After their bloody experiences in Italy the US 36th Division had transferred across the Mediterranean to join the invasion of southern France. They were now fighting their way north up the Rhone river valley, where the 11th Panzer Division had been ordered to fight a rear guard action to allow other German forces to escape.
Following the battle of Montelimar the 36th Division would take substantial numbers of prisoners. However the frontline was changing rapidly and uncertainly. On the 27th a squad of five soldiers from Company K, 143rd Infantry were sent out on a reconnaissance mission – they got cut off and narrowly avoided capture.
Following this Sgt. Paul Blackmer, Pfc. Louis Weiner, Pfc. David Pritcet, Pfc. Richard Koch, and Pfc. Bill Trimpe were pulled back to a small town and told to spend the day resting. Bill Trimpe describes how it was anything but restful:
Major Adams put the five of us in a little town behind our lines and told us to rest. We would join our Company the next day. One of our tanks was parked in the middle of the road in this little town (I can’t remember the name) manned by one person. I don’t recall his name but he was wounded in the leg early in the morning of the 29th. A Panzer Division [had] hit us in the rear.
As I recollect, Sgt. Paul Blackmer was pulling his two hour guard duty. He yelled, “HALT” and the answer came back in German. All hell broke loose. Then we fired as fast as we could. Paul had a Thompson sub-machine gun with two clips taped together; he had four clips in all. When one clip emptied, out it came. He would turn the clip around and start firing again.
The rest of us had M-1’s. All of us fired so many times our barrels warped. In this little town, under a garage, was a cold storage tunnel. Someone had stacked ammo, grenades, cigarettes and candy by the case. So we had plenty of ammo, including Paul’s sub-machine gun ammo.
When it started to get light, Paul moved Weiner, Pritchet and Koch to the home on the right side of the road as the Germans faced us. Paul and I took the left. All were on the same side as the ammo and supplies. We had by this time knocked out a German Half Track that had an 88 mounted on it. The Germans had knocked out our tank.
We had at least 50 Germans wounded or dead on the road near the road and around the half track. At this time there was a 35 foot drop from the road to the back of the houses. Koch got hit sometime in the morning but the rest of us were O.K.
About 10 a.m., Paul said he was going on the other side to check on the fellows. Some time later, the Germans were coming down the road in force. Seeing my situation was hopeless I went in the barn where the tank driver was lying wounded. I told him our position. Also, I was hiding in the barn. We wished each other good luck.
The Germans poured in the barn but didn’t harm the tank driver and didn’t spot me. They didn’t take the wounded man because of his leg wound. Two hours went by before the forward advanced troops of the 3rd Division came into the barn. Paul Blackmer, Louis Weiner and David Pritchet were captured. Koch died of his wounds.
There was a jeep hidden in one of the barns in town. The Germans didn’t find it or take it. Since I didn’t drive back then, I had one of the 3rd Division guys drive the wounded tank man and myself to the nearest aid station. On the way back, we passed 10,000 German soldiers who had surrendered. That’s right, 10,000!
Paul Blackmer was a Fighting Machine. Without his leadership we would certainly have been killed. I feel certain because of Paul’s leadership of us in stopping the Germans early that morning it made it possible for the capture of so many Germans.
For the whole account can be read at 36th Division Association.