Sergeant Frederick G. Easley served as a Tank Commander in the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company A. This photo was taken September 15, 1944, as the 134th Infantry Regiment and the 654th TDB liberated Nancy France. It appeared in a March, 1945, National Geographic Magazine article about the liberation of Nancy entitled ‘A City Learns to Smile Again’. The picture shows Sergeant Easley standing in the tank with his hand over a .50 caliber machine gun. Sergeant Easley was killed in action three weeks after this picture was taken.
In April 2001, I was researching the history of the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion in hopes of finding out information about my uncle, Sergeant Frederick G. Easley, who served in that unit. I contacted Captain Ruggles Baker, who formerly served in the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, for possible information. He sent to me a photograph of a tank rolling through the streets of Nancy, France, taken September 15, 1944, the day of liberation for that city. There in this 57-year-old photograph, which no one in my family had ever seen, was my uncle standing in a tank with his hand above a .50 caliber machine gun.
My uncle was raised in the state of Mississippi and came from a poor farming family who struggled to survive during the Great Depression of the era. He entered the service before the War began and was assigned to the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion where he served as a Tank Commander. This unit was later attached to the 134th Infantry Regiment which was
part of the 35th Division of the United States 3rd Army.
The 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion entered France at Omaha Beach on July 12, 1944. They moved on St. Lo where fighting was intense and the Regiment encountered many casualties. Sergeant Easley received the Bronze Star for his service at St. Lo. The citation reads as follows: ‘For meritorious service during military operations against an armed enemy of the United States on 14 July 1944, near St. Lo, Normandy, France. Sergeant Easley’s platoon supported an infantry company in attack. After having fired upon an enemy strong point, one of the tank destroyers was being moved to a supplementary firing position when it slipped into a ditch, throwing a track. The crews of two destroyers combined to extricate the destroyer from the ditch and replace the track. Replacing the track was an extremely difficult operation because of the lack of tools, necessitating the resort to the field expedient of using a towing cable, with power from a second destroyer, to make the repair. The task required an hour and twenty minutes, during which time Sergeant Easley and the other members of the two crews worked under heavy enemy fire. The endeavors of Sergeant Easley, who worked coolly and without regard for his personal safety for a long period of time, resulted in the saving of the tank destroyer from destruction by the enemy and its return to service, and contributed materially to the success of the military operation. Signed: Paul W. Baade, Major General, USA, Commanding’.
The Battalion moved across France through Torigni Sur Vire, Amebacq, Louvigue, Le Mans, Chateau De Dierville, Montargis, Joigny, Toul, and many other towns. On September 15, 1944, they liberated the town of Nancy, France, where the photograph was taken. Sergeant Easley received the Oak Leaf Cluster for his service after the liberation of Nancy. The citation reads: ‘For heroic service in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States at Pulnoy, Selchamps, Pain de Sucre and Agincourt, France, 18 to 20 September 1944. In the operations that resulted in the capture of these towns, Sergeant Easley, serving as gun commander of a tank destroyer, employed his vehicle as an assault gun when reconnaissance proved impracticable. On many occasions, he voluntarily exposed himself to enemy artillery, mortar and small arms fire in order to select routes for his tank destroyer and more effectively to direct its fire. Sergeant Easley’s intrepid leadership materially facilitated the success of the battalion mission during this period. Signed: Paul W. Baade, Major General, USA, Commanding.’
My uncle was killed in action on October 10, 1944. According to reports, a German tank waiting in ambush scored a direct hit on his tank killing most on board. As my uncle climbed over the turret to escape the burning tank, he was gunned down by a German soldier with a burp-gun. The German soldier and the German tank were subsequently killed and destroyed by other tanks of the 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
On his last leave at home before entering battle, my uncle told his brother that he knew where he was going, he knew the job that needed to be done, and he did not believe he would return home. The mission was simply too dangerous to survive. He told his family if he was killed in battle, he wanted to be buried with his men. Sergeant Easley is buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France, Plot C, Row 8, Grave 30, alongside his fellow soldiers.
Nephew of Sergeant Easley