Logo of the 23rd Infantry Regiment

Clem Turpin
During World War 2

by Karin Turpin

  This is a war story with details of violence. It is not suitable for young children.

Note: Clement Turpin served in the U.S. Army's 2nd Infantry Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment during World War II. This is his true story- written by his daughter.

This story shared with you by
Kraig J. Rice

"When I enlisted, I requested the Coast Artillery, but after basic training in Fort Mead, Maryland, the men were separated and went where the Army needed them. I had seen a Sergeant wearing an Indian Head insignia patch and I thought, "That's the outfit for me!". Sure enough, that's where they sent me- the 2nd Infantry Division. Because of its shoulder patch and the Indian on it, we were later referred to as the "Barbarians" or in German "Der Barbaris" because of the way we fought. (All through France, our main opponents were the German 3rd Parachute Division, one of their best).

I was sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and then on to Dodd Field, an old Air Force base where they trained flyers in WWI. Here we trained for five weeks in mud that stuck like glue. In the summer, we ran maneuvers to Louisiana, training in swamps. We received Ranger training which gave us excellent preparation for combat. We learned Judo, Karate, map reading, climbing, how to disarm mines, bayonet, airborne training, how to use all kinds of weapons, cross rivers, make rafts, and all phases of infantry training. Upon completion, we received a skull on a black insignia patch for this ranger training. (A lot of guys picked for this special training decided not to wear this patch because it attracted challenges to fight. I myself sent it home- it is a rare patch I've been told.)

Afterward, we were sent to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, where we were trained to ski and operate in the snow and underwent a series of special training for winter time exclusively. We assumed we were going to be sent to Norway on a special mission, but later they put us in line like regular soldiers. (The Norwegians themselves destroyed an important site to the occupying Germans).

In early October of 1943, we were shipped overseas in a large convoy. Years later I read that ten ships in the convoy were sunk on the way to Europe. We stopped at Glasgow, Scotland, where some troops were taken off and the rest of us were taken to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where we stayed for eight months in a British army camp. In May of 1944, we were sent to Swansea, Wales, to another camp right by the docks where every day we practiced getting on and off the ship. Then one night they told us that we were going to see what it was like sleeping on the ship. Well, in the night we felt the ship moving and we woke up wondering what was going on. Everyone was excited as we were issued invasion currency, on the night of June 5th, when they told us we were headed for the invasion of France.

We were only one of thousands of ships going in on the morning of the invasion. On my troop transport, I had ringside seat for the invasion, watching planes going in overhead, big bombers, small fighter planes, watching dogfights in the sky, ships going in and wondering when it was going to be our turn. I watched the battleship "Texas", nearby, firing all day long, blasting the shore and targets further inland. The Germans fired back and huge geysers of water would shoot up in the air.

About 200 of our engineers went in that morning. I don't know if we were supposed to go in the first day or not, but finally at 3:00 a.m. the next morning, they got us all together and we climbed down a cargo net to a Landing Craft Infantry. It went in as far as it could, then shot out its ramp. With full gear, we jumped into chest high waters and headed toward the shore as it started to turn daylight. Occasionally a man would step into a shell hole and disappear beneath the waves. There was sporadic fire. Here and there were underwater obstacles. We could see bodies floating around, but we just kept on going. I was lugging a 21-pound Browning Automatic rifle with a clip of 20 rounds that would be gone in one or two blasts. We passed trucks and tanks stalled in the water. We were like mechanical men as we headed in 300 feet to shore. I don't know if it was a stroke of luck or a diversionary movement, but the Germans weren't heavily engaged that moment in defending the point where we landed on Omaha Beach. Our job was to expand the beachhead and we had a clear corridor to go through troops that were stalled on shore. There were obstacles all around, angle irons and damaged equipment. We heard the firing, but it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. We got in a line and went right in up the beach to a big field just over the top of a bluff where a whole battalion stopped there to reorganize their units. We immediately dug slit trenches for protection out in the open, when I saw a solder running, yelling "Gas! Gas!". We had gas masks, but he was out of his mind. There was no gas.

We spent the night there, dug in at the edge of a forest, and during the night, the enemy flew over and dropped bombs all around us that shook the earth. The next morning we proceeded forward into the hedgerows, which were terrible. These were small farming lots of an acre or so, surrounded by stone walls, held thick with overgrown vegetation. All the Germans had to do was poke their weapons through and let you have it, but you couldn't see them behind these walls. We took a lot of casualties here and our tanks couldn't plow through. They were gunning us down. If you were exposed, bang, you got hit. We used the phones on the back of the tanks to tell the crew inside where to fire. We'd take one field, then move to the next, and went all through Normandy like that. It was like taking one fort at a time.

At one point they sent me and a young kid to act as an outpost in front of the rest of the company and if it was clear, we'd signal for the company to move up. At night we dug in near a wall, exhausted from going through bush all day long. The next thing I knew, it was dawn and the Germans were right there. All of a sudden, one of them hung over our hole and fired about 50 rounds with his machine gun straight down at us. Dust flew up all around and we jumped out and ran towards our line (if he had made a sweeping motion with that gun, we would have been dead instantly). As I was running for a break in the hedgerow, their tank fired low and the shell made a ridge as it skidded across the ground before it exploded into a tree. As I lifted my leg to jump the barbed wire I could feel the projectile swoosh right between my legs. How lucky can you get?

Inside of three days, we had gone inland about 15 miles, field to field. We kept progressing, but we took heavy casualties. We stopped at Hill #192, the highest point in Normandy. This high ground was heavily defended and the Germans employed all weapons against us, and from this vantage point they could see all movement in the harbor taking place and direct their fire. We attacked this hill many times, but were driven back. Finally our artillery came in to support us with a rolling barrage and we followed it right up the hill. Lieutenant General Leslie McNair, head of the ground forces, was observing the infantry/air corps coordination when a wave of U.S. bombers dropped their bombs too short into our lines and he was killed. I was only about 100 yards away from him when it happened.

Halfway up, a machine-gun fired at us from a few feet away. I hit the ground and could feel the bullets going between me and the dirt and shattering my cartridge belt. We got up and charged the hill again. I looked around and saw an enemy anti-tank gun and a hole nearby. I fired into it and heard screams. The crew, three German paratroopers, crawled out and surrendered. I captured their anti-tank gun and took them prisoner. Walking them down the hill, I told one of the men (by this time I was squad leader) to take them the rest of the way to Battalion stockade. He was gone only about five minutes when he returned. I knew it was much further than that. Who knows what he did with those prisoners. They had been trying to break our communication wire stretched along the ground with their feet. I had fired at their boots to make them stop when I had them, so who knows what happened after he took them.

After capturing the anti-tank gun, I turned it around and fired it five times into the German lines. We got to the top of #192 and our Captain told me, "Turp, take your squad to the next hill, keep in contact by radio, I'll watch you through binoculars." It was exhausting encouraging the men to move through positions, advancing through the enemy fire and in three months time, our company suffered 750 casualties. One time in the woods, I spotted a German scout. He was so close, I could have touched him, but I told my men to stay quiet. Sure enough, he returned to his squad, be we had set up two BARs and wiped them out when they came back. The 2nd Division was in skirmish after skirmish and that's how we made our way across France.

We reached Brest, France, an important submarine port for the Germans. One night we set up a position and were camouflaged behind some trees and brush when SS troops came running through the woods screaming and shouting like a huge wave of fanatical wolves. They stormed through the forest and we didn't budge an inch or even breathe as they ran right past us. We waited and later they came back through, but they didn't detect us. Our orders were to capture the city and I was wounded here for the first time. We were on a hill firing into the enemy position. Our new Lieutenant stepped on a mine, and the explosion took his leg off. He had only been in combat for 15 minutes. We advanced to a wall and the Germans were on the other side of it. I was told to take my squad 100 yards out to meet another squad. We came upon another enemy position and I yelled out in German, "Come out with your hands in the air" and 30 Germans surrendered. As we went further down, Germans fired on us and I was hit by a wood-tipped bullet which grazed my face and the splinters entered my temple. I didn't know it until one of the men said, "Hey Turp, you're hit!"

Many German submarines were based here, it was a huge base and had to be captured. We took 31,000 prisoners here. Although there were two other American Divisions involved to assist us in the capture, the German General (General Ramke) would only surrender to the 2nd Division - a Division he deemed worthy to take his capture. He swore to Hitler that he would hold this naval base for 3 months- we took it in one month of fighting.

By October we were taken in box cars out to the Seigfried Line. Upon entering Germany (after our capture of Brest, France), we passed through Paris in 40 and 8 box cars. The 2nd Division normally covered a front of five miles. Here we were thinly spread out covering a 25 mile front. I remember looking through my binoculars and seeing the bodies of the 28th Division ahead of us where they got slaughtered, and were piled up like logs. It was such a sad sight. We were spread so thin that the German patrols would go right through us and capture men behind us at times. There was a lot of artillery/mortar action back and forth and in early December they took us out of the line and replaced us with a new division, green troops, that had just come from the States. The Germans knew they were green and hit them hard during Hitler's big drive through the Ardennes (The Battle of the Bulge).

"We had no food, no extra ammunition, no radio for communication, nothing!" When we first came to the Siegfried Line, our engineers captured 21 pill boxes- a formidable feat. I remember spending a few nights here, before moving to other parts. The 2nd Division was thinly spread out here. We were covering over 25 miles of front. Normally, a Division covers 5 miles. I remember one time they sent me and my squad to put out mines, before our front, in case of an armored attack. We placed the mines in the snow about a foot deep, pulled out the pins to arm them, then we had to draw a map, an "overlay" they called it, so in the future they would know where the mines were in case they wanted to remove them. We later moved on, and I don't know whatever happened to these mines. We were always cold in the winter, we were never allowed to make any fires for warmth, the smoke would give away our positions, so we just froze. One day on the front lines felt like an eternity, especially when you were there six months or more, to see all those casualties and say to yourself "maybe tomorrow I will get killed", and you just keep on going like that...

We were in a drive going through the Seigfried Line headed for the Roer River Dam. At the same time (December 16), the Germans attacked the positions we had formerly occupied. We were called by radio and had to stop, turn around, come back and make a line in front of the German's armored division. The German attack in Belgium failed because of the 2nd Division. Years later, the German general Manteuffel said that one of the reasons the German attack in the Ardennes failed was that they, "Ran their heads against a stone wall in the Monschau forest" (against the 2nd Division). We did our job well. We moved a lot through Belgium, plugging holes where the Germans were breaking through. We were constantly moving, shifting, wherever they needed us.

On January 16, 1945, our regiment was to make an attack in the Ondenval-Inveldingen Pass and secure a valley for the whole corps to pass through. On the day of the attack, they put my company in a wheatfield unprotected. At daylight, the Germans saw us there and started dropping mortars. We were pinned down by artillery and a machine gun set up in a farmhouse window started mowing us down. It was bitter cold and we were laying in snow about a foot and a half deep, trying to dig holes to get into for cover. A mortar shell hit near one of our guys and he just shook the dirt off. Then a second one came in right in the same place and took his leg off. I remember his screams - we couldn't do a thing. We had a lot of other casualties. Finally, tanks with plows came in to clear the road ahead so our tanks could come in and support us. A medic came up there and asked the sergeant, "Where are your casualties?" The Platoon Sergeant, my best friend, was bending on one knee to point when he was shot through the forehead and fell dead in the snow.

I was the Platoon guide and next in line for the job, so I took over. When our tanks started firing, the Germans moved back. By nightfall we came to the edge of a forest and it began to snow heavily. We went up the side of a hill along the trees' edgeline. We found prepared positions and one huge hole that an entire platoon could use to take cover. We occupied that position that night and we were freezing. We were trained not to make fires, not even for warmth, which would give away your position. We had no food, no extra ammunition, no radio for communication, nothing! We were on top of this hill by ourselves.

The next morning, we discovered that our man on outpost had been killed by a treeburst. So the Lieutenant and I went on a short reconnaissance and had gotten a few hundred feet when I saw three soldiers in white camouflage. I said, "Lieutenant, the Germans..." He looked and said, "That's F Company." I said, "We don't wear those black belts." So I took aim, shot one down, and a firefight started. There were no more than 30 of us with no replacements, and we were freezing to the point where we didn't care if we lived or died.

It was hard to see where the Germans were, so I kept yelling to the men, "Fire low! Fire low! Fire at the base of the trees where you think they're hiding!" Then we heard this roar getting louder and louder and it was what a foot soldier fears most - a tank. As it got closer and closer, we realized that it was a Tiger tank. The tall pine trees began to bend and break under its weight and I could see its muzzle coming right at us. It looked like a monster coming through the woods, crushing the pines it its way. Then the turret turned and aimed in our direction and BOOM! It fired at us. Some of our men got up and ran. I hollered, "Stay here and fight!" I picked up rocks and threw them at the foxholes to rally the men to fire their weapons. Our gunner had run away so one of my squad leaders and I jumped into a hole where the machine gun was. He fired away at the tank, but it did nothing. The tank kept firing and it dawned on us that we were all going to be killed if somebody didn't do something! I crawled through the woods to get our bazooka. I had been trained on the bazooka, but had never fired it with live ammunition. I looked out of the hole after he fired to see where his gun was aiming. After it fired, I got out of the hole on one knee and from behind a knocked-down limb, fired at the tank. It hit and just bounced off. I jumped back in the hole and it fired again. I got out and fired another round. I must have hit it about ten times, but I couldn't do any damage. Then out of the corner of my eye I caught movement to the side. I was on my knee ready to shoot at the tank when I whirled around with my bazooka and saw three Germans about 50 feet away. I took aim at a tree next to them and fired. The round blew the tree apart and killed them. If I had missed, they would have killed me. We were shocked when the tank backed off and retreated with its troops. When things quieted down, we got out of our holes and started counting bodies. We had lost three men, the Germans 37.

For this action, Turpin was awarded the silver Star by General Courtney Hodges. The citation reads as follows: "When an enemy tank began firing pointblank into the foxholes, Sergeant Turpin secured a rocket launcher and while subject to intense small arms fire, crawled through the dense woods to within 50 yds. of his target, firing his weapon until the tank was forced to withdraw. This action allowed the men to concentrate their fire upon the enemy infantry to their front. Then, Sergeant Turpin, at a range of 20 yards, killed three enemy infantrymen with the rocket launcher. This bold initiative and gallant action were an important factor in repelling the enemy drive."

So we stopped the tank, we stopped their attack, and we held our position. We carried our dead down to the road so their bodies would be found.

In March, we came upon the Ludendorf Bridge. We crossed the Rhine here by barge. We continued into Germany and fought through different towns. The last one I was in was Gottingen. We were riding on tanks in pursuit of the retreating German Army. We came upon a bridge here that wasn't defended by the enemy. I felt it was safe, so I proceeded across the bridge and could hear talking halfway across. I was by myself when I leaned over the side and spotted three Germans getting ready to blow up the bridge. They were about to set off an aerial bomb electronically with a generator. I hollered at them to surrender, they came out and I took them prisoner. I jumped back on the tank and we now proceeded across the bridge. On the other side was an airfield with 15 fighter planes just sitting there. I asked one of the Germans there, "Was ist los mit der Deutschen Luftwaffe?" (What's the matter with the German Airforce?). He replied, "Nichts benzene" (no fuel). As we continued through Gottingen, we heard there were over 7,000 wounded enemy within the city. We passed a building with a high barbed-wire fence around it. Outside was an armed member of the Volksturm (local guard). I told him to get out of my way and when we went inside there were 150-200 women and children slave laborers. They told me they were starving. I remembered seeing sacks of potatoes by the town university. I went back there and grabbed two bags and flung them over the fence so the liberated prisoners would have something to eat. We proceeded further when that night I was told I would be going back to the States on a rest and rehabilitation furlough. The next day I was taken by truck to France and from there to England and then back to the States. Before my furlough was through, the war in Europe had ended and I was discharged June 28, 1945.

By the end of the war, I was the only man on the front lines from our original company of 186 men to finish the war without being killed or seriously wounded. I was always on the front lines with my men and I was the luckiest man in the US Army. What kept me going was constant prayer. I carried one very sacred prayer with me at all times through the war. If I were asked to pass one thought on to future generations concerning this war, what comes to my mind the most are the words I heard once to a song..."The greatest thing you'll ever learn is to love and be loved in return..."

Excerpt from: An American Town Goes to War by Tony Pavia, published by Turner Publishing Company.

Clement Turpin served in the Army's 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment in World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster as well as five battle stars for Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes, and Central Europe.

Clement Turpin enlisted in the Army in January of 1941, before the United States entered the war and was assigned to the 2nd Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment. Between June 1944 and May of 1945, the 2nd Division spent 337 days in combat and traveled 1750 miles across Europe. Turpin landed at Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944, subsequently participated in five campaigns, and was wounded twice.

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