Heroes: the Army
"...On my anniversary they made the big attack, sending over around two thousand bombers, we wre just back of the lines and they started dropping them a hell of a lot of them fell short..."
Ernest T. "Babe" Neil
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 70th Tank Battalion
- Dates: 1943-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: T/4
- Birth Year: 1911
- Entered Service: Ft. Madison, Iowa
Ernest T. "Babe" Neil
Probably taken following basic training.
The Letter Home
by Ernest T. "Babe" Neil
70th Tank Battalion
Recently, we at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words received a short message telling us that the daughter of a former tanker of the 70th Tank Battalion, had located a letter written by Ernest T. "Babe" Neil, T/4, 70th Tank Battalion, to his parents -- while serving in Europe.
The letter, dated on August 22, 1944, was written to "Babe's" parents, Frank and Maggie [Marmion] Neil following a major engagement during the Allied offensive in the hedgerows country of France.
The letter mentions events that bring to mind the horrendous fighting that took place during this major thrust by Allied troops.
Being as "Babe" Neil was a tanker, this is particularly significant, for the hedgerows country was especially deadly to the crews of the Allied tank crews who were easily outgunned by the German defenders using deadly 88's -- with their high velocity armour piercing shells. The hedgerows country forced the tank crews to stay on narrow, hedgerows lined French roads previously zeroed in by determined German defenders, making the advances by Allied troops costly -- in men and equipment.
Special memories of Earnest T. "Babe" Neil as related by his daughter Carol A. Jones.
"...In looking through the WWII photo album I find several buddy's names noted on pictures, but many more that aren't identified. The ones I can read are:
Eugene Sheehan, Davenport, Mone, Sgt. Mitchell, Ambrose, Strunk, Burke, Lt. McKay, Conaway, Terry Noll, Gaudit, Witkowski, McDaniel, Bill Grey, Ellis Coleman, Reynolds, Eccles, Freeman, Harpster and Chenkus.
The photos I've sent so far are not identified.
Ernest T. Neil was born in Ft. Madison, Iowa, on April 19, 1911, the last of four surviving children of Frank Neil and Maggie Marmion Neil. The family was, as the saying goes, dirt-poor and Dad, who was nicknamed Babe, went to school only through 9th grade. He worked at a variety of jobs to help support the family until he found the job he stayed with for the rest of his life, as a pen tester, at Sheaffer Pen Company.
He was known as a friendly, fun-loving guy who enjoyed fishing, hunting and partying with a large group of friends. He dressed well and drove nice cars and helped to support his parents until they died in the mid 1950s. He was known as a ladies man until he met Lorraine Long on her first day of work at Sheaffer Pen Company.
Babe and Lorraine
Babe married Lorraine in 1942 and within a few weeks was headed to Knoxville, Tennessee for basic training in the Army. At 30, he was older than most of the men in his battalion and some of them called him Pop. Others just called him Neil.
Mother talks of spending weeks in Knoxville in an apartment across from the main gate to the post. The windows rattled when tanks rolled by and the place was so drafty she stuffed papers and blankets around the windows. Sometimes other couples would bunk with them and they shared a make-shift bathroom that was a slop jar inside a barrel.
Dad seldom talked about his experiences during WWII. When Lorraine asked him once why his cousin talked all the time about the war and Babe refused to discuss it, Dad said "Those of us who were on the front lines don't want to talk about it."
Occasionally, on Saturday mornings when my brother, David, and I were watching cartoons with Dad he would grow melancoly and sometimes spoke a little about the war. I remember that one day he insisted that David and I learn to belly crawl as he did under barbed wire. For some reason, at that moment, it seemed important that he teach us this skill that was, for him, a matter of survival at some point during the war.
He told us that after being hit in the head with shrapnel, his buddy, Alec Vizena, had saved his life by knocking him back down into a fox hole after Dad stood up in what he thought was total darkness but was, in fact, broad daylight.
He talked of digging a cave in the snow and finding it a warm place to sleep some nights. He said he had three tanks during the War and the first two were blown apart but his lucky number tank 13 1/2 brought him through. I think the men painted the one-half on the tank.
He spoke of a time when the soles of their boots had worn through and the Salvation Army brought them boots. He spoke of finding a puppy on a battle field and carrying the little fellow with them for a week until they had to set him free. The little dog gave him and his buddies a little comfort during that strange and frightening time.
I have a small carved wood clock from the Black Forest that he and friends spend a couple of hours retrieving. It hung on the only standing wall in a bombed out village and they worried it might be wired with explosives.
When he returned home, Babe was quiet and withdrawn. He didn't stop to collect two purple hearts, an oak leaf cluster and various battle medals. He was in a hurry to be home and to feel safe. He didn't go out as often as he did before the War. When it rained at night, the sound of the raindrops on the metal-roofed porch outside the bedroom gave him dreams of shells and shrapnel falling around him. When David and I went to wake him from a nap we had to touch his foot and stay back for fear he'd leap up and throw us to the ground in self-defense.
He was a wonderfully loving father but he carried a sadness with him for the rest of his life. He never spanked my brother or me. If he disapproved of something we did he talked to us until he convinced us of his position on the subject and then he would finish by saying "But you have to make up your own mind." His favorite chair sat in the living room next to the kitchen door. Countless times as I'd pass him he'd reach out his arm and pull me in to hug and sit on his lap. Seldom speaking but just holding me.
When David was about seven years old Dad took him rabbit hunting. The time together was good but hunting was poor because David couldn't resist singing out "Davy Crockett" at the top of his lungs each time Dad shot a rabbit. Dad loved to tell that story about his little hunter.
Babe loved spontaneous vacations. On a hot summer night he'd say "Lorraine, are you awake?" When she said she was he'd say "Let's go to Colorado." She would call her parents and ask them to call Sheaffer's to let them know Babe wouldn't be at work for a week. Mom would throw bags together and they'd carry David and me to the car where they laid us on a makeshift bed of folding stools between the seats and blankets laid across them. We'd be somewhere in Nebraska when we awoke the next morning.
His favorite place was a log cabin in Empire, Colorado, where it was cool and there was plenty of fishing. While at home, he loved playing poker with friends and going out to dinner and dancing, but in Colorado he found a solitude and sense of peace that gave him contentment.
Babe drank too much and on December 29, 1959, he took a corner too fast and crashed his Ford into a telephone pole. He died a day later at the Veteran's Hospital in Iowa City, Iowa. He was 48 years old. He lived only 14 years after returning home from Europe.
Dad had grown up on the wrong side of the tracks and he had friends from both sides. In 1950s Iowa this was fairly uncommon. People of all races and backgrounds came to his funeral. They filled the funeral home, sat on the stairs going to the upstairs apartment, clustered on the porch and lined up on the sidewalk down a half block and around the corner another half block.
I was 13 when Dad died, my brother 10. His death left an emptiness that we thought would never be filled. In time the emptiness was replaced with pride for what Dad did to serve his country and an appreciation of the lives we have been able to lead as a result of his and others' sacrifices.
Babe Neil was not well educated, but he was uncompromisingly honest, fair, strong and brave and he will always be a hero to my brother, David, and to me.
I would very much enjoy hearing from anyone who knew Dad or whose father was in the same unit.
Thanks again, Joe, for your time and your web site. Carol
------ Carol A. Jones
[daughter of Ernest T. "Babe" Neil]
Below is the text of the letter home from "Babe" Neil
August 22, 1944
Thought I would drop you a line or two and let you know I'M
O. K. and hope you are all the same. Ive been expecting a letter from you the past couple of days or so thought I would get the jump on you and get this one wrote while I have the time.
You asked me to tell you a little about what is going on here. I can tell some of it so will try and make it a little interesting. We landed on the Cherburg pinnisula about twenty-five miles from the city itself and drove inland and to the north, through St. Mere Eglise, Montburg, Valonges and on to Cherburg, which was captured some time late in June, lots of prisoners are taken especially at the town itself. They had just about every thing there including plenty of liquors, these jerries really like there booze. They could get all canned up and shoot hell out of things, they all had it in their canteens, they are also pretty smart they had mostly non German troops along the costal defences, Russians, Check's, Poles, Etc., the more inland we came the more Germans we found. We ran into some of there S. S. Troops a few times, they were plenty tough especially the younger ones, but not tough enough.
You probably have heard about their hedgerow fighting an it really is true, they would clear there advance as to so many hedgerows per day. they could conceal anti tank guns and tanks and artellery pieces inthe thick brush and it was next to impossible to see them until they had fired on you and then some times it was to late.
On my anniversary they made the big attack, sending over around two thousand bombers, we wre just back of the lines and they started dropping them a hell of a lot of them fell short and it was a very unpleasant experience the concussion was really some thing you could feel it all over your body like some one slapping you, after they finished up we went in and some of those birds were dopy as hell and others fought like hell we ran into some Jerrie tanks and stopped a couple of slugs but we all got out alright and got into a ditch and worked our way back a couple of hundred yards then arteliery opened up on us and for about three hours we were pinned down I got me the biggest fox hole I could find and it wasn't deep enough to suit me, that was the day I lost the bracelet Lorraine got me, shrapnell just riddled one of the fellows cartridge belt and canteen and only burised him, he told me that was one day he was afraid to be alone he wanted company bad.
We went in that nite and got our tank minus a door and a hold in the turret and both tracks almost broken into, they saw us and let loose again just as we started around a turn in the road a shell hit a buildign and blew the whole roof off I guess our luck was almost perfect that day I know I can't complain. The following day I wasn't there and ever thing was pretty peaceful all that was met was machine gun nests and that is what started those lightning moves that is being pulled off over here. They have been going like a house afire ever since. This is about all I can tell you until a later date so if you want a little excitement, come on over you can have my place, I'm not likely to forget my anniversary for some time to come, I think the next one that rolls around I'll get in bed and lock all the doors and windows, I told the fellows that morning it was all put on in a celebration for me but dammed if I thought it would go quite so far.
Well I had better get this in the mail box so will try and write again soon.
the World War II Photo Album
of Ernest T. "Babe" Neil
Click on the link below for about two dozen additional images of Ernest T. "Babe" Neil's World War II Photo Album.
Ernest T. "Babe" Neil's World War II Photo Album
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
70th Tank Battalion Archives, Europe
70th tank Battalion Association
2nd Battalion, 70th Armor
Strike Swiftly! (70th Tank Battalion History)
World War II Causality Search
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Ms. Carol A. Jones, the daughter of Mr. Ernest T. "Babe" Neil for supplying the excellent information and images above with regards to her Dad.
Original Story submitted on 25 January 2004.
Story added to website on 2 February 2004.
Changes and additions to pages made on 2 March 2004
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 27 January 2012...1432:05 CST