CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Milton Shepherd was born in Philadelphia in May 1920. Prior to the onset of World War II, he was employed as a truck mechanic. In December 1941, Shepherd heard about the Pearl Harbor attack while “joyriding” with friends. He found it difficult to comprehend that the United States was now at war, after years of neutrality.
Although he would have preferred Navy service, Shepherd was drafted into the Army on March 27, 1943 and sent to Camp Polk, Louisiana, for basic training, where, he recalled, the nearest town, Leesville, was always full of military personnel. He remained at Camp Polk for a while after training, and then was transferred to Fort Knox, Kentucky. Originally trained as a machine gunner, and realizing that machine gunners were prime targets in action, Shepherd was gratified when he was instead sent to Motor Vehicle School for twelve weeks of advanced individual training. He was assigned to the 49th Armored Infantry Battalion in the recently created Eighth Armored Division, which had followed him from Fort Polk, where it had served as a training command.
The Eighth Armored Division was shipped overseas in November 1944. Shepherd loved ships and enjoyed the cruise from the United States to England. He was assigned to drive a maintenance Half-track pulling a trailer as the division trained for another month and a half in England. Shepherd was transferred to France in January 1945. He and his battalion landed in Le Havre, France and moved from there to Nantes and then Metz. The only enemy resistance they encountered was from land mines left behind by the retreating Germans. One soldier had his hand blown off when he tried to demonstrate how to properly disarm a land mine. From Metz, the division followed the 4th Armored Division as part of General George Patton’s 3rd Army attacking the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge.
Shepherd remembered the winter of 1944-1945 as cold and miserable. He had to sleep in his Half-track in a sleeping bag, always with his weapon by his side. His division, like other armored divisions, was divided into three “Combat Commands” equivalent to infantry division brigades, for more tactical flexibility. The Eighth advanced as the Battle of the Bulge came to an end, and they continued the push across into Germany.
Shepherd recalled that during the unit’s advance, land-mined areas were roped off to protect soldiers and vehicles. The Eighth was one of the first armored divisions to cross the Rhine into Germany, where it was heavily engaged in March 1945, losing 40 out of 70 tanks engaged in combat near Rhineburg. He remembered that during the invasion of Germany, his platoon leader would assign objectives to reach, but he had to plan how to get there. The war ended for Shepherd when the Eighth met the Soviets at the Elbe River.
Following the conclusion of hostilities, Shepherd was sent to Czechoslovakia to process German POWs, displaced persons, and victims of slave labor. He had an opportunity to see a concentration camp, but decided not to go after hearing horror stories. Shepherd spent his spare time reading.
Shepherd left for home on a Victory ship, was processed through Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and sent on to Camp Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania for discharge. Following his honorable discharge from the Regular Army, Shepherd joined the New Jersey National Guard. He served eleven years in the Guard, rising to the rank of First Sergeant, and taking part in weekly drills and summer duty at Camp Drum, New York. On leaving active duty, Shepherd joined the American Legion and VFW. At the time of his interview, he was president of the New Jersey chapter of Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Shepherd gave talks on World War II to school children in Cape May County.
Milton Shepherd was awarded the American Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Occupation of Germany Medal, European Theatre Medal with 3 Bronze Stars, the WWII Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantry Badge with Bronze Star. He died in September 2004.
Milton Shepherd is mentioned in a 2007 Cape May County Herald article about a Battle of the Bulge commemoration ceremony.