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'I was excited to see the old tank'

Local WWII veteran finds local built tank in Arizona desert

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July 21, 2010 - Muldorf, Germany 1945. That's where Richard D. Horton was when WWII ended.

It's also where the Goodrich native jumped down off the M-4A4 Sherman tank for the last time. His military tour of duty as part of the 14th Armored Division who earned the nickname, "Liberators," where during the last days of WWII they liberated some 200,000 Allied prisoners of war from German prison camps. Among those liberated were approximately 20,000 American soldiers, sailors, and airmen, as well as an estimated 40,000 troops from the U.K. and Commonwealth.

"That's the last I saw of the Sherman (tank)," said Horton, who returned home in November 1945. "I was in that tank through the Battle of the Bulge."

Sixty-five years later Horton now 88 was reunited with the Sherman tank which helped turn the tide of WWII

Earlier this year Richard and his wife Barbara were near Yuma, Ariz. where they spend winters when a friend contacted him regarding a Sherman Tank he discovera few miles out in the desert.

During the 1940s the tract of land was part of the Yuma Proving Ground, where military equipment was tested. The area stretched from Pomona, Calif. east 350 miles to just outside of Phoenix, Ar.iz. It also extended from Yuma, Arix. 250 miles northward to Searchlight, Nev. The actual training was conducted in three maneuver areas covering approximately 18,000 square miles, according to the U.S. Army.

"We drove way out in the desert and there were several military pieces just sitting out in the open and one of them was a Sherman M-4A3 tank just sitting out there. The tank was built in Grand Blanc (Michigan). I was in the M-4A4 which had a larger gun and better engine. But still the same tank. The outside structure was the same."

The GM Metal Fabricating Plant located on South Saginaw Street in Grand Blanc, was built in the early 1940s. The U.S. Government commissioned GM's then Fisher Body Division to operate the plant in 1942, to build tanks for World War II, which included the Sherman tank.

"I was excited to see the old tank. I just looked at it and to think I was in that about 65 years ago during big battles in Germany."

Horton recalled November 1944, when he along with the 14th Armored, moved north from the area of Marseilles to Epinal, France via the railroad. Assigned to the M-4A4 Sherman tank, Horton and a crew of five were heading east toward Germany and the Rhine River. In January 1945, Horton was part of the Battle of Hatten-Rittershoffen in two small villages in France at the center of Hitler's Operation Northwind—his last attempt to halt the Allied advancement.

"There was not a whole lot of combat until Hatten," said Horton. "I knew it was getting serious then—we lost 47 tanks in our division. I had two tanks I was driving destroyed during that battle, which lasted about two weeks. It was very cold, and after the battle the town was flattened. We had the Germans on the run after that."

It was near Hatten-Rittershoffen that Horton's tank took a direct hit from a German 88-mm gun.

"The German tank operators waited until we picked up our wounded before they took a shot at us," said Horton. "The first round missed but the second one hit us right on the side. We had stacked up sandbags around our turret—that saved us. When I turned back for repairs there was a hole in the side of tank."

On Easter Sunday, April 1,1945, the 14th Armored Division moved across the Rhine River on a pontoon bridge into Wurms Germany, and continued pursuit of the retreating Nazi troops through Lohr, Gemunden, Neustadt, and Hammelburg.

"As we moved across Germany I saw Nazi soldiers dead along the road—some were just kids, maybe 12 years old. The war was over, I don't know why Hitler did not just quit. We liberated POW camp in that tank located just north of the town of Moosburg in southern Bavaria, Germany at the end of April in 1945. There had to be 100,000 prisoners in there."

Horton returned home in November 1945 and still lives in Goodrich with his wife Barbara.

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