Early Life

Army Training

D-Day Invasion

Normandy Hedgerows

Breakout and the Bulge

Germany and Czechoslovakia

Combat Recognitions and Grief

Reflections

Experiences in Germany

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Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] was born in Chicago, Illinois and grew up in the suburb of Cicero. Right after graduation from high school, he enlisted in the Army. He was only 17 at the time. Though a bit underage to enlist, the recruiters were taking everyone available because the war had just started. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was nearing graduation from high school. It was a cold Sunday and he was driving his mother to the cemetery. A football game was being broadcast over the radio when an announcement was made concerning the attack. Everyone wanted to get involved because of the resentment generated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hitler was expanding so much that someone had to put a stop to it. The general attitude was to just get it over with. Starting with a small army, with ramped up war production and military growth, the United States became a formidable power. Miksa wanted to join the Marines but their quota was full. He next tried the paratroopers but was advised to get into armor forces first and then transfer to the paratroopers afterward. As a result, he joined the armor forces.

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Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] was inducted into the service at Camp Grant, Illinois then sent to Camp Bowie, Texas. He did his basic training there for six weeks. Afterward, the 745th Tank Battalion was part of maneuvers in Louisiana for two to three months. He helped originate the 745th Tank Battalion which was initiated in Camp Grant, Illinois. Miksa landed on D-Day as a tank driver but ultimately was promoted to platoon leader as a staff sergeant. Most the time, he ran the platoon because there were no officers available. Soon after the maneuvers in Louisiana, orders came for overseas deployment. The unescorted transit across the ocean was on the Queen Mary. The ship would alter course every two minutes to avoid submarine attack. The armored units were on top of the ship to assist in manning the ship’s defensive guns. The tankers had the familiarity with the ship’s weapons. They were more fortunate than the 14,000 troops below deck. The ship landed in Edinburgh, Scotland. The men were transported to sunny Devon, England where they practiced amphibious landings and maneuvers for 11 months. Different infantry units trained with them. They were well prepared for the invasion. In basic training, the men did not have adequate equipment. After basic, Miksa found the maneuvers in Louisiana were hot. In England, the battalion learned how to land their tanks on a beach, how to attack pillboxes, and other important tactics. Miksa learned to fire all kinds of weapons from a pistol to a 20mm. Day by day, the men learned about amphibious landings through their training experience. There had been some lessons learned in Sicily but most of what the battalion learned was through their training in England. The tanks would drive right off the boats. There were other options tried on the tanks making beach landings. Some tanks were fitted with floatation devices around the vehicle. Other tanks had snorkel tubes for engine air intake. When Miksa landed, there were two other platoons from two other battalions with them. They had floatation devices that were not successful. Most of the tankers were lost due to drowning after their vehicle sank. Miksa’s platoon had a five or six foot snorkel attached to their tank which had been made waterproof. The coxswain opened the gate of the vessel too soon. He should have passed through the first sandbar and opened up the gate on the second sandbar. Instead, he released the gate at the first sandbar. Miksa’s tank had to work its way to the beach despite being in water much deeper than originally planned. There was so much enemy fire coming in on the coxswain that he elected to prematurely release the gate. Miksa was the first tank off in 12 feet of water. He traveled 30 or 40 yards before he pulled out of the water in front of the cliffs that are visible on Omaha Beach. Before D-Day, the local population of England was very nice to the Americans. Occasionally, some guys drank too much and started fights, but most the time, the English and Americans got along well. The 745th was at Southampton on 5 June which was the originally planned invasion date. With the bad weather, a decision by Eisenhower [Annotator’s Note: General Dwight David Eisenhower.] was made to delay until the next day. The 745th had been on an LCM [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft, Mechanized] since 3 June. Only one tank would fit on the LCM. The LCM was circling around to prevent the Germans from seeing them. The battalion knew details of the invasion two weeks prior to the start. They had been shown relief maps of the landing site with its landmarks. The men were quarantined to prevent leakage of the plan.

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For Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa], D-Day was cold, damp and dark. H-hour was about 0630. Miksa and his tankers were to land about an hour and a half after the first wave. Word came from the beach that there were too many casualties and the beach was too littered with destruction to warrant the tanks coming in on time. The order was to hold up to prevent running over American wounded. It was hard to see because of the weather. There was little air cover, but the battleships could be heard firing on the enemy positions. The tanks were loaded on the submergible deck of an LCM [Annotator’s Note: Landing Craft, Mechanized]. When it was time for the tanks to offload, the ship would take on water to sink enough to allow the armor to roll off the vessel onto the sandy beach. Lieutenant Davis was Miksa’s platoon leader. Miksa was the first tank out but he was in deep water and could not see anything until he reached the shore line. The beach was shrinking with the rising tide. The wounded were lined up against the hill to prevent being shot by the Germans. The tanks received small arms fire but nothing heavy like an 88 [Annotator’s Note: German 88mm antiaircraft and anti-armor artillery piece]. It sounded like rainfall plinking against the hull. Eventually, the battalion worked its way up the cliff with the aid of a bulldozer providing a roadway. In the afternoon, the first objective at Église [Annotator’s Note: Sainte-Mère-Église] was taken. The five platoon tanks which had landed all made it through the beach. One tank commander was killed by a sniper bullet. While Miksa was on the beach, he unbuttoned his tank while he was not receiving any fire. He saw severely wounded and dead American troops. He knew some mothers would get letters about their dead son. They would never understand how gruesome the death might have been on Easy Red on Omaha Beach. Communications within a tank was fine but to the outside was very fuzzy. The captain jumped from his tank to Miksa to give the order to advance. At that point, he motioned to the others to follow. There were many German machine gun nests on the cliffs but most of the enemy troops were retreating. The enemy emplacements were camouflaged. The infantry was wiping out individual pillboxes. The plans made in England were not working out as crisply as envisioned.

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After D-Day, Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] and the 745th Tank Battalion drove to Caumont. That was the deepest penetration of any unit into enemy territory. The battalion hunkered down and resupplied there for a few days. Afterward, the unit headed to St. Lo through the hedgerow country. The hedgerows were established as property boundaries by French farmers centuries ago. They are comprised of dense vegetation growth on top of mounds of dirt. A tank would have to expose its weak belly to climb over the growth. Being up in the air, a 20mm cannon could penetrate the bottom of the hull of the tank. Eventually, the ordnance people welded a ram on the front of the tank where the vehicle could force its way through the vegetation. Bulldozer blades would also be attached to tanks to help with knocking down the hedgerows. Any opposition on the far side would be buried as the tank rammed its way through. Most enemy armor was Panther Tanks. The Tigers were being held back for the location where the enemy expected the real invasion to occur. The enemy tanks were mainly lighter tanks. The American tanks could effectively fight the Panther tanks but the Tigers had more armor and an 88 gun. The Tigers were slow and the Americans could encircle one and disable it by hitting the treads. During this stage of the fighting, a good advance for a day would gain 20 to 30 yards. Most of the infantry followed the tanks. Most of the casualties they suffered were from enemy light arms fire. That fire did not bother the armor. The slow pace of advance in the hedgerow country was frustrating. The infantry suffered heavy casualties. The tank platoon suffered losses but mainly from tracks that were knocked off. Miksa was in Marigny near St. Lo when a heavy Allied bombing occurred. Being only three miles away, he could see over 1,000 planes in the air. The first plane had a bombardier who dropped his ordnance too early. The bombs fell on American troops. Other bombers followed suit before the operation was halted. There were hundreds of friendly fire casualties as a result of the error in the bombing. It included a high ranking American officer. Miksa stood on his tank and watched the bombing. His pants were shaking as bomb load after bomb load were dropped. St. Lo was leveled during the operation [Annotator’s Note: over 100 troops were killed and 800 wounded during the botched bomb drop during Operation Cobra including Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair]. St. Lo was an important road junction where Patton took off toward southern France and the 3rd Armored Division headed toward central France. The 745th followed the 3rd Armored Division. The smaller towns had to be cleared of German resistance. The local population of Normandy was very nice, but some were German sympathizers. In northern France, the people had an attitude that the Americans were not doing enough for them. There were more German sympathizers there, too. When the resistance caught a woman being too friendly with the Germans, they would cut her hair off.

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Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] and his outfit [Annotator’s Note: the 745th Tank Battalion] fought through Chartres and Mons to make it across the Rur River en route to the Rhine River. There were numerous Germans encircled in the Falaise Gap. Most of them were caught on the main roads. Between the Allied armor and the air forces, there were huge losses of enemy equipment and men who were attempting to reach the Siegfried Line. Bloated animals with their feet up in the air were everywhere. The American infantry captured prisoners at Falaise, but during Malmedy and Bastone, the Germans murdered numerous Allied prisoners. After that point, the rule was to not take prisoners. The exception would be if headquarters called and said prisoners were needed to provide information for intelligence. Otherwise, following Malmedy, there was no mercy for enemy prisoners. The pace of advance for the American armor picked up significantly after crossing the Rhine River. The tanks would make 20 or 30 miles a day headed toward Berlin. German soldiers in the ditches would recognize the Americans with a salute. They had given up the war. The armored units owned just the road as they proceeded. During the Battle of the Bulge, Miksa had just returned to his unit from the hospital. Word was received of the German offensive. The 745th was moved to Bastone near Malmedy. It was a tough winter as the Americans attempted to prevent the enemy from reaching supplies at Antwerp. Manning the foxholes was difficult with the harsh weather. Additionally, the Wehrmacht had a new bomb that would explode above the ground with shrapnel descending on the troops below. Dugouts were no protection against the dangers. There were attacks and then counterattacks with ground being gained and then lost. Finally, at Christmas, the skies cleared and the air force dropped much needed supplies for the American troops. Without a steady supply of food, many of the American soldiers foraged on nearby farms. Sleeping in a tank at night was rough. A man could never warm up. It was freezing. Before the Bulge, Miksa had been in the hospital recuperating from a shrapnel wound to his hand. The wound was received after his tank was hit in the treads in Heistern, Germany. As he and the crew were abandoning the disabled tank, he was hit by shrapnel. He was sent to a hospital in Liege, Belgium. Buzz bombs [Annotator’s Note: German V-1 rocket propelled bomb] were coming over Liege every few minutes. The bomb sounded like a washing machine until it cut out and then it fell to the ground. Miksa thought it would be better to be on the front lines so he returned to his unit. That was when the orders came to move on Bastone. While attacking Heistern, they were faced with antitank guns and a defensive position. Miksa requested a smoke screen but as he reached the middle of an open field, there was no covering smoke. It seemed that a 40mm caught his tank in the treads and disabled it. There was shrapnel ricocheting inside the tank. He was exposed as the tank commander. Although that was the best way to see what was happening around you, it was dangerous. He was wounded and sent to Liege. The town where he was wounded in Germany was not part of the Siegfried Line but there was a lot of door to door fighting. There were Germans in the houses on the upper floors and in steeples. The infantry had to work their way through the town behind the tanks. There were heavy fortifications and booby traps. During the Bulge, there were German tanks that advanced on Miksa and his unit. They were beat back then there would be another attack. Bastone was relieved as the supplies were dropped by the air force and Patton [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton] broke through and reached the town.

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Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] and the 745th Tank Battalion passed right through the Siegfried Lines without much effort. Most of the obstacles were merely covered over by bulldozers. That was on the way to combat at Aachen. The battalion was part of General Hodges [Annotator’s Note: General Courtney H. Hodges] 1st Army. They never fought with Patton’s [Annotator’s Note: General George S. Patton] 3rd Army. The fighting at Aachen was tough. The occupants did not want to be the first ones to be taken over. The 745th had passed through Herne on its way to Aachen. Both involved street by street fighting. There were a lot of casualties, but the Germans were beginning to give up. After Aachen, the outfit crossed over the Rhine River at Remagen. Miksa was the last tank over the old bridge before it collapsed. German artillery destroyed the bridge but within two days the engineers had built a pontoon bridge even though they were under fire. Miksa saw the bridge after it fell into the river. The tanks were headed to Berlin, but as they neared the city, they were ordered to stop. The Russians were to take the city according to the Yalta agreement with Stalin [Annotator’s Note: Joseph Stalin, the dictatorial Premium of Soviet Russia]. The 745th headed to the Harz Mountains and Nordhausen where the buzz bombs were made. The scientist Von Braun [Annotator’s Note: Wernher Von Braun was a noted German rocket scientist] and 100 other scientists were captured. The Americans found him in Nordhausen. Von Braun helped the United States reached the moon. Miksa felt he had done his part in achieving the goal of putting men on the moon. At Nordhausen, they saw a gated area that was very quiet. Miksa opened the gate and people at the concentration camp started coming out. They had worked in the bomb plant until they were sick and put in the camp. Miksa gave a box of K rations to a man who ate the box and all. Orders came not to feed the inmates. Most German guards left the camp except for one Polish guard who remained. He escorted Miksa around and he observed the depravity of the situation. When the inmates were told they were going to get a shower, they were very happy. They disrobed and went into the shower and the doors were shut. [Annotator's Note: the interview is interrupted momentarily at this point.] The camp was right on the border between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Miksa and the men had been fighting every day since Normandy. Although he was in the concentration camp only three days, he discovered the reason that he was fighting. It was a good feeling that he could help those people. The local population would not admit that they knew what was going on in the camp. Civilians were eventually loaded into trucks and forced to view the camp. Miksa was shown how the bodies were burned. After that point, there was only light opposition to the American progress through Germany. The enemy knew they were finished. There was a lot of surrendering with open fields filled with prisoners of war. The Germans troops were starving. One prisoner offered Miksa a five dollar gold piece for a can of food. Miksa met the Russians troops in Eger, Czechoslovakia. He was not impressed with the quality of the troops he met. He thought that they appeared to be bums without discipline but they were cocky. There was not much time to spend with them before the officers took over.

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Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] received the Silver Star, Bronze Star with an arrowhead and the Purple Heart with a cluster. He was wounded in Mortain as the Falaise Gap was closing. Two Stuka [Annotator’s Note: German Junkers Ju-87 Stuka dive bomber aircraft] bombers strafed his tank after dropping flares. Miksa’s tank was next to a truck loaded with gasoline. The bombers hit the gasoline truck and flames flew over Miksa’s vehicle. He had to get his tanks out as the Stukas followed him. They were firing 20mm rounds at him. By finding a safe location that was hidden from the overhead attack, he saved five tanks. That was his first Purple Heart. The second Purple Heart was at Heistern in Germany. The Bronze Star was from landing on D-Day. The Bronze Arrowhead was also from landing on D-Day. The memories of the deaths he witnessed never go away. As Miksa aged, he thought more about those who died. His most vivid memory of the war involved being in the basement of a blown out building in Heistern. Across the room was a German woman cradling her dead baby girl dressed in a communion dress. The American and the German watched each other. Miksa did not want to go to sleep. He did not know what the grieving woman would do. The woman’s pain was obvious. Miksa remembered that incident the most. [Annotator’s Note: Miksa stops briefly as the emotion of the memory passes.] The memory never leaves. One can only try to put it out of your mind by distracting the thoughts, with a song or other happier thoughts. To focus on it would place a person in a bobby hatch somewhere.

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Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] felt the war was necessary in order to get rid of the Axis leaders. Miksa and the other veterans went on to build the country as the Greatest Generation. The sad part is that many good men were left behind. In today’s world, there are similar difficult circumstances. The experiences of the Second World War could be repeated as a result. Miksa wishes for people to realize the futility of war and for future wars to be avoided through the elimination of hatred. He counsels youngsters on this when he discusses his experiences. The war taught him to be honest with people and to not take advantage of others. Discipline and learning that everything does not come easily were also lessons. Miksa remembered the President dying [Annotator’s Note: when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945]. The troops began to feel that the war was nearing the end. Miksa was in Czechoslovakia at the time. The day before the war ended, his buddy was shot and killed by a sniper. Miksa was one of the first guys to go home. He had 95 total points. He had 17 battle awards at 5 points each so he had plenty of points to return home. The trip home took 15 days on a slow boat. He was discharged in Chicago and took the elevated train to Cicero. It was crowded and he offered his seat to a woman. The lady refused Miksa’s offer stating that she learned during the war that men and women were equal. After the war, Miksa worked in the wholesale meat business with his father. Union pressures closed the business so he went to work in his father-in law’s bakery. He went to school to learn the techniques of the profession. A successful business was built up. The whole family worked there. There were up to 80 employees working in multiple locations before the Baker’s Union put pressure on the business and eventually closed it. Miksa retired at 62 years old. He lived in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin half of the year and then half the year in Florida. About 18 or 19 years prior to the interview, Miksa moved to Florida because the weather got too cold up north. In retrospect, he wants people to know that war is nothing but destruction. It is important to keep the peace. Nobody gains in war. Miksa is proud of his part in D-Day because it was necessary to get a foothold in Europe somehow. Eisenhower [Annotator’s Note: General Dwight David Eisenhower] was a good commander. Landing in France was about the easiest way to get a foothold so they could stretch out.

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Before being discharged from the hospital, Bob Miksa [Annotator’s Note: Robert Miksa] returned to his unit by lifting a man’s uniform while he was in the shower. The next day, Miksa was on his way to fight at Bastone in the Battle of the Bulge [Annotator’s Note: Miksa was recuperating from a shrapnel wound in a hospital in Liege, Belgium when he took the uniform. A relative joins in the discussion momentarily.]. While in Heistern, Miksa got a Nazi flag that was hanging from a house. He obtained a Luger while in Nordhausen. He put the barrel of his tank cannon in a tunnel and shouted in German for those inside to come out. When they did not, he fired some rounds and the Germans exited. One of the Germans was an officer with a Luger. Miksa took the pistol from him. Some of the most fanatic troops were the young SS soldiers. Many of them were still in their teens. A New York sergeant who had battled his way into Germany after starting in Africa interrogated some captured young troops. When one of the young boys spit in the sergeant’s face, the American took his rifle and stuck the barrel in the kid’s mouth and blew his head off. The young German fighters were tough. The sergeant had a short temper with the disrespectful kid. The young soldier should have kept his mouth shut instead of spitting on the non-com [Annotator's Note: noncommissioned officer]. Miksa entered one German town with numerous pregnant young girls. They were all blue eyed and blond hair and they were making the perfect race. One incident happened much later in life when Miksa was giving a talk and mentioned Nordhausen. A person in the crowd came up to him and hugged him in gratitude for freeing him from the concentration camp. Miksa has read a book by a German gunner who was on the cliffs at Omaha Easy Red beach. The German was very close to where Miksa’s tank was. Perhaps some of the machine gun rounds that bounced off Miksa’s tank were fired by the German author. The German machine guns fired so many rounds at the landing troops that barrels had to be changed out frequently. The German writer caused a lot of casualties on D-Day. He was one of the last enemy gunners on the cliffs that morning. Some of the German soldiers did not know why they were fighting. On Christmas Eve, Miksa was hunkered down near German troops. They were singing songs for Christmas just like the Americans did. They were very similar to each other. Conversely, there was the memory of the German civilians outside the Nordhausen camp who denied that they knew what was going on inside. They admitted what was happening only after they were forced to visit the camp.

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