Turner, James A. (820th)

James A. Turner 1James A. Turner

Biography: James Alfred Turner “Jim” was born May 5, 1922, in the small town of Bedford, which is located in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. He was the second child and the first son of Rush Alfred and Anna Marcia (Diehl) Turner. Jim had an older sister Anna Margaret (Peg) and three younger brothers, Cleon Randolph, Robert Oran and Joseph Dale.

Around 1931, the family moved to Tyrone and later Altoona, both in Blair County, PA. Jim attended Altoona High School and worked as a farm hand on his uncle Ross Shippy’s farm in Schellsville, Bedford County, PA. He also worked at the Altoona Works, which is a large railroad industrial complex in Altoona. It was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad to supply the railroad with locomotives, railroad cars and related equipment. For many years it was the largest railroad shop complex in the world. There he worked building and repairing passenger and freight cars.

Service Time: Jim entered the Army on May 5, 1943, and was ultimately assigned to Company “B”, Third Platoon, Third Section of the 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The unit was located at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, at the time and equipped with the M5, 3 inch towed guns, which were pulled by the M3 half-track. Jim was trained as a driver of the half-track. He also assisted with the positioning of the gun on targets.

On Saturday, April 29, 1944, Jim married Ruth A. Pressel, at the Broad Avenue Methodist Church, in Altoona, PA. She was the daughter of Mr and Mrs W. A. Pressel. Jim was still a Private at the time and returned to Camp Breckenridge, KY. Within the next few months, Jim was promoted to Private First Class.

James A Turner wifeThe battalion left Camp Breckenridge on September 25, 1944, and traveled to the Boston port, where they boarded the USS Mount Vernon (which was originally the luxury liner George Washington) on the 27th. On October 14, the ship docked at Liverpool, England and they went by train to Southampton, arriving on the 16th. They boarded the English ship HSS Rapier for France on the 17th, but they were delayed for 3 days. They were finally transported across the English Channel and loaded onto LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) for the actual landing at Omaha Beach. After climbing over a small mountain, they were loaded into trucks and moved inland to Valognes, France. From October 21st through November 30th, they were supposed to prepare for combat, but were unable due to constant rainfall.

As a convoy, they moved across France and into Belgium, arriving at Rosmeer on December 3rd. On December 9th, they moved to Braunlauf, Belgium and were attached to the 106th Infantry Division of the First Army. On December 11, Company ”B” of the 820th moved into an area near Winterspelt, Germany, which was right on the Siegfried Line. They had been chosen to relieve Company B of the 612th Tank Destroyer Battalion, gun for gun. The Third Platoon was positioned near Lutzkempenberg, Germany, in direct support of the 424th Infantry Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division. The next 5 days were spent improving gun positions, watching for enemy activity, and exchanging artillery rounds with the enemy.

At 0400 hrs, on December 16th, the German offensive, known as the Battle of the Bulge was launched in the Ardennes. The artillery and mortar fire was so heavy in their sector that by 1500 hrs the Company Command post was ordered to evacuate to St. Vith, Belgium. The Third Platoon, where Jim was the driver, successfully held off the enemy and maintained its position until 0200 hrs on the 17th. During the day of the 16th, a column of enemy Tiger tanks and infantry was engaged by the Third Section and Pfc. Paul Rosenthal, a gunner, knocked out five of the tanks. A sixth one retreated with fire and smoke spewing from its haul. His gun was responsible for at least 80 enemy casualties. For his actions on that day, Pfc Rosenthal was promoted to Corporal and awarded the Bronze Star. The Third Platoon was under heavy mortar and artillery fire practically all day. They were ordered to withdraw and change their position to Bracht, Germany, along with the First Platoon. Third Platoon suffered no causalities but did have to abandon 2 of their 3 inch guns and one half-track.

While in position at Bracht, they experienced two more days of heavy artillery fire. On December 23rd, along with the First Platoon, Jim and his unit took up positions in Maldigen, Belgium. On the 24th, the Platoon moved to Harre, Belgium, and spent their Christmas Eve there. The next day, Christmas, the platoon moved to Manhay, Belgium along with the First Platoon and were attached to the Division Artillery, of the 7th Armored Division. They took and held positions successfully blocking the last escape route of Field Marshall Rundstedt’s route back to Germany.

On December 31st, the platoon was moved to Esneux, Belgium for rest and reorganization and from January 1st through March 12th, 1945, Company B reorganized, and pulled guard duty, assisting in road building while attached to the 148th Engineers, in Stavelot, Belgium. The unit began training on the M-36 tank destroyers but then received the M18 “Hellcat” which forced them to receive additional training on the new units.

B Company left Esneux, Belgium on March 12th, and moved to Hehlrath, Germany, where they continued to train on the M-18. They were very excited about its performance, especially by how much destruction it was capable of. They arrived in Niederkasterholz, Germany at 1300 hrs on April 2nd, and departed at 1430 hrs on April 4th. They crossed the Rhine River via a pontoon bridge at Bad Godesburg, and arrived in Heisterbacherott, Germany at 1800hrs, just 5 miles south of the front lines.

Just prior to the battle of the Ruhr Pocket, the Battalion was attached to the 97th Infantry Division. B Company was ordered to directly support the 386th Infantry Regiment and on April 7th, they provided indirect fire with the new M-18’s. At 2100 hours, that same day, the three platoons along parts of their Reconnaissance Platoon split between them, launched into the battle to provide close support of the 386th Infantry. They crossed the Sieg River at 0630, on the 8th and Third Platoon was attached to the 2nd Battalion of the 386th. On the 9th, Third Platoon destroyed a dug-in 88mm gun position, one tank, and took several prisoners. The company was then relieved from attachment to the 97th Division and ordered to reassemble in Mendt, Germany.

On April 10th, the Company left Neiderottersbach and proceeded to Mendt. Both the First and Third Platoons were attached to CCB (Combat Command B), of the 13th Armored Division. They crossed the Seig River and moved into the attack from Seigburg, spearheading the Armored elements of CCB. On April 11, the Third Platoon, in a spearhead type thrust, moved forward rapidly, engaging the enemy at about 1700 hrs near Elsdorf Germany.  Cpl. Paul C. Rosenthal and T/5 James A. Turner were killed by enemy machine-gun fire while climbing out of their M18. The unit had been set on fire by a direct hit by an enemy bazooka. Two others, Pfc Edward S. Mroczka and Pfc. Russell T. Phillips, were also wounded as they were escaping the burning vehicle. All four were evacuated to an aid station approximately 2 miles away by their Platoon Leader, 1st Lt. George W. Brinkley, who was also wounded during the evacuating.

Technician 5th Grade James A. Turner was pronounced dead on arrival and his body moved outside the aid station wrapped in a blanket. According to a report (AGRC Form 10) Jim was buried in a plain wooden box in a civilian cemetery, Kalker Cemetery in Merheim, Germany,, on or about April 13, 1945. His grave was marked with a brown wooden cross with the following markings “Turner, James A. American Soldat”. “Soldat” is German for soldier. The report states that he was taken to this cemetery by German soldiers for burial.

The intense fighting between the enemy and all of the elements of the 820th continued. The First and Third Platoons successfully fought their way into Dusseldorf, on April 17th, and were relieved from their attachments on the 18th. All of the units were ordered back to Benrath, Germany, and from there to Am Grossen Graben. The battle of the Ruhr Pocket was over! The Company rested and were anticipating that the end of the war was near. The Third Army was involved in a drive on Czechoslovakia and on April 21st, the 820th began their 400 mile journey southward to join them. After their very successful campaign through Czechoslovakia the company started their long trek back to France on June 14th. They traveled from Czechoslovakia through Germany and most of France, a total distance of 740 miles. They boarded the ship SS Sea Tiger, in Le Havre, France, on June 30th and set sail for the United States the next day.

The battalion arrived on American soil at Newport News, Virginia on July 10th. They had a short train ride to Camp Patrick Henry in Virginia, and departed the next day for their well earned 30 day recuperation furloughs. During the period August 17th through the 25th, the men reported to Camp Swift, Texas, where the Company was assembled for the last time. The orders to inactivate the 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion were received on August 17th and on September 8th, the Battalion was officially deactivated. Jim was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions on April 11th. Paul C. Rosenthal was awarded his second Bronze Star Medal for his efforts on that date.

James A. Turner 3Jim’s remains were disinterred and moved to the American Military Cemetery, Margraten, Netherlands. He was buried in Plot BBB, Row 10, Grave 245 on March 22, 1946. At the request of his wife Ruth, his body was brought back to the U.S. Early in January of 1949, his remains arrived in New York and were then transported by train to Altoona, Pennsylvania, arriving on the 14th. He was finally laid to rest at the Alto-Reste Park Cemetery, Altoona, PA. Although Ruth later remarried, when she passed away in 2011, she was buried by Jim’s side at the Alto-Reste Park Cemetery.

Jim’s three brothers, Cleon, Robert (Bob), and Joseph (Joe) all served during WWII. Cleon was an infantryman and was wounded in the leg, while in France.  He was hospitalized twice for his injuries. He passed away March 14, 2013. Bob served in the Communications Corps, installing communication lines throughout Europe. He passed away on December 12, 2004. Joe served in Guam as a motor pool mechanic and is still alive and well at the young age of 88. Cpl Rosenthal was buried in the American Military Cemetery, Margarten, Netherlands. He had two brothers in the armed forces. They were T/Sgt Henry Rosenthal who served in the Third Armored Division and Arnold Rosenthal who served in the Merchant Marines.

I want to thank Jim’s nephew Dave for providing the information, photos and text for this tribute.