Punta Gorda man was in Patton’s famed unit

Former Sgt. Ed Strnad pulled a massive 8-inch artillery piece behind a modified Sherman tank through Europe during World War II as part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.

The gun was the kind and size mounted on the deck of a destroyer that formed the ship’s primary armament. Strnad’s cannon provided the colorful tank commander with a long-range punch against the enemy. It could throw a projectile more than 20 miles.

Strnad, now of Buttonwood Village Mobile Home Park in Punta Gorda, Fla., was a member of the 243rd Field Artillery Battalion. He joined the Army in 1939 as a 20-year-old recruit. His unit landed in England and crossed the Channel to France a month after the June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion.

At 98, Strnad’s recollection of the battles he fought in a lifetime ago are somewhat obscure.

One of his first encounters with the huge field piece he towed took place when Patton’s soldiers faced German forces holding a medieval castle. It was at the entrance to a city, its name he can’t recall, somewhere near the Normandy coast.

“When we first got into France we came up on this big citadel the Germans were holding. It was a stone castle the Americans had not been able to capture. So we brought up our gun real close to the castle and fired right into it. After three shots here come the Germans waving a white flag with their hands in the air. I think there were about 16 of them that surrendered,” Strnad recalled.

It wasn’t long after that he was in the biggest battle American forces fought on the Western Front during the Second World War — “The Battle of the Bulge.” It involved 1 million soldiers, 600,000 Americans and 400,000 Germans. It was Hitler’s last major offensive. It collapsed causing the downfall of the Nazi leader and his entire regime.

“We were right there on the fringes of the fight with Patton. We used our guns to fire on German positions. I never saw any Germans during the battle.

“What I did see were frozen American soldiers. Our boys came back by us with their feet frozen from the snow and cold. We’d put them in the back of our tank where we had a big fan blowing hot air around inside and warmed up their frozen feet. They’d stay with us until they could get transportation to the rear to get medical treatment.”

That winter in Europe was the coldest in 50 years. American solders weren’t equipped to handle the cold wet snow in their leather boots. Living in muddy foxholes for days during the battle, their feet were prone to frostbite. Scores lost their feet to the cold.

Strnad came up with his own invention for keeping warm that winter.

“We had 14-watt bulbs for headlights in our tank.

When it was on, it was so hot you could hardly hold it in your hand. I took one of these bulbs and wired it so it fit inside a tin can that once held tomatoes on a store shelf. It became my electric blanket. I slept with the tomato can with the light inside under my blanket to keep me warm.”

This is an 8-inch field piece similar to the one Strnad and the 243rd Artillery Battalion hauled around Europe as part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army during World War II. The cannon is on display at Fort Sill, Okla. Photo provided

Strnad, was not only the driver of the modified Sherman tank without a turret that pulled the 8-inch gun, he was also a mechanic who kept the operation running and on the road.

“I spent a lot of time trying to keep the treads on the tank. We had to stop frequently because the heavy load we pulled caused us to lose our treads. Often I was in the middle of the road working to get the treads back on our tank so we could keep up with Patton’s Army.

“I remember going into Paris. It was an open city and hadn’t been destroyed in the war. It was beautiful. The whole time we were there a bunch of kids followed us. They were looking for us to give them candy.

“We went to see the Eiffel Tower while we were in town because they put a note on the bulletin board. It said, if we donated a pint of blood to the Red Cross they would give us a big chicken dinner and take us up in the tower.

“I decided to gave a pint and take them up on that chicken dinner. After a wonderful dinner, they let us go up on the Eiffel Tower, but only to the second or third floor. They wouldn’t let us go all the way to the top.”

Strnad recalls his artillery unit going through the “Siegfried Line,” into Germany. It formed the western front along the country’s border.

“We went through the enemy towns where civilians hung white bed sheets in many of their windows. There were still a few German women around in these towns who knew they weren’t going to be hurt by the Americans. All they wanted was the war to be over.”

He thinks he reached the Elbe River about the time the war in Europe ended in May 1945, but he’s not certain.
“I remember seeing a few Russian soldiers,” Strnad said. “They were looking for anything they could grab and take back home with them.”

For a few weeks, immediately after V-E Day (Victory in Europe), he and the soldiers of the 243rd Artillery Battalion served as MPs. They became part of the Allied Occupation Force, but not for long.

They boarded a train to Le Havre, France and “Camp Lucky Strike.” It was a tent city with thousands of tents and tens of thousands of American soldiers bound for the USA.

“I ended up on a troop transport with thousands of others aboard headed home. About 200 miles off the coast of Boston we ran into a typhoon or something like that. Our ship tossed and turned in the sea. One time the nose of the ship was almost straight down in a trough and then its back end would go up in the air and its propellers would spin free.

“My folks were waiting on the dock for me. It seemed like everyone getting off that ship had someone waiting for them. It was a happy time for all of us.”

Strnad went home to Lisbon, Connecticut, a little town close to New London, and became a plumber. He spent the next 25 years plumbing in Lisbon until he and his wife, May, retired and became snowbirds in Florida in the 1960s. The couple has three sons: Charles, Richard and Edward.

Name: Edward Strnad
D.O.B:  7 Feb. 1919
Hometown: Lisbon, Ct.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 18 Nov. 1940
Discharged:   30 Oct. 1945
Rank: Technician Fourth Class
Unit:  243rd Artillery Battalion
Commendations: European-African-Middleeast Campaign Ribbon with 4 Service Stars
Battles/Campaigns:Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, Central Europe

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 27, 2017 and is republished with permission.

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