Odom recalls WWII

Published 9:28 pm Monday, August 16, 2004

By By Arthur McLean
For 47 years, Ralph Odom cut hair in Hall's Barber Shop on Ridgley Street before retiring in 1988.
But the soft-spoken 88-year-old, who now lives on School Street, once lived a very different life for a few years, defending this country and liberating nations.
He also happened to serve under Gen. George S. Patton in North Africa, and with the 2nd Armored Division in Normandy France, the Ardennes, Belgium and Germany, winning a bronze star and a silver star for his service. His four brothers served as well, three in the Army and one in the Navy.
Patton was rough
"They drafted me in the Army in '41. I left here and went to Clanton to be examined, then went to Fort Bragg, N.C. and took my training there. Then I went to Fort Benning, Ga. where they were forming the second armored Div. and I went into the 14th field artillery. I was a machine gunner, but I stayed up as a forward observer for the artillery."
Patton was first in command of training the division, but took command of the 2nd Armored before it left the states.
"Patton was rough, he cussed all the time, when we were on maneuvers in North Carolina, they let him speak on the radio, and he told them, 'We're going to war, you can land over there anywhere, and you can fight a dirty son of a you-know-what, and I'll tell you another thing, don't shoot the son of a you-know-what until you see the white of their eyes and he's a dead son of a you-know-what', and they cut him off the radio when he done that."
"I seen him numerous times up front in battle, he'd be right up there with us. He'd have a bunch of maps and things under one arm."
"We landed in Cassablance on Christmas Eve, '42. Man, it was hot, they would give us these old things, they called aderbrand tablets, must've been salt tablets, and the mosquitos were awful."
After fighting in North Africa, the 2nd, still under Patton's command, landed in Sicily. They fought German and Italian resistance to Polermo, liberating Sicily in 1943. Odom takes a little slip of newsprint out of his wallet, on it in small print is a brief marking the date of Sicilian liberation. "I've kept that in my wallet for several years now," he said."
After taking Sicily, the 2nd came back to England. Patton was removed from command after he hit a soldier. It wouldn't be the last day of fighting for either Odom or Patton.
Sicily was easy takin' France was a good bit of going on there.
The night of June 4, 1944, Odom, along with nearly 2 million soldiers, sailors and airmen prepared to strike at the German-held continent in the greatest military landing ever attempted.
Weather delayed the assault. Odom and his brothers in arms stayed locked inside the great LSTs, the landing ships that would bring them across the English Channel and to the killing fields of Normandy's beaches remembered with code names like Omaha, Utah, Sword, Gold and Juno.
Odom's group, the 14th armored artillery battalion, would follow on two days after the initial landings. Mini German uboats harrassed the ships at sea. German planes bombed them from the sky, and Army soldiers and Airborne were desperately trying to link up the their tenuous foothold on the two beaches of Utah and Omaha.
Odom left the LST for a landing craft to make it to shore.
"We got to Normandy, we were on a landing craft to get on shore. And the boat I was on, they overloaded it, and he burned out the motors on a sandbar trying to get over it. Well, there we were, on a sandbar, we sat there from about 2 a.m. to about 9 a.m. Another boat came along and I thought they were going to help us unload, but they pushed us out into the bay. And they was bombing the beaches and man, all hell broke loose."
"Three bombs hit right around that little ol' landing craft I was in. The German planes would get in the sun and come down to bomb the ships and the beaches, you could never see them."
Sitting out in the water, with a dead landing craft, Odom could do nothing but watch.
"I was sitting out there in the plane view of the whole thing. The LST next to me, the Germans bombed it with all those vehicles on it, and everything in there, and fire just pouring out of there. Them soldiers coming out of those hatches going on right in the water on fire. They were just blowing up, those tanks in that LST."
"That battleship sitting out there, it was giving them everything they had. We finally unloaded some of our stuff onto another landing craft and got pushed to the beach."
"To take those pill boxes, they were concrete with little holes for them to shoot at us. We'd put artillery on them, and let the infantry work their way up there with a can of gas. When he got to the hole, he'd pour the gas in the pill box and throw the hand grenade in there. That finished that up. Sometimes we had flame-throwers, but they didn't work too good on those pill boxes. "
"We fought on up in there that night. It was kinda cool that night. I was on an ol' halftrack, I climbed up on the hood where it was warm, and that morning I woke up and there was a German 88 pointed right at me. But they'd done left it though. Left it loaded and everything.
Odom served with the 14th under the 2nd armored throughout the rest of the war, from the hedge rows to the Ardennes, to the Battle of the Bulge.
His silver star was awarded for restoring communications to the artillery. "They cut the phone line back to the artillery. I put a roll of telephone line on my back and crawled back from the front to patch it up."
There were nights when Odom thought he might not make it. Nights when he heard the German "buzz bombs" overhead, and days of intense fighting straight through to Germany.
But there were good memories. The best? "The best memory I have is when I heard the Japanese had surrendered, because that meant the war was over."

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