Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Area News

April 25, 2014

Honoring France’s heroes

Lansford recalls liberation of France, rebuilding of Europe

CROSSVILLE — As American troops moved through Avricout, St. George and Heming in World War II, Ed Lansford’s platoon stopped for a bit in Sarrebourg, which American troops had just liberated from German control.

The young Private First Class strolled down the street and spotted a civilian watching him from a window above. Lansford pulled a harmonica from his pocket and began playing what he knew of the French national anthem, “The Marseilleis.” The Frenchman above quickly ran down to the street and began waving his arms, as if directing an orchestra, singing along.

“I don’t know if anyone joined us. I don’t recall how we parted. But I do remember us staring eye to eye,” Lansford said. “We had perfect communication for five minutes or more. He kept on singing and I kept on playing.”

The man, Lansford noted, had not been able to sing his anthem loudly and publicly for several years. He sang until both he and Lansford were out of breath.

“He certainly demonstrated his gratitude and joy of liberation in that two-man concert,” Lansford said.

Years later, the French government demonstrated its own appreciation for Lansford’s service when it awarded him the Legion of Honor, the highest award the French government can award, for his part in the liberation of France during World War II.

Lansford grew up in Chattanooga. During the Depression, his family moved to Sparta where his grandfather was a doctor. In the late ‘30s, the family returned to Chattanooga and Lansford attended Central High School.

He graduated and was 17 years old. He worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority in West Tennessee for eight months before Uncle Sam came calling. Lansford was drafted into the United States Army and was sent to Camp Shelby, MS. It was summer, and it was hot and humid.

“It was good training for the South Pacific, but instead, that division went to Europe,” Lansford said.

After completing basic training, Lansford was offered the opportunity to enroll in college and get his education in engineering. This would allow him to become a commissioned officer. He jumped at the chance and was sent to St. Louis University.

“It turns out this Army education, a lot of soldiers got into it,” Lansford said. “This was just a holding pattern. The Army didn’t know what to do with us. They had so many of us trained. They couldn’t put us all in England.”

His education was interrupted when the program was discontinued and he was reassigned to the 324th Regimental Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon of the 44th Infantry Division, which was on maneuvers in Louisiana at the time. Then, the division was sent to Camp Phillips, KS, before boarding a troop train to Boston to Camp Myles Standish, where he boarded a ship and sailed to France, landing at Cherbourg, France, Sept. 15, 1944. Then they waited in Normandy for equipment to arrive.

While they waited, Gen. George Patton’s Third Army reached Metz in eastern France. There, some of the Fifth Army in Italy invaded southern France along the Swiss border, meeting up with the Third Army in Metz.

“This spread them pretty thin,” Lansford said. “Our division helped fill some of the blank spaces.”

Lansford was surprised to reach the front lines and find troops using trenches that had been constructed during World War I, more than 20 years earlier.

“We were the eyes and ears of the regiment,” Lansford said. “We were like an extra pawn in a game of chess. Half the time, they didn’t know what to do with us. When they did need somebody, we were handy.”

Lansford would perform night patrols between the lines and set up observation posts.

He recalled spending the night in a dugout, setting up a listening and observation post. The unit that had occupied the area had been attacked the day before but had beaten back the Germans and retaken the area. To help them, American forces provided protective fire, with shells landing about 50 feet in front of the unit.

“Some of the guys were so green, they thought they were being shelled,” Lansford said.

Reconnaissance can be dangerous work.

“A lot of times, we were out in front of everybody, which means we were the first to get shot at,” Lansford said.

Lansford recalls how cold it was in Europe that winter. He wore several layers indoors to keep warm. There was no electric power, anywhere. When the regiment was stationary, civilians often sought the safety of the fortifications. When the troops were on the move, civilians would sometimes take soldiers in and let them sleep on the floor of their living rooms.

“In January, nobody moved anywhere,” Lansford said of the troop movements that winter. But, his unit was often called upon to drive from the forward positions to headquarters to make sure the headquarters was still there and no one had come up between headquarters and the troops.

He did get “scratched” in combat, he said. He was wounded near Bettviller in the Lorraine region Feb. 14, 1945. It wasn’t a bad wound, he said, adding he didn’t even go to the hospital. Soon after, though, he was hospitalized with a chest cold and a 104-degree temperature. The physician spotted the abrasion and said Lansford qualified for a Purple Heart. Lansford wasn’t going to protest, though, because the Purple Heart also came with five points towards his advanced service rating, a system that was used at the end of the war to determine which soldiers were eligible to return home and be discharged.

“Everybody was counting their points,” Lansford said.

Lansford was released from the hospital on V-E Day, Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945. Instead of returning to the 44th Infantry, Lansford was transferred to the Seventh Army headquarters to work as a topographer. Now that the war had closed in the European theater, work turned to helping rebuild the countries that had been devastated by the war. Lansford was assigned to drive a colonel of German origin. The colonel spent a good deal of time traveling throughout Germany visiting family he had been separated from for some time. It gave Lansford a close look at the devastation Germany had sustained.

“The buildings were nothing but shells,” he said.

He recalled seeing the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. The majestic structure survived with only a few pock marks on the exterior from shrapnel. Across the street, the main railroad station for Cologne had been bombed multiple times, to the point there was nothing left.

In mid-November, Lansford was reassigned to a division that was on its way home. He hoped to return home in time for Christmas in 1945, but they didn’t leave Europe until Jan. 3, 1946. It was rough sailing across the North Atlantic that January, with gale conditions slowing the old luxury liner transporting the Yanks back home. Lansford said there were several days the boat made only 4 knots an hour.

“I spent as much time on deck as I could,” he said, noting not all the soldiers handled the rough seas well. The boat rocked up so high he was able to see for miles, and then would rock down and be surrounded by a wall of water.

“But every minute, we were closer to home,” Lansford said.

When the boat entered New York Harbor early one morning, just about daybreak, Lansford saw the Statue of Liberty.

“It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” Lansford said. On the mainland, he spotted the traffic, with people heading to work before dawn. As the shiny automobiles passed under street lights, he’d catch a glimpse of red, shiny black and other colors. It was the first time he hadn’t seen a car painted olive drab to keep it from shining.

“I’d forgotten what a shiny car looked like, but when I saw all that, I knew I was back in America,” Lansford said.

From New York, it was on to Camp Atterbury in Indiana where the soldiers were officially discharged from the U.S. Army. Lansford was leaving the service not only with his Purple Heart, but the Bronze Star. He also received the Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Medal with three bronze stars.

Camp Atterbury had a train depot on the base. He went and bought a ticket to Chattanooga. He was told it would take 24 hours to get him home. There was also a Greyhound Bus depot on the base, and he checked with them. They could get him to Chattanooga by 5 a.m. the next morning. He bought a ticket and boarded the bus. When he reached Chattanooga the next morning, he took a city bus to Red Bank. With his duffel bag on his shoulder, he walked to his home and opened the front door, calling, “Is anybody home?”

“Dad stayed home from work that day, and I talked until I was so hoarse I couldn’t talk anymore,” Lansford said.

From there, Lansford completed the education he had started earlier with a degree from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After graduation, he found a job in the accounting department of a local manufacturer. Later, he went to work for a CPA who had an office in Crossville, seeing clients a few days a week. Lansford started taking on those appointments and the Crossville practice grew. When the CPA decided to take a job in private industry, Lansford and another CPA formed a partnership and Lansford hired someone to care for the clients in Crossville. In 1975, he decided to move to Crossville and operate the office there. He married Sue Ann Kemmer, and his children are Sandy Jones, Ginger Snider, Gaines Lansford Jr., James Lansford and Scott Lansford.

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