacements in at this point D plus, six, seven, eight, whatever, these young chaps are just out of basic training. Didn't have a clue and we had no way in the world of teaching them, no time to teach them. From the time I became a platoon leader, we had 32 men go through my squad or squad leader. Thirty-two men went through the squad, just replacements that when they should keep their head down they'd panic and get up and run and --

Andrew Fisher:

A squad -- Was it eight to the squad?

Claude Woodring:

There are eight in a squad, full strength, I think, yes.

Andrew Fisher:

So you had a 400 percent casualty rate?

Claude Woodring:

Yes, but we never had a squad up to strength of eight. If we could keep four or five until we had enough people to carry the BAR and the ammunition for it we were doing well.

Andrew Fisher:

So in that case you could have had 800 percent casualty.

Claude Woodring:

Yes, yes.

Andrew Fisher:

So then the -- your advance through France was not as easy as one might imagine --

Claude Woodring:

It wasn't a walk in the park.

Andrew Fisher:

-- if you had that kind of casualty rate.

Claude Woodring:

Because every night we -- Every afternoon we ran into the enemy again. We had a fighting war daily.

Andrew Fisher:

When you got wounded at Aachen, your outfit then continued on and where did they go?

Claude Woodring:

They then were involved in the Battle of the Bulge and took a big hit there.

Andrew Fisher:

Well, that was, I've heard, the biggest campaign of the European Theater for the Americans at the Bulge, greatest number of casualties.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised.

Andrew Fisher:

But now you're wounded and were carried back.

Claude Woodring:

Yes. I was back either in England or maybe back in the States when the Battle of the Bulge.

Andrew Fisher:

Now, have those wounds been of a permanent nature or did you recover completely?

Claude Woodring:

Oh, I -- 80 percent recovery, perhaps. When I was discharged, I still couldn't raise my arm or comb my hair or use my left hand but since it has gotten so that I'm -- I'm 80 percent. I have no complaints with the Veteran's Administration at all. They have taken good care of me. I never will bad mouth the Veteran's Administration. The V.A. has been wonderful.

Andrew Fisher:

So when they -- when the VD date came, you were in a hospital in the States?

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

Were -- Was it expected that you were maybe going to then go to the Pacific Theater?

Claude Woodring:

No, sir. I knew that I was permanently disabled. I was not going to --

Andrew Fisher:

I see.

Claude Woodring:

-- have to return to service.

Andrew Fisher:

So the war was over for you?

Claude Woodring:

The war was over for me. I got that million dollar one that they talk about.

Andrew Fisher:

Yes. That's an inside joke --

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

-- that only GI's know about. Meaning getting wounded without getting killed.

Claude Woodring:

Without getting killed and --

Andrew Fisher:

And permanently disabled.

Claude Woodring:

-- a permanent disability and --

Andrew Fisher:

Right. So the war ended and you then returned to civilian life.

Claude Woodring:

I then came back to Metamora and attended the University of -- in Flint, G.M.I., General Motors Institute, the second best technological school in the United States after Georgia Tech. Got a degree in dealership management. Managed a Chevrolet dealership until 1990 when we sold it and in these years I was involved with the local volunteer fire department. I had 50 years on the fire department, some 15 of them as fire chief.

Andrew Fisher:

Have you been active in any veteran's organizations?

Claude Woodring:

Not active, per se. I belong to the VFW and belong to the DAV, but I am not an activist. I don't like to go to meetings to go to a meeting, and I feel I've paid my dues a long time ago. I don't have to explain why I'm there. I don't have to be there.

Andrew Fisher:

Have you maintained contact with any of your old buddies?

Claude Woodring:

No. I don't have any old buddies.

Andrew Fisher:

They were gone?

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

I see.

Claude Woodring:

I was only close to four people in the Army through basic training and when we got -- Well, when I got to England, this is one of the things that Sergeant St. John impressed on me. Don't make any real, real close friends. You don't survive. They don't survive. You don't have so many broken hearts that way. Get along with everyone and friends to everyone but -- so I didn't have any -- only four buddies and none of them made it.

Andrew Fisher:

So you don't have the same -- Well, we should say you closed the chapter on that part of your life.

Claude Woodring:

That's right. I have never been back to a reunion. I don't have the camaraderie with a bunch of guys or any of that sort of thing. I --

Andrew Fisher:

Have you ever spoken about your war time experiences before?

Claude Woodring:

No, sir. Even my children haven't really heard the story.

Andrew Fisher:

But they certainly know about your exploits. They certainly know what a Silver Star means.

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

And do they have an interest in the war or --

Claude Woodring:

No.

Andrew Fisher:

Nothing.

Claude Woodring:

No.

Andrew Fisher:

I see.

Claude Woodring:

They don't ask any questions and -- but I have never sat down and discussed this with them.

Andrew Fisher:

The reason I ask you that question is that the Veteran's History Project has brought out stories of the war with a lot of veterans that have never been told before and yours is one of them. This is a good reason to have the Veteran's History Project so we can hear what happened to you in the war. Tell me what you think about or you thought about your enemy. What did you think of the German soldier or the German people as a whole? Have you had any lingering animosities or --

Claude Woodring:

The Germans tried to kill me. That has irritated me. Chrysler Corporation is owned by Germans. I'll not drive a Chrysler automobile where the money is going to Germany. No, I have not gotten to forgive the Germans. I know they were doing their thing. They were protecting their homeland, and we were over there to free the world of their type of oppression but, no, I -- one of the things I don't get along with is Germans because of -- they tried to kill me.

Andrew Fisher:

What better reason.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

Any last minute thoughts before we close this interview about the war, about your time spent, about your injuries, about getting such a distinguished award as the Silver Star?

Claude Woodring:

Oh, if we can interject a few things.

Andrew Fisher:

Please do.

Claude Woodring:

One of the most comical things that I remember of -- during the war in the hedgerow country, a German was in the process of relieving himself, he was taking a crap, and I stuck my head through a hedgerow 20 feet from him. He sees an American helmet come through there, he panics, of course, and he grabs his bridges and his gun and tries to run. He takes four or five steps, turns around and going to try and shoot at me, let's go of his pants, they trip him, down he goes and I can still remember laughing as he went into the next field. I hope that poor guy made it. One of the humorous things about the war. I remember one day we were on a reconnaissance patrol -- daytime reconnaissance patrol in Belgium. Had my squad of probably five or six of us, and we were encircling a little town to see if there were any Germans in it. We got near a little orchard and it was five or six tanks in there.

Andrew Fisher:

German tanks?

Claude Woodring:

Yeah, but I thought they were American tanks. It looked like Sherman tanks to me. We started for them because they always carried a lot of food. Well, you got with the tankers you got something good to eat and you always could get a drink of something. We got within, oh, five, 600 yards, a thousand yards, and I see there's a swastika on these tanks. They're all covered with camouflage netting, swastikas on the tank. We waved at the German soldiers. They thought we were Germans. They waved back at us. Did a little loop and got out of sight and got on the radio and then five minutes about overcame the P38's from England and just destroyed that little cubby of tanks sitting in that little orchard. We were on our night patrol, recon patrol, in France somewhere in a little town. Got in the middle of town and I can still recall "Achtung Verder." I didn't know what it meant but it was German. And as soon as I said "hit the deck" the machine guns started. "Achtung Verder" is "Halt! Who's there?" That particular evening before we went into town I had instructed the platoon that if we got into any fire to meet at a culvert under the road outside of town. We all got back there okay and waited for the rest of the troops to come in the next morning and picked up our unit again but the patrols were atrocious. I hated them. You were very vulnerable when you were out on patrol -- recon patrol. You could walk up to the Germans and not know it at most nighttime. Of course that's what we were there for. To get back on the beach, if I may interject.

Andrew Fisher:

Sure.

Claude Woodring:

When we blew up -- When I blew up the barbed wire, had that not worked, had something malfunctioned, Plan B was to use human bodies to throw on the barbed wire to scale the barbed wire. I've always been fortunate that God didn't make me have to go to Plan B. I'd been on the bottom of the pile, probably.

Andrew Fisher:

This is where you throw yourself faced down --

Claude Woodring:

On the barbed wire.

Andrew Fisher:

-- on the barbed wire.

Claude Woodring:

And you're a human bridge to get across it, yes.

Andrew Fisher:

It was interesting what you said a little earlier about encountering these tanks in this little -- in this little orchard. Now, they were hiding in there because they were afraid to come out in the daylight.

Claude Woodring:

Oh, that's right. They were -- They were holed up until nighttime so they could head back to Germany.

Andrew Fisher:

The other interesting part about that makes a point of the fact that when you called them in to have them destroyed, you didn't call for artillery. You got -- You got airplanes to come in to destroy them.

Claude Woodring:

That's correct.

Andrew Fisher:

Now, you could get -- The fact that you could get that quick support from the air meant that they were not going to encounter any resistance, the planes were not, and that they were probably going to be more effective than the artillery.

Claude Woodring:

Yes, and artillery probably would spot your position to a point the airplanes wouldn't.

Andrew Fisher:

So, as I said before, that makes a point of one of the reasons the Americans were so successful in their march across France and Germany is that they had total supremacy of the air. Is that correct? I mean --

Claude Woodring:

Yeah. And we were so screwed up that the enemy didn't have any idea what we were doing. We didn't know either but we --

Andrew Fisher:

But that's war.

Claude Woodring:

-- we out confused the enemy to win this war.

Andrew Fisher:

But I think we did it with overwhelming them with materials.

Claude Woodring:

Yes, yes. The bombing at Saint-Lo I sat back and watched that. The sky was full of airplane. The sun was almost completely covered. It got almost dark from airplanes, thousands of airplanes. At the end of that day, I in my own mind, knew that we had a chance to win this war. Up until that point it was just a daily fight for survival but at the -- after the Saint-Lo bombing -- that saturation bombing I was aware that we had so much equipment and so overwhelmed the enemy that we would win the war.

Andrew Fisher:

It was said that Erwin Rommel had stated that if the allies got off the beaches that there was no stopping them.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

And that's how it turned out.

Claude Woodring:

Yeah.

Andrew Fisher:

You then went almost unimpeded all the way to the German border.

Claude Woodring:

Yes.

Andrew Fisher:

Well, this is a wonderful story. You've been remarkably -- what's the word I want? You have not spoken too much about your Silver Star within this conversation. I think that's the most impressive thing. As I said earlier, the Silver Star is not easily earned and there are some Bronze Stars that I've encountered in other interviews but never a Silver Star, so I'm pleased to be able to talk to you and pleased to be able to hear about it even though you've been quite modest about it. So before we close this interview, any last words of wisdom?

Claude Woodring:

If you have to go to war, get in the Navy or the Air Corp. so you don't have to sleep in the dirt and so you can have food. The horrible -- most horrible part of the war that I remember is always being hungry, always being dirty, and always being tired. When I was wounded on September 22nd, or whenever, they cut the same clothes off of me that we went in on D-Day with, we fought in O.D.'s our dress uniform, hot. They issued those clothes with a double flap and a gas impregnated Vaseline all over them. A horrible uniform to fight in. So if you young people have to go to the military, get in the Navy or the Air Corp. where you got clean sheets at night and a lot of food. Bless you.

Andrew Fisher:

Thank you very much, Mr. Woodring.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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