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Date processed: July 2005
NARRATOR: Francis M. Meeker
BIOGRAPHY: Francis Marion Meeker lives
Dothan, Alabama. He was born on 3/28/1912 in Bonifay, Florida and his race is a
white male. He worked as a mailman in Miami Florida for Pan-American airlines
until he was drafted into the army during World War II. He served in the Sixth
Armored Division from March 18, 1942 to September 29, 1945 where his highest
rank was Sergeant. He was wounded during his service but was never a prisoner of
war. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
SPOUSE: Elsie Meeker
INTERVIEWER: Dr. Martin T. Olliff, Director, The Wiregrass Archives
OF INTERVIEW: 8-15-2003
PLACE: Meeker Residence, Dothan, AL
INDEXER: Allen Adams
OF INDEX: 6-10-2005
GENERAL TOPICS: This interview included
information about Mr. Meeker’s involvement in World War II specifically his
involvement with the Sixth Armored Division of the American forces through
France, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Germany.
Introduction Interviewer Martin T. Olliff; Narrator Mr. Meeker with his wife Elsie present in the room at 9:45 in the morning.
Sixth Armored Division Meeker landed in Normandy in mid- July at Omaha beach. He had to wait until the army core of engineers shoved down the dirt so the Sixth Armored Division could go up. He was a corporal and his duties were radio operator and tank gunner. With him was a driver and assistant driver. They had a .30 caliber and .50 caliber machine gun with a butterfly trigger. They also had an anti aircraft gun which was easy to fire. It had phosphorus in every sixth bullet so they could trace the bullets.
Germans come over the line They would come over but would be quickly shot down by the American fire power.
Sherman Tank It was the largest tank in the American forces and had a gun size of 75-76 mm.
Did you have to load shots No because there was a special man for the job.
Did you have to handle the spent brass If you loaded the shell you had to unload it too. Spent brass went down into the bottom of the tank. When they got tired of hearing it rattle they throw the spent brass out.
Tank Interior/ Five people in the tank in those days now there are only three people and the tanks have a 125 mm gun.
German tanks and guns They had 88mm guns with which Americans could not compete. He was afraid of the German guns because the shells would go right through an American tank.
German attack on his tank 88mm gun shell hit the top of his tank turret and cracked it all the way across. It did not kill them, but they had to take the tank back and get another one.
His feelings on the attack on his tank His first reaction was to shoot his gun back at them. He shot from his 75mm gun was not as powerful as the German 88mm.
Strategy of American tanks on German Tanks The Sixth Armored division tried to hunt down German tanks as an offensive move. They would locate the German tanks after the German tanks had shot at the tank. Then the Americans would fire at the German tanks.
Weak points of the German tanks On the side or immediately beside the big gun were the weak points. It was hard to hit it from 3,000 yards away.
Accuracy of his shots He was an accurate shot.
His feelings on battling the enemy He was scared everyday in warfare. They would go three hard days of fighting then stop and get supplies.
Conversations with men about battles They would get objects off of dead German soldiers as trophies of war.
Looking at a map “Campaign of Super Sixth Armored Division” The journey plotted on the map measuring 13” wide by three feet long. They went through northern France into Germany. Normandy at top and through Or lean to Germany.
Story of the Sixth Armored Division’s journey From Normandy they took a paved road to Breast with little opposition because no one was there.
Number of tanks in Division About 12 to 17 would be a full company but he did know how many was in division. He was in “D” company of the Division.
Continuing story of Sixth Armored Division Journey In Brest the Germans gave up in three hours. They then pushed on to Or lean across France where the bad fighting started. They saw conveys of horses pulling trucks. The Germans took everything France that they could take. Not much fire power there from the Germans so they went after the Germans to the east to Or lean.
Trip to get to the Battle of Bulge He was in Central France on Christmas morning where they got up at 4 o’ clock in the morning and had dinner. He was told they had to go to Bastogne which was 100 miles away. They went all day and night and into the next day to get to Bastogne. About 12 o’clock they got to the a hill the tanks could not climb, so they went to get some hay out a farm house to go on the ice so the tank could get traction. It was very cold that night.
In Bastogne There was a lot of artillery there and the 101st airborne were down in fox holes. One solider told his company he glad to see them because he had only three rounds of ammunition left in his gun. It was a big valley with large hills around Bastogne. His commander got shot there in the head which Mr. Meeker saw first hand. Mr. Meeker took him to the medics and his commander said that he saved his life. His commander went on to live for 20 more years.
Mrs. Meeker speaking The mother of the commander of Mr. Meeker would send letters to him thanking him for years. Meeker and his commander would correspond to each other frequently.
Mr. Meeker’s commander’s name Brian McClain who, they believe, lived in Ohio.
Continued of Bastogne His commander was removed from battle after being shot and Meeker was then promoted to tank commander. He had gotten a field promotion to Sergeant.
Field promotions Permanent positions that are given to soldiers.
Actions after becoming tank commander He was told he had to go 300 yards into the front lines. He said they lost 11 tanks. It then went into night were he had to stand guard outside. The next morning the Germans came out of the buildings and surrendered as POWS.
His assignment the night before the Germans surrendered He was to stand guard outside the tank.
Worst battle It was at Bastogne the worst fighting was seen before Germans surrendered.
Bronze star He got it on June 5, 1945 for the battle in Bastogne six months earlier. He was the only one to stay out in the cold and the next morning the Germans surrendered to his lieutenant.
Tank battle strategy German tanks would fire and his tank would fire back. They could not see their enemy until they fired their guns.
Night he stood guard It was a peaceful night after the hard battle.
The valor of a man It takes courage to face the bullets, so some would not want to fight so they would go to the medics.
After Bastogne The battle was about over so he had to turn in his tank. He turned it in a little while after the end of the battle
His Purple Heart In an airburst shot, shrapnel flew out and got him as he was getting into the tank. One piece went in his scalp, one in the neck and one on the shoulder, but the last two only cut him. He went on wounded and captured about 12 Germans who put him on their jeep and took him to the first aid tent. He was in the hospital for 30 days and had to wait at camp until he was well enough to go back
After Bastogne They moved into Germany and fought to Berlin
At Berlin They meet Polish and Russian soldiers at that time and it was a peaceful movement.
Movement into Germany In Germany there was a lot of German firepower but soon there would be none at all.
German landscape The countryside was torn to pieces.
German people (civilian) The German people were good people and they would wash the American soldier’s clothes. They were happy to see Americans because they saw the end was near.
Liberation of Buchenwald They were the first Americans there so after the German threat was gone they let the prisoners out. They all looked like skin and bones. They were contained in an extermination camp. After they got there 500 to 1,000 people were dying daily from disease. They would help and check the people out and show them how to get home. The people were from all over the countryside. The people wanted to get on the army transport bus to get away from the camp. This happened in 1945 during warmer weather.
People in countryside started moving around Everybody stayed in their place except the people in the concentration camp.
Demobilization and return to U.S. He was happy to see it and he was one of the first to get out.
Turning in tank He drove it 100 miles to a place to turn it in Germany. He got on a truck to La Havre where he boarded a ship back to America. During the journey a big storm came up on the ocean and scared him. The ship was one the Liberty Ships used for transportation.
Men from the Sixth who got out Several of them got out but not many. General Patton gave them a speech before they left England at South Hampton. He said 20 to 30% are going back to America. Meeker did not like Patton, but respected him. [This is believed to have happened before they left England for Normandy. This memory was triggered by an emotional response to a later description of the end of the war.
Trying to get Germans to surrender prior to battle The Americans would take a white flag to the Germans, but the Germans would not surrender because they had to fight, too.
Civilians They were happy to see American soldiers. A woman brought him some wine in his canteen because she was happy. If you saw civilians there would be no soldiers but if there were no civilians you were going to have to fight.
Time to take a village Meeker’s unit would line the tanks outside of a village and give the Germans two hours to surrender and let civilians out. After the two hours were up the Americans would go in and take the village. They would fire two round at the village and then move in. The Germans would usually not surrender until there was a small battle. The American tankers would shoot the .30 caliber machine guns at the Germans. He had a barrel burn out during the middle of the battle. It took him only a few minutes to change it
Before the war He worked at Pan Am in Miami before the war as a mailman. He worked there 7 years before he was drafted into the Army.
Basic training He was sent to Camp Chaffee in Arkansas for his basic training.
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