"Cooper saw more of the war than most junior officers, and he writes about it better than almost anyone. . . . His stories are vivid, enlightening, full of life--and of pain, sorrow, horror, and triumph."--STEPHEN E. AMBROSE From his Foreword "In a down-to-earth style, "Death Traps tells the compelling story of one man's assignment to the famous 3rd Armored Division that spearheaded the American advance from Normandy into Germany. Cooper served as an ordnance officer with the forward elements and was responsible for coordinating the recovery and repair of damaged American tanks. This was a dangerous job that often required him to travel alone through enemy territory, and the author recalls his service with pride, downplaying his role in the vast effort that kept the American forces well equipped and supplied. . . . [Readers] will be left with an indelible impression of the importance of the support troops and how dependent combat forces were on them."--"Library Journal "["DEATH TRAPS] FILLS A CRITICAL GAP IN WW2 LITERATURE.
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April 28, 2003
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Excerpt from Death Traps by Belton Y. Cooper
Reflections On Board the LST to Normandy
My feelings were somewhat ambivalent as I stood on the deck of the landing craft and looked down at the gently rolling seas of the English Channel. Although the water was not particularly rough, the heavily laden landing craft seemed to have a roll frequency in sync with that of my stomach. We had been advised to take seasickness pills about two hours before embarking, but because I had spent ten days crossing the entire ocean without using pills, I felt certain I would not need them to cross the narrow Channel.
Earlier in the evening, when we had loaded on the landing craft, we were immediately shown the officers' country mess, where I proceeded to load up on buttered toast, doughnuts, and coffee. This now was my undoing, and I regretted having waited until getting out to sea before taking the pills.
In addition to being seasick, I felt thoroughly confused. My concern and apprehension about the future were somewhat offset by the excitement of participating in the largest invasion of all time. But I was also teed off. Watching all the surrounding ships made me realize that I should have chosen the navy; instead, I was an ordnance liaison officer in the 3d Armored Division.
During my first two years of college at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), I took army ROTC in the artillery branch. At the beginning of my junior year, I transferred to the University of Michigan to study naval architecture and marine engineering, which had been my lifelong ambition. Because the University of Michigan did not have a naval ROTC at the time, I decided to enter the army ROTC ordnance branch, which was the closest thing to artillery offered by the university. Although I received full credit for my ROTC studies, I had to take additional hours to graduate. By fall 1941, a new naval ROTC program had been started at Michigan, but by this time I had already received my commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Ordnance Department Reserve.
The naval ROTC unit started offering ensign's commissions for senior naval architects in the Bureau of Ships, pending graduation. I immediately submitted my transcript and took the physical exam to apply for a commission; I was accepted based on my graduation in February 1942.
But a problem surfaced during my interview with the naval commanding officer. He told me it was not possible to have simultaneous commissions in the army and the navy; I would have to resign my army commission in order to accept my navy commission. I agreed at once and requested that he contact the War Department and have me transferred to the navy. But it wasn't that simple. According to regulations, the navy could not request that the army transfer me; I would have to resign. However, he would be glad to provide a letter showing that I had been offered the commission as an ensign.
Here began my enlightenment about the government's bureaucratic machinations. One could not simply turn in a resignation. Instead, certain forms had to be requested from the War Department, filled out in triplicate, and sent back to the department. I immediately requested such forms, then waited.
In early June 1941, I received a telegram from the War Department and eagerly opened it in anticipation of good news about my requested transfer. I was shocked when I read the contents.
TO BELTON Y. COOPER SECOND LIEUTENANT ORDNANCE DEPARTMENT RESERVE stop. CONGRATULATIONS, YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO REPORT TO ACTIVE DUTY TO THE EIGHTEENTH ARMORED ORDNANCE BATTALION THIRD ARMORED DIVISION CAMP POLK LOUISIANA ON JUNE 22ND 1941 stop. YOU ARE TO BE RELIEVED OF ACTIVE DUTY IN ORDER TO RETURN TO YOUR HOME IN HUNTSVILLE ALABAMA BY JUNE 22ND 1942 stop.
SINCERELY HENRY L. STIMSON SECRETARY OF WAR.