Becoming a Soldier

Deployment to Europe and Combat in France

Bulge to Discharge

The Tank Destroyers

Combat Experience

Reflections and Postwar Life

Humor in War


John H. Price, Jr. was with the 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion throughout World War 2. He started at Camp Shelby then went overseas to England to collect equipment. He then went to the continent [Annotator's Note: Europe] in September 1944. Price was born in Indianola, Mississippi in December 1923 and lived there until the war. He had an older sister and younger brother. His father was a lawyer in Indianola until he retired in his 80s. He recalls the rough times of the Depression. 1937 was the roughest time for his family but no one had very much at that time. Everyone was in the same boat. Today's life is much more complicated and different with feelings of security. He entered high school at 14. He did not participate in sports. Instead, he worked after school and on Saturdays. Price was in his home in Indianola on 7 December 1941 with his aunt and mother when his cousin, who was in the National Guard, came by and told them of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was a big event in everyone's life. He had no idea where Pearl Harbor was except it was somewhere in the Pacific. He realized that at his age, he would soon be in the service. Price attended West Point but he was relieved from there after he failed math the first year. He was told that if he wanted to go into the Army he could wire a Lieutenant Colonel Booth in Washington and he could go into any branch he wanted. Not knowing the difference between any of the branches, he checked around about different branches of the Army and heard about the new tank destroyer outfit that was being formed. That sounded fascinating to him. He wanted to be a tank destroyer. He went to Camp Shelby in October 1943. He had also been to Junior College in Moorhead prior to Camp Shelby. The 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion was being organized at Shelby at that time. He was sent to Lieutenant Colonel Browne [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant Colonel Roland A. Browne], the battalion commander. Lieutenant Colonel Browne called in Price to see if he wanted to attend OCS [Annotator's Note: officer candidate school]. Price gave an affirmative answer. Brown said that Price would first be sent to Company B. Company B was one of three line companies in the battalion. Afterward, he was to be sent to OCS but later learned that it was closed. Time passed and Brown asked Price why he did not attend OCS to which Price responded that it was closed. Brown said for Price to put in his application but as soon as it was approved, the 609th was shipping out. Given the choice of shipping out with the unit or attending OCS, Price chose to stay with the group of men he had come to appreciate. He has had no regrets about the decision. The 609th left Camp Shelby in August 1944 for debarkation to Europe via Camp Shanks, New York.


It took three weeks for John H. Price, Jr. to make the crossing of the Atlantic Ocean, all the while zig-zagging to avoid submarine attack. The 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion landed in Liverpool then transferred by train to a private estate that had a manor house with many Quonset huts in the adjacent fields and was surrounded by a low brick wall. The troops were told to stay within the base. Every night they would go into one of the two nearby villages anyway even though the other village was off limits to troops. After three weeks in the staging area, they went to Portland in southern England where they boarded an LST [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank] which took them to Utah Beach. It was very quiet on Utah Beach by that time since it was September 1944. The 609th then went on a road march through Orly then Orleans and came back to support General George Patton who they had heard was on a rampage through Europe and was unstoppable. Patton had overstretched his supply lines and lost Metz. The 609th formed up to help Patton retake Metz. Near Maizieres-les-Metz, the 609th entrenched their tank destroyers to serve as field artillery against the Germans fortified in that city 12 miles away. They were there from October to November 1944. Then they were put on the move toward Germany where they saw the Siegfried Line with its dragon teeth [Annotator's Note: dragon teeth were reinforced concrete anti-tank obstacles]. Army engineers had demolished access ways through the reinforced concrete so vehicles could go back and forth through the dragon teeth. The 609th encountered small German villages that were demolished. Exchanging fire with nearby German troops was commonplace at this time. Price had two humorous experiences during that time which was from 2 December to 20 December. It was at that time that Company C, except for one platoon, was sent to Bastone. The Battle of the Bulge was underway.


[Annotator’s Note: John H. Price, Jr. commanded a tank destroyer in Company B, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion throughout World War 2.] During the early stages of the Battle of the Bulge, Company C, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion was sent to Luxembourg to defend Luxembourg City on the southern flank of the bulge. Attached to the 10th Armored Division, the unit was sent to Bastogne and then cut off with the 101st Airborne Division. After the Battle of the Bulge, the 609th stayed in Luxembourg for a time. From there, the unit crossed the Saar-Moselle River several times. The 609th was in on the capture of Trier, Germany. After crossing the Rhine, the unit went south and joined the 7th Armored Division. When the war ended, the 609th was in Bavaria near the Alps. Shortly afterward, the 609th was sent about 20 kilometers north to a small village where the V2 wind tunnels were. Dr. Werner von Braun was there and looking for capture by the Americans. The SS was looking for German scientists who could give Nazi secrets to the Allies. After a few months, the 609th received word that they would be returning to the United States and would receive a furlough as a battalion after which they would get ready to transfer to the Pacific. Men with enough points would be allowed to take a discharge prior to Pacific transfer. The 609th was in France about to return to the United States when the war with Japan ended. Following their return to the United States, Price was discharged at Fort Knox, Kentucky in November 1945.


John H. Price, Jr.'s company [Annotator's Note: Company B, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion] was comprised of three platoons. There were three platoons of tank destroyers, one platoon for headquarters, and one platoon for reconnaissance. Price was in the 1st Platoon, Company B. Each company had 12 tank destroyers, for a total of 36 in the battalion. The tank destroyer was a different "breed of cat." Early in the war, the military decided they needed a vehicle to shoot at tanks. The first tank destroyers were half tracks with 30mm guns which were no good at all against a tank. Price's group had 76 mm, three inch, guns on their vehicles. Their tank destroyers were made by Buick. The technology used on their tank destroyer was used on automobiles in the early 1950s. The turret on their tank destroyer had an open top on it. Later during the war it was recommended that they put flaps on parts of it to give more protection. The tank commander had a .50 caliber machine gun that was on a ring mount that could swing around 360 degrees. Their gun was a 76mm gun which was a good weapon unless they came up against a Tiger King tank [Annotator's Note: German Mark VI heavy tank, known as the King Tiger or Tiger II]. Their rounds would just bounce off of those tanks. Later in the war they got the M36 Tank Destroyer which was slower than the M18s they had been using but mounted a 90mm gun. That 90mm gun was almost as good as the German 88mm gun. The M18 had a road speed of 55 miles per hour. They heard that they had been tested at Fort Hood which was the headquarters for the tank destroyers. It was the fastest armored vehicle of World War 2. It was also unbelievably smooth as a result of their torsion bar suspension. In those days they could not fire while moving. Modern tanks can be moving at top speed and fire at a target. The American tanks did not have a muzzle brake on their guns like the German vehicles did. The tank destroyers did not have the armor that tanks had either. Price started out as a gunner then later became a vehicle commander. The tank destroyer had a five man crew. There was a driver, assistant driver, gunner, loader and tank commander. They were all able to communicate via telephones in their helmets. They carried high explosive, or HE, rounds as well as solid steel armor piercing rounds. They carried about 45 rounds at a time. The gunner had a pistol grip to traverse the turret. The turret could rotate 360 degrees in about 15 seconds. The gunner had the pistol grip in one hand to rotate the turret and a wheel in the other that moved the barrel up and down. Shooting at airplanes with the .50 caliber machine gun was not as easy as it looked.


The first dead people John H. Price, Jr. saw were Germans and that had little effect on him. They could hear field artillery coming in and could duck behind cover, unlike with mortar rounds. Price's first field experience was near Metz. The unit dug deep foxholes and French boys offered straw for the bottom of holes for one cigarette. Price did not smoke so he gave a pack of cigarettes and instantly drove up the price of straw. He never told his smoking buddies what he had done. Sleeping on the ground, it was always cold and wet. Price never had a cold. Sleeping in a barn was nice but they could get lice. Price would not want to repeat the experience. Near the Siegfried Line the Germans had a lot of pill boxes along with the dragon's teeth [Annotator's Note: dragon's teeth were reinforced concrete anti-tank obstacles]. Near Tettingen-Butzdorf there was a two story house where the Germans had a machine gun emplacement. The field artillery could not knock it out so it was left to the tank destroyers to do so. The Germans fought harder as the Allies got closer to their homeland. There were also more pillboxes which caused major problems for the Allies but many were destroyed. The 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion crossed the Rhine River at Ulb and turned south toward Stuttgart. There was very little German opposition by the time the 609th reached Luxembourg. By the time of the Battle of the Bulge, the 609th had lost contact with one of its companies in that area. Contact was finally reestablished in late December 1944. They heard of the Germans dressing as American troops and to be alert for that. The incident at Malmedy where American troops were massacred was much talked about. Few German prisoners were captured after that happened. After the Battle of the Bulge, the next area of involvement was Trier in the bend of the Moselle River. They had to get the Germans out of the Trier area to keep them from splitting the Allied forces. The 609th helped take the city after tough fighting. The tank destroyers usually operated as support units. They were rarely used as a stand-alone unit. They assisted cavalry, armored units and the infantry. In one town, Price's battle group encountered a company of SS troops. The SS men made a break for it across an open field and Price's group of tank destroyers started shooting at them. Price's lieutenant ordered the men to cease fire and most of the SS troops got away. That was the first time Price was ever in a situation where he was shooting at people eyeball to eyeball. During the advance, they encountered some tanks. Price only recalls one tank that his vehicle fired on when he was still the gunner. From the distances they would engage at it was difficult to tell what kind of vehicle they were firing at. The main fighting was for Company C, 609th Tank Battalion at Bastone. The 609th was at Bastone with the 10th Armored Division and the 101st Airborne Division. They usually worked in task forces with other units. During one of those operations they were working with an officer who had trouble reading maps and continually got them lost. They learned later that the officer's name was Spiro Agnew. Agnew became a politician after the war. After crossing the Rhine resistance diminished. After crossing the Rhine they turned south. After turning south they entered a small town in which Price commandeered a motor bike that he rode around town. While out riding he encountered a friendly German couple who invited him in. The couple claimed they were not Nazis. By that time the American troops could not find a single Nazi in Germany. The man gave Price something to drink and gave him two Nazi drinking glasses. Whenever they took a town they would tell the burgermeister [Annotator's Note: similar to a town mayor] to have all of the citizens turn in their guns and cameras. Some of these cameras and guns were commandeered by GIs. On one occasion Price was out looking around by himself when he was approached by a man who was part of a labor battalion. The man and the others he was with wanted to surrender so Price marched them all back to his outfit.


John H. Price, Jr. felt elation with the end of the war in Europe. He and his unit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion] were living like kings in mansions and they knew the war was going to end soon. The highway was nothing but lines of prisoners coming in to surrender. The surrender was on 8 May [Annotator's Note: 8 May 1945]. There was a lot of snow on the ground during that time. His unit kept up training in Garmisch and in the Bavarian Alps after the German surrender. They were waiting to be transferred somewhere else. Price saw some tanks but did not get into much combat with them. They had been warned not to act like tanks because they were not tanks. Some of Price's worst memories included the fact that they could be shot at any time. One of those was when they were fighting through to Company C in Bastone [Annotator's Note: Company C, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion]. There were also a couple attacks in particular that were bad. He never knew who would be good soldiers and who would not be until they got into actual combat. Once they went into the town of Öhringen without infantry support. They should not have been in there because the top of their turrets were open and they could easily be shot from above. Price felt that the medics were special for their bravery. After one of the men was shot, a medic went to help him. The medic was also shot by a sniper so Price's tank destroyers fired into the windows of every building in the area then backed out and the artillery shelled the town. The Army matures an individual quickly, particularly when in combat. Price believes that the higher the rank an individual reached, the more decent he was. He had a particular fondness for a very thoughtful General Piburn [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. He goes further in explaining casualties from mines and air bursts. Price's unit lost 36 killed and about 60 wounded. He did not think there were any losses in his platoon. After the war, Price took advantage of the GI Bill and, in 1946, entered Ole Miss [Annotator's Note: University of Mississippi]. He was very happy with the support that led to his graduation in 1948 and ability to practice law and subsequently became Mississippi Assistant Attorney General. He never second guessed his decisions made during the war except possibly for the OCS training, but he felt it was better to stick with the unit he trained with. He felt lessons from the war should be continuously taught. He was glad to be in the tank destroyer unit. He commends The National WWII Museum for its efforts in capturing memories about the war. He shared his experiences with other veterans and family about the war when he returned. He wished he would have captured his detailed recollections immediately after the war so it would have been fresh in his memory.

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