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Fuel to the Troops

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Fuel to the Troops

A Memoir of the 698th Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company, 1943-1945
  • by John G. Sullivan
    • Merriam Press World War 2 Memoir Series
    • Third Edition 2012
    • 330 6×9 inch pages
    • 74 photos
    • 6 documents
    • 2 drawings
    • 1 map
This story is about a place in time and a military unit which had a profound impact on military operations in the European Theater during World War II. The movement of petroleum products was critical in keeping the war machine moving and operating thousands of miles from the U.S. mainland. Providing the necessary fuels for the vehicles involved in fighting their way into Germany in 1944-45 was accomplished by an organization within the U.S. Army established by Charles A. McCann, a petroleum engineering graduate of the University of Oklahoma. McCann was a patriot who felt he could contribute to the war effort in a very specific way. His exceptional management skills and leadership ability made for a highly motivated organization that overcame the most difficult challenges at that time and place.
While many have never known war, this story is a tribute to those men of the 698th Engineer Petroleum Distribution (EPD) Company. The EPD Company is their story and is told through the eyes of one of their comrades—John Sullivan. He recounts these individual sacrifices and lived though the many challenges every day for two years. It provides a behind the scenes look at daily operations and those untold stories from America’s “Greatest Generation.”
  • Introduction by Greg Slavonic, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (Ret.)
  • History of the 698th Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company: Foreword
  • World War II Memoirs: Historical Framework
  • Induction and Reception Center
  • Basic Medical Training
  • Barkeley to Ft. Lewis
  • To Camp Claiborne
  • The Modern Army
  • History of the 698th Prior to September 1, 1943
  • Basic Engineer Pipeline Company TO&E
  • Early 698 History
  • All Work and No—
  • Roy E. “Lefty” Holder
  • Camp Claiborne to Camp Shanks, New York, to the United Kingdom
  • Ship to Shore and First Camp
  • Creature Comforts
  • Military Training Before the Invasion
  • Isle of Wight Social Life
  • Pre-Invasion Preparation and Portent
  • 698th Motor Pool Goes to the Invasion
  • Staging Area to Marshaling Area to Boat
  • On to the Beach
  • Cherbourg: Forward with the Pipeline
  • Finished at Cherbourg
  • At Alencon
  • September Song, 1944
  • Chateau de Barneau
  • Military Pipeline System
  • The Wages of Sin…
  • Recovery From My Broken Arm
  • Going to Antwerp
  • Holiday Greetings to Antwerp
  • Introduction to Antwerp and its Facilities
  • Logistics and Planning
  • January 19, 1945: My Second Service Anniversary
  • Reality Check
  • Working with Civilians at Antwerp
  • Springtime in Germany
  • My Peace Experience
  • Other Chores in Germany
  • Returning to Antwerp from Germany
  • Soldiers Transactions
  • Mustering Out
  • A Last Wartime Trip to the Isle of Wight
  • Reflection on Accomplishments
  • Could an Earlier Antwerp Port Operation Have Ended the Second World War Sooner?
  • Post Script
  • Roster of 698 Engineer Petroleum Distribution Company
From the Foreword
The mission of the Soldier is to accomplish his assigned goal, keeping sight that his only reason to be a part of the conflict is to win. He must accomplish this with the least cost of life and limb for all. He does this with resources afforded, and what he liberates by his own ingenuity.
This work attempts to tell of fuel supply in World War II, European theatre. I am telling the story in non-technical terms, with explanations where needed. The story is meant to be told in an amusing, whimsical manner. This is how the soldier keeps up his morale, and the morale of those around him (this is indispensable to the cause of winning).
The central motif of this story is always to be an actual day-to-day depiction of the everyday life of a soldier. I want to tell the way the drama and ritual ballet is really played out by real soldiers and their officers, of which Beetle Bailey, Sarge, Zero, Plato, The Captain, General Halftrack, “No Time For Sergeants”, “See Here Private Hargrove”, and of course, the grand chacterization of them all, Bill Mauldin’s, “Willie and Joe”, are a chimera of satire.
This tale, I assume, is being told to a generation who must understand that all previous wars were virtually stationary slugfests. Motorized and mechanized conflict emerged from a horse-drawn age as we lived and fought. We only began to move from a totally dominated rail shipping economy movement of cargo in 1935 when the Motor Carrier Act was passed by Congress (six years before the war began). Vehicles and trucks were small, and paved highways were spotty and ill-engineered. Gasoline transport was still being delivered in small trucks with not more than 600 to 800 gallon capacity. Today’s transports carrying 10,000 gallons did not exist.
This records my memory of a world of first impression. It is today more than sixty years since the war ended. I am probably the only person left in my organization who had these experiences and can write my own impressions. Historians and researchers will only be able to write from records, and the flavor will be lost. This story has not been previously written in depth. It is not my intent to rewrite history, but to try to understand what we did in the limited perspective we had as to how our actions would impact the future in which we now live. I hope you enjoy the read.
We Americans were insular in the 1930s, removed from the world by two oceans, with slow communications, with a frame of mind which did not let us concern ourselves with the rest of the world. We were self-absorbed with the Depression. The Twenties were a rollicking time when the lid was off, after the repression left by World War I, and everyone felt like “letting the good times roll.” I was told that every elevator boy, even in small towns, had a margin account in the stock exchange.
An integral part of our “Band of Brothers” is the development of their character, both as a unity of the organization and as individuals. This is so central to the experience and maturity of each person, as well as the group, it is a worthwhile area to expand in this treatise. Our Captain, after the war, told me the exact moment he felt our unity crystallized, and I will address that moment when developed in the narrative.
Bernard Baruch, who defined himself as a ‘speculator’, was a millionaire from South Carolina whose plantation was on the Pee Dee River. Will Rogers, the Oklahoma humorist, said the treasury of the Democratic Party was “Barney Baruch’s pocketbook”. He was a noted adviser to Presidents. In his book, The Private Years, Baruch said in August 1929, on his annual grouse hunt in Scotland, he heard some news that the stock market was making big plunges, followed by reassuring statements when it would go back up. He resolved to put all his assets into cash, and advised Rogers to do so too. As a result both of them survived “Black Thursday” on October 24, 1929. [Mr. Baruch made the remark that it was quite a chore to bring out such a book in his 90th year. I can understand that. It is only my 83rd year.]
The ensuing Depression was mind-numbing. Even those of us who were children were marked by its effect. The Depression’s effects were not over until the Second World War, which took us out of it. For several years the jobless level was between 23 and 30 percent, averaging 25 percent. My father was one of the fortunate ones. The production job he had at our local oil refinery was shut down twice, for over three years total. However, he lost only three days work, because he accepted a much lower paying job, canning the over-production of lubricating oil, for which the Depression left no demand.
Men from all over the country came to our back door looking for food. The local railroad was only one block away from our home. My mother never refused anyone—but her Puritan ethic demanded that they do some small task in the garden to earn what was given. The so-called “Greatest Generation” who were in World War II were men who had just lived through the interregnum between the wars, and had been conditioned by all these events.
I’ve always considered myself very lucky, and my military experience certainly supports that thought. Most events I take as they come and deal with all things in an easy manner. I attribute this to an Oklahoma heritage, as well as being someone raised in the Depression era, and having to make everything work. Having said that, this story will attempt to relate the events of the 698th organization, placed in context of time, participants, mission, as well as the history of the pre-war world. In order to accomplish this, I will not only use the ‘published’ history of the unit, my memory placed in context of notes made at the time, but also the letters of the commanding officer, written to his wife on an almost daily basis, graciously furnished to me by his children. My memory is still good, I have good reinforcing support, and the adventure was a central event of my life.
I’m sure you wonder why I think it is a good idea to place this in a historical frame. The reason is simple. We have demonstrated we are not good historians. It is axiomatic that those who have not learned the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.
In telling the story of Petroleum Supply, I will give a brief history of not only the 698th, but will also relate changing views of the use of our military unit. Turns of events of the war, and strategic changes molded our petroleum effort constantly. The war, training and tactical events as well as strategic views were constantly changing our direction. Invention is the badge of the American soldier. We found we were different than our allies, as well as from the enemy.
Speed of the advance forces was new. We were just emerging from warfare involving horses dictating speed of movement. We learned—slowly. Mobility was speeding up. Infrastructure was being changed to meet changing demand. Logistics was not even a buzzword. Chain Supply Links were not yet considered entities. This story is about their early, halting development.
I’m sure many will consider this a dull subject. A great deal has been written about actual combat and battle strategies. Supply is either taken for granted or overlooked. Twenty percent of the soldiers are engaged in the fighting contingents. The other eighty percent are necessary for their support. We were engaged in the Advance Section, Services of Supply, as well as Port Construction, Port Operation, Building and Operating Infrastructure, as well as providing emergency measures for completely unplanned events.
One such unplanned event occurred when the First Army breached, and consolidated the breach of the Siegfried Line at Aachen, Germany, September 16, 1944. Fuel is more important to a mechanized army than ammunition. Fuel is necessary for protective mobility to be maintained. There was no fuel available to support this position, and a withdrawal had to take place. Emergency supply had to be introduced. Then the enemy occupied the withdrawn bunkers. Our front line troops had to later retake those bunkers at great loss of life. The war could have been over in October. I know this story has not been told. Many other untold events happened.
Much of my life, I have been cast in the role of an observer. By luck and by choice, to mix a metaphor, in the Grand Opera of World War II, my role was to be on the edges of a lot of the action as a minor participant, cast as a sort of a spear-bearer, able to stand in the front of the lesser players and thus able to bear witness and connect a lot of the events.
I know many other veterans have similar stories to tell. This story is for those others, whose story will never be told.

The Book Cover: On the front of the book's cover, the photograph used was selected by the publisher as the best image available that represented the book's subject matter without any further explanation. How close I came to selecting the perfect image is now known. In June 2010 the author sent in the following details about this photograph: There was a 5,000 barrel tank on top of the hill seen in the background of the photo, which used gravity flow to fill the jerrycans seen being loaded into trucks in the photo. This was at Trooz, Belgium, about 7 miles southeast of Liege. During the Ardennes Offensive in December 1944, the German salient was less than 30 miles from Trooz—and a huge stockpile of fuel that could have fueled their offensive for a few more days. A combat engineering unit at the time placed a pound of TNT on each stave of the tank ready for demolition should the Germans arrive there.

Review by Sally Holmes
(daughter of Capt. Charles A. McCann, CO of the unit; by mail to the author): My dad would be so proud as I am proud of this book.You are a true gentleman and scholar and I thank you for writing this beautiful book!

Review by Frances Johnson:Fuel to the Troops is a beautiful tribute to all the young men who left colleges, work, and their families to serve their country in the 1940s. This is an authentic and well researched account of the 698 EPDC as it crossed Europe to supply fuel to the fighting units to make it possible for the Allies to win the war. The V-1 and V-2 bombings of Antwerp were devastating to so many civilians as well as soldiers. This 175 days of bombing left much of the city in ruins as well as its people's lives changed forever. I am pleased and honored to be a part of John Sullivan's memories of World War II in this book. I remember him very fondly all these years later!

Review by Kenneth E. Bates, PR2c, HEDRON 3, USNR (Parachute Rigger 2nd Class, Headquarters Squadron 3): I found the book, Fuel to the Troops, by John Sullivan, to be both entertaining and enlightening, and enjoyable reading. It is a good reminder that the majority of us who helped win World War II were not on the front lines, but making sure that there was fuel, food, ammunition, etc. for the men who were fighting, and that the tanks, trucks, jeeps, and airplanes were in good operating condition and battle-ready.

Review by Vivian Allbritton (Homer Allbritton was a Medic with tthe 698th EPD Company and is mentioned in the book): Thank you for sending the wonderful book of Fuel to the Troops. I haven’t read much of the book as yet, but am on my way. This brings back many stories Homer told me about the V-1s and V-2s and the noise of the V-1s. He talked much about the casualties and many interesting things about the places and the men. He didn’t discuss his medals and promotions too much. He certainly didn’t brag about what he did. He must have been greatly impressed with saving lives and helping people that needed medical help. He told me he would like to go into a Nursing School for training and use his “GI Bill” to help pay his way. He used it to further his education in Nursing in our local Junior College. We now have a great University nearby. We took care of his Uncle and Aunt for 10 years in our small house, but we made it. They were foster parents for him. We took good care of them, but it was very difficult for me. He also joined the National Guard and put 33 years into the Veterans Administration as a Registered Nurse, and 33 into the Army ending as a Colonel. Anyway, we had an interesting and busy life. Homer was 76 when he passed, married fifty-five. We traveled to the camps a lot, and enjoyed the trips. After retirement we started painting (oils and watercolors), also raised four boys and a beautiful garden. Now I’m retired. I’m sending you a check for four more books, plus the first one. Thank you very much for wanting to write the very interesting, historical book on places and brave men most of us will recall and remember.

Review by Norm Brown: I finished your book last night. It is a great book and a great ending. The endings are always sad because it is an ending. The end of a war, the end of many friendships (or the loss of same) and then going on with one's life to something new. We (you more so than I) can say we saw the coming of many things in our lives such as automobiles, electricity, phones, TV, etc. We have seen the politicians come and go, both the good and the bad. What we have now is unreal. They could not have dug deeper in a manure pile to come up with what we have in the Administration and Congress. The "don't give a shit" attitudes of many people will surely be our downfall. If we don't stand up and take a position we will will lose our freedom. We served and fought for our country for something better than what we have. I think your book fills a void in the history of World War II with information never before published. I surely did not know about the pipelines, etc. I am proud to have received your generously sent book with a great autograph and it will remain in the family and I will make sure I pass it on to my stepgrandson who has been in the Army and Iraq. He will appreciate your fine work.

Review by Christoph Kelly: For those interested in the technical side of World War II, this makes for a good read. Although more of a series of anecdotes, than a regular narrative, it nevertheless manages to inform the reader about a side of war that no one ever seems to think about: supply and engineering. The author's unit, the 698th Petroleum Distribution Company, was one of several specialized engineering units that were created during the war. They started from scratch, and throughout the book, you get a sense that they had to make it up as they went along. It was far from a safe billet, and the company suffered many losses, especially at Antwerp. If you're looking for an unusual tale of World War II, I recommend Fuel to the Troops.

Off to War: The Words and Pictures of Ray Cienek edited by Tom Robinson
This book is a selection of photographs from Ray Cienek's World War II scrapbook. It includes the 21 photographs that he took when he was sent to Bergen Belsen. Ray was a member of the 698th EPD Company and is mentioned in John Sullivan's book. This is not a Merriam Press publication. Order here.

To view a video (2:25 min) of the author describing his unit's importance during the war and how one company's product was a key factor in getting "fuel to the troops," go here.

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