SSG Francis J. Taphorn didn’t wait around to be awarded his 2nd silver star – he just wanted to get home to Lorraine – the love of his life. I met Frank on a fluke – I was looking for the headstone of a local kid killed in Viet Nam for an article I was writing when I came across Frank’s headstone.
Dumbass that I am, I saw two dates – One being his birth date and one that I recognized as the Anzio invasion and I assumed that SSG Frank Taphorn had given that last full measure of devotion on the beach at Anzio.
I researched the young soldier and discovered he had been awarded three Purple Hearts for wounds under enemy fire and took part in five seaborne invasions. From Africa to France. Taphorn was on the beach on the majority of allied seaborne invasions during the war.
I wrote a short editorial about Frank and his exploits ending with an exhortation to never forget the ones who went before us. – It was a damn good article if I don’t say so myself.
I got a reader email that informed me that Frank Taphorn was alive and well – and living less than 25 miles from me. – And he wanted to talk to the idiot who thinks he’s dead. The message included Frank’s phone number. The result is that I have spent the last 30 or so Tuesday afternoons just sitting around and chewing the cud with Frank.
The day I met him, Frank held out his hand like he had something for me. I held out my hand, and he dropped an object into it. It was heavy for the size, and when I looked, I found a large caliber machine gun round. I identified it a WW2 vintage MG-34 round. Likely fired from a German Aircraft or Turret gun.
Then he showed me where it entered his body – during the invasion of Onan North Africa. – Frank had my attention.
Since that time, I have heard stories that made me cackle with laughter and tear up with pride, The day they were ordered back to the rear to re-arm and supply, and came across an enemy emplacement on the way – they knew there were enemy soldiers in the brush, but they weren’t shooting, so Frank figured maybe they could take them, prisoner, His radioman hollered instructions, in broken Italian, to surrender or die, and Frank trimmed the hedge with his 30-cal.
The response was a meek shout of “NO SHOOT – NO SHOOT” followed by a Mauser rifle flying out of the brush and an Italian boy, maybe 15 years old, coming out of the brush with his hands up. I smiled when Frank told me his radioman said – “aw Shit – we cayn’t shoot heem, He’es got his haynds uup”
They took the boy into custody and, since they were headed there anyway, rather than turn him over to the infantry for processing they drove him all the way back to the beach – a three-day journey. He said they took off his bindings the 2nd day – it was quite obvious the kid had no intentions of going anywhere. Sharing the M-10 Crew’s rations was the best he had eaten since war’s beginning.
Frank told me about “capturing” a warehouse full of Cognac and Champaign in Strasbourg, then distributing the contents to his battalion several cases at a time. That was a fun story to experience.
He told me about the day his radioman came up top, and Frank let him man Frank’s station because of the open-air nature of it. The radioman was usually confined to a steel box down below.
Then the flash… Frank heard the bang, so he knew he was alive – his radioman didn’t fare as well and Frank was covered with his friend’s body parts – he was also wounded with shrapnel from the mine they struck.
Frank was recommended for and approved for 5 – count em … FIVE (5) Bronze Star awards. Now you need to remember that the Bronze Star was a much higher medal in WW2 than today – Eddie Albert saved the lives of 75 Plus Marines at Tarawa and he was only awarded the Bronze Star for his valor.
Frank was awarded 5 of them in such succession that the Army commuted them to a single Silver Star instead. This was a common practice in WW2. Between the 1st Bronze Star and the 5th Frank was wounded three separate times, a bullet, shrapnel and severe burns after his M-10 was hit by an HE round.
Then… I found Franks 2nd Silver Star. The one he never waited around to be awarded. – The story makes me want to stand at attention out of respect as I tell it.
The Colmar Pocket – the killing fields of France, SSG Frank Taphorn and his M-10 crew were dispatched to engage enemy tanks bearing down on men of the 3rd ID, Frank’s unit. They moved slowly and deliberately into the dense forest – then they saw the first Tiger.
Frank lined up on it and sent an HE round striking and disabling the enemy tank’s turret killing her crew.
Frank gave the order to pull back and reposition to take a shot at one of the other four enemy tanks. Unfortunately, as they pulled back, the driver cut it too close, and the barrel struck a tree stripping the traverse gear and disabling Frank’s main gun.
I’ve never heard Frank curse before, but, he referred to this as an “OH SHIT” moment and I could almost smell his fear as he told the story. It’s what he did in the face of that fear that is impressive.
The enemy knew where Frank’s M-10 was – he just told them with the round he sent, and they were coming for him, and he was badly outnumbered and had no main gun.
In a stroke of genius or desperation, Frank ordered his gunner to lower the elevation of the main gun, then Frank went down and looked through the breach to visually site his targets while the gunner and driver traversed the main gun, by standing on the M-10’s deck and pushing it by hand, until Frank could see the enemy Tiger through the bore.
Then he climbed back up top and used “Kantuckee Windage” to determine the elevation… then sent it… destroying enemy Tiger #2.
He repeated the drill two more times destroying a total of 3 more enemy Tigers, bringing his tally for the day to 4. The 5th tiger chose to retreat. Did I mention Frank had watermelons? He was recommended and awarded a second Silver Star for this action, but by the time it came down he was on his way home, to Lorraine.
Now, why in the hell did I just tell you that story?
… Cause Frank was 98 years old on June 28th of this year, and I’m just not sure he will make 99. Knowing him as I do, I know that his most cherished memories are those of his time in Uniform.
I would like to ask each of you who share the oath with Frank and me to help me make this old soldier’s day.
If you could sometime in June just send him a Birthday card. I would love to see him get a few hundred Birthday cards from those of us who followed his generation and lived by their lessons learned. If you are in an NG, Reserve or active unit it would really rock if you could get the unit to send Frank a card.
I won’t post his address here just because there is inevitably done fool who will ant to be vicious to the old Soldier – But anyone willing to participate, please give me a yell PM or via e-mail at Gideonasche@outlook.com I can provide you with the address and a stack of birthday cards with military logos and such that Frank would love.
If you are military or a veteran, Please sign the card with your unit – any unit you served in. Especially if you were with 3rd ID. That was Franks unit. 601st Tank Destroyer BN. If you have never served – you can send him a card as an American.
My friend Frank didn’t want to go to war. He wasn’t one of those who ran down and enlisted. Hell no, he was newly married to the woman of his dreams and making 32 cents an hour. Life was good in Amador county CA in 1941.
But when the Republic called… My friend Frank never had a second thought.
If you have the time and inclination, Please help me let this old soldier know he is not forgotten.
Frank’s health has deteriorated and we are looking for a way to get him home rather than let this old Warrior die alone, in a county home.
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