PFC Edward L. McGehee, 29th Infantry Division

Discussion in 'Veteran Accounts' started by A-58, Oct 26, 2018.

  1. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member

    I met Mr. McGehee years ago when I first moved to Magnolia Woods area of south Baton Rouge. It is a quiet street, and I used to run a good deal before making the transition to just walking. After several years, I got to know many residents by face only, usually just waving at them or stopping to exchange pleasantries and a few words. Mr. McGehee lived about half a mile down the street from me. I'd see him in working in the yard, or at the neighborhood supermarket. Some days when he was riding in his car he'd stop and shoot the breeze a bit when I was taking my walks during the day. We'd make small talk, and one day he mentioned something about when he was in the Army. Said that he wished he could walk as much as I do, but can't anymore. I asked him about it, and he was a bit hesitant at first, but as time went on he'd open up about his experiences. A few months ago I asked for permission to interview him, and at first he said no, then he said he'd have to think about it for awhile. He asked why I was so interested in what he did in the Army, since he thought that it was of little consequence to others. After all, he said that he'd only spent 17 days on the line before getting the Million Dollar Wound. I had to know what he did now, and kept after him. Last week he finally gave in. I met with him at his house on October 19, and we sat in the front parlor while I took notes on his story. He was not sure of some of the dates or places things happened, so we approximated a bit.

    At first Mr. McGehee spoke of the weather and how things were going in the neighborhood. I then opened things up by asking him to tell me about his Army experience during the war and a little background on his life.

    Here goes. Mr. Edward L. McGehee was born on January 26, 1925 in his grandfathers house in Plains, Louisiana and delivered by the local country doctor. The country doctor that delivered him was his own grandfather. Plains is still an unincorporated, very rural area just west of the town of Zachary, Louisiana in case anyone feels like looking the place up on the map. It consists mainly of small farms, forested areas, and old large houses that used to be part of bigger plantations built after the American Civil War. There are many pecan orchards there as well as hay fields. During the summer and early fall before I went into the Army, I bailed hay there with friends for pocket money. There are also a lot of up-scale homes now there. Many of the older structures in the area were damaged, abandoned or torn down during the Siege of Port Hudson. Plains was the site of the Battle of Plains Store in May of 1863. It was a small affair by Civil War standards, with about a hundred killed on each side. Confederate forces there were fighting a delaying action while other units were falling back to the defenses of Port Hudson in an attempt to hold onto a section of the Mississippi River. Port Hudson was the southernmost part of the river that the Confederacy held. The northern point was up at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Enough of the American Civil War, onto WW2 now.
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  2. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member

    While he was in a senior at Zachary High School, Mr. McGehee was drafted. He was not sure of the date, but it was shortly before he graduated. He and some of the other boys that was drafted with him got graduated in the office, then off to the induction center in New Orleans they went. This was in the spring of 1943. The US was in full swing gearing up for the war effort, and plucking boys out of school was not beneath Uncle Sam. After his initial induction and processing, he was given a week's leave back home. From there he went to Camp, Beauregard, La for less than a month. There he and others were given their initial issue of gear and started the basics of training like PT, marching, learning the left from right, saluting, rank structure, picking up trash, stuff like that. Orders came in for Camp Roberts, California. They loaded onto a train headed west, stopping along the way to pick up others en route to Camp Roberts as well. He said that they stopped near Dallas, Texas to pick up a lot of men. I asked if it was Camp Jim Bowie. He said no, that it was a train station in a little town, and they weren't allowed off the train during the stop. Once at Camp Roberts, proper basic training began in earnest. Since Mr. McGehee was a coronet player in the band at Zachary High School, the Army decided that he would receive training as a bugler in addition to his being trained on heavy weapons. The heavy weapon in question was the water cooled 30. Never saw one again after leaving for the ETO. He also was trained in message center procedures, mostly the art of being a messenger/runner in case radio commo was down or knocked out. Sometime later he was pulled from his company and was assigned to the permanent party as one of the camp buglers for Camp Roberts. After about "a year of so" of mundane bugling duties, he received orders for somewhere on the east coast to prep for overseas assignment. He turned in his bugle at Camp Roberts and drew another week's leave to go home. Never saw a bugle again. He said that he wasn't a very good bugler anyway, and didn't like it much because he had to get up earlier than everyone else so he could wake them up.

    Upon completion of his leave, his parents drove him to New Orleans so they could spend more time together. He loaded up on another train and ended up in Ft. Meade, Maryland for awhile, then onto Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts to await shipment to the ETO. They trained constantly at both places he said, not much down time was had. Lots of weapons training was given, and he was issued an M-1 Garand. His personal preference was for the Tommy Gun, but it was not to be. He never fired one to his dismay, but wanted one anyway. Finally they loaded up on the USS West Point, a pre-war civilian liner that was called the SS America before it was commandeered by the Navy. Maybe it was operated the US Merchant Marine, he wasn't exactly sure. They shipped out of Boston harbor, and zig-zagged across the Atlantic to avoid u-boats. He was quartered on the 4th deck (from the top), and said that they were packed in there like sardines. They crossed the Atlantic in about a week, good weather and smooth sailing all the way. Said he and others was very worried about getting sunk by a u-boat and was happy to get to England.

    They landed at Southampton sometime after D-Day. Another train ride took them to the other (eastern) side of England, but he wasn't sure exactly where. From wherever they were, they then boarded a small boat for France. It was a cattle boat pre-war that was pressed into service and converted into a troop carrier. They off loaded at Omaha Beach sometime in September 1944. Mr. McGehee said that the beach area and adjacent waters were still clogged with battle debris. They saw bunker systems and other emplacements both facing the beach and inland that were knocked out in the fighting. That was the extent of their sight-seeing he said, what they saw marching inland and after they loaded up on deuce and a half's while they continued east, then onto trains, then back into trucks to the replacement depot. He mentioned that he saw only one officer with their group of replacements. The rest were flown in to the depot. He and all the others were not assigned to any unit at this point. All of them were to be assigned individually as casualty replacements. The trucks they were riding on were of the Red Ball Express type. One night one of the trucks ahead of them ran off the road into a river, drowning 19 men including the driver and assistant driver. Some of the drowned men he knew, most he didn't. This incident took place somewhere in Belgium. They off loaded and marched to the replacement depot. On the way there the Germans greeted them with an artillery barrage, but no one was hit. They arrived at the depot near Bardenberg, Germany to the north of the heavy fighting in and around Aachen. He said that it was hilly country, and off in the distance he could see US and German troops locked in combat. Once he checked into the replacement center, he and some of his friends were assigned to the 29th Infantry Division. He couldn't remember the regiment he was assigned to, but in his company there were no more original members that stormed ashore on D-Day. The originals were in the hospital, POW camps or cemeteries. He was just issued an M-1 carbine and all the grenades and bullets he could carry. He had nothing more than that and what he was wearing when he got there. All their baggage was lost en route.

    Upon being assigned to the company, an NCO asked Mr. McGehee if he knew how to fire a bazooka. He said that he not only did he not know how to operate one, he never even held one. He was given a bazooka and one round to train on. Sarge told him to shoot at that tree in the distance, so he did. Missed by a mile he said. Congrats said the sarge, you're the new company bazookaman. This is your ammo bearer here as he pointed to another green replacement carrying a sack of rockets . After training on the bazooka, they moved out on an assault. They went forward in a skirmish line across an open area, immediately drawing artillery fire. The open area sloped down into a small village, and as they charged forward they saw Germans pouring into the far side of the town in half tracks. American artillery began to hit the Germans as they dismounted from the tracks. The German artillery fire was so heavy by now, and the German infantrymen were moving forward towards them in large numbers, with guns blazing. Mr. McGehee took a knee and fired his bazooka without aiming in a rush. Said that he doubted that he hit anything, and hollered at his ammo bearer for more rockets. The ammo bearer was killed sometime during the assault. During the assault, he saw an artillery round hit about 10 feet from him. It disappeared into the ground without exploding. Then he said that they got buzzed by a Messerschmidt on a strafing run. With no side arm and no more rockets to fire, Mr. McGehee said that it didn't take long to figure out that the Germans were determined to get the best of him and that he'd better high step it back to where they started from. He threw down the bazooka and never saw it or his ammo bearer again. The Germans retook the village, but then pulled out shortly afterwards.

    For the next week or so he and his unit were in defensive positions, getting shelled occasionally and probed by German patrols. They went out on patrols too, but they were without much consequence as best as he remembers. He had developed trench foot by now. The weather had turned, and it rained a lot on them. Mud and cold water filled their holes and bunkers. Said that they had rubber boots, but the water in their holes was higher than the tops of their rubber boots. So much for staying dry. No dry socks either. Wouldn't do any good anyway. They'd just get soaked like everything else he said.

    While in defensive positions, some of the new replacements (newer than him) were Mexicans, Mexican nationals that enlisted in the US Army after Mexico entered the war. He said that they were either very brave or very crazy. One day while being pummeled by German artillery, he speculated that it must've been 88s since they were being hit so fast. During the barrage, the American troops hit the ground and flattened out, but the Mexicans all took a knee and faced forward, guns at the ready, just in case.

    Later on he remembered walking through a field that had been planted with onions. Frequent artillery fire had plowed it up good, and the aroma of the onions was strong. They came to a halt, and his NCO pulled him and 3 others out of the line to locate and take out a machine gun position up ahead. He was ashamed to say that 2 of the men flat out refused to carry out the order, so others were detailed to help out. He didn't remember what came of them. One of the "refusers" was a good friend who was with him from the "old days" at Camp Roberts, and he was surprised to see him act like that since he was a model soldier all along or so he thought. Mr. McGehee mentioned his name, but asked me not to include it in the story. I nodded and scratched it out real good. As they moved to where the machine gun position was thought to be, they drew fire. He was hit in the left upper thigh, and down he went. This was the fabled Million Dollar Wound he mentioned to me before, and also this was his 17th day on the line. A short but very eventful war for him. The wound still bothers him to this day, but you'd never know it by the way he works his yard.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2018
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  3. A-58

    A-58 Not so senior Member

    Transported to an Army hospital in Lieges, Belgium after receiving first aid treatment at the battalion aid station, he stayed there for a week. Then he was moved to a tent hospital somewhere in France he speculates. Soon after he left the hospital in Lieges, it was hit by V-2 rockets. Not the little ones he said, the big ones. Got it. Two weeks in tent city, then to England and safety via C-47. Then after a week or so it was back to the good ole USA in a Liberty ship. He did not remember the name of the ship, but said that it was a very difficult crossing. It stormed all the way back stateside. Up and down big waves and heavy seas, their convoy diverted to a more southerly route towards the Carolinas, then up the coast to Boston. A long train ride to Camp Kit Carson, Colorado was next. By now he said that he was finally able to stand on his feet and walk around. Everyone on the train were wounded men from the ETO. VE Day came while he was at the hospital at Camp Carson. Said that he had a lot of fun there with all the USO sponsored dances. The local girls flooded in from Colorado Springs, the biggest town near the camp. He was later sent home for one week's leave. Upon his return to camp, he was medically discharged from the Army sometime in the summer of 1945.

    Mr. McGehee had 2 brothers in the service during the war. One brother was an MP in the ETO and the other was an aircraft mechanic in the AAF in the PTO. Both made it home in one piece. He had a close uncle in the Marine Corps that saw heavy action at Guadalcanal. Sent word home to the family to not let anyone else from home join the Marine Corps at all costs. Apparently he did not have a good time there. His youngest brother was born in 1945. Went to Vietnam in the Marine Corps, but made it home OK too.

    Once back home, he enrolled at LSU the following fall (1945). Went to school on the GI Bill, tried his hand at pre-med but flunked out. He sort of indicated that he had too much fun and partied a lot, but the official story was that once he got started, he found that the medical field wasn't for him. I figured that he spent enough time in a hospital environment already and lost interest in the whole deal. Enough was enough. Before he cleared out of LSU, one of his professors recommended that he should look into a commercial art school in New Orleans. The prof had a friend there, and Mr. McGehee showed some artistic promise somewhere along the line before being shown the door at LSU. He signed up for and completed the 80 week commercial artist course. Said that he drew ads for newspapers and such for about a year, and met his wife during his time there. Growing tired of drawing and doodling, he quit and got hired on at the big Standard Oil Refinery in Baton Rouge. Stayed there 8 years before going to work for the Louisiana Geological Survey as a draftsman. Did 25 years there before retiring in 1987. Built his current house in 1956, and lived there ever since. His wife designed it, he drew it out.

    So ends the stateside training description and combat chronicle of PFC Edward L. McGehee, 29th Infantry Division, US Army, Bronze Star, CIB, Purple Heart.

    I enjoyed interviewing Mr. McGehee a great deal. He said that he still couldn't understand why I or anyone else thought that his story was worth telling since he only spent 17 days on the line and didn't do much. He said that I'm one of the few people he's discussed his wartime experiences with, and I was the person who he spoke the most about it to, which is fact that I am very proud of. I told him that his story was worth a lot to the people who care about what he did, and respect the sacrifices he and others made during that war. At first he asked if I was writing a book, because he didn't think that he'd have enough to say to fill up a book. I explained to him that I was going to "publish" his story on the WW2F website that I belong to. He had no earthly idea what I was talking about since he never made the transition to computers, ATMs, flat screen TVs, smart phones, key less entry car doors or any of the other new fangled inventions that we have now. I likened the forum to a "TV channel" that was a WW2 discussion site. He just stared at me and nodded. I knew that he had no idea what I was talking about. I parted after saying that if he remembered anything else, he could call me and I'd be more than happy to update his story. He said that I had just about all of it. And to remember to please not mention the name of his buddy that refused to go with him on the mission to take out the machine gun position. Got it.

    Thank you very much Mr. McGehee. Hope to see and talk to you many more times in the future.
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