THE LONG VOYAGE HOME
It was from Kahla that the troops started the long voyage home.
Among the first to go was Wallace J. Broussard, who at the time was First Sergeant of Headquarters Troop.
"I received a call from Division Headquarters advising that the 12 men in the squadron with the most critical points were to return to the U. S., leaving on May 22, Sgt. Broussard recalled. "Doing some quick addition I found that I had 113 points. Would you believe that this happened to be the cutoff point of the 86th?
"On Tuesday we assembled with others of the division in a pasture for departure to the U.S. It took us a total of 35 days to get home--from one replacement depot to another until we arrived in Le Havre and then embarked on the James G. Blaine for New York.
"Three of us who had enlisted in the 2nd Armored Division on 29 July, 1940 made it back together to Hattiesburg, Miss., to be discharged on 25 June 1945. The other two were First Sergeant John Nix of Division Headquarters Company and Gabriel Broussard of the 76th Medics."
Sgt. Broussard proceeded to join the National Guard in his native Louisiana and retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1978.
Those men with the magic number of 85 points, or more, were to return to the United States with the division while those with fewer points were transferred out to make room for high point men from other organizations. Those with 80 to 84 points were sent to other divisions in the ETO and some of those with even fewer points were sent home on furlough and then retraining for duty in the Pacific. The latter were perhaps the most fortunate of all, since the war in the Pacific ended and many of them were discharged before the higher-point men got home.
Sgt. Jack J. Lukasik of Troop A, a 96-point man, was among division troops who assembled in Trenford, Germany, and sent to either Camp Lucky Strike or Camp Philip Morris for embarkation. Sgt. Lukasik's ship landed in Boston, where the troops were greeted by the Red Cross with coffee and doughnuts and allowed a free telephone call anywhere in the U.S. From there it was a train ride to Indiantown Gap, Pa., where Sgt. Lukasik was discharged on October 5 and given a meal ticket and bus fare to get home.
Sgt. Nicholas C. Solich, T4 James S. Gibb and Pfc. Steve C. Plecenik were among those in the 80-84 point group who were transferred to the Recon Company of the 75th Infantry Division in Augsburg, Germany. Their nominal duties were training troops and pulling guard, but the company commander happened to be a Cavalry officer who had acquired 25 or 30 riding horses and an indoor arena. He thought the cavalrymen from the 6th Armored Division should be good horsemen and issued orders that they ride three times a week. From riding the driver's seat of an M8 tank to a saddle on a German horse that couldn't understand English was definitely a change of pace, but the three troopers survived.
The plan was for the group at Augsburg to go to Liege, Belgium, to form a combat unit to be shipped directly to the Pacific, but the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9 with the resultant surrender of Japan changed the situation. The group was transferred to the 10th Armored Division at Garmisch Partenkirchen and from there to Camp Lucky Strike near Paris, where they stayed for a week. They went by train to Marseilles and sailed for the U.S. aboard a Liberty ship on October 3. Upon arrival in Norfolk, Va., they were sent to Camp Patrick Henry and from there to Indiantown Gap, where the three Pennsylvanians were discharged on October 17.
Those troopers who were wounded seriously enough to be hospitalized made their ways home individually. One such was Pvt. Martin J. Lawlor, who had an interesting tour of duty with the 86th.
Pvt. Lawlor was inducted at Ft. Meade, Md., in September 1942 and trained with the 45th Tank Battalion, 13th Armored Division, as tank driver, tank gunner, mortar gunner, etc. He joined the squadron in England in June 1944, a month before the outfit was to go into combat, and was assigned to a scout section in Troop D. He was wounded the first of three times in August when he sustained cuts on his chin and upper lip in hand-to-hand combat and was patched up by the Medics.
Pvt. Lawlor was transferred to Troop A in the Brest area and assigned to a mortar gun peep. In February 1945 he was wounded in the left shoulder, armpit and chest at the Prum River crossing and hospitalized for about four weeks.
The second Oak Leaf Cluster to his Purple Heart came during the breakthrough to the Mulde River in mid-April, when he was wounded in the left thigh, left hand, right forearm, chest and neck. His left leg was amputated and after a tour of hospitals in the evacuation chain he was discharged at McGuire General Hospital in New York in July.
Certainly no one was delayed longer than Capt. Frederick H. Eickhoff in returning home.
Wounded for the second time on April 7 when a German patrol fired three bullets into his head, the one-time squadron S3 was hospitalized for 2 1/2 years before he finally got back to St. Louis.
"I was semi-conscious when they took me to the hospital, but I couldn't walk or talk", he told Mary Kimbrough of the St. Louis Post Dispatch. "They told me I'd never walk again, but I told myself that I would."
In layman's language, he suffered paralysis of the right side, loss of power of expression by speech and writing, and convulsive seizures, due to severe brain damage.
After evacuation to a hospital in England, Capt. Eickhoff was put in a bed next to Col. John L. Hines Jr., the CCA commander who had suffered severe facial injuries and had been blinded.
"I had lost my memory and speech," Capt. Eickhoff recalled, "and Col. Hines, when told by the nurses of my situation, spent hours talking to me, telling me my name, etc."
The former Troop A commander was promoted to major while in England and shortly thereafter was returned to the United States to another evacuation hospital. Several days later he was sent to O'Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Mo., where he underwent brain surgery and a metal plate was inserted over the hole in his skull. It was while at O'Reilly that he started to walk with a cane and improved his speech to a point where he could put together a few phrases and make himself understood.
The next stop was Cushing General Hospital in Framingham, Mass., a center for neuro-surgery, where he received physical therapy and continued to recover, learning the alphabet from the other fellows in the ward and starting to read nursery rhymes.
"When I could do that, I was really happy," he recalled. "It was just like starting all over again in kindergarten."
It was while at Cushing that Maj. Eickhoff became interested in raising orchids as part of his therapy. He started with three plants he purchased and by the time he was transferred to Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., he had 200 plants, most of them gifts from flower growers who had heard of his project. The orchids were shipped on the hospital train in wooden coffins and arrived with him.
He received extensive speech training along with other therapy at Percy Jones and, discharged from the hospital on October 8, 1947, he drove his own car to St. Louis.
Retired from the Army on permanent disability he studied psychology and horticulture at Washington University of St. Louis for a year and also took speech work at Central Institute for the Deaf.
Then Maj. Eickhoff was asked to return to the Bank of St. Louis, where he had started as a messenger while a student at Harris Teachers College, and he accepted in December 1949. He headed the Mail Dept. messenger service and copied some of the important bank records by microfilm.
From February 1941, when he volunteered for the Army for a year, until October 8, 1947; it was a long war for Fred Eickhoff.
But that's the way it was. In large groups, small units and individually, the 86thers went home. Some remained in the Army or affiliated with other branches of the military. Most, however, returned to civilian pursuits.
Col. William U. Kennon retired from the United States Army in August 1968.
Retirees from the Army of the United States include Col. Allan G. Crist, Lt. Col. Harold L. Hughes, Lt. Col. Elmer C. Huffer, Lt. Col. James M. Crutchfield, Maj. Jimmie H. Bridges, Maj. Donald L. Tillemans, Maj. Robert W. Smith, Maj. Lowell Cornelius, Maj. Richard F. Cave, Capt. Vernon Hill, Capt. John Kopchak Jr., Capt. Wahlers H. Gastauer, Capt. Stoddard L. Ogg, Capt. Roy L. Ryse, 1st Lt. Edward Block and CWO Charles L. Fielder.
The last 86ther to leave the service was Col. Harold J. Fleck, a one-time platoon leader from Company F who retired at Ft. Monroe, Va., on June 30, 1974 after serving with distinction in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
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