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Carl A. Nordstrom

By Terry D. Janes

 

Carl Nordstrom was my dear friend. Carl Nordstrom was a genius of the first order, and a true Renaissance Man. Carl Nordstrom was many things in his life, and one of those things was serving his country as the Battalion S-2 Intelligence Officer for the 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils. It is because of Carl that my book, "Patton's Troubleshooters", this very website, and my history project which I have labored at for three decades, is able to exist. Were it not for Carl's foresight, none of this would be possible, and the world owes Carl a great debt.

 

For starters, in his role as Intelligence Officer, Carl came up with the plan to record the S-2 Journal. The S-2 Journal was a compilation of all information that came in regarding our troop movements, but more importantly, the information we were able to gather on enemy movements and activity during the war. Carl assigned Sgt. Otto Olson to act as the S-2 Sergeant. Otto was a meticulous and dedicated recorder of all information fed to him. Otto monitored the radio traffic of all the various units of the 702nd Tank Battalion, the 80th Infantry Division, Corps and 3rd Army. He also monitored German radio traffic, and kept in-depth notes of all that came across his desk. Meanwhile, Carl Nordstrom himself was out in the field, at the front lines, gathering information and relaying that back to Otto Olson. Sometimes that involved interrogating prisoners, and sometimes that involved listening and making sense of what common front-line troops saw, heard or did.

 

The whole job of Intelligence Officer was a relatively new field, and Carl was a pioneer and inventor of many techniques that are still practiced in that field today. Carl was the perfect man for that job. Carl was a small-built man, with the courage of a lion. Carl could be found traveling all over the front lines, sometimes out in front of the front lines in enemy territory, gathering all the information he could about enemy positions, enemy units, enemy strength and enemy activities. The sheer number of times he took his life into his own hands, and risked death or capture would boggle your mind. While many of his peers were sitting safe and comfortable in the rear, Carl was constantly out in the danger zone doing his job, as it needed to be done. As a result, we have the wonderful S-2 Journal that forms an important part of my book, but also gives us a vivid picture, unlike any other, of what was going on as the war progressed.

 

Carl went about his job armed with just his 1911 Colt .45 Pistol, and sometimes a M-1 Carbine, but he rarely used his weapons. I seriously doubt that Carl even once shot at another human being. His brilliant mind was his most dangerous weapon. Carl usually traveled with no escort at all, and if he had an escort, it would be a Jeep driver, who he often left behind in a safer place, while Carl scouted into far more dangerous territory to gather information. Carl was there at the Moselle River when a massive German counterattack overran the 318th Infantry Regiment Headquarters and the Regimental Commanding Officer was badly wounded and put out of commission, and most of his staff were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. For a brief time, Carl Nordstrom was the sole remaining senior officer to take charge of the regiment and try to rally the troops and salvage a very bad situation. Major Gaking, the 318th Regiment Officer who should have filled that role, had taken off running away, trying to save his own life, and then later on, tried to make people believe that he had saved the day, with no mention of his own cowardice. Carl did his best to salvage the situation in the area where the headquarters had been, and then went off on his own to locate the regiment's second in command, to let him know that he was now in charge of the regiment, and that Col. McHugh was no longer able to command. Were it not for Carl, the entire command structure of the 318th Regiment would have broken down completely, and things would have gotten much worse than it had already. Carl simply kept his wits about him when everyone else was losing theirs, and did what needed to be done. Like I said, Carl's most dangerous weapon was his brilliant mind.

 

After the war had ended, Carl was transferred to the US Military Government of Germany. Meanwhile, the men of the 702nd Tank Battalion who had enough points were shipped back home to the States. The men who didn't have enough points to rotate home, were transferred to an Amphibious Tractor unit to continue serving until they acquired enough points to go home. The 702nd Tank Battalion was then filled with men who had no connection to the unit during the war, and the battalion became a "holding unit". One day, Carl happened to be in the area where the 702nd Tank Battalion was located. Carl, and two other former officers of the 702nd Tank Battalion went there, to see if anyone was left who had been in the battalion during the war. When they arrived, they found some enlisted men who were not part of the original battalion, feeding a bonfire with all the documents of the 702nd Tank Battalion relating to its wartime activities. Carl was livid, and ordered these men to immediately cease what they were doing. When he asked them why they were burning all these records, they replied that they didn't want to bother with boxing them up to ship them stateside! Carl confiscated all that remained of the battalion records and stored them in an Army footlocker.

 

Carl had seen enough death and destruction during the war to last him several lifetimes. After the war was over, he quickly became disgusted with how the Army did things, the politics of a peacetime army, and decided that he wanted out. Carl retired from the military, and went home. Along with Carl, went that footlocker of 702nd Tank Battalion records. Carl stored the footlocker in his attic, and while trying to rebuild his life, he nearly forgot all about those documents stashed away in the attic. Years later, when Colonel Bill Miller decided to begin the 702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils Veteran's Association, he contacted Carl Nordstrom. Carl remembered those documents in his attic, and offered them to Colonel Miller. Colonel Miller planned to use those documents to write a history of the battalion, but had never found time to put that plan into action.

 

Many years later still, I came along. I was trying to find out what had happened to my Uncle, Staff Sergeant Frank "Pappy" L. Ream Jr. and the men he'd trained and led in battle. Frank had been killed at the Moselle River, just above and west of the small town of Pompey, France. Colonel Miller had been a lieutenant at the time, and was Frank's Platoon Leader. Colonel Miller told me how Frank died. I asked Colonel Miller why the Army had never told my family the truth about Frank's death over the previous forty years. Colonel Miller explained that in all that time, a history of the battalion and the 80th Division had never been done. He said that he had planned to do that task himself, but had never found time to actually do it. I was dumbfounded that our large and mighty government didn't have a whole department dedicated to doing such things, and especially in light of the fact that the 80th Division spent the entire war at the front of General Patton's Third US Army, that no one had ever written a history on this unit. After all, General Patton was a household name and countless books and even a Hollywood movie had been made about him. How could a whole division of 15,000 men who fought constantly at the front lines of the most famous army in American history be totally forgotten by history??

 

I realized that there were thousands of other veterans who were being forgotten by history like my uncle, and there were thousands of other families like mine who would never get answers about what their boy did in the war. I was young and dumb, and naively volunteered to write the history. After all, I had been writing newspaper stories, and figured, "How hard can it be to write a military history?" In my ignorant bliss, I figured that I would take a couple weeks to a month, write the history, and having done my good deed for society, I would get back to pursuing my career as a publicist/photographer. Young and dumb, indeed! Little did I know that what I'd just volunteered for, would consume all my money, time and energy for the rest of my life. I never did get back to my original plans.

 

Colonel Miller was thrilled by my offer, and quickly became not only my dear friend, but also my mentor on all things military and historical. He told me that he had a four-foot stack of documents about the battalion & the division, and he would allow me to use those to form the basis of the history. He then told me the story of how Carl Nordstrom had rescued most of these documents from the flames of that bonfire. He strongly urged me to contact Carl, and told me what a brilliant genius Carl was, and that he could be very helpful in understanding the history of both the battalion and the division. Thus began my long friendship with Carl Nordstrom. Carl was indeed of great help in my fast-track education of World War Two, and in specific, the activities of the 702nd Tank Battalion and 80th Infantry Division. Carl had a unique perspective of the war. Rather than being stuck in a particular line company, only seeing one small piece of the war, Carl was all over the place during the war. He was constantly on the move, from regiment to regiment, and knew what was going on in each area. Being an officer, he knew the personalities of most of the other officers, from the division's commanding general down to the lowest supply officer. He had talked as an equal to thousands of enlisted men as well. Carl was privy to information from above as well, coming from corps headquarters and Patton's own headquarters. Carl kept tabs on what the enemy was doing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the entire war. Carl was a walking encyclopedia of World War Two.

 

After the war, Carl worked as an economist. He taught economics as a college professor. When President Nixon made his famous ping-pong diplomatic outreach to Communist China, and opened the door to better relations between the US and the heretofore-closed Chinese society, it was Professor Carl Nordstrom who was chosen to help explain to the Communist Chinese how the US Free-Market Economy worked. Carl also taught cross-country snow skiing in his spare time. When Carl took vacations, he didn't follow the usual crowd, but instead did some really incredible and interesting things, such as following the old Silk Road, that two thousand years ago, led from China across Asia to the Mediterranean. Like I said, Carl was a true Renaissance Man. When Carl passed away, his Daughter Carla contacted me, and very kindly offered to send me some tapes and photos that Carl had saved.

 

I scanned those photos, and wish to share them with you here, in tribute to my dear, sweet friend Carl, and in the process, let you know what a unique, and brilliant man he was. The world owes a lot to Carl A. Nordstrom, as do I. I miss my old friend, and will always be grateful that I got to know this very humble, soft-spoken genius. May he rest in Peace.

 

Captain Carl A. Nordstrom on the right, Camp Campbell, Kentucky 1943

 

 

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