Tiger Duel

 By Dr. Dean McCandless

On the night of July 9, 1943 we jumped into Sicily. My stick landed near our intended drop zone, though we didn’t know it at the time. Once out of my chute, I soon located one of my men, Ott Carpenter, and we were joined by another half dozen troopers. 

We went up the road until we ran into a machine-gun nest and scattered. Where everyone went, I’ll never know but Ott and I remained together. Not knowing where we were, we decided to do what we had been instructed to do in that situation - head for the highest ground we could see. We came upon an enemy outpost, and were about to throw our grenades when we realized that we might harm our own troopers if they were still nearby, so we by-passed the outpost and got to the top of a small mountain by dawn. There we dug-in behind a hedge beside a road we could see our invasion fleet several miles east of us; this was a beautiful sight. The possibility of capture caused me to bury all my codes and encoding devices (later, experience proved them to be of little use anyhow).

On that mountain, Ott and I had some exciting moments. One was our own Navy shooting over our heads -- those big shells sounded almost like freight trains!

Around mid-day, several German tanks came clanking up the road and stopped just opposite us. I was peeking up at the German tank commander as he looked across toward our invasion fleet -- thank God he never looked down at us, soon the German tanks clanked onward.

In the valley below us was a herd of cattle and I noticed that from a distance they looked like people. I pointed this out to Ott, and suggested that we might sneak through that herd toward our lines. He was not excited about that idea and suggested that there might be Germans there also. Well, it wasn’t long until his theory proved right; an enemy patrol of 6 or 8 soldiers were right across that valley and heading directly toward us. We got ready. Ott had a 45 cal. Tommy and I had a
carbine and a 45 pistol. We agreed that when the patrol was close and in full sight he would start shooting from the right and I’d start shooting from the left and we’d work towards the middle. As they came closer, the terrain hid them from view and we expected them to crest in front of us at any moment, but they never did. That was scary -- were they sneaking up behind us? It seemed like hours before we decided that the patrol was gone.

When evening shadows began appearing, we began to work our way toward our own lines. It was near day break when I tripped over a gun muzzle extending out from some shrubs. It had a flash-hider on it and I’d never seen one, so it looked foreign to me. I jumped past it and shoved the muzzle off my

carbine into the chest off a drowsy outpost soldier who shouted "God all mighty don’t shoot!" his southern drawl was music to our ears and the stress and tension of two nights and a day vanished. The Infantry commander told us there were paratroopers nearby and soon we were reunited with our own unit. I expected to hear "where the ----- have you been". Instead, Gorham greeted me like a long lost son!

That evening he asked me if I could establish an outpost. I was pleased to be asked and assured him that I’d been in the Infantry much longer than in Communications. He gave me a bazooka team and a machine gun squad. We established the outpost a hundred yards or so. On our right flank we took turns keeping watch throughout the night. At dawn Col. Gorham recalled us. Later that morning he decided to reconnoiter the forward areas and asked me, Lt. Comstock (Assistant Battalion Surgeon), Cpl. Higgins, and Pvt. Williams to join him.

We climbed a small hill when all of a sudden there was a lot of shooting in front and to our right. A few paces later we could over the crest of the hill and were able to see German Tiger tank, in a valley to our right, about 200 yards away. We were all prone in a second! It seemed like everyone was shooting at that tank and that it had been disabled. Col. Gorham motioned us to keep down while he crept ahead. He was either on the crest of the hill or a bit on the forward slope when he knelt and raised the bazooka that he was carrying. Within seconds there was a tremendous explosion and Col. Gorham was down. Lt Comstock jumped up to his side. A second tremendous explosion knocked Lt. Comstock down. I then ran to them. The Tiger tank did not fire at us again. At first I thought they were both dead. Col. Gorham had no pulse and wasn't breathing. He had a large triangular hole in the center of his forehead;he was dead. Lt. Comstock had a terrible long gash obliquely across his face so that his nose and lips were lying to one side of his face; but he was alive although in great distress. I asked Higgins to go get a Jeep even if he had to steal it. In the meantime, I gave Lt. Comstock a serrate of morphine even though he tried to protest through his shattered face. In a very short time Higgins was back with a Jeep (I never asked where he got it). We loaded Lt. Comstock into the jeep and rushed him back to the hospital on the beach. Higgins and Williams then returned with the Jeep and recovered Col. Gorham’s body. Why Col. Gorham took the chances he took we’ll never know. I’d never seen him fire a bazooka before. That day we were well out of bazooka’s range.

Submitted thru BG Edward Thomas
Editing by Patrick O’Donnell