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Elmer Mc Kay was drafted in July 1943. He took basic training at Camp McClellan , Alabama and was accepted into the ASTP. He spent several months studying chemical engineering at Auburn University until the program was terminated in April 1944. He briefly served with the 106th Infantry Division, but in the summer of 1944 was sent to Europe as an infantry replacement. After arriving in France , he was assigned to E Company, 119th Infantry Regiment in the 30th Infantry Division. He spent the next nine months fighting across Europe as a Mortar Squad Sergeant with E Company. After the war ended, he returned to the US and was discharged in November 1945.
I tried to join the Army before I was eighteen, but the high school superintendent told me if I did, he would see that I was denied my high school diploma. So I had to stay and I was drafted in the Army on the 5th of June 1943, I graduated from high school at 10:30 at night and at 8:00 in the morning, I was in the Army.
At that time a group of people in Washington were concerned about killing a lot of the bright young men in the United States. So they conjured up a test to skim off the bright young men, keep them isolated and send them to college. So I ended up in an ASTP unit at Fort McClellan, Alabama . There were eight hundred men in the battalion, only six of whom had never been to college and I was one of the six that had never been to college.
When we got there, they handed us a heavy parchment, wax paper packages and inside were Enfield rifles from World War One. We had to boil off all that thick cosmoline grease and those were our first rifles. Everyone qualified with them on the range. I don't remember how well I did, but I don't think I had any trouble with it. We also trained with air-cooled .30 caliber machine guns and qualified with those too.
We spent thirteen weeks in basic training and then they transferred us to Auburn University in Alabama , which was then called Alabama Polytechnic Institute. We were studying chemical engineering. Then they had some second thoughts about the program, they were needing replacements in the infantry. So in April 1944, they discontinued the program and a majority of us were sent to Camp Atterbury in Indiana to join the 106th Division. It was a new Division which later was massacred in the Battle of the Bulge. I was trained as a mortar man in the 106th Division.
Then I was sent overseas as a replacement, on the 25th of August, 1944, I left New York for England . I landed in England and then went on to France and on the 16th of October, I joined the 30th Division. They were fighting on the Siegfried Line, right on the border of Holland and Germany . On the day before I joined them, the weapons platoon, machine guns and mortars, had been captured almost in total. I remember the commanding officer of the company came in and asked "Are any of you men mortar men?" I raised my hand and he said "OK, pick four men, you're a mortar squad leader." That's how I got to be made a Sergeant.
The next day we went up to the line just outside of Aachen, Germany and I had to train them on the job. We had two sides of the street and beyond were open fields where the Germans were. We had to support the small infantry raids that were being made. The minimum range of the 60mm mortar was two hundred yards, but very frequently we were shooting at 175, 150 and as low as 125 yards. It was off the firing scale, there was no way for us to know for sure what elevation we had to raise the mortar to before we fired. You took the chance you might shoot straight up and it would come right down and hit you. I used to get down with my head on the ground and look up the barrel and make sure it was less than ninety degrees. At ninety degrees the shell was going to end up in our hip pocket. But, that's what we did, we fired extensively at that time. We were shooting over two rows of houses and had a forward observer with a radio telling us where we were shooting.
Being a mortar man took a little bit of knowledge. A raw recruit or someone with average rifleman experience couldn't just step in and be a mortar man. You had to understand a little bit of trigonometry. The four men I picked essentially ammunition carriers, they knew nothing about mortars. Of course over time I taught them.
In a mortar squad, there was a squad leader and then there was gunner and an assistant gunner. Back then I was a very stocky, linebacker type of guy and what I used to do was to carry the base plate and the tube, which was about forty five pounds. That gave me an extra ammunition carrier in the squad. Each ammunition carrier carried at least six shells and they frequently carried nine. There wasn't any special equipment to carry the shells, we just carried them the best we could.
I remember one time in November, it had rained for about six weeks straight and we were attacking through about a foot of mud. I told my guys "Look, we're going to be attacking for about twelve hours, we're going through mud and when the Captain says give us some mortar support, I don't want to be standing there holding a mortar and find out you guys have thrown away your ammunition. So if you're going to throw away your ammunition, you give it to me, because I'll carry that too. Nobody in the squad threw away anything.
If you remember, an infantry company had 193 men, although we never had 193 men, but the TO said we should. Our transportation was a jeep and a trailer, for 193 men. So there wasn't a hell of a lot of room to carry spare ammunition. I don't know what they carried in the little trailer, but it sure wasn't ammunition. There were stockpiles of ammunition behind the front line that was brought up mainly by personnel other than infantry company people.
The weapons platoon's three mortars generally stayed together, the machine guns didn't. They might tell the Weapons Platoon Sergeant, take a machine gun and go with the first platoon, but they never did that with mortars. Often there would be three mortars positioned within thirty feet of one another, but they would be firing at three different targets.
Our mortar targets were generally fixed positions, machine gun nests, artillery positions, mortar positions or strong points. If the German's were in something with a roof on it, the 60mm mortar wasn't much of a value. When we got a target, we usually purposely fired over. If we figured the target was 300 yards away, we'd set the range at 350. We'd fire and if it was about fifty over, then we'd shoot under and divide the difference and we'd fire for effect. Once we bracketed the position, we'd fire three or four or five rounds for effect. That's the way we were taught to do and it pretty much worked. If you looked at the range of the mortar, in the short ranges and long ranges, they were not very accurate. In the middle ranges, anywhere to 300 to 800 yards, they were quite accurate.
When you saw an infantry battalion attacking and you saw somebody with a pistol, that guy had to be the Colonel, the Executive Officer or a mortar man or machine gunner.
For squad leaders, the TE was to carry a .45, which nobody had any confidence in. I had one fella say he'd rather throw it at a German rather than shoot at him because he'd have a better chance if he threw the pistol. The ammunition carriers had carbines, there were no Garand rifles in a weapons platoon.
Several guys picked up Thompson submachine guns and carried those. They were an excellent weapon. They were not standard equipment for an infantry company, they were prizes. They were machined and of very good quality. We probably had five or six of them in the company. I think they stole them from someplace, I don't know where they got them. If I'd had the opportunity, I would have taken one.
In general, the German Army had much better weapons than we did, with the exception of the Garand rifle. We had a better rifle than they did. But they had those little stamped out machine pistols, I carried one during the Battle of the Bulge. Their automatic weapons were better than ours. Their artillery was better than ours, their .88s. Their tanks were better than ours. Their pistols were better too, both the P38 and the Lugar.
I carried a German machine pistol for a while, but I never had to fire it in combat. At the end of the Battle of the Bulge, I realized that we weren't going to be overwhelmed by the Germans. I was walking down the road and decided to fire it and I emptied the gun into the snow bank. Then I looked ahead of me and there must have been a thousand guys falling to the ground. I hadn't thought about that at the time, but it was kind of a stupid thing to do. After that, I threw it away and I just reverted to my .45. Mortar men didn't have much opportunity to fire a .45.
I was over there from the 16th of October to the 7th of May, nine months. When the war ended we were in a town on the Elbe River . Then we were transferred the southern Germany , 18 miles from the Czech border. It was farmland practically untouched by the war and the bombing, it was an idyllic place. We were there six weeks and we came back to northern France and we came back on the 25th of August. I left the 25th of August 44 and I came back on the 25th of August 45.
We went to Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania outside of Harrisburg . It was customary to get leave, so we were given thirty days leave. I went home and came back, but they weren't prepared for us, so we got additional leave. They were discharging people by points, I had 69 points and you needed 70 to be discharged in November. When I was being discharged, they told me I was one point shy and I'd have to stay in another month or two.
They saw that I was infantry and asked if I had ever been wounded and I told them I'd been wounded three times. I was wounded once when we had been surrounded and I didn't get to see the medics. The other two times, I went to the medics, but they were so busy with people with real wounds, legs blown off, belly wounds or head wounds, that I turned around and went back. So I never had an official wound. They said why don't we just say you have a purple heart, which was worth five points and it will put you over the 70 mark. I told them I really didn't want to do that, they'll probably catch me. They told me they'd catch me, but it would take twenty years. So I told them to write it down and I was finally discharged on the 7 th of November.
Our heavy weapons company, (H), in the battalion had 81mm mortars and the 81s were pretty effective.
The weapons platoon men also had binoculars, nobody except the battalion commanding officer and his executive officer had binoculars. So if you saw someone with binoculars, that's the guy you wanted to shoot.
Two or three times since the war, people have asked me if I ever killed anybody. The answer is I'm sure I did, but I can't tell you that for sure. We were firing shells where we couldn't see the targets. I did fire a Garand rifle at a guy and he didn't move after I fired. The Garands were all over the place. They were the workhorse weapon of WWII.
Co. "E" - 119th Regmt.
Heavy Weapons Platoon
Mortar Squad Sgt.
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