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Captain Richard Stover

Company B, 702nd Tank Battalion

By Terry D. Janes

 

Captain Richard Stover was the commanding officer of Company B, 702nd Tank Battalion, Red Devils.  After the war, the men of the Red Devils lost touch with Captain Stover.  I tried to locate him to no avail, while researching my book.  Not long ago, his granddaughter located the website, and I have since been in touch with his daughter.  Thanks to her, I have the wonderful material that follows:

 

Lt. William B. "Bull" Miller, Capt. James "Jim" Grimm, Capt. Richard "Dick" Stover and Major Richard James enjoy a rare officer's night out.

 

Captain Richard Stover-Most likely at Ville au Val, France

 

 

OBSERVATIONS ON ENGLAND

By

Captain Richard Stover

 

"We set sail from the New York Harbor on April 24, 1944.  Our ship, carrying approximately 8,000 troops, was British — The Mauritania.

 

My company was billeted on the Promenade Deck, which meant fresh air if nothing else. I think my men suffered less sea-sickness as a result of this as the other men were quartered below deck, which was stuffy and without a vestige of ventilation.  My own stateroom was a tiny cubicle shared with two Medical Officers and one QM Officer.  I will never forget how I nursed the Doc thru his seasickness, admonishing him to eat and get fresh air.  He was a lousy patient.  I saw no good reason why we should have more comfortable quarters than my men, but at this stage of the game I still obeyed orders and wasn't feeling particularly revolutionary.

 

This same favoritism showed up in our messing arrangements.  The Officers ate in a luxurious and sumptuous dining room, complete with crested silverware, napkins, table-clothes and excellent waiter service.  Our food was of the best.  In contrast my men ate in a sort of mess hall, with mess kits, benches and tables.  The food was generally bad and if it was good there wasn't enough.  The room was stuffy to a point encouraging nausea.  Since the British were so "economical" with the food I made a practice of being there as often as possible, raising just general hell with the British Steward.  While it undoubtedly helped, the English weren't moved easily.

 

The weather throughout the voyage was pleasant, permitting us to enjoy this new adventure almost to the fullest.  The men were provided with plenty of games and cards, but no entertainment.  Mostly they simply slept, talked or sat mutely by.  I played a lot of bridge and read some.

 

Our ship docked in Liverpool, England at 10:00 AM, April 30, 1944.  We all crowded the decks eagerly, expecting to see something strange — perhaps two headed monsters, or Knights, or gleaming castles.  But all that greeted us was an Army Band, dirty docks and an efficient group of Army personnel to unload us.

 

We marched down the gangplank, were checked off a roster, loaded onto trucks and tore off, twisting and turning thru the slum areas of Liverpool.  We gazed awed when we first saw the damage left by the Luftwaffe.  The English just ignored it.  These people were so accustomed to Yanks by this time they barely glanced our way.  Not so the children.  They did everything imaginable to get our attention, and for the first time we heard, "Any gum, chum?".  All of the GI's responded readily, littering the sidewalks and streets with candy, cigarettes and gum.  They whistled at anything between 8 and 80.  Me too.  We drove thru Liverpool, crossed the River Mersey and arrived in Birkenhead, called the "Bed room of Liverpool".  This was a beautiful town, modern, clean, the people well to do.  We were billeted in tents on a Women's Golf course, the first troops ever quartered there.  Consequently, the people did not have that usual hardened attitude toward soldiers.  They have it in the American Southern States; they had it in Southern England.  I've often wondered if the Southerners weren't something special.

 

In a few days we had settled down and the camp was a miniature Army Post, only more beautiful — not that I'm implying a Post is a pretty place — but this was on a golf course.  Since we were without tanks or equipment we set up a nominal training program, which had mostly to do with British equipment, currency, custom and women.  But Americans do not need classroom lectures on the latter — they do not know everything about the female (The world over) but they think they do.

 

We stayed here three weeks and had a fine time.  We were wined, dined and chaperoned by the populace.  We liked them and they liked us....it seemed.  The first night we were free Major James, Lt Blaesing and myself decided we wanted to try this "Pub Crawl".  Since we were strangers we couldn't differentiate between first class Pubs and [lower] class pubs.  To us they all looked alike.  We wanted the best but naturally we got the worst.  I expected a Pub to be like a Cafe or Bar back home, but it wasn't.

 

The difference lay not so much in the construction but rather in the fact that you only saw men inside. It was like a Men's Club.  Law permitted women, but custom and tradition for the most part over-ruled.  The English husband left his wife at home, never stayed in with her — squired her out about once a month.  Later on, however, we find a better class of Pubs, which to some extent had the night club atmosphere.

 

So the three of us crawled from Pub to Pub, filling up on their warm beer, which is not too bad.  Perhaps we drank more or maybe it was the difference in beer, but seemed to go thru one like lightening.  I think we spent more time staring at the door of a Men's Room than we did in drinking the stuff.  On our way home the "urge" took us; it reached the point where there was no question of what had to happen yet we could find no accepted place, (Pubs all closed at 10:OOPM). Now at this point in my progression thru life I hadn't reached the liberal and realistic viewpoint (like later); I didn't want to use a lawn or the side of a building, after all these people were our allies.  But presently this gave away to necessity and we found an alley suitable to the purpose.  There we were — the three of us — standing shoulder to shoulder and right in the middle of "washing our hands" when a Bobby appeared at the other end of the alley.  Without hesitation we broke and ran, dodged thru a few streets and lost him.  It wasn't funny then.  We might have caused an International Crisis.

 

One day a group of us were invited to the City Hall, the purpose being to tell how the British ran a city.  The Mayor wore a huge ornate gold necklace around his neck (at all meetings and formal occasions).  All his city officials were there and, little speeches about his department.  Some of these weren't so little.  At any rate their city set-up was somewhat like ours.... that is functionally speaking.  But I never quite figured out how the Mayor got into office.  He wasn't elected by the people; it was some sort of an appointment.  The officials didn't try to make this too clear.  They just wanted us to know that everything was lovely in their city.  From what we gathered the Mayor got into office something like this, "Well, George Old Sport, your turn this year".  It was like being elected Honorary President of The Prevention of Cruelty to Unwed Mother's Club.

 

All the city officials were old. I'd swear not one of them was under eighty, (some had to hold onto the table for support). As I sat there and they answered the questions one "should ask" at such affairs, I was struck by the lack of young men, young ideas, young blood in their city government.  I wanted to ask how a young fellow with brains, but no money or family background, got into a city office.  Obviously they just didn't.  If one of them had been fifty I wouldn't have had this thought.  I decided to be nice and polite, not ask the question.  But finally their smugness overcame me and I asked the question, which turned into more an inference than question.  I don't remember the answer.  One thing more that interested me —the Mayor was always addressed as "Lord Mayor".

 

During my stay in England I met all classes of people.  I was curious.  I wanted to know what they thought and how they lived.  They were so quiet and contained one got the impression they were automats.  They just didn't get excited like us.  They were in desperate need for the necessities to exist and yet I never heard one complain.  I've often thought of this in regard to our country.  Americans went without, too — without luxuries.  To us it was inconvenient — to the British it was a matter of life and death.  I don't know if I liked them very much, but I did admire and respect their dignity, courage and courtesy.  By comparison we were loud and noisy, making the relationship like Father and Son.  I think this accounts in part for our attitude that the British treat us like Colonists.  I can tell you this — they stood in awe of our richness in equipment.  I think they felt inadequate.  I can't forget that these people held the line while we yelled, "America First". We both owe each other a lot.

 

And so we moved slowly south until finally we were aboard an LST at Southampton.  We sailed for France the night of August 5, 1944, where I became a man within a few days.   I wish I were a boy again."

 

Thirteen days later, Captain Stover had his confrontation with General McBride in an attempt to prevent the further needless slaughter of American troops, at Argentan.  General McBride had Captain Stover arrested for disobeying the direct order of a commanding general on the battlefield.  The problem was, the general was wrong, dead wrong, and the captain was correct.  Still, rank prevailed, and B Company, 702nd Tank Battalion was robbed of its commanding officer.

 

The men of B Company stood behind their brave captain and he rose tremendously in their esteem by his self-sacrifice on their behalf.  The two officers who replaced Captain Stover were soon killed in battle, and Lt. Miller was later promoted to captain and became B Company's commander until war's end.  Captain Stover was technically under arrest, yet as the photo above shows, he still retained a certain level of freedom until his courts martial took place.  If found guilty, Capt. Stover faced a maximum penalty of death by firing squad.  Later, General Eisenhower ruled that Captain Stover had acted solely on behalf of his men, and without any motives of his own, and acted correctly.  Capt. Stover's Army career was essentially over, however.  After the war, the men of the 702nd lost touch with Captain Stover.  Many of his men went to their graves wishing that they could shake his hand and thank him for what he had done.  To the men of B Company, Captain Richard Stover was a hero, and a true leader.

 

 

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