Lt. Col. Dallas R. Lynch
(Mr. Lynch passed away on Nov. 12, 2014. This interview was on April 22, 2014)
Army — WWII – Italy
Reconnaissance Officer – 235th Combat Engineer Battalion
Distinguished Service Cross Medal
Silver Star Medal
Purple Heart Medal
Mr. Dallas Lynch is a remarkable man with a remarkable story. As a reconnaissance officer for the 4th Engineer Battalion, he reconnoitered behind enemy lines to determine how to make a way for troops and armored vehicles to advance toward the enemy.
He was wounded three times. For actions at the Battle of Monte Cassino he received the Distinguished Service Cross, which is second only to the Medal of Honor. And he received the Silver Star Medal for bravery against the enemy.
In the following three part interview, he describes in detail the actions which earned him each medal, as well as descriptions of other key battles of the Italian campaign of the Battle for Rome.
This interview was conducted because of a chance meeting of my father and Mr. Lynch the previous year while my father was visiting Ft. Worth, TX. I was fortunate to be able to interview this incredible 93 year-old WWII veteran about his wartime experiences. My father also participated in this interview.
The first comment of the following interview is from my father, Ray Hinson to Mr. Lynch. My father’s comments throughout this transcription are in italics, and mine are in bold.
That must have been a horrible situation to be in– there in Italy
—the Germans up on top of that mountain.
“Cassino — actually we had from Minturno to Cassino — 10 miles. We had mountains on both sides of the road and railroad all the way into Cassino and we had seven major battles – and each one of those mountains had a town on the side of it – like San Pietro was on Mount Sammucro.
“San Pietro was a good example. The 34th Division had the assignment of taking San Pietro. [Click here for a 1945 War Department film about the Battle for San Pietro] We had to take these mountains to get to Cassino. There was Monte Sammucro, they were on defense there — Portia, Ducco, and more…these were major battles. They call it “Purple Heart Valley.” From Minturno to Cassino, we lost 92,000 men in six months.
“Our first entry to that was San Pietro. That’s the first mountain we had to take and the 34th Division had the assignment for their 3rd and 4th Regiment — the MILK Regiments — [Companies IKLM were nicknamed] “milk” — and I had my reconnaissance attached to M Company and they were 100 percent over-strength in officers — they had twelve officers – and they were 10 percent over-strength in men. And they got six men a day to come up with rations during the battle.
“And we started up – it might have been the 9th or the 15th of December. Well if a man didn’t look like he would last 8 hours on a donkey going down, we didn’t bother him, just leave him for grave registry.
“We got into San Pietro – into the city on Christmas Day and an acting corporal was Company Commander and he had fourteen men. So the 100 percent over-strength in officers was gone and 10 percent over-strength in men plus the six men a day that came up with rations was gone – over 200 in 10 days.
“Well that ended that one. We got back and they put that 3rd Regiment back into rest camp to rebuild and we went on — Monte La Difensa. I attached my outfit to Special Service Forces.
“Now when I went to North Africa, they sent me to Mine Warfare School. It was about five weeks up in North Africa in old German mine fields. This is where we got our basic training in mine warfare. And when I came back, I was Mine Warfare Officer and I was conducting training for our people.
“Well we went on from there – well let’s just get into the story here. The 184th attacked hill 409 at Cassino — the opening battle after these 92,000 were cleared out of the way.
“Cassino is a mountain town 70 miles south of Rome. It’s in the Apennine Mountains. Cassino itself sits — there’s a monastery on top of this mountain that the Benedictine monks had built—and it was about 9000 feet. Anyway, it could view the whole valley that we came through.
“Well anyway, the 184th attacked 409 which is 409 meters – that’s 2000 feet and it was well defended. They lost 619 men in 45 minutes, then they pulled them back.
“Well five days later, the Texas National Guard was assigned to attack Cassino from the south from San Angelo.
“I — my team, cleared lanes for the assault boats [on the Rapido River] to go to the – actually you have to have about ten 10 feet because men are walking alongside with the assault boat. And I carried, uh….
This is a shallow river, isn’t it…
“It was shallow – you could call it shallow. It was 6 foot deep! It had to have assault boats on it. You couldn’t walk.
“Well anyway, they attacked about 5 o’clock in the evening or maybe 6. While we were putting those lanes through a [……unclear audio.…..] fire occasionally around, but they were really zeroing in on the lanes – their artillery was – and when the Texas National Guard attacked, they lost 2,300 men in three hours and nobody got across the river.
“The generals called the engineers together and said, “We think some of our projects may have succeeded if we had gotten our armor across the river. And that’s your mission now to get armor across the Rapido River.”
“Well I was on reconnaissance up north of Cassino and I found a German bridge that had been blown – well the Germans hadn’t blown the bridge, they blew the abutments and the slab fell [off to the side into the river] and dammed it and flooded our side, but the riverbed was dry, so I reported this to my Colonel.
“Well they put a task force together right then. Our mission was to attack the north base of Cassino. This was the Italian school for military defense – the Italian army. They had dug in positions in the base of the Cassino mountain for pill boxes for their school of defense and they had a lot of pill boxes just placed in the ground. The Germans put those in. They would scoop out a hole and — if you could imagine a pill box about 6 feet tall and about [two feet] wide and just drop it in there and it had this metal top that was flush with the ground and with machine guns in them. And they also had their ports behind them with big guns on them. This is what we were facing.
“The 184th was assigned a mission — and this is Iowa National Guard. For three nights in a row they fired into those pill box positions and charted where they received fire. And they gave us the address information.
“And the task force that was formed was two infantry regiments, four battalions artillery, one battalion engineers, and the 776th tank destroyer battalion which is sixty tanks with 90 mm guns. And the tank destroyer is not a tank, it’s a big gun on tank bases. It fires a 90mm rounds which is bigger than any of our tanks had.
“I briefed the generals up there at [Brutebarten ?] and General Keyes said, ‘Dallas, you know the way. You can lead us.’
“So he assigned me to a light tank division to lead this thing and we got B Company to blow the bank so they could drive in. And we took in the 776th in there deftly and the Germans didn’t see them coming and we got to another bridge that was blown about a half mile closer to town. It was blown — I got out — got the lid off and started throwing mines to the German side to the Cassino side. There were two infantry laying in the track that I wanted to use, and I got up there to take them off the track and that side opened fire, all weapons on me and raining on us.
“And well, we pulled back and then signaled for the 776th to come forward. And they had addresses on the pill boxes from the firing we gave them. And they turned loose. The artillery started on 308 and the 36th Division had the mission to take that hill and the two battalions of infantry were assigned to a two hundred yard box which would follow our lead as we moved. Nobody could come in around us. It was just raining shells around us. We were doing great. The 90 mm were knocking off all the pill boxes around there.
“When we started the battle with the 308 we had five pillboxes we had to reduce right there at the base.
“And I was in there with a light tank and a lieutenant named Morris – I think it was 184th – anyway, he said, “Dallas, I’m running out of grenades and I’ve got five pill boxes left.”
“There was a German Major [who] walks out of this pill box close to me and he handed me his Luger and he said, “That won’t be necessary.” [laughs]
“Well he handed me his Luger and it was silver-plated and he said, “You can get yours silver-plated when you get to Rome.”
“And I turned him over to the 184th and his fifteen people came out of there with him and we threw the satchel charge in to blow the inside up.
“That ended it as far as I was concerned. And the General is all happy with me. And that’s how I got the Distinguished Service Cross – leading that tank attack into Cassino.
“Well three days later, three nights, our battalion commander called me in and said, Dallas, we have a second tank attack we want to follow tomorrow and I would like for you to clear that road [chuckles] – a half-a-mile of road of mines.
“I picked five men and we started down and we, the two of us together took center line. We pointed out what to take and threw them to each side as we went down and we finished up and it was after one o’clock. They had mined the bank and I stepped on a schu mine. Well a schu mine has a ½ pound of explosive in it and is designed to blow your foot off about ankle-high.
“Well mine was in frozen ground – it was the 1st of February — and it blew me straight up – blew my boot off and the striker went through my Achilles tendon. I fell and I guess I lay there for a little bit – probably in shock and decided to go over to the other side and get in the ditch and I got almost there when I tripped on a “stok” mine.
“It’s concrete – about like this [positions hands as if holding a ball with two hands] and filled with steel fragments and set on a stick – that’s how they call it a stok and it’s just wire – trip wires in between them.
“Well it laced this upper leg [the same leg with which he stepped on the schu mine]. Well when I got sense enough to get over to the ditch in the water, it was ice water. But I think it stopped the bleeding. Probably saved my leg.
“Yeah. Well their two machine guns opened up from the far side. They were really itchy because three days before we had attacked and went through them. [or it threw them].
“They started firing –
These are Germans?
“Yeah. Two machine guns. They were across the river. But they were firing straight at us. They were just hunting and pecking – just enough that they were irritated. And they were firing four rounds every fifteen seconds. They would move and go “Pop, pop, pop, pop,” and move. Well they were searching. They didn’t know what was there. Just that those two mines went off. But they were getting pretty close to where the mines went off.
“And I was laying there in this ditch full of ice water. I heard a German patrol coming down the riverbed and they had nine or ten rifles — a leader and a bunch. I knew I was no match for them. I did have a sub-machine gun with me – a Thompson sub-machine gun. But I wasn’t going to get anywhere in a gunfight.
“But when they got close enough, I said, “Lord, get me out of this mess.”
“I could hear them screaming, “Achtung blut!” That’s the way they called their medics. “Achtung blut, blut!” [Achtung, blut = Attention, Blood!]
“The two machine guns that had been firing periodically [then] turned both guns down river and that lasted about [a minute and] 30 seconds, with 600 rounds a minute. That’s 900 rounds. And one of the guys down river screamed “Gewehrfeuer!” It means “rifle fire!.”
“The machine guns got the idea that they were being attacked from down river and they turned both machine guns onto the river bed and their own patrol right there and in thirty seconds they wiped out their patrol and everything went quiet. They realized they were shooting their own people.
Now that’s the Germans that were firing on their own?
“Yep, they wiped out their own patrol.
“I don’t know how many had died from grenade wounds, but undoubtedly plenty.
“And two of my guys worked their way up to me and picked me up and we started back to the jeep and about 250 yards back, another German patrol worked around from the north and the lieutenant stepped out and shot me in this leg [the same leg that had been hit by the mine and laced with another mine] with a Luger. And I had turned my Thompson over to Sgt. Gibson and he turned that on that lieutenant and hit him ten times. I saw him rolling and he sprayed the area behind him and that patrol melted – under fire they evaporated, so we had the road to ourselves.
Well your poor leg was just getting it one after another!
“[chuckles] Yeah that one went through and through and that leg was following – dragging. And this one [pointing to his other leg] — they didn’t hit this one . It was back of that front leg.
“Well the guys who picked me up took me to a first aid station with the 776th tank destroyers because they were stationed right there close. I had been with them three days before. And they cut my pant leg off and strapped 7 first aid packs — it looks like a black board eraser with tape. They just tie it on. I had seven of them tied on [my leg].
“They got me back to a first aid station and they got me ready and put me on an ambulance to an evac hospital. I stayed there nineteen days.
“Now normally you go into an evac and you’re in and out the next day. But the casualties from Anzio and Cassino were so strong that you couldn’t get into the general hospital in Naples without a general order.
“And I was there until it started to turn green – and I got a general order to go into Naples. And I was there for 122 days before I could walk again. And the medics told me – well first they started with penicillin and it was just starting to come into the theater then. They gave me eight shots a day for ten days in beeswax to delay – they didn’t have the delaying type penicillin and it just made bumps on me – on my legs, back — I had bumps all over me.
“But anyway they told me that the medics would get on this leg and it dropped – the foot dropped. The muscles I guess just relaxed. And the medics told me about them guys getting up and pushing on it to get it back into position. And they recast it three times.
“But anyway, after 122 days, they were screaming for intelligence – engineering intelligence. They said I could ride the artillery spotter and follow three roads and give assignments to our company commanders and I could carry an attack camera, you know — they have a bridge out here and I’d give them coordinates for it and bring up a “Bailey bridge.”
“And we were putting culverts in and putting dirt and rock over the top for a bypass so water could go through the culverts. Yeah, it was fast. You could come up and in thirty minutes have a culverts down there and three or four dump trucks would follow it and cover it and come right on by.
“Let me start back a little further. We went into north Africa in May 4, ’43 and that’s when we were still chasing Rommel and the Afrika Korps. We joined with the English to drive them out of north Africa and of course he went on into Sicily and on into Italy. We followed – chasing of course – and the British Eighth Army went in on the east side of the peninsula. We went in at Salerno on the west side and our job was to push the Germans out of there.
“Well of course it was some time before we were able to do that. We were met by Field Marshal Alexander and he told us we have secret orders for you and that is to draw down as many German divisions as possible. This is their war strategy and destroy as many as possible before D-Day. We didn’t know when D-Day was, but we knew whatever we got there in Italy, wouldn’t go into Normandy.
“We started out with Eighth Army moving up that side and us moving this side – we’re in Salerno and we thought we were going to go right on, but that’s when he told us we had to start drawing down – the secret orders – to draw down German divisions. Well we did get six divisions down on us there at Salerno and we were attacked by a German tank division and were gonna drive us back in the water and an old artillery colonel pulled his 105s out of bivouac and put them on the road firing point blank knocking the turrets off – you know a 105 against a turret is well – like 15 pounds of explosives. And he saved us really.
“But he says, ‘You know I learned a long time ago, if I’m gonna make an omelet I’m gonna to have to break a few eggs.
“But he saved us and like I said we got six divisions down on us and then we fought our way out of there and it was a battle all the way through King’s Palace at Caserta which was a turning point for me. I was given the job of de-heading that place. And we took four truckloads of explosives out of that building. It’s a big building. King’s Palace had a tremendous courtyard. I believe it was as big as [this facility here]. But it’s a big four-story high and a quarter mile. We even got explosives out of an old airplane down in the museum in the basement. It was a museum to Italian aviation and we found explosives on the motor in there. But the fireplaces were always loaded in every floor.
So you were trained to look in these spots – I mean, to know where to dig them out.
“By that time, I was a mine warfare officer – I never did tell you I was in the 235 Engineer Combat Battalion for the US Army 2nd Corps. Our first corps commander was Patton in north Africa. And he went on and then we picked up General Keyes. He was our corps commander through Italy. Prt 3 5;16
Wow… those secret orders to draw down people on you…
Like, come and get me…
“Yeah, draw down as many as you can. Well you’re gonna have to be ready to receive ‘em. Takes a lot of artillery. Well that brought us to a point when I finished with the Kings Palace at Caserta, We went on up to the Valterno River and then on to Minturno – and we started at Minturno with our story before.
“Like I said, Minturno to Cassiino was ten miles with mountains on both sides of the road – three thousand foot elevation. And nearly every mountain had a small town on the side of it. And the best example I could give you was our first one at San Pietro which was on the bank of Mount Sammucro. And Sammucro was twenty-nine hundred feet. We were with the 3rd Regiment of the 34th Division. We attached my reconnaissance unit to the M company of the MILK regiment.
“Anyway we started out, I believe it was the 15th of December our attack on San Pietro and with all the guns we could master. That thing would like up like a Christmas tree at night – white phosphorous shells. And it was ten days, but in that ten days we had gone in there with 100% over-strength in officers and 10% over-strength in men and when we got to San Pietro we had fourteen men and an acting corporal – not a corporal – an ACTING corporal company commander. That’s all they had left of that outfit. And like I told you before, if a many didn’t look like he’d last eight hours in a donkey we didn’t move him. We let [grave registration] pick him up. So we had a lot of casualities going in there. Not just us. The Division is the one who was soaking up the casualties.
“From San Pietro, the next mountain was – Monte Maiori and then Monte LaDifensa. Since I had attached my outfit to the Special Service Force, and their job was to take Monte Maiori. And I had training — in mine warfare training and they said maybe you can go with us and help us find mines.
“[Chuckles] and they went up there and they climbed all one night and then we were about half-way into the next night, we broke out and they issued orders – no firing. Anybody that’s shooting a weapon, will be a German and everybody had a knife. And we had a company of Gurkahs – the Indian Gurkahs and they all had knives and they’d reach around from behind you and feel your dogtags and say — if you still had dogtags! [chuckles] So all the shooting was done by the Germans and they [Gurkahs] went through and just wiped ‘em out.
Goodness! That’s an interesting strategy.
I’ll bet that was a shock to the Germans!
“Oh! Nobody knew what was going on. It was all dark – no noise. Well after Monte Maiori, we had Monte LaDifensa and I was involved in Monte Porcia. It was about the same size, but we had two battalions – two engineer battalions — and we had an infantry battalion and I think it took three days on that one. And then Monte Nungo was a long mountain, but we had six days on it because it was so long and big. And from there on we were ready to go into Cassino by that valley that they called Purple Heart Valley.
That was just fighting inch, by inch, by inch it seemed like.
“Like I said, we lost 92,000 men in six months.
Good night!! How many men were in a division?
“And they can deliver a helluva load of ammunition. We used to have a demonstration we called a “mad minute” where we let everyone fire all their ammunition for one minute and it was the noisiest thing! [chuckles]
“When we got ready to jump off there at Cassino — I told my story about being at Cassino – and ready to jump off we had secretly moved the Fifth Army and Eighth Army into the left corps sector which gave us nine divisions against three. And we left the Morrocans and the Algerians posed to attack Cassino and we started to cut off everything behind Cassino on the road to Rome.
“Well we really rolled. The Germans were retreating and we were just cuttin’em off.
“One item I remember, was the Germans had pulled a horse-drawn artillery battalion out of bivouac onto the road to move out. And the Air Force straffed ‘em out there on the road. We had a hundred horses out there, ‘course there were that many men too [dead] and all their guns. We just came in with a dozer and moved everything off into a ditch, poured gasoline on ‘em — burned ‘em – horses, men, and all. I’m sure grave registration got some of the guys.
“But another time, I attached my special service force to Gen. Frederick’s outfit and we had this rise on this side of the river.
“And the river made a turn and the road turned and the German trucks were coming up the road to us and they were stretched out a quarter mile apart so the Air Force wouldn’t strafe ‘em. And we had two squads of rifles, two machine guns and two bazookas.
“And as they’d come around the corner, we’d open fire with a bazooka – a shoulder-fired rocket — to kill the engine. We burned twenty-nine truckloads in two hours.
“They kept coming. We kept burnin’em. We couldn’t take prisoners.
“You know, twenty-nine in two hours – we were busy. But they started bringing up armor so we pulled out and went on to Rome.
“I went to Rome on the 3rd of June. I was still with Frederick’s outfit.
“He received orders to seize and hold the bridges on the Tiber. He was talking to Gen. Keyes and he said, “Sir, I’m committed,” which meant he already had everyone committed.
“General Keyes just hung up. And there were seven of us engineers in there.
“He got everybody at his headquarters and the engineers – the whole works. We got thirteen people on a three-quarter ton command car and my two jeeps – went in to the Santa Margarita Bridge. We had a short fire-fight there then captured fifteen men. Walked ‘em down a little stairway onto a dock on the Tiber.
“Well, we formed a perimeter defense and in a little bit, we heard boots running up the road and Col. Anderson stepped out into the road – he’s our group commander – halted ‘em in German. And they got a blast of M-1’s and sub-machine guns.
“The 88th Division had been given the same order and we were receiving friendly fire. [chuckles]
“And anyway, Col. Anderson was hit twice and when he hit the ground it nicked his shoulder and the cheek of his butt – zip,zip.
“Well we got the shootin’ stopped and turned our wounded over to the 88th Division and I wrapped up Col. Anderson in his command car and our jeeps and went to a hotel south of town, took him in, dressed his wounds.
Was there any kind of a gunfight when they saw you leaving the hotel?
“No, we were too small a unit to attack that group.
But they didn’t attack you.
“Nope — we didn’t announce ourselves! [smiles and chuckles]
Now this is before D-Day?
“I was gonna tell you, we got to Rome on 3 June 1944. D-Day was 6 June. We met our deadline.
Ah, very good.
That’s amazing —
“It was! And we just sandwiched our force right in with ‘em.
Ready to roll to Rome.
Well what happened to you after that?
“I slept in Carlotta’s [Claretta’s] bedroom that night. [Claretta] was Mussolini’s mistress.
“They had skipped town and the — oh what’d they call ‘em? A Yugoslavian group – Partisans – Parijani. They captured Mussolini and [Claretta] — hung ‘em on a fence. Yeah, they were upside down. Her dress was down over her…[sighs] oh, boy….but anyway.
Well you must have still been pretty sore.
“Oh yeah! I was still in crutches. You saw in the picture when the general was giving me a medal, I was still on crutches.
Who was the general who was awarding you the medal?
“General Keyes. He was the Corps Commander. But when I got back to the U.S. the DSC had been signed off and this was General Wheeler the Chief of Engineers who came out to Bell varde [?] and hang it on me.
So the DSC exactly was for …
“For the attack on — leading that tank attack – actually it was three days before I got into the mine field.
So you got it all in three days!
“The DSC, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star.
Very good. Wow.
“They hung it on me.
Quite, quite, brave.
Quite, quite, quite.
“Well, it was sure touch and go. I told you about being in that ditch full of ice water. I just prayed, “Lord, get me out of this mess.” Then I realized I had those grenades, but I knew that patrol had at least nine rifles and I just had a Thompson sub-machine gun that wouldn’t have lasted two rounds.
You must have had a pretty good aim to get all of those grenades right in there where you needed them.
“Well I waited until they got pretty close – close enough that I could hear ‘em. I just threw those grenades one at a time and placed it so I pretty well got it mixed up in the crowd. Cause they were all screaming Achtung, blut! That’s the way they call their medics.
Let me ask you, what is that bar on your lapel?“Oh, that was another deal. It’s a Presidential Citation.
“Franklin D.! Yeah – a Presidential Citation.
Tell me about that.
“Well, that was an outcome from the attack on Cassino. See the generals all sent the word at the first break in the Gustav Line. We had two terrible stories – the attack on 409 they lost 619 men in 45 minutes. And the Texas National Guard attack on Cassino from the south, they lost 2300 men in three hours. And nobody got across the river. I carried two loads of wounded out of there the next morning and I had two half-tracks and both of ‘em loaded with wounded men and take them back to aid stations. And we couldn’t find enough aid stations.
“But after Rome, we pushed on to – we had battles at Pisa and LaVara – Leghorn, that was pronounced Laverno. But Leghorn and then Pisa and north to Bologna and then the Po River – crossing the Po River and we had one three-day operation clearing roads around Lake Garda.
“Lake Garda had been mined, they had closed two tunnels and blew away the shoulders on the road and our colonel reported back, “The mountain’s fallen in the road and our road’s fallen in the lake!” [chuckles]
“But we had three days and we brought up bridging equipment and we had to put in piers and put a Bailey Bridge around the corners.
So were the Germans still trying to retreat out of Italy?
“Oh they were already gone by the time we were at Lake Garda.
“We got to Rome and remember we were to draw down as many German divisions as possible and destroy as many as possible? We had captured or destroyed thirteen German divisions. That’s 260,000 men.
Wow…you accomplished your goal!
“[Nods] Yeah and we believe eight divisions would have kept us out of Normandy, if they had had eight more at that line, they could have held us, but of course, they might have destroyed them too. They would have had an awful rain of artillery on ‘em.
You greatly depleted that number.
“But it was touch and go at Normandy. They were really tough gun fights. The 29th Division just about wore itself out. Getting out of the beach, they were moving towards the west coast and turn and come back, coming down the hedgerows. They had terrible casualties. But I wasn’t in on that. I just followed up.
“Yeah, Lake Garda was my last operation with the district. They checked me out and I went back to the US to rewrite the Manual on Mine Warfare. I also picked up the Flood Manual and Natural Disaster Manual, and one more – Passage of Obstacles and Mine Fields. There’s a special manual for that.
“The biggest job was rewriting the Mine Manual, because there were so many developments and we had the German’s and the Russian’s mines to show too. And so the Mine Manual 5-31 got to be bigger than the Sear’s Catalog! [chuckles]
I guess so!
Well there’s just a lot of creativity that goes into mining.
“Oh boy, into the booby traps! Tremendous ingenuity.
So how long did they use that manual, or do they just keep updating it?
“They keep updating it. That was 5-31 Mine Warfare — Demolition and Mine Warfare, and Passage of Obstacles was 5-15. All the Engineer Manuals start with five (5). And the Flood Manual was 5-25. I can remember that well. They took a long time.
Well you had become the expert on mines.
“Well, from ’48 to ’52 – it was the Engineer library branch that was rewriting manuals.
“General Keyes was the 3nd Corps Commander.
“Gen. Wheeler was Chief of Engineers.
“That’s the Good Conduct Medal.
So you were a good boy!
“And over just beside it is the European Theater with the four battle stars – that’s four campaigns. And over here with the black in it – that’s the German Occupation Ribbon. And I believe over in the far corner with the yellow stripe, I think that’s the Victory Medal. And just below that is a bomb. I got the job of clearing all the bombing ranges that we used during the war.
“[He chuckles] You may not know it, but Texas and New Mexico had a thousand bombing ranges.
“Now, Midland for example had nineteen bombing ranges ringed around it…
“…with 10,000 bombs each. We got an average of 10,000 bombs off each range.
Were they all live?
“No they’re not all live, but they’re not all dead either! [we chuckle]
I meant did they still have an explosives in them?
“The practice bomb, M-36, has a four-pound black powder charge in the table and it’s done for a spotting charge so you could see from the air where you’re striking – big black bomb. There was plenty of ‘em that didn’t explode. And four pounds of black powder is just like that much dynamite when it’s close to you.
“The central target – we had a 250-yard target in the middle and we had a battleship and we had a city, a runway – I believe there were five separate targets and a river that I had to clear a quarter mile outside each one of these. It’s a mile square. And I’d go a mile and a quarter.
“But the bomb case when it goes off makes a home for prairie dogs and the rattlesnakes go in after the puppies and I shot 65 rattlers the last year I had the team. I had a .22 I carried in my first aid kit – a six-round Smith and Wesson with a 2” barrel. It was a revolver and I loaded every other round blank and every other round a hollow-point. I could hold ‘em still with the shot. It wasn’t a real blank. It was shootin’ shot. So it was a shotgun up close. [chuckles] You could hold that snake still with the first shot and the next one, shoot him in the head.
You’ve got all kinds of experiences!
So did you get a separate Purple Heart for each injury?
“No, I just claimed one. I told the Colonel, I didn’t want another telegram going home.
“[Referring back to his medal case] And you see the blue ribbon with the gold frame – that’s the Presidential Citation. And that letter right from the President — I gave that to the Colonel and he assigned it to the whole battalion. Everybody’d get to wear one. I thought, that’s fine.
Aw, that’s great.
What are the wings for?
“Well I was a rated aerial observer. I’m a little “green blind” and when they found that out then I was given the job of riding in these cubs to point out – I can see through camouflage. It’s just a pattern to me. Green didn’t bother me. And when they found out I could see through camouflage, they put me in a spotter and we’d go around and say, “There’s a position, see there?” We’d go right to it, but they wouldn’t shoot at it. So we were almost immune from ground fire.
“I spent a good bit of time with the Cubs there and on the road to Rome, I would get in the Cub once in a while to keep track of the– I was still on crutches. I could ride in a jeep alright, but it was just as easy to talk to them from the air. I could follow three roads and give the company commanders instructions – “There is a bridge coordinate,” and, “This bridge is knocked out. You’ll have to have a Bailey Bridge for, looks about a 150 feet,” or, “You could throw in a culvert and put rock over it,” – like that. But I was able to converse like that with the troops on the ground, feeding engineer intelligence to them right from the air.
You were a one-man show. You could just about do it all.
What’s that gold one with your name on it?
“I wear that one on my jacket.
What’s this yellow one?
“That would be the American Defense Ribbon. Everybody that went in the Army at that time got that. American Defense. There’s a blue one up there. I about forgot what that is.
“Yeah, I don’t remember. What’s it say?
It says, “American Campaign.”
“Okay. So we got credit for a campaign there. Probably while I was in OCS.
What was the patch down in the bottom corner?
“That was the 25th Division in Korea.
And this one?
“That’s 4th Army. 4th Army is where I retired. And that shoulder crest right up there by the 4th Army patch was the Engineers. We have a patch like that, well you can see another one over here for the 8th Engineers – the eight horse shoe (ring?). I commanded the 8th Engineers for fifteen months in Korea.
What’s the white – the silver?
“That’s Lt. Colonel insignia. That’s what I am now. In my war activity, I was a First Lieutenant. The Lt. Colonel come after twenty years.
Well that’s the finest assortment I ever saw – by far.
“I designed [this plaque]. It’s now in a three foot by four foot model at the Engineer Hall of Fame at Fort Leavenworth. You see down at the bottom, we have a list of officers that made it to the hall of fame.
And you’re on here.
That’s Combat Engineer Battalion.
“We had five killed on Mount Portia.
“Twelve on Cassino.
That was just an inch-by-inch campaign.
“Boy, it was until we broke out of Cassino and we headed toward Rome. We had secretly moved 5th Army and 8th Army over to one side which gave us nine divisions against three. And when we started, we just cut off everything behind Cassino. We had some tough fire fights on the way, when we broke through Anzio.
You probably learned to identify whether it was German or American by the sound of the fire of the gunshots.
“Yeah, their sub-machine gun – “BURP!” Burp guns.
That’s what they called them, Burp guns.
“Our sub-machine guns went “chug-chug-chug.” Our machine guns were 400 rounds a minute and theirs were 600.
“I got a piece of shrapnel that went through my helmet and stuck in my head. You can see the scar. And I got another hit (of shrapnel) from an airburst about as big as my hand as I was running toward the ditch. And that thing hit the back of my shoulder and cut through my jacket and knocked me down flat. A lot of our people got killed by air bursts.
You mean by the concussion?
“No, an explosive in the air.
“It had what you call time on target and they get a proximity fuse and if you get near it, “tchk” –shoots it. If it’s in trees and you’re under a tree, you get scattered.
I don’t know if I still know how to do it, or if it’s still proper to do it, but…..(my dad who was a sergeant in the Army, stands and salutes Lt. Col. Lynch, and he, sitting in his wheel chair, salutes back.)
Well, I’m not a veteran so I can’t salute you, but I’m going to give you a hug, and I appreciate it so much.
Thank you, honey.
It’s an honor to meet you.