James Charles Ramey came into this world on August 20, 1925 in Warren County, Ga. By the age of six, his father had moved the family to Demorest just south of Clarkeville in Habersham County.
“It was tough back then. The Great Depression was in full swing and jobs were hard to come by. My dad found a job in George Cassin’s Bicycle Shop, which later became an automotive shop. He worked six days a week, ten hour a day, for $1 per day. Later he got into cabinetmaking, ran a feed mill and corn mill, then a cabinet shop, and he even hauled lumber.”
By the age of 12, Ramey’s responsibilities included a vegetable garden and cutting fire wood with a buck saw:
“Shoot, I bet kids these days don’t even know what a buck saw is. My one brother and two sisters did what we could to help support the family. For extra money, I got up every morning seven days a week before daylight to deliver the Atlanta Constitution, then after school I delivered the Atlanta Journal. Uncle Sam invited me to join the military when I turned 18; he got me right out of high school in 1943.”
“I went to Fort McPherson, took my physical, then they tried to put me in Navy. I told them, ‘No way, I can’t swim and if that ship goes down I’d go down with it.’ I wanted the Marines. I was scrappy, 135 pounds, so the Marines sounded okay. I guess they didn’t like my attitude. I was told, ‘Then we will put you in the Army and send you to hell.’ That’s exactly what they said.”
Fort Knox, KY:
“I was bussed to Fort Knox for basic. Shoot, I’d never been anywhere before and didn’t know what to think. I was a bit scared, didn’t think I’d make it out of basic, but I did okay. I ended up driving trucks, then the M-4 tank (Sherman). It had a big transmission, you had to double-clutch; it was like driving a bulldozer. It was fast, could do about 40 mph, and I threw a rod in the first tank I drove. Didn’t get into too much trouble, though.”
“I was there for several weeks, a lot of training went on. We had live fire training, crawling on our bellies while a machine gun fires live ammunition over our heads. One boy got killed. They said it was a defective bullet that dropped and hit him. We trained with M-1s, the old Springfields, .30 cal. and .50 cal. machine guns… we were ready to go.”
Fort Bowie, Texas:
“Well, pretty much the same thing, training, training, and more training on the M-4 tank. I scared the heck out of the instructor. Guess he didn’t know I already had tank training. I told him, ‘Hang on to your pants.’ He was sitting in the assistant driver’s seat, just smiled, and told me, ‘You’ll never get it out of first gear’. Well, okay, so I took off around the field then headed straight for the woods… the instructor was screaming over the radio, ‘Stop! Stop!’ I came to a halt and he said, ‘I think you’ve driven a tank before.’ He still had his pants on so I guess he did hang on to them.”
Camp Campbell, KY:
“The 14th Armored needed replacements so I ended up joining them at Camp Campbell in July of ’44. I was made a mechanic and put in ordnance, sort of a jack of all trades. In October, we were alerted for movement to the ETO (European Theater of Operations) via Camp Shanks, New York. We took another physical at Camp Shanks; I was told to report to the hospital but I didn’t know where it was, so I boarded the ship. My name was on the ship’s roster, so I had no problem.
“I did not like being on a ship in a convoy. I didn’t want to join the Navy as I said before and there I am crossing the Atlantic Ocean on a troop ship headed for Marseille, France. We finally sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar. That was interesting, you could see North Africa on one side of the ship and Spain on the other side.”
October 29, 1944:
“We landed in Marseille and headed north towards the German lines. The French unloaded the ship for us, but stole a bunch of our trucks and equipment. I don’t think they even got in trouble. I know we didn’t care because we were sick as dogs; every one of us came down with dysentery. To cure us, we got cheese, lots and lots of cheese.”
The Vosges Mountains:
“We went over the mountains which sort of surprised the Germans. Our smaller M-4 tanks could do it; the heavier German Panzers couldn’t. I remember we were strafed by German planes while moving at night. We were blacked out and the planes missed by 30 feet, so we just kept on going. We got into hard fighting at Gertwiller, Benfeld, and Barr; that was our baptism under fire. Just like the Germans, we exercised our own variety of blitzkrieg maneuvers, running spearheads and lightning strikes.”
Ramey paused for a few seconds, then continued:
“I hope you’ll do your research on the sequence of events because I’m in the initial stages of dementia; it’s hard to recall things sometimes. Anyway, our infantry rode the halftracks, we’d capture enemy soldiers, they’d ride with the infantry, and we’d be off for the next town. Of course I was in a tank the whole time. We’d sit on a hill and shell towns all night long. My tank had a 75mm gun.”
Hatten and Rittershoffen:
“That battle raged from Jan. 9 to Jan. 21, 1945. We’d go in and take one town; the Germans would retreat. The French would fly America flags from their windows. The Germans counterattacked; retook the town, the French hauled out their Nazi flags to replace the American flags; but we finally took the towns for good. We applied observatory fire, that’s having spotter planes ahead of us that radioed back telling us where to shoot. When we fired, the tank jumped backwards, but the worst part was the smoke, gun smoke; the cordite and engine fumes. During some engagements our crew wore gas masks. And the noise, you wouldn’t believe it.
“The Germans threw everything they had at us, you never heard such a racket.The German 88mm gun was our worst nightmare. Many times the round went straight through the tank, but most of the time a direct hit would blow off the turret and we’d catch on fire. You had to get out fast while the tank was turning red hot.”
Was his tank ever hit:
“Which time? Yeah, we got hit. The first time I was the only one that got out alive. The whole turret was blown off and I went out through an escape hatch. I had a shovel with me and dug a foxhole so deep I had to tiptoe to see out. That night it got cold, real cold; I thought I’d freeze to death, no coat, nothing.
“Near midnight, tracers started going back and forth from both sides; that’s the moment I decided to check out an old house on the side of a hill. I crawled to the house with tracers going over my head. I reached the two-story house and went inside. I didn’t find a coat or blanket downstairs so I went upstairs. A man was in a bed; he didn’t move, so I guess he was dead. I got a coat out of the closet, put it on then crawled back to my foxhole. I stayed there all night.
“Come morning, I heard footsteps approaching and prayed it was American, not German. The Germans were killing prisoners, so were some of our units. I didn’t do that, but the rule was, at least under Patton, you fed the prisoners with your own rations. So, that led to misfortunate incidents. Well, those footsteps belonged to an American soldier. We talked for just a few seconds when suddenly a German jet (ME-262) strafed us and dropped a bomb. The soldier jumped right on top of me.”
(Editor’s note: The jet incident happened on January 15, 1945. The ME-262 was actually targeting a battery of the 499th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, but at such high speed the bombing was not accurate.)
“Another time we fought for a town, I think it was Germersheim or Lohr, I can’t remember which, but the rest of the company went on while I fixed a halftrack. So, I’m sitting under a pine tree eating K-rations when I heard a gun shoot from over in the woods on the other side of the valley. The bullet hit a tree fairly close to me. A second shot hit right above my head. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, oh, they’re shooting at me!’ I zig-zagged all the way back to the halftrack and waited until whoever was shooting ran out of ammo and had to reload.
“As they reloaded, I jumped on the halftrack and used a .50 caliber machine gun to strafe the woods, until I ran out of ammo. Then I just stood there keeping my eyes on the woods. Well, here come two Germans waving a white flag with their hands up. I think most of the Germans spoke English, and both these guys did. They told me it wasn’t them shooting at me. I think it was, but they insisted.”
Man’s inhumanity to man:
“I didn’t know what to do with the two Germans. I wasn’t going to shoot them, so we just kept on talking. Within a few minutes, a truck load of black soldiers came up. One of them said, ‘We’ll take those Germans off your hands; they got one of us last night.’ It was teeth-chattering cold, yet one of the Germans started sweating profusely from his forehead.”
(Editor’s note: Black American soldiers were treated harshly by German soldiers, usually tortured and murdered. There was no love lost between the two.)
“Well, out comes a straight razor. I told the guys, ‘Hey, don’t kill them,’ but they took the German soldiers and left. I have no idea what happened to those prisoners, but I can imagine it wasn’t pleasant.”
Snow and whitewash:
“We moved on to take more towns. It was snowing so hard you couldn’t see a thing. We got close to one town and German tanks with 88mm guns opened up on us. We couldn’t see their tanks; the guns had been whitewashed, or something like that. Those German 88’s took out just about every one of our tanks. I was in a Sherman with a 76mm gun by that time, which was a lot better than the old 75mm gun. I was lucky, my tank didn’t get hit.”
Not so lucky next time:
“We moved on in the snow to another engagement. We got hit that time. A hit from an 88mm blew off the turret. The assistant driver and I were the only ones that got out alive.
“The Americans were behind us; the Germans in front of us. Once out of the tank, we crawled through the snow back to the American line in the woods. We made the woods, and the guys were laughing at us. They said we were crawling so fast through the snow we looked like two streaks. I didn’t get a scratch, neither did the assistant driver, but he had five bullet holes in his field jacket. I guess we were both lucky.”
Who are you?
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, we’d been overseas for about three weeks when the sergeant came to me and asked, ‘Who are you?’ I said, ‘Ramey, sergeant, you know who I am.’ He replied, ‘You don’t exist. Report to headquarters.’ So I’m thinking, ‘What the heck? But I reported to HQ and was asked the same thing, ‘Who are you?’ I told them, but they replied, ‘We don’t have anyone by that name.’
“Well, I told you about boarding the ship when I was supposed to go to the hospital, so I guess my records went to the hospital and I went to war. It was messed up for a long time, and they said when my records did arrive, I could go home because I wasn’t supposed to be there. But I did have a choice; I could stay. I can’t swim; I don’t like the ocean, and I didn’t want to cross the Atlantic again, so I stayed in the war. Never heard anything else about it.”
No Purple Heart:
“I finally received a bullet wound as we got near Berlin. I was outside the tank; don’t even know where the bullet came from. It hit me in the leg (Ramey showed me the bullet hole wound), tore the muscle all the way out, prettiest piece of red meat you ever want to see. I got it stitched up, no anesthesia or anything; shoot, the leg was numb anyway. And no Purple Heart; the VA said ‘not on your records’, well, my records at the time were still in the states. My right eardrum was blown out, too, from one of those 88mm hits. Once again, the VA said ‘not on your records’ – shoot, I can’t even get a pair of hearing aids.”
“The war ended when we were just outside of Berlin. General Eisenhower spoke to us once after the war, he made a nice speech. But while he was talking, a German lady came out and said she had offered her ‘services’ to the German soldiers and would be happy to offer her ‘services’ to the Americans. I don’t think Eisenhower agreed to her proposal.”
James Charles Ramey was in the thick of things. He burned out the barrel on his tommy gun using it in self-defense when not in his tank. He used an M-1 Carbine to stand guard one night in a lumber yard; come morning, two German soldiers crawled out of a lumber pile and surrendered. He saw General Patton once, on the autobahn, asking questions and pointing his finger at Ramey and the tank crew, and swearing every other breath.
Destined for the Invasion of Japan, two atomic bombs ended the war in the Pacific. Ramey said, “I was ready to go; payback for Pearl Harbor.”
Ramey married in 1946. He held jobs at International Furniture Company, built earth moving equipment, worked for Lockheed in Marietta, Ga., and at Roper Pump Company running his own machine shop making special pump values. He retired in 1990.
“After I retired I worked part time at Ingles, bought some lawn equipment and started a mowing business; shoot, I always worked. With five boys and one girl, I made the money and my wife spent it.”
“I’d do it again, if I had to, I mean, to serve in WWII. I went all the way across Europe… France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, the Ukraine… and I’d never been out of Georgia. I saw a lot, experienced a lot, the Battle of the Bulge, concentration camps, drove a German Panzer tank after the war… but we lost so many boys, thousands and thousands of boys, some things are too sad to talk about, but yeah, I’d do it again.”
Colonel Hans von Luck, German panzer commander, who had fought with Rommel’s famed Afrika Korps in North Africa, led the only armored counter-attack against Allied forces during the Normandy Invasion, and served two tours on the Eastern Front (Russia). He also led the 21st Panzer Division at the battle of Hatten-Rittershoffen against the 14th, Ramey’s unit, and said of the battle, “...was one of the hardest and most costly battles that had ever raged on the western front.”
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran. For story consideration, visit his website at veteransarticle.com and click on “contact us.”