By LANCE CRANMER firstname.lastname@example.org
WAVERLY, Ohio – Earl Todt recalls exactly where he was 71 years ago yesterday.
A truck driver in the United States Army during World War II with the 103rd Infantry, Earl was hauling ammunition and a gun crew across Europe in November 1944.
“We went up the Rhone River, up into the mountains of southern France. That’s where we met our first engagement with the Germans. We were shelled for the first time on Armistice Day,” he said, referring to the November 11 holiday that celebrates the end of World War I. “That’s a day I remember very well.”
Earl’s group survived the German attack and pushed further north toward the fighting.
“From there we went various places north through France, wherever there were pockets of Germans,” he said. “During the Battle of the Bulge (which began Dec. 16, 1944) we were in reserve, just south of the Bulge. After that was over we went south in France along the German/French border.”
His unit crossed into Germany and made it safely to Innsbruck, Austria, where they met up with the forces led by Lt. General Mark W. Clark on May 7, 1945.
The journey across war-torn Europe was a daily challenge for Earl and his brothers.
“My closest experience to being injured was one night when our convoy was strafed by a German plane,” he said. “We were told to scatter in the fields on either side of the road. The fields were all filled with shoe mines. We didn’t know that until somebody hit one. The fella running with me was from Texas. He stepped on a shoe mine and it blew his foot off. We were laying there and he was screaming. I laid there all night. I didn’t move. I didn’t know what I would be stepping on. It was pretty messy.”
Earl, a Columbus, Ohio, native, had never intended to be a truck driver. After college he enlisted in the Army Air Corps where he was classified as a navigator.
“About that time, the Army decided they had enough in the Air Corps and they needed ground troops,” he said. “I ended up in the 103rd Infantry and got sent to basic training in the swamps of Mississippi. Then on to Camp Howze near Sherman, Texas.”
It was around this time that Earl’s calling as a driver came to be.
“I realized there was an opening for truck driver in my platoon, so I volunteered for that,” he said. “That became my vocation in the service. My division, after training in Texas, was shipped to New York and our division went to Marseilles, France, where we were part of the 7th Army.”
Many long months later, Earl was through the worst of the fighting and safely stationed in Austria.
While Earl’s services as a truck driver were still in demand, suddenly, his cargo took on a much different role.
“We were an Army of occupation in Austria for the summer. I had a break during that time. And then my truck and I were assigned to a new regiment,” he said. “We were assigned to haul doughnuts and Red Cross girls. I went from Army ammunition to hauling doughnuts and girls across Austria. What a transition.”
As part of morale building efforts, the Red Cross sent out the ladies, affectionately known as “Doughnut Dollies,” to visit the soldiers and pass out doughnuts and coffee.
“After hauling ammunition and a gun crew, the girls were the safest thing I ever transported,” Earl laughed. “I was the envy of our regiment. I never stopped getting razzed for that.”
Earl hauled his cargo for roughly two months through July and August before being transferred to Camp Lucky Strike near Paris.
Shortly after, he was transported home from England to New York City on the RMS Aquitania.
After being discharged in 1946, Earl returned to Columbus.
He retired to National Church Residences Bristol Village in Waverly in 2000.