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Wounded by Mortar with a Cracked Helmet

Bombing by Friendly Fire


Clinton Gardner was born in New York City on December 26, 1922. The family moved to Larchmont, New York when Gardner was a baby and he was raised in that city. After 9th grade he went to Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. Gardner entered Dartmouth in 1940 and after his freshman year he realized he might be pulled into the war. Gardner volunteered and earned a different serial number than those who were drafted. The men were trained by recently graduated West Point Officers. Gardner was a Corporal and became a Second Lieutenant. He had to take an IQ test and an aptitude test at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. He earned the highest mechanical aptitude score ever in Fort Devens from driving tractors on the farms in Vermont. Gardner went to OCS [Annotators Note: Officer Candidate School] and was assigned to an antiaircraft outfit on Cape Cod in Camp Edwards with many battalions training. Gardner and the men had 90mm guns with a proximity fuse that was American made. If the shell was about 60 feet from a plane it would explode. Gardner realized the training manuals were six months to a year old but the magazines regularly coming out were up to date. [Annotators note. Gardner’s phone rings and the interview stops for a moment. After a brief cut the interview continues]. Gardner bought a number of up to date magazines and built a projection box called a magic lantern. He put a magazine at the bottom of the box, with a mirror above it at an angle and a magnifying glass in the front which turned it into a projector and he taught antiaircraft identification with the projection box. Gardner believes his enthusiasm earned him the title of 1st Lieutenant over the older members. The men trained for almost a year at Camp Edwards from January to December. Over 15,000 men, including Gardner, traveled overseas on the Queen Mary. Gardner was a lookout on the ship to spot any enemy submarines. They landed in Scotland and then traveled to Henley and could periodically see flashes of the London night bombings when it became dark. The men stayed to train with new equipment such as radars and were preparing for D-Day but did not know when it would occur or where.


Clinton Gardner learned in May 1944 that he and other officers would be sent to a special camp to learn the details of the landing on Omaha Beach. These camps were specific to the leaders. They learned special tactics and how to get on and off the beach. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and the guards in the towers had orders to shoot anyone who approached or escaped. Gardner supposed the guns were in case a drunken man stumbled into the local town telling people about the D-Day Invasion. The security clearance was called Top Secret Bigot and only for people who knew all the details of the invasion. They proposed to land on June 5th and Gardner and the men were halfway there when they were ordered to turn around because of bad weather. The weather did not improve much but they had to go out on June 6th. Gardner and the other men were told to take sleeping pills the night before the invasion so they were able to get some sleep. Engineers went in around four thirty in the morning, before any shooting, and got rid of the water mines that would blow the ships up. They landed on Dog Green, Omaha Beach. They were told there would be a large green D banner to label the beach. They were told there would be B-17s flying ahead so the pillboxes would be destroyed and that it would be one of the heaviest bombings in history. Gardner landed around 9am in the morning. The first were engineers, then infantry and then general troops. When the boat came in and they looked around, there were hundreds of bodies and the pillboxes were actively shooting. There was a huge concrete barrier stopping them from getting off the beach about 6 feet high and 6 feet thick. The B-17 bombings had completely missed the target and hit apple orchards instead of the beach. The planes should have dropped flares to see the beach before the bombings began. Some of the men were killed as they waded through the water. The officers dug fox holes near each other, but not far from the beach, because the Germans were holding the cliff 200 feet inland. People did not know where the commanding sergeants or officers were and things became organized later in the day.


Clinton Gardner witnessed a huge explosion at 5am in the afternoon [Annotator’s Note: on June 6th, 1944 Normandy D-Day]. He lifted his head and heard a huge noise and heard a shock and realized he had been hit. Gardner felt a ringing sound and was covered in blood but felt no pain. He never felt pain on D-Day or the day after until he received medical attention. He tried to speak to a lieutenant in another foxhole near him. He thought he lost the ability to speak but was in shock. Gardner tried to feel what happened to his head and felt soft tissue matter and thought he was touching his brain. Gardner could fit both hands through the hole in his helmet. The men around him looked at him as if they knew he was going to die. Gardner managed to stop the bleeding with sulfa powder and a first aid bandage. The bleeding stopped within a half an hour. There were no medical groups but the British had corresponding radar equipment with the Americans. One British officer moved the injured away from the foxhole where mortar could not hit the injured. He moved 10 or 20 soldiers away from range. Gardner spent the night of D-Day half-awake and remembered a JU-88 German plane flying overhead and dropping a bomb about a quarter of a mile from his location, but he does not know the extent of its damage. The next morning the beach was completely changed. The men had not captured the pillbox but had gotten almost a quarter of a mile inland. Medics arrived and 24 hours after Gardner was hit he got medical attention with other wounded men at a field hospital near Vierville, France. Bullets were skimming the top of the tent and it took three men to pull Gardner’s helmet off his head. He remembers one doctor comparing field work to his office in Miami. He learned he was not feeling his brain but a half inch of flesh between the skull and skin. The top of his skull had scars and his head was full of metal fragments. There are about 14 bits of metal still left in his head. Pieces of his helmet liner were stuck in his scalp and flaked off his head whenever he brushed his hair for about a year after the war.


Clinton Gardner went back to England and stayed in the field hospital. He had an operation using skin from his leg to close the wound on his head. Gardner thought he would be sent home but was sent back into action a month later. He rejoined his outfit by hitchhiking and finding the 110th Infantry. The United States does not have a policy of sending soldiers back to their old outfit like the French. Gardner gained an officer position because many officers had been wounded beyond return. He used to be in B Battery but went into A Battery as executive officer and was in charge of the 90mm guns while other officers had jobs of being in charge of 50mm and quad 50s which had a lot of power over low flying airplanes within a quarter mile. They went into Paris in early August 1944 and went onto Belgium, then into Liege and Spa. In Liege they were under fire from V2 rockets. The Germans could not aim the rockets at anything specific because the rockets were not controllable. A small town like Liege provided a lot of area for the rockets to land. The rockets would have caused a lot of damage in a larger city. Gardner was in Spa in October and November and they were in and out of Germany going to Aachen. Gardner thought the war would be over soon since they were so close to the border. On December 17, the Germans attacked in the Malmedy Massacre led by the SS with massive tanks and over 100 divisions [Annotator’s Note: in December 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge]. The Germans pushed through the American front lines easily because the men were untrained and just getting used to the area they were fighting. The Germans knew the area well because they had invaded Belgium twice before. There were woods and small towns so it was hard to drive through near the Hürtgen Forest. The forest was in a cold area and men’s’ toes and fingers were freezing off. Gardner was trained from antiaircraft to antitank. Their guns were the best to destroy a Tiger Tank which had an 88mm gun. Malmedy was the northern corner in the bulge the Germans made during the Battle of the Bulge. They were hoping to capture Antwerp to have a port in the Channel and split the American and British Armies and get a truce to stop the war. The Germans only got between 60 to 100 miles inland and at the far ends only about 80 to 100 from the lines. They surrounded Bastogne where General McAuliffe denied the German surrender with his famous saying of “Nuts”. Bastogne was liberated by Patton’s Third Army.


Clinton Gardner had been in Bastogne a week before it was captured because his outfit was helping with the Red Ball Express to supply the city. It was two weeks before the Germans were contained. Gardner later learned there were around 40,000 killed which amounted to one of the largest losses of American troops. Many of the American troops that landed only had six months of training against highly trained German troops. It was vital to hold onto Malmedy because the Germans would have made it to Spa and Antwerp. Gardner was at a command post on December 29 and his job was to alert the guns a quarter of a mile behind him when the German tanks were coming in. One morning around noon Gardner heard B-24 planes and watched the bombs fall from the bomb bay. Gardner called the gunners to alert them that their own forces were bombing them and as he said it the house he was in was flattened and buried them underneath the rubble. A beam hit the dining room table and kept the weight from crushing the men. Corporal Cullen and Reinhart were more concerned about having all their limbs. Gardner dug them out within 30 minutes. Half of the people were killed including the Belgian family who owned the house along with the infantrymen. Gardner was given a Purple Heart but found it amusing since he was bombed by his own troops. The Battle of the Bulge lasted about a month. After the American Army crossed the Rhine River they announced that the American Army was taking volunteers for military government because they did not have enough officers to administer the towns they were capturing. Gardner spoke both French and German and volunteered. He thought it could prepare him for a post-military career. Gardner joined the team in March 1945 and they were placed in displaced person camps in Cologne and then Vesslar in Germany. [Annotator’s note: unsure of spelling.] The camps had as many as 20,000 displaced people who worked in factories and had no means of staying alive unless they were put in the camps. Gardner was told he and the other officers were going to be put in charge of the Buchenwald concentration camp when it was fully liberated. The camp was not liberated until early April. General Patton had taken the Weimar without telling anyone and Gardner was not there the first week it was liberated. Patton and General Eisenhower and General Bradley all visited the camp around April 13th and saw the hundreds of bodies which had about 20,000 inmates at the times. Patton gave orders for the camp to remain as it was so people could see what it was like and the American and international press took part in documenting it and spreading the news of what happened. However Buchenwald was a work camp and people confuse the work camps with the extermination camps. Over 50,000 died including both Germans and Russians.


Clinton Gardner witnessed the liberation of Buchenwald and noted there were close to 55,000 to 56,000 deaths in the camp. Gardner and his small team arrived with the commander of the team who was Captain Ball. Ball put Gardner in charge of Buchenwald a week after the liberation when his team was the first to arrive. Gardner was 22 and in charge of 20,000 liberated prisoners. He was the only member of the team who could communicate because Gardner spoke French and German and most of the prisoners spoke German but were from many countries. When the war was over on May 8, 1945 Gardner and his team at Buchenwald were able to get trucks and were able to send people back to where ever they came from. On July 4 they turned Buchenwald over to the Russians when there were almost no more prisoners inside. However the Russians turned it into a concentration camp for their own prisoners. Gardner does not believe it became as bad at the old Buchenwald but it possibly was equivalent to a Russian Gulag. Gardner and his team turned the camp over to the Russians because the Weimar was going to be the Eastern occupied zone of Germany. After July Gardner went to a county North of Stuttgart called Wankein [Annotator’s note. unsure of town’s spelling.] Gardner was the second in Command of a military team who administered food and power for the county. They stayed for a few months and were sent home in December of that year and returned to Norwich, Vermont. He went back to studying at Dartmouth. They were very accommodating to military officers with the GI Bill and giving credits for serving in the war. Gardner’s family lived in Norwich, Vermont and Gardner was happy the GI Bill got him through college. He left in 1947. Gardner learned about Pearl Harbor when he was in Norwich on Main Street. He was walking towards the church from his family home and someone coming down the street told him about the attack and he went to a radio as soon as he could and learned more about it. Gardner learned about the attack around two in the afternoon. Gardner believed the Army training was fine and Officer Candidate School was intense but good. If you were not cut out to be an officer, the leaders determined it and many people were washed out of OCS. Gardner had a year of Dartmouth behind him and was educated well. Gardner traveled overseas on the Queen Mary. It was the first time he had been on a ship that size. Gardner sailed off of Cape Cod on sailboats but never experienced a ship with the amount of crowding as with 15,000 men. The ship was able to change course easily and Gardner was seasick for several weeks.


Clinton Gardner and the armed forces with him were so well trained that he does not remember being afraid when they were shipped to Normandy on June 5th. They trained by crawling on their bellies while bullets flew overhead. Gardner attributes the lack of fear to the good training and felt a stoic acceptance to be called to defeat Hitler to protect the world and the United States. Gardner thought the argument of fighting the War to liberate the Jews was a dumb argument because they did not know the amount of death occurring from the concentration camps. Gardner believes his family would have been killed or put into a concentration camp if Hitler won the war and taken over power in the United States. Gardner recalls going to church services when he was in the special camp for Top Secret Bigot before D-Day. He was awake at 5 in the morning and had to wait an hour until the invasion began. Gardner first heard and saw flashes on the horizon around 5:30 when they were supposed to be attacking targets on land. Gardner and his men piled into the LCT and moved towards land between 5:30 and 9 in the morning. He remembered where he landed because he saw a house built on the beach but never found the house in any pictures he saw after the war. Gardner assumes the house was flattened. He landed near the beach exit road near Vierville close to a church tower on the Dog Green Sector. The men could see the cliff and shore from the LCT a half hour before they landed on Omaha Beach. Gardner thinks about how remarkable it is that he is still here after being hit in the head the afternoon of D-Day and how lucky his life has been. If his head had been half an inch higher then his skull would have been split open. Gardner knows the scene from Saving Private Ryan was based on the Dog Green Sector and the beach was well portrayed. One different thing was the pillbox being captured by the end of the day. The pillbox Gardner saw was not captured by the end of the day, but the day after, and the men who captured the pillbox used flamethrowers. Gardner was only 80 feet away from the pillbox and wounded and watched the men with the flamethrowers take over the pillbox. The Germans surrendered and were marched out of the area. The opening scene in Saving Private Ryan when the bodies are floating in the water shows how many lives were lost by the engineers in the battle. The movie showed a very realistic portrayal of what it was like on D-Day.


Clinton Gardner never thought of his own death but watched a few hundred men die. Gardner got sick and threw up around 12 in the afternoon on D-Day in his foxhole. [Annotator’s note: Gardner is lost in thought about the question of his thoughts when he was wounded.] Gardner has lived to be 89 and feels he has lived a nice life and does not and did not wonder when he was wounded if he had lived a nice life. After he was wounded he was placed in a new unit and found himself to be very mature. He was a First Lieutenant at age 19 or 20 and felt he was not mature enough to lead as an officer in his first battalion. Gardner learned a lot about the concentration camps by being able to talk to the Camp Elder at Buchenwald. The SS appointed an Elder to groups of people in the concentration camp so the SS guards did not have to watch all of the prisoners themselves. The Camp Elder was named Hans Iden [Annotator’s note: unsure of name spelling] and Gardner learned that Buchenwald was probably one of the best camps to work in because the prisoner self administration was done in the last years before the liberation by German communists. These communists kept the SS from knowing what the prisoners kept secret. For example, some prisoners kept guns away and the SS did not know. They liberated themselves 24 hours before the armies arrived. There was a minimum of brutality at Buchenwald and the worst part was the little camp where all of the Jews were. There was not a large amount of Jews at work camps because most Jews were sent to death camps like Auschwitz. The death rate was high at the little camp and they had a very small amount of food and little to no health services and a separate barb wire fence from the large Buchenwald camp.


Clinton Gardner notes that Elie Wiesel and his father were in the little camp at Buchenwald. Wiesel was in the camp infirmary when Buchenwald was liberated. A couple years ago, Gardner met Wiesel and showed him a full map of Buchenwald which Wiesel had never seen before and took a picture with him. Gardner believes it is important to teach future generations about World War II and the lives it affected. Gardner and other survivors put together a book full of memoirs for others to read. Gardner also believes that younger generations should learn about the World Wars. He has been called upon to talk to students at high schools about D-Day and Buchenwald along with several of his friends. Gardner never experienced any form of PTSD and was surprised because of his wound from D-Day and the amount of blood he saw that day. The army gave the men a pill that relaxed the men to reduce the chances of shock. They felt that relaxation for about 24 hours. He remembers being able to reduce the shock especially after the bomb fell on the house while he was in it in France. When Gardner came back he wrote his story and talked to different clubs and has kept talking about it instead of bottling up his story and the shock he received from it. Everyone thought the First World War would be the war to end all wars but the impact of the Second has educated people to stop massive world wars. An atom bomb could be dropped tomorrow and it is always possible that countries have the ability to exterminate the world with nuclear weapons. Nuclear power could stop a Third World War unless the people want an extermination of the entire human population.

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