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US Army

A Miracle…How My Military Service Ended.

A Miracle…How My Military Service Ended.
 
I believe that my final few months in Europe made up probably the coldest winter that I’ve ever experienced.  At times, our tanks would run out of fuel and we would catch up with us.  Much of the time, the ground would be covered with snow.  The fact that the tanks had no heating system in them and they were made of metal just added to the already cold conditions.  The low temperatures lingered into the month of March that year. 
 
It was March 29, 1945.  My unit, Company “C”, 80th Tank Battalion, 8th Armored Division had been slowly moving all day with only sporadic resistance from the Germans.  It was five or six o’clock in the afternoon.  I was in the last of five tanks that were to enter this German town (either Dorsten or Marl) ahead of the rest of the column to search out possible resistance.  We were approaching an intersection where the buildings had been leveled with bombs leaving a wide-open space and large piles of debris.  Each tank had a five man crew.  I was the assistant gunner and radio operator.  Suddenly, I was alone and the tank was full of smoke.  I could see orange flames only two feet away.  I immediately realized that the tank had been hit.  The Germans had zeroed in on the intersection with an 88 millimeter gun. 
 
I had been unconscious long enough for the rest of the crew to escape the burning tank.  I knew that I had to get out quickly so I reached for the hand hold near the top of the turret and was able to pull myself to a standing position.  One of the turret hatches had been left open when the other crew members escaped, and standing, my head and shoulders were outside.  At that point, I needed to use my arms to lift my body through the hatch and onto the top of the turret, but as I tried, my left arm would not move.  I reached for it with my right hand and lifted it to the top of the turret, but it wouldn’t support any weight.  I then noticed that I couldn’t feel my left leg and it wasn’t supporting any weight either.  There was no way that I could get through the small hole with only arm and one leg.  Had German soldiers been nearby, I would have been an easy target with my head outside the turret.  The four tanks in front of me were also burning and I saw no one or any activity as far down the street as I could see.  Thing got worse.  As the fire spread, my clothing caught fire. 
 
Then the miracle happened.  A soldier suddenly appeared from behind a pile of debris about 50 feet away.  When he saw that I was in trouble, he ran toward the tank and quickly climbed to the top.  He leaned over the hatch, grabbed me under the arms, and pulled me to the top of the turret.  With his help, I let myself fall to the engine deck.  He immediately put out the fire in my clothing.  He then jumped from the engine deck and lifted me to the ground.  He had a packed of morphine and gave it to me for the pain.  He then said, “I’ll go find the medics for you.”  I never saw him again, but the medics came shortly after he left.  I pray that he made it home, too.  Other than the medics, he was the only other person I saw from the time I regained consciousness until I arrived at the field hospital.  If he is still alive, he probably does not know whether I made it or not.  I have wished many times that I could find him.  With a battle developing in that area, I can’t understand why he and I were the only two soldiers there.  God must have put him there to save my life. 
 
Things apparently were pretty critical as the two medics rushed me from the battle area to the field hospital.  While one drove the jeep, the other one was working to stop some of the bleeding.  I heard him tell the driver, “I don’t think he is going to make it.”  I remember the tent hospital vividly.  The room they took me to was already full of wounded soldiers with perhaps a dozen or more doctors and nurses working frantically.  Someone immediately started cutting and stripping my clothing.  As soon as they determined my condition, a team of doctors and nurses were ordered off less serious cases to work on me.  They put me to sleep and continued to assess my injuries.  I knew nothing more until late the next evening when someone was calling my name.  I learned then that I had lost my left leg, my left arm was paralyzed, and I had multiple wounds in my right leg and scalp.  My eyes had also been burned. 
 
I remained in the field hospital for eight days and was then moved to the 158th General Hospital near Salisbury, England where several more operations were performed before I was put on a hospital ship on June 30, 1945, and sent to Charleston, South Carolina.  From there I was sent to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.  After several more operations and almost one full year of recuperation, I was discharged on March 20, 1946. 
 
I returned home to Bristol, Tennessee that spring of 1946 and met my future wife in the fall. We were married in January of 1947 and have a son and a daughter. 
 
Source: Bulge Bugle August 2013

By Pfc Glenn E. VANCE

 

"C" Company

80th Tank Battalion

8th Armored Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium