Biography of Charles "Red" Themar

Sgt, Wpns Plt, Co A, 385th Regt, 76th Inf Div, 3rd Army, USA

            I have the Life book, "Our Century in Pictures." It takes off in 1901, when the first ... signifying an "S" was sent over the wires, through WWI, WWII and of course ending in 1999. It's hard to remember that I have lived through 75 of those years. It sometimes seems that I have led several lives from McClure, Illinois, a town of about 300, not much larger now.

          I was much into sports, Track, Baseball and Basketball. We didn't have any football in our schools at that time. One thing we did do, before I went into the Army, was to shoot any kind of guns we could lay our hands on. I took my first flying lessons in Cape Girardeau, Mo., just across the Mississippi from McClure in 1941, before the war started. $6.00 an hour with instructor.

          I was in High School, 1942, but I tried to do something for the war effort all the same. I was a senior and our students not only gave out ration stamps but we also made weekly forays into the country side, finding old pieces of farm equipment, junk cars, any type of metal, we would haul it, horse & wagon, farm trucks. One of my favorite trucks was a model T flat bed, no cab, we sat out in the weather, no license plate, but it would carry a load. John Lee Colyer's dad, who was one of the bigger farmers in the southern Illinois area where I was born and raised until I left for the Army, owned the truck and he sort of gave us the gas. My Dad had a Shell service station and he also donated gas, and we went everywhere in the lowlands along the Mississippi, scavenging. We took all we could find to our school yard, and about once a month the Army would send out their trucks to pick up what we had found. We gave them tons and tons of scrap metal for the war effort.

          Eventually I graduated from High School. After that came the Army.

         I enlisted in U.S. Army ERC (Enlisted Reserve Corp) in June 1943. Basic in Ft. Benning in Harmony Church Area. I took a test to enter the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) , while I was still in Highschool. In May of 1943 I graduated. And as soon as I reported to active duty I was fast forwarded into the system, in August of 1943, right after my birthday which was July 27th. Spent one Semester at Michigan State where we were to be trained as combat engineers, but when they needed Infantry they transferred our entire group back into Infantry Regiments, splitting us up so that no 2 of us would be in any one unit. So April 1, 1944 I joined the 76th in Camp McCoy, Wisc. We took advanced Infantry training there, I specialized in Automatic weapons, .30 calibre A-4 and A-6 Machine guns and .50 Calibre Machine gun. Made the mistake of shooting down a target plane with the .50 mounted on a pedestal in the back of a Jeep.

     I was with Weapons Platoon, Co. A. 1St Bn. 385th Inf. Joined them when transferred out of the ASTP program, April 1, 1944. Went overseas on the SS Sea Owl.

      I had Thanksgiving 1944 on board the U.S. Sea Owl, a Kaiser built troop ship. My mother and my sister were always wanting to know where I was, once I was overseas. But we had been under sealed orders for about a month before that, we couldn't let anyone know where we were.

       The bunks were in tiers. I was on the bottom of mine, I think it was 6 high, at first it wasn't too bad, but after the guys above me started throwing up, the deck started getting very foul smelling and everytime the ship rolled from one side to the other, all of that uck would come sliding past me just under my nose. I finally lost it after a while, but managed to get to the head before I contributed to the mess. My Company was lucky, we had guard duty with BAR's, standing out on the deck in the clear air while most of the others had to stay below. Some guys had garbage detail, the funniest thing that happened in regards to that. It was the first nite, the loudspeakers came on telling the kp's to lay aft with the Garbage cans to throw everything over at once. The next nite the same message, only this time he added, "And this time hang onto the Garbage Cans." Apparently the first time they just threw the Garbage and the Cans Overside. Our boat had only troops and mail and we rode like a cork, pitching pretty hard and rolling a lot harder.

      One other thing on the way over, we didn't get fed very often. Once or twice a day. One night, we had my favorite mean, hot dogs and beans, a whole mess kit full. The boat was pitching and rolling, the tables were fastened to the floor but the seats were just tied to the center legs of the tables, one on each end. We had just gotten our food and we were all trying to hold onto our mess kits and canteen cups, and just as our group started to sit down, the boat really rolled, the bench we were to sit on was tied with a rope to the center posts of the tables. The bench started sliding, the ropes made it swing under the table, cutting our legs out from under us, we all dropped our mess kits and canteen cups and grabbed onto the table, most of us went over backwards, all the food and drink hit the floor then as the ship rolled the other way it all came back to us, on the floor. I grabbed a couple of hot dogs and a canteen cut and a messkit, ate the dogs and went back to our quarters, there were no seconds. Just another incident in going into battle. I can laugh about it now, wasn't all that funny at the time.

         We landed in England where we did maneuvers for about a month, or several weeks, before crossing the channel.  Got into London while it was still being bombed, we were stationed in Bournemouth, Eng. and heard quite a few Buzz Bombs go over. Later, inside Germany I got to see where some of them had crashed on take off. I like to remember some of the good times we had while in England . Once We got a pass into London, danced in the Big Dance Hall in Piccadilly circus, looked around part of London that had been blasted, got some dirty looks from some Aussie's who didn't like Yanks. But no trouble. I liked the English, they sort of left us alone, friendly but not too inquisitive. I think they liked the fact that we were there. They had quite a party for us before New Years in '44, they sort of let their hair down that nite. Met some Cockney's who had a real accent & I've always liked the brits accents. Visited the Tower of London, was very impressed with the guillitine and the gatling gun they had on display plus the wax museum, first one I had ever been in. The thing that struck me most about England was that everything was so small, the trains, the roads, the cars, we would take a 25 miles hike and go thru 10 towns. All in all, England was a good experience for me. Enjoyed their fish and chips and also their ale. You could get a mason jar full for about sixpence as I recall. After England I went into combat.

        We went into France at LeHarve, then by truck, train, etc. over to Sedan, Belguim, then dropped back down to Luxembourgh and then we went into the Siegfried Line at Echternacht.

        Spent a lot of time in combat with the .50 calibre doing anti-aircraft duty in six by sixes when we were moving, out in the wind rather than down in the bed of the truck while we were being transported. Also when we were doing recon I got to handle the .50 with the pedestal mount in a jeep. Had some wild rides there. But mostly used the .30 calibre A-6 with the shoulder stock and bi-pod in support of our riflemen. Crossed the Rhine just below BAD Salzig.

        We were in the Siegfried line area, late at nite, very little firing going on, I was bored, so I decided I would light up one of our ration cigarettes. We were dug in with a cover over our foxhole because we were in a wooded area. After diggin in we put some branches on top and covered them with the dirt from the foxhole. So, being bored, I got out a cigarette, not a filter, got under my poncho and struck a match. A machine gun (German-no mistaking that sound) opened up on me from about 150 yards to my right, and I went head first back into my hole. I gave up smoking at that time, actually, and used cigarettes from then on as trade material only.

         At Bad Salzig on the Rhine we were held up for about 5 days waiting to get across the Rhine. There I set my machine gun up at the front of a Hotel so I could fire across the river. We were on the watch for the large floating mines that the German's were floating down the river to blow up our pontoon bridges. Never saw one, but did shoot up some barges across the river and took out a sniper nest that had been pestering us when we left the hotel to go to our kitchen which was set up about 4 blocks away. Also our Lt. took me down the river to the next town, I think it was Boppard, where the Germans were attempting to unload a large barge. I took a .50 Cal. Browning MG, the only ammo I had was H.E. which had a light blue tip, used primarily for antiaircraft. It would explode on impact and knock a big hole in the skin, rather than just punching through. We set up in an orchard where I had a good field of fire on the Barge, the Germans were unloading it across a gangplank, so I started firing at them, then started working on the wheel house, mostly I was using single shots. I could tell where I was hitting by the flash of the bullets when they hit. Finally set the barge on fire and then went to automatic fire when everyone made a dash for the gangplank. About that time we started getting incoming fire, they had finally located my position, so we pulled out and went back to Bad Salzig.

         I saw an item written by someone commenting on seeing the flashes where a machine gun was hitting. For their information, that was .50 Cal. H.E. mentioned above. Most of the time when we were moving on trucks, we used that type of Ammo, just for air guard. Other times we generally used the black tipped armor piercing ammo.

         When we were on the Rhine at Bad Salzig, we had our kitchen set up in a local bistro, it had a piano and in the evenings we would sing for hours. That was the first place I ever heard the song, "Don't Fence me in." Also, "I've got spurs that jingle, jangle Jingle, as I go riding Merrily along" was one of the songs we had the words and music for. We also liked Marlyne Dietrich. I always think of her when I hear the old German song, "Lili Marline." At one time we had close to 100 verses of that song that we transcribed into English.  We were at Bad Salzig for almost a week before we were able to get pontoon bridges to cross the Rhine. That was one of the Better times.

       We crossed the Rhine at Boppard on pontoon bridge and then got as far as Erfurt where I was finally hit.

       I was in combat from January 1945 until April 11, 1945 when I ran out of luck and got hit with 3 bursts from a German Machine Gun. Joe Vaughan and my Platoon Sgt managed to drag me back out of range of the guns on my poncho. Sgt. Smith (Smitty) got the Silver Star for his part, Joe got clipped in the ear but remained with the squad. Saw Joe one time after the war in West Virginia, saw Harold Hall one time in E. St. Louis while I was attending Parks Air College. Harold was hit across the back in the same action. I've contacted VA and other organizations but haven't been able to link up with any of these guys. Thought this might be another chance. We all got hit right outside of Erfurt, Germany, the last sign I saw indicated it was just 8 KM ahead of us. I was looking forward to getting into the town to see if I could find some other Themar's, this is where a lot of my relatives lived and still do according to "Switchboard" teleaphone listings.

      I was reported 'killed in Action" in the St. Louis Globe Democrat, my mother saved the paper & I still have it. They received a telegram advising that I had been seriously wounded and then they got the newpaper article and weren't sure until I was able to write a v-mail about two weeks later. That was what moved me the most and the reason for same.

     After I was injured they flew me back to the UK (United Kingdon-England) in a DC-3 Hospital plane. At that time I still had a colostomy and my left leg was still open, I could see the bone just above the ankle, about 4 inches of it where they had blown it and the top of my combat boot off, several bullets hit there, made my foot numb, thought it was blown off so I was holding it up in the air so the 'stump' wouldn't get in the dirt. They took me to a hospital in the northern England area, it was daylight from about 10:00 p.m. and daylite was about 3:00 a.m.. While in the hospital I didn't have any contact with the civilians, even though a couple of them gave me whole blood. Had two major operations, first one to sew up my leg and put it in a cast. I was supposed to stay in bed but one time they left a wheel chair next to my bed, so I eased myself into it and took off. Got over to a guynasium and got one of the guys to lower a punching bag down low enough so I could do the exercises on it, still had the colostomy at that time. My nurse, I called her Caladonia, after the song, she fit the description in the song, anyway she found me and wheeled me back very ungently, got me back in bed and made sure I didn't get away again. Then after about 6 weeks they repaired the colostomy to get me ready to head for the States. I was unconscious for about 3 days after that operation.

           I was shipped back to the States, discharged Sept. 4, 1945, 100% disability at that time.

           I had just been made Sgt., Squad Leader of my Machine Gun Squad. Probably two weeks before I got hit. My records never caught up with me so I was discharged in Sept. 1945 as a PFC. Was paid Sergeant. pay.  I was home on convalescent leave when the Japs surrendered, I figured I'd be heading for Japan as soon as I got patched up.

         Home at that time was McClure, Illinois. We had a party to end all parties the nite we found out the bombs had done the work for us. Had about 8 guys in my dad's 41 DeSoto and nearly wrecked it.

         After the Army, I went to Parks Air College, finishing a 4 year course under the G.I. Bill. Then I spent 2 years running an airport with William S. Thatcher, a B-25 Pilot, in Thomasville, GA. The Florida mess in the recent election has put me in mind of some things that happened in Georgia. When I was living and working in Georgia, I thought the Talmadge family was absolutely the worse. They ran or misran that poor state and did it with a grin on their faces. And the poor Georgians thought that was just great. Back in '47 and '48 when I was there, everything having to do with the state government had a price tag. You paid the price, you got your way.

         We, the Thomasville Aviation Enterprises, Thomasville, Ga., primarily Wm. S. Thatcher and Charles Themar, wanted to put on, and did, an Airshow at the Thomasville Municipal airport on which we had a $1.00 a year lease to provide a FBO, Fixed Base Operation on Pavo Road. One of the Baptist ministers decided that since Georgia, at that time a Blue Law State, should not allow such a flagrant abuse of the law by putting on a "Show" on Sunday. This debate went all over the State, we even got the Governor's office involved in it.

      The City was going to impound any of the airplanes to be used in the air show when they landed at our airport. We had already sold tickets, got the boy scouts involved to help because we were going to donate a part of the "take" to them. This further infuriated the Baptist community who railed against our use of innocent youth to further this abomination of an Air Show. Our top entertainer was Betty Skelton, a nationally known aerobatic performer, flying her Knight Twister, doing low level flag pick=ups, inverted flight down the runway, and a lot of really good aerobatics. Bevo Howard, another well known individual was our M.C. It was really a class act that we put together. Anyhow, we made arrangements for the airplanes of the performers to land at Moultrie, GA. and then fly over to our field for the entertainment portion and then fly back to Moultrie, about 25 miles, to keep their planes from being impounded. The show went on and as a result of all the fisterous that went on, the anti-blue law factions managed to use this to get the "blue laws" repealed in Georgia.

     Got off the subject there, back in the "old days" it seemed that I did get involved in some fun stuff. The owner of the local newspaper in Thomasville, was a pretty good friend of mine, I offered to take him for a ride in one of out airplanes, he told me that he believed in "Terra Firma," he explained that the more "firmer" the ground, the less "terror" he had of losing his life. He declined the offer, even though I wasn't going to charge him. Just another little chapter in my life.

         I tried to re-enlist in the Army during the Korean conflict, went to St. Louis to sign up again, they pulled my medical records and told me that the only way I could get back into combat was to join a National Guard Unit and hope it got called up. I think I was lucky that time from what I know of the conditions under which they fought. It would not have set well with me to take territory and then sit and give it back. That would have driven me totally insane. We always held what we took, got resupplied and hit again.

         After the airport business, I got into the Investigating business with the Hooper-Holmes Bureau, Inc., a national Commercial Reporting firm, did that for 25 years, and then in 1972 got into the Real Estate business as an Agent, made manager in 10 months, bought out the Agency in 2 years and that's what I've been doing until now. I am really busy at this time with Real Estate, but I'm taking week-ends off.

         I did get my medical records from the time I went into the Field Hospital until I was discharged from Winter General Hospital in Sept. 1945. I've thought about writing to see if I could find one of more of the doctors that kept me in this life. They really did a fantastic job and I'd like to thank them. I don't think they were too much older than I was, but I was only conscious a few times while they were discussing how to get the lead out and what they needed to do and where to start.

         I mentioned before that Marlene Dietrich was a favorite of my group. Well I have recently found out that I just missed seeing Marlyne Dietrich during the war. She did a show in the town of Apolda after my outfit and the 6th Armored accepted the surrender of Apolda, on April 12, 1945, the day after I was shot. The 6th Armored apparently stayed in the town, or at least their headquarters company was located there. It was during this time, and before the cessation of hostilities, that Dietrich did her shows in that area. It was behind our lines, but still darned close to the front. A Berlin friend I have met since then, showed me several photos taken during that time. Now he was born 9 months or so after this all happened. His father was one of the Tankers with the 6th Armored. I have a book I picked up at their last reunion, they are not planning any more, and it showed that they continued on to the Elbe River along with some elements of the 76th Infantry. Their last reunion was in Louisville, KY, they were on one side of the town and we, the 76th had our meetings at a hotel near the airport, across town. We all congregated in Ft. Knox where Gen. Patton's memorabilia is located. This was more or less the home of the 6th Armored.

        I have also been in touch with men from my unit.  Wade Hamby, he was a mortar Squad Leader, got hit by a German Mortar about a week into the Seigfried line, put him out of the war, was flown directly home from Luxembourg, via Paris, his left foot was just about blown off. Also Graham Hurst, he was a squad leader of the 2nd Machine gun squad, he lasted a little longer but was shot thru the elbow while trying to dig in. Hurst finally made it back to the company but it was right at the end of the war.

        I have visited with 3 Army buddies from my weapons platoon, 2 I met up with in Camp McCoy, April 1944 when we were transferred out of the ASTP back to the Infantry. I also found my Gunner, Joseph Vaughan and visited with him.

       He was always with me when we were doing marching fire, keeping the gun loaded while I fired it, sometimes walking, sometimes firing from the prone position. It was his job to see that we had the ammo coming from the three ammo bearers. He and Harold Hall were my back-ups and I never had to worry that I would wind up in the open by myself, they were always there for me. Joe Vaughan was the man who dragged me out of the field, while under fire, after I was knocked out. If anyone ever deserved a Silver Star, he does.

    If any of the old gang reads this, I'd like to hear from them.

----- Charles "Red" Themar

         cthemar@rmxadv.com

LINKS

Concussion, By "Red" Themar

Cook Off, By "Red" Themar

Red Themar, Photo One, Sgt, Wpns Plt, Co A, 385th Regt, 76th Inf Div, 3rd Army, USA

Red Themar, Photo Two, Sgt, Wpns Plt, Co A, 385th Regt, 76th Inf Div, 3rd Army, USA

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