The Suburbanite
  • WORLD WAR II: Gaston McCauley drove and fired from an Army Jeep in Europe

  • Gaston McCauley of Plain Township recalls most vividly his entry into World War II in 1944 and his exit from the conflict two years later.

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  • Gaston McCauley of Plain Township recalls most vividly his entry into World War II in 1944 and his exit from the conflict two years later.
    “I got drafted, but when I’d gone down to register I told them to put me in the next group. I wanted to go,” recalled McCauley, who was put into an armored division and sent off to fight in Europe.
    But months of driving a Jeep and aiming its mortar and machine gun at the enemy made McCauley equally eager to return home after the war ended in Europe.
    “I had a buddy who had fewer points than I did who was on the list to come home, so I went to ask why I wasn’t going home,” said McCauley, who by then was part of the German occupational force, serving as driver for military and civilian participants at the war trials at Nuremberg.
    McCauley said he didn’t get a satisfactory answer, but he did mention to them that he was on his way to pick up Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Perhaps he would ask the general why he wasn’t going home.
    McCauley acted as Eisenhower’s driver that day.
    “He was the nicest guy you could meet, a swell guy,” said McCauley. “When you were in the car with him, it was ‘Ike.’ When you were out of the car it was ‘general.’”
    McCauley said he doesn’t remember where he transported Eisenhower. But he does recall that he was given “special orders” for his return home not too much after that assignment.
    Most of McCauley’s memories, colored by the sight of blood and drowned out by the sounds of a battlefield, are kept closer to the back of his mind, he admits. When he was sent overseas in 1945, he was a member of a scouting unit that continually skirmished.
    “We were supposed to be a reconnaissance squadron, but really we spearheaded,” McCauley said. “We were supposed to go out and learn what was out there and come back. But, basically, we would radio them and we didn’t come back. We kept on going. At times we were as far as 40 miles ahead of the main forces.”
    Enemy was encountered and engaged. Once his unit found itself inside a “horseshoe” formation of an enemy armored unit.
    “Our tanks knocked their tanks out,” McCauley said. And the men moved on.
    McCauley’s unit would be subject to snipers and ambushes when they entered villages, he said. As the driver and gunner on a Jeep armed with both a machine gun and a mortar, McCauley himself once was a target.
    “I was taking ammunition from one vehicle to another, so I’m sure the German was firing at me,” said McCauley, who recalled that a sergeant in his unit fired back, shooting an entire belt of machine gun ammunition — dozens of rounds — at the enemy. “He snapped, had a nervous breakdown, really, but they called it ‘Army fatigue.’ ”
    Page 2 of 2 - COMING HOME
    McCauley had married his wife, Velvie (Harbin), before going off to war. She wrote him every day he was in service.
    “When I was overseas, sometimes I’d get three letters at once,” he recalled.
    The couple raised two sons, Gaston and Roy.
    “She was one-of-a-kind,” said McCauley. “We lacked one month and seven days of being married 65 years” before she died in 2008.
    McCauley worked construction jobs before settling in as supervisor for Plain Township Road Department, where worked 21 years before retiring late in the 1980s. For years, he also served on the Plain Township Volunteer Fire Department.
    Now, he keeps busy repairing lawn tractors and lawnmowers with friend and family member Bob Witts. He frequently goes fishing. Twice a week, he plays euchre at the VFW and he often tests his skills at solitaire while at home.
    Most times, the memories of World War II are kept deep in his mind. His thoughts seldom return to battlefield incidents or other wartime experiences such as helping to liberate a prisoner camp.
    “I used to think of it — the cruelty of what happened,” he said. “I still think of it once in awhile, but after so long everything kind of leaves you.”
    Private first class
    Truck driver, Jeep driver, mortar gunner, mortar observer, machine gunner
    Troop B
    89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron
    9th Armored Division
    European Theater
    France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany
    HONORS European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon, Distinguished Unit Badge, World War II Victory Medal, Army Occupation Medal
    AGE 87

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