Reading’s Boys #9: October-November 1944

Sherwood Emory Collins Jr. (October-November 1944)

After the 29th Infantry Division’s stellar performance in Normandy, Sherwood and the rest of his comrades were given a bit of rest before heading into combat again. But the combat they were heading into was the type that no amount of rest could prepare you for. The 29th Infantry Division, and the 224th Field Artillery Battalion right along with it, were destined for the Siegfried Line: the last strongly held German line in western Europe.

The proverbial whistle would blow on November 16, 1944, with a large artillery bombardment to kick everything off. Sherwood may have covered his ears with his hands that morning, wondering why the hell he’d ended up with an artillery battalion. I couldn’t blame him for wondering. I guess it’s safe to assume that in the opening days of the attack toward the Siegfried Line, Sherwood’s close friend, Robert Yeuell, of Wakefield, Massachusetts was the 175th Infantry Regiment’s artillery liaison officer, because on November 18, 1944, he was killed in Siersdorf, Germany. Robert was someone who Sherwood was quite close to, a man who he probably shared many of his inner hopes and dreams and ideas and feelings with. And just like that, the war had taken Robert away. I don’t know how Sherwood reacted. All I know is that he was hurting. He might have even been there when Robert was killed. 

After three days of brutal combat, the 29th Infantry Division had gained three miles. The month of November came to a close and the 29th Infantry Division had been able to forge ahead somewhat, but they found themselves struggling. It’s tough to pin down just what Sherwood may have been up to that month but I’m not sure that it matters too much. He probably just felt grief. I know that a lot of veterans do say that when men were killed, they often just forced themselves to keep going but it is my understanding that the bond between Sherwood and Robert was exceptionally strong. I can’t imagine that Sherwood would have been able to just keep going.

Robert Uriel Channonhouse (October-November 1944)

Hailing from 269 Ash Street, Robert Channonhouse joined the United States Navy on May 7, 1943, at the age of 26. According to Navy muster rolls, Robert Channonhouse was stationed on the USS Frament beginning August 15, 1943. Now, the USS Frament does not have a particularly interesting service history. She served as a destroyer escort in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for the entirety of the war from her commission on the same day that Robert was assigned to her. 

But there are two stories about the USS Frament that are particularly notable, and the first one occurred at approximately 2:23 AM on November 15, 1944. While sailing off the coast of Gibraltar, the USS Frament mistakenly rammed into an Italian submarine that she was escorting. The ship, with Robert on it, probably would have jolted. Perhaps Robert was asleep at the time, or perhaps he was on watch. But he would have heard it either way. The sound probably would have been deafening, echoing up and down the body of the Frament. Robert probably got up to the deck as quickly as he could to see what was going on.

“We’ve hit the sub, I repeat, we’ve hit the sub!” a voice probably yelled through the darkness. 

Sailors likely rushed to the rails of the ship, unable to help the sailors aboard the submarine, but watching nonetheless. Robert probably cringed as he watched the scene unfold in front of him, completely helpless. There had been 42 men aboard that submarine and only 14 of them were rescued. There is not much information available on the collision other than what I have just shared with you. What I know is that it happened, and Robert was there when it did. I wonder if he was one of the sailors who helped pull distressed Italian sailors from the water below if he yelled for someone to come help him, and if he wondered why people fight wars at all. The futility of it all must have been glaringly obvious, for the love of everything holy, the ship had rammed into a submarine they had been escorting. And only 14 men actually survived. 

After the incident was over, I wonder if Robert returned to his bunk and cried a little bit. I know I would have. To be so far from home, and to have been assigned such a simple duty of escorting a submarine only to have completely bungled it and killed 28 men in the process. It wasn’t fair. War wasn’t fair. To be killed by friendly fire is the ultimate tragedy, in my opinion. I wonder if Robert would agree.

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