The 14th Armored Division arrived in Marseille, France, on Oct. 29, 1944, and went into battle two weeks later at Maritime Alps along the French-Italian border under Maj. Gen. Vernon Pritchard as part of the 7th Army. Sgt. Paul Cearlock, who now lives in the Foxwood condominiums, Englewood, Fla., was the commander of a Sherman tank.
He was a member of A-Company, 25th Tank Battalion, 14th Armored Division, 3rd Army at the end of the war.
“The Germans put up a pretty good scrap,” the 85-year-old former tanker recalled. “We got booted around more than we would have liked by them. I lost the barrel of my main gun from incoming shrapnel.”
To protect against enemy fire, Cearlock said they welded racks around the turrets of the tanks. Then they put sandbags in those racks to protect themselves against enemy guns.
“At Hatten and Rittershoffen we had a big scrap taking these two towns,” he said. “The Germans were waiting for us. They had a road intersection zeroed in. We had quite a few men wounded and killed at that intersection.
“We were right in the middle of it, but were forced to back off until we received reinforcements. We’d move ahead a little and then hide our tank behind a building, start shooting again, and move ahead some more,” Cearlock said.
At the Rhine River, they caught up to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. Their 14th Armored Division was transferred to the 3rd Army at that point from the 7th.
“When we got in Patton’s Army, he didn’t like the sandbags on our tanks. He said, ‘You look like a bunch of cowards running around with those sandbags on your tanks. Pull those steel racks off and get rid of those sandbags, they slow you down.’
“We weren’t happy about doing that, but we did it anyway.”
The 14th Armored raced through Germany, town after town. They broke through the Siegfried Line on March 23, 1945, and took Germersheim the next day. They then struck northeast to Lohr on April 2, and Gemunden on the 5th. His unit captured a prisoner of war camp near Hammelburg on April 6. At Moosburg on April 29, the 14th Armored liberated 110,000 allied prisoners as Patton stood outside the barbed-wire enclosure wearing his ivory-handled revolvers.
“We were moving so fast from town to town, capturing Germans who would come out waving their white flags. We didn’t stop to capture them. We’d send them back for the infantry to take care of,” Cearlock explained.
“There were people everywhere in these camps who were delighted to see us,” he said. “That’s why they nicknamed us ‘The Liberators.'”
Cearlock and his Sherman tank had been at the front for six months when the war ended. His unit was in southern Austria by that time. The 14th performed occupation duty after V-E Day (Victory in Europe) for a short time.
“I had enough points and was transferred to a tank destroyer battalion in the 10th Armored Division to go home with. I was going to be sent to Japan with the 10th,” he said. “However, by the time I got back to the states in late October, the war was over.”
Cearlock returned in a troop transport to Newport News, Va. From there, he took a train to Fort Sheridan, outside Chicago, where he was discharged from the Army.
“I reached the train station in Decatur, Ill. A lady at the station offered to drive me the last 15 miles to my home in Moweaqua, Ill.,” he said.
In the years after the war, Cearlock has been active in the 14th Armored Division Association. Several times in the past six decades, he has met three of the four tankers in his Sherman at these reunions.
“My driver was a cowboy from New York. My gunner was a Spanish kid from Anaheim, Calif. My assistant gunner was a boy out of Louisville, Ky. My assistant driver was out of Iowa. We all survived the war,” Cearlock said. “My driver is the only one I’ve never seen since the war.”
In 1975, Cearlock was selected president of the 14th Armored Association.
“There were about 600 guys who showed up for the annual reunion in 1975. Now there are only 61 guys left in our division,” he said.
After he retired from business, Cearlock and his wife, Betty, moved to Foxwood in 1985. They have been married 65 years and have two children.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007 and is republished with permission.
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Paul “P.J.” Cearlock
May 30, 1922 – November 30, 2015
Paul “P.J.” Cearlock, 93, of Englewood, FL passed away November 30, 2015. He was born May 30, 1922 in Millersville, IL to Clifford and Rita Cearlock. P.J. was awarded the Bronze Star while serving as a tank commander in the U. S. Army 14th Armored Division, known as “the Liberators,” in World War II (1942 – 1945) where he saw action along the French-Italian border. He was very patriotic and always held his country in the highest esteem.
After discharge, he became active in the 14th Armored Division Association and served as President of the national association.
He lived out most of his adult life in Moweaqua, IL where he owned a paint and body shop.
Service to his community was very important, and he showed it in many ways: Commander of the American Legion Post #370; a member of the City Council; a volunteer fireman and officer of the Moweaqua Fire District as well as President; and President of the Macon County Fire Protection District.
P.J. was a man who lived his faith. He was active in the Moweaqua United Methodist Church, serving on the board and doing whatever was asked of him. His service continued at the Englewood United Methodist Church when he and Betty moved to Englewood. He was an active member of the Methodist Men’s Prayer Group until his health kept him from participation.
He is survived by his wife of 73 years, Betty J. Cearlock, daughter, Lu (Alan) Adamson of Englewood, FL; son, Jim (Joann) Cearlock of Fraser, MI and a sister, Mildred Anderson of Mesa, AZ. He has two grandsons, Luke Pistorius of San Diego, CA, and Brian Cearlock of Fraser, MI. There are six great-grandchildren.
A Memorial Service will be held at 11:00 a.m., Monday, December 7, 2015 at the Englewood United Methodist Church, Doan Chapel with a luncheon to follow in the Mary Martha Room. In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to the Englewood United Methodist Church, 700 East Dearborn, Englewood, FL 34223 or to the Moweaqua First Methodist Church, 222 North Hanover St., Moweaqua, IL 62550.