Selma vet recalls time trailing Patton during WWII

Published 5:23 pm Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Tom Sherrer was a member of the U.S. Air Force serving at Craig Air Force Base when he was called up to serve in World War II under secret orders.

“I didn’t know where I was going or what I was getting into,” Sherrer said.

What Sherrer was being selected for was a post within the newly-created Civil Affairs and Military Government Division, which was responsible for travelling behind combat regiments and, once a city had been liberated, restoring order in the towns and cities left reeling from the fight.

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“I did not encounter any enemy,” Sherrer said. “We were not a combat outfit, but we served in all the combat areas. Our mission was to go in and work with the local people and help them get the town re-established.”

Sherrer’s regiment was attached to the Third Army under the leadership of General George Patton and, with that regiment, he received battle stars for all seven of the war’s major campaigns and traveled through England, France and Germany.

“We could have operated further back, but General Patton brought us right into the combat zone,” Sherrer said, noting that he operated just behind the line and could have been called up at any moment to take part in the fighting.

Sherrer arrived on the beach at Normandy about two weeks after the initial invasion and remembers the carriers dropping the enormous doors on the back of his boat to let him and his regiment off.

The 96-year-old war vet remembers being impressed with the enormous helium balloons attached to cables on the beach, which had been installed to protect regiments such as Sherrer’s from strafing from German aircraft so that the wounded could be carried out and order restored to the area.

Many of Sherrer’s memories of his time serving in the war jump from one battle to another, but carry with them accounts of a war that changed the course of world history and details of those battles that cost so many lives.

“We were subject to where anything could happen to us,” Sherrer said.

During the Battle of the Bulge, Sherrer remembers being stationed in a building just beyond the fighting and hearing German bullets crash against the pavement on the road beneath his post – during that time, his regiment had orders to evacuate at any time and had a cache on five-gallon gasoline buckets to be used for burning documents before a last-minute escape.

Sherrer recalls receiving packages from home close to Christmas time, which none of the soldiers wanted to open before the holiday – when orders came down for them to move, Sherrer and those who would travel along with him tore into the gifts before moving on.

Sherrer  remembers the sound of a German aircraft that he and his comrades deemed “Bed Check Charlie;” he remembers the sound of “buzz bombs,” motorized bombs akin to the modern drone, and the knowledge that when the whining of the motor stopped, one never knew where the bomb would land; he remembers serving as a guard for a driver running between two towns to deliver messages and the codes that had to be used to gain entrance to the area; he remembers collecting cameras, weapons and “anything detrimental” from the hands of Germans in liberated cities.

“I was there,” Sherrer said. “Always in the combat zones. It sounds like I’m a hero, but I’m not.”