Many people would agree that our nation’s military are under-appreciated and their deeds of valor often ignored. Just a few years before he passed this Ringgold, Louisiana man was notified by the French Consulate in New Orleans that he was being awarded a medal -- for his help liberating France in World War II. I was fortunate to interview him for a magazine article at the time, and though he is no longer with us I believe we should honor the memory of such a great American.
Tommie Uzzle, 1925 – 2012, was a member of the 17nd Airborne before he transferred to the 82nd Airborne Division and the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment during WWII. As part of the Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton, Uzzle was among those who made the historic push across Europe to end the war. By the war’s conclusion, the Third Army had liberated or conquered towns across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany – 81,522 miles of territory. Among other outstanding victories, the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR) was responsible for decimating two German Divisions in intensive fighting in December 1944.
As a member of the Glider Infantry, Uzzle left Paris, France seated in a fragile glider towed behind an airplane. His squad endured a rough landing on an unfinished highway in Germany where they immediately dug in (foxholes). From there they fought their way through towns all the way to Berlin with General Patton’s army.
Patton historians and biographers all mention his habit of speaking directly to his troops in simple (and profane) language, sharing with them the lessons he had learned that would keep them alive. He was known as “Old Blood and Guts.” A man of strong opinions, his military tactics focused on attacking the enemy, not retreating. Patton often said he refused to let American boys die taking the same ground more than once like he had seen in France during the Great War of 1917.
Uzzle remembered the general well. “Gen. Patton was up and down the lines all the time, looking after things. He was tough. He was involved. And he knew what he was doing. The men trusted him.”
After reaching Berlin, Uzzle was there for three months, “mostly watching after things and waiting to go home.”
He spent six weeks in a hospital because of frozen feet and trench foot. The doctors wanted to take some of his toes off, but he talked them out of it.
Prior to this latest commendation from the French Consulate, Uzzle had received a Purple Heart, WWII Victory Medal, Bronze Indian Arrowhead, Rifleman Badge and other decorations in honor of his service.
When he joined the infantry, Uzzle thought it would be “manly and fun” to volunteer to be a paratrooper. He graduated from Jump School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He thought jump pay during the war was an extra $15 per month.
Jumping out of airplanes may seem dangerous to most people, but according to Uzzle the gliders were a lot more dangerous. He said the gliders were made out of delicate materials so they would be light in the air for towing behind planes, but this fragility also made them apt to disintegrate when they hit the ground or trees. Gliders were only used once because there was not much left after the first landing.
Gliders were seen as the solution for paratroopers being scattered for miles around a jump zone. With gliders, the troops landed together, but glider borne assaults were risky because the towed aircrafts were slow, big targets for the enemy, and their landing was little more than a controlled crash. Even if the pilot had time and altitude to choose a safe spot to land, conditions on the ground such as ditches, wires, or fences could flip, wreck or gut it.
Usually two gliders were tied by ropes behind a plane that towed them into war zones. Uzzle said there were 12 seats (one squad) per glider, and many times during the landing men were hurt or killed. “When we finally hit the ground behind enemy lines we were a pretty bad-looking bunch,” Uzzle remembered. Gliding over the Rhine River “I was a whole lot scared,” he said. “Those things (gliders) were a mess after a landing.”
Although he was in the thick of fighting, Uzzle said he guessed he did not ever have the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome he hears about today. “If I had it, I didn’t know what it was,” he said.
Uzzle was married to his wife Margie for over 60 years. Following the war, he worked in construction (mostly bridge building), and at the Ordinance Plant in Minden. He also served on the Police Jury for 28 years.
Tommie and Margie had five children together, but lost one of their sons prior to his death..
Though his health kept Uzzle from going to New Orleans for the award ceremony, he was appreciative of the honor – even decades after the fact. His matter-of-fact recounting of events that to him were “just doing my duty” is evidence of the patriotic mind-set of the WWII generation whose sacrifices can never be acknowledged often enough. War is hell indeed, and men like Tommie Uzzle not only fought the brave fight but they came home to live lives worthy of the ultimate sacrifices made by their fellow warrior comrades.
By: Elaine Marze