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The Tough Ombres – A local veteran’s story

ROCKWALL, TX (November 10, 2014) Corporal Dave Tolan served with the 712th Tank Battalion in WWII. This battalion was attached to the 90th Infantry Division, known as The Tough Ombres, or “TO”. (This designation originally meant Texas/Oklahoma in WWI).

They pushed across France from Omaha Beach and Dave has combat stars from Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Battle of the Bulge and Central Europe.

Dave was drafted at 18 years of age in 1943 and began his training as a tank crew member at Ft Knox. This picture was taken when these young guys sank a 20 ton tank in the mud during basic training. Dave says it took three tanks and a truck to pull it out. Well…young recruits have to learn somehow.

The 712th was deployed on February 27 to England and would train and await orders before entering France at Utah Beach on June 28. Cpl Tolan arrived at Omaha Beach as a replacement for the 21 men lost by the 712th. This brave unit would see much action as they made their way across France and into Germany. Dave commented that he saw Europe from a 1″x 5″ tank window.

The first nervous night, Dave was on guard duty close to one of the famous French hedgerows. His blood would run cold as he heard a noise coming from the other side of the hedgerow. An edgy 18 year old in the black of night, never having been in combat, loaded rifle and possible German enemies all around is not a good recipe for calm nerves. Thankfully, without firing a shot, a cow was found out to be the intruder.

The 712th’s battle route would begin on July 3 as the Battle of Normandy raged. This would be one of the biggest advances ever of an American division as they fought their way across France and into Germany, traveling some 3,750 miles in combat.

At Falaise Gap the Americans were on one side and the British on the other as the Germans were caught in the crossfire. On the third day, the sun came up and revealed German troops, bumper to bumper, with tanks and horse drawn vehicles trying to get out. “You couldn’t miss them,” Dave said.

Metz was said to be the “most formidable German stronghold in France.” It was necessary to secure victory here before moving on. The plan was devised for the 5th Infantry, the 90th Infantry and the 712th to form battle “pincers” and close in on the fortified city. It would take them 30 days to uproot the German gun emplacements and machine gun nests and secure victory.

A fierce battle ensued and the transfer of the, much needed, armored equipment across the Moselle River was an impressive logistical feat. General George Patton wrote a Letter of Commendation, “The capture and development of your bridgehead over the Moselle River…will forever rank as one of the epic river crossings of history.”

From Metz, they would head north to Bastogne, Christmas 1944, where The Battle of the Bulge was underway. (This was a major German offensive toward the end of the war in the dense forest area of Ardennes. It was the largest and bloodiest battle for the Americans in WWII. The name, Battle of the Bulge was coined by the wartime press to describe how the Allied battle line “bulged” inward on the maps.) Dave’s division arrived from the south and joined the battle where the Germans were being cut off.

Dave remembers the frigid temperatures at The Bulge and that it was always 10° colder in winter or 10° hotter in summer inside the tank than the temperature outside. They left Metz at 1:00 pm and drove all afternoon and night, arriving at Bastogne in a snow storm. “The snow was numbing and pierced to the very marrow of the bones,” one report would state.

And Dave says, “Tanks don’t do real well on ice and snow. We were coming down a hill into the city and the MP’s were waving us back. We couldn’t turn back, we were just sliding! The road ended at the bottom of the hill and there was a house right there. Every tank came down the hill, slid into the house, backed up and continued on.” 

As they came into Koblenz, heavy fire from the American tanks caused the Germans to surrender in mass numbers. Dave says, “We didn’t have time to take prisoners. We just told them, Go that way!”

At Mainz the 712th crossed the Rhine River. They proceeded through northern Germany and on to Prague, Czechoslovakia. As their tank column entered the town they were greeted by cheers and greetings from all the town people. They made their way through to the other side of town. Then they turned around and proceeded back, again amid the cheers of all the people. Then they stopped on the outskirts of town.

The problem was politics. The Russians wanted to get the glory as they entered Prague, so the Americans had to get out of the way until the Russians arrived to receive the hero’s welcome. (Some things never change.)

I asked Dave about General Patton, “So tell me about Patton.” Dave chuckled and said, “Patton?” He laughed and said, “Actually I was glad to be with General Patton. To me, I thought he was the only General that knew what he was doing. He was called ‘Old Blood and Guts.’ It was always our blood and his guts.” He continued with respect for General Patton, “You actually saw him on the front lines.”

Dave’s Company Commander had a confrontation with General Patton. At a river crossing, one of the tanks got lodged and slowed the process down. Patton lit into the Captain with great fury. Dave says, “He turned the air blue! I thought I knew a lot of swear words, but I heard some new ones that day. I basically stayed out of his way. When he was around I went the other way.”

The men of Dave Tolan’s unit, the 712th tank Battalion, were boys when they began their Army tour and they grew up fast. They would witness things that are sometimes hard to talk about and things they will never forget. Dave says that when he returned home, he simply shelved all his experiences and moved on. “That was the only way to keep your sanity.”

Dave lives now in Rockwall, Texas and is an avid golfer, enjoying life. Thank you Cpl Dave Tolan for your service to our country. We play golf and enjoy life today because of yours and many more young people’s sacrifices that were made during those very stressful days of WWII.

By Blue Ribbon News special contributor John Adams of Rockwall. John is in telecom sales and also serves as an Associate Pastor at Poetry Baptist Church. He is active in the Rockwall Breakfast Rotary. Visit his guest columns at BlueRibbonNews.com and his blog at written4u.com.

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