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article number 95
article date 01-17-2012
copyright 2012 by Author else SaltOfAmerica
Army Captain James N. Sherrick, Forward Observer WWII Italian Campaign, German POW
by Chuck Knox
Lt. James N. Sherrick, July 1941

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of the many interviews conducted by Chuck Knox for his book, The Sound of Distant Drums. The Sound of Distant Drums contains writings and interviews of many soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Viet Nam, Panama and Gulf Wars. It makes a great book to leave out for casual short readings. You can type “Chuck Knox, The Sound of Distant Drums” into your search engine to find Amazon and other sellers who carry this book.

Judge James N. Sherrick entered the Army in 1941 as a Corporal, went to Officers Candidate School and was commissioned a Lieutenant. Discharged as a Captain. Awarded The Silver Star, The Purple Heart, and The Distinguished Service Cross. His wife is Frances, and children are Elizabeth Roman, John Sherrick, and Richard Sherrick.

Jim Sherrick’s Story

I was drafted in June, 1941. After basic training and Officer Candidate School, I joined the 45th Infantry Division at Ft. Devans, MA, where the Division was undergoing amphibious landing training. My duty was a Forward Observer (F.O.). I directed Artillery fire on enemy targets.

Watching hits from Observation Post (OP) at Hunter-Liggett Military Reservation.

Most of the details of my combat experiences are forgotten. Our first mission was a landing on the beaches of Sicily. I remember climbing over the side of a transport with a fifty-pound radio on my back. The landing boat was pitching in the surf and the transport rolled and swayed. As my feet reached for the boat, it swung away. I clung desperately to the Cargo Net, until the boat swung back. I remember the night was lighted by Naval Gun-fire Shells arching overhead as they headed for enemy gun batteries on the hills beyond the beach.

Except for delaying action by the Germans, the fighting was easy. Our next combat was the landing at Salerno, Italy. Fighting was more intense than in Sicily. Our advance toward Rome was fairly rapid until we met a major defense line at Venafro and Cassino. It snowed or rained most every day, and against stiff resistance, the advance stalled. As a Forward Observer, my crew climbed the highest convenient hills. On one occasion we became careless, and were spotted by German observers. The resulting artillery barrage killed the radio operator who had been with me since the first day of combat. Luckily, my foxhole did not receive a direct hit.

Landing at Anzio.

To break the impasse at Cassino, the 45th was called on to make an end run landing at Anzio. Here we met the fiercest fighting encountered to date. On 2/19/44 my Forward Observer party selected the upstairs of a farmhouse for an observation post. A concerted attack by the Germans, with artillery, tanks and infantry, overran our position. With enemy all around us, I called for fire to land close behind us. With enemy all around us, the GI’s in the area surrendered. At this time, I used a Carbine to kill the only enemy I killed with small arms fire. I had been awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart (slight hand wound) for action above Salerno. I was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for this day’s action.

Cap: “A concerted attack by the Germans, with artillery, tanks and infantry, overran our position.” (picture source: German Federal Archive)

While being marched toward Rome, I was again wounded, this time by friendly artillery. I spent the next 3 months in an Italian hospital in Mantova. Later, I was transferred to OFLAG 64, a POW Camp, for ground force officers, located in Northern Poland. In June, 1944, there were around 300 POW’s . After the battle of the Bulge, there were approximately 1,200. In January, 1945, the Russian advance neared the camp and it was ordered abandoned. We were marched toward Germany in 20 below zero weather. At night, we were “housed” in communal type barns. Some slept in the hay; I chose a cow stall where the cow’s body and rotting manure warmed the air. After the second night a friend and I hid in a rabbit hutch and were left behind, along with about 40 others. The communal farmers fed us for 2 days before the Russians arrived. The Russians generally ignored us.

Rumor had it that the Lublin government had been recognized and that a friendly diplomat would be there. Small groups started walking and hitchhiking toward the rear. Russian supply trucks gathered up English and French POW’s as well as Americans. We passed through a destroyed Warsaw, where a Polish uprising had been put down by the Germans. In Lublin, only Russians were present. A kindly Polish family kept me for a month. (While there I learned to play bridge.) Finally Russia provided a train of box cars that deposited us in Odessa. English and American ex-pow’s now started for home. I was dropped at Port Said where there was an American Army detachment. I was deloused, given a month’s pay, and later transported to Naples. I arrived in Boston the Day President Roosevelt died. I was discharged in October, 1945. …

… In the Chuck Knox book, Sound of Distant Drums, this article continues with a Stars and Stripes, action filled article on Jim’s observation post capture by the Germans.

At the end of the section, a paragraph honoring the bravery of Jim Sherrick and a fellow soldier reads as follows:

Distinguished Service Crosses have been awarded to 1st Lt. James N. Sherrick, Greenup, Ill and Pfc. Edward F. Barker, Talada, Okla., who deliberately sacrificed themselves during an artillery operation on Feb. 18, 1944 near Anzio. These two, listed as missing in action, were serving as forward artillery observers and had established an OP in a house on an outpost line from which they were directing fire against attacking enemy troops. Heavy enemy fire forced supporting infantry troops to withdraw, leaving the OP unprotected, but the two men disregarded warnings to retire to a safer but less effective post. As the enemy, estimated to be an infantry battalion with supporting armor, closed in on their position, Lt. Sherrick called for artillery fire progressively closer to this own OP. Finally he ordered artillery fire land on their own position. It was their last message.

Looking Great in Uniform, U.S. Army Artillery, 1942.
Judge James N. Sherrick, 1980’s.
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