Simulation prepared troops for WWII

By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer

Germany invaded Poland in 1939 setting off the possibility of American forces being involved in the war.

Before World War II and Pearl Harbor, the American military set about training its men for the possibility of war. One of those men was 1st Sgt. Bennie Hill, father of Gladys Tucci of Portales.

“The military decided to train their sergeants,” Tucci said. “The man in charge of it was General George Patton.”

Tucci said the blue and red armies fought each other with blank bullets. Bombers used bags of flour to drop on enemy forces.

The Army learned a lot about mobile warfare with breakdowns, repair team shortages and repeated traffic jams. Poorly-worded orders were common, according to historynet.com

“My dad was in the field artillery at Fort Bliss and that was mechanized,” Tucci said. “They made him a forward observer. The forward observers were the ones who infiltrated enemy territory.”

From 1940 to 1941, 400,000 U.S. troops were split equally into two armies and given fictional country names. Two maneuvers were planned for the spring and autumn of 1940, with largest and most complex held from August to September in 1941, according to historynet.com.

The armies were fighting for dominance of land and the Mississippi River for a supply line, according to the Web site louisianatravel.com.

Hill was later sent to teach war tactics at two different places. The first was Camp White in Oregon and the second was Indio, California. Hill went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

The life expectancy of a forward observer was six weeks because it was a dangerous job.

“One time my dad found himself behind enemy lines,” Tucci said. “They didn’t know where he was, so he had to crawl through the swamps until he got to a heavily wooded area. Only there he would be safe.”

Tucci said her mother once got a letter saying her dad was missing in action, but she ignored it. She knew the man she married was a country boy and he could survive off the land.

“He couldn’t use his gun because that would have warned the enemy,” Tucci said. “So he survived by eating roots and berries. At one point he caught a rabbit somehow and had to kill it with his bare hands.”

Tucci said her dad saved another soldier who was involved in a hand-to-hand combat with a German. The German had stabbed the soldier in the throat and Hill shot the German in the shoulder. Hill tended to the soldier’s wounds, but never knew later if he had survived.

“When I was living in Santa Fe,” Tucci said. “My dad asked if he could use my car because he wanted to go to Santa Rosa because that is where the soldier was from.”

Tucci said her dad learned the soldier survived, but the wound destroyed his voice box. The soldier and his family were happy to see Hill and thank him.

After 30 years in the military, Hill retired as master sergeant. For a short time he was a detective for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, which he left to focus his time on his grandchildren.

Hill died in 1989 at the age of 80.