Saturday, October 31, 2009

A Tank Crewman in the 95th Bomb Group

Walter Stitt's notation to me on this photo reads: "This is what a potential tank gunner looks like in Basic Training at 18 years old. Camp Polk, LA 1943". Stitt went on to fight in some of the intense tank battles in Germany in 1944-45, losing two tanks and parts of two crews before his injuries took him to the 95th Bomb Group. (Walter Stitt photo)

One of my favorite interviews this past year was with a gentleman named Walter Stitt, a retired Lutheran pastor who lives in South Bend, Indiana. Stitt's journey to the 95th Bomb Group is a strange and fascinating one.

Stitt arrived in England on D-Day, and landed on Omaha Beach two weeks later. He was assigned to a tank crew in the U.S. 3rd Armored Division as a loader shortly thereafter. In early September, Stitt's tank was one of the first to enter Germany, and on September 19, his tank was hit by German shell, killing the tank commander and a gunner. Stitt was wounded in the legs but patched up and assigned to a new crew.

In November, his new tank hit a mine in a minefield, destroying the tank but luckily not killing its crew. Assigned to a new tank, the crew forged on into Germany, and participated in the Battle of the Bulge.

On January 6, Stitt's tank was hit by a Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon, killing the tank commander and wounding Stitt in the head. He was shipped to a hospital, where he recuperated and returned to combat yet again. This time, however, he became sick and was evacuated to a hospital in Bristol, England.

At this point, Stitt was given a status of 'limited service' and sent to the 95th Bomb Group at Horham. His original job was that of an Armorer and bomb-loader. However, he could not lift his arm above his shoulder without dislocating it. The 95th needed to find something else for him to do.

"They sent me to work in the PX. Wonderful! Any time I had money I went to London. They didn't really need me in the PX." In fact, Stitt was in London on VE Day. "After the flyers and the support troops started to go home, I was put in charge of the Enlisted Men's Beer Hall. A job to die for!"

Stitt returned to the States and became a Lutheran pastor, and retired in 1992. He has visited the base at Horham several times since the war.

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