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10/365 – Honoring – FREEMAN BARBER

February 8, 2012

Freeman Barber spent his childhood in the Rochester,NY environs searching for arrowheads and exploring Native American Indian caves.  “I was 16 whenPearl Harbor was bombed,” he recalled. “I remember my dad saying, ‘Oh; boy, we’re in it now.’”  So was Barber when he turned 18.  An only child, WWII was his first time away from home.

Sent to Ft Knox, KY in Oct ’43, Barber trained as a gunner and radio operator on the iconic Sherman Tank until sidelined in Dec with pneumonia.  “I spent 4 months in the hospital,” he said.  “Pneumonia saved my life.  The tankers I trained with were part of the Normandy Invasion.  Many of those boys drowned when their tanks sank.”

Recovered from pneumonia, Barber joined the 8th Armored Division at Camp Polk, LA to complete his training.  He said, “We mastered everything on or in the tank.  When you’re inside a tank you’re a team, but only the tank commander with his head popped up from the top hatch knows what’s going on.”

The four-man crew; tank commander, driver, assistant driver, and gunner; used an unreliable intercom system to communicate.  Even when it did work the incredible noise level inside the tank forced the crew to improvise.  Barber recalled, “We tied a rope to the driver and steered him like a horse.  Pull left to go left, right to go right, pull back to stop, and kick him in the back to go forward.”

Once suitably trained, Barber and the 8th Armored Division boarded a Liberty ship in New Jersey and sailed across the Pond, amid rough seas.  “It was nauseating,” Barber said.  “We were so sick, and greasy pork chops for chow didn’t help the cause.”

After a brief stopover in England, Barber and the 8th landed at LeHavre ,France.

He recalled, “That night we slept under a tarp in freezing weather and deep snow.  The next morning the tarp was frozen solid.”

Seven variations of the Sherman tank were built by the US Army.  Barber’s tank was armed with 3 machine guns and one main 75mm gun.  The 75mm ammo was stored in the bottom of the Sherman, theoretically held in place by a ‘Chinese finger’ expansion device, but tank crews often heard a ‘clicking’ sound during turret rotation.  Barber said, “The ‘clicking’ noise was solid metal striking the fuses on the 75mm ammo.  A few tanks disappeared because of that.”

Newly arrived Sherman tankers soon realized they were out-gunned by the heavy German panzers.  “Their shells ripped right through us,” Barber said.  “Ours just bounced off the panzers.  We had to use our superior speed to out-flank them and target their weak spots, the sides and rear.”

The German’s infamous 88mm anti-aircraft gun was also a Sherman killer.  “The 88s were deadly,” Barber said.  “Thankfully, our speed and maneuverability saved a lot of lives, but I’ve seen a 30 ton Sherman going downhill at 45mph, no way to turn, and go right through a farm house, the cellar, and pity the poor chickens.”

The Allies reached the Rhine River in early ’45.  “I saw 17 Shermans attempt to cross theRhine, only 2 made it.  The 88s cut them to pieces,” Barber stated.  “We were in reserve.  Our company commander said, ‘No way my men are trying that,’ and we didn’t, thank God.”

Barber recalled the dangers.  “The Germans hid machine guns and large caliber weapons in hay stacks.  In one fight we engaged an ‘armed haystack’ but our 75mm gun jammed.  I tried to retrieve a bell housing type-rod from the side of our tank that we used to clear the barrel, but kept hearing machine gun rounds ‘bing, bing, bing,’ off the metal.

Thankfully, another Sherman

English: Sherman Tank at WWII Museum in New Or...

neutralized the threat before one of those bings binged me.”

In another incident, a camouflaged 88mm fired on them as their Sherman clanked slowly forward on a snowy mountain road. Barber recalled, “I was topside when the shell whizzed over my head.  The next round hit below us; then I saw a blue flash coming right at me.  It missed by inches.  Another Sherman exterminated that threat, too, thank God.”

As the crew’s ‘forager’, Barber was always looking for food.  He said, “During a battle for one town, I jumped off our tank and entered a house to search for food.  Well, the phone rang.  I spoke a little German so I answered the darn thing.  It was a German officer wanting coordinates for his mortar crews.  I told him I didn’t have the time and hung up.”

Sent wherever needed, Barber and his crew fought through several towns, manned machine gun emplacements, blasted snipers hiding in church towers, pulled further duties with the 35th Infantry, the 99th, the 8th army, and even put up with the exploits of General George Patton.  “We were nomads,” Barber said.  “We drank Vodka with Russian troops  at an impromptu wedding, stole chicken eggs, bartered cigarettes for bread or wine, drank tea with the limeys, stole a few barrels of green champagne from a train…shoot, I reckon we just did what we had to do to survive the war.”

Freeman Barber sailed home on the Queen Elizabeth with 15,000 other Yanks.  A graduate of Syracuse University after the war, he worked in sales for Westinghouse, the 3m Company, the Ford Motor Company, peddled chocolate candy for the Fanny Farmer Chocolate Company, sold real estate, and retired after 20 years as a locksmith.

“My secret to a long life,” he said. “Be curious, eat well, have a passion for what you do, and exercise.  Uh, did we discuss how I almost burned down the General’s house at Ft Knox?”

 

Pete Mecca –Vietnamveteran, columnist, and free-lance writer.
If you’d like to be considered for one of his featured newspaper articles

entitled “A Veteran’s Story” email Pete at: aveteranssstory@gmail.com
You can review his articles at rockdalecitizen.com – click on ‘community’

then click on ‘military news’.

Pete Mecca –Vietnam veteran, columnist, and free-lance writer, offered us the opportunity to post some of the stories that he has collected for his newspaper article series titled  “A Veteran’s Story”. Thank you Pete,  for agreeing to share the stories of these heroes with us. 


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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Lauren permalink
    February 9, 2012 5:49 pm

    Great story! Thank you for your service!

  2. February 9, 2012 7:44 am

    Thank you for your service Mr. Barber. Thank you for your service Mr Mecca … and for this incredible story.

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