News: World War II vets share memories with Spartan troops
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jason Epperson
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - Two World War II veterans, one of whom served in the 377th Field Artillery Regiment and the other as an artillery soldier, visited the Spartan Brigade on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Dec. 18, 2013.
Retired Col. Jack P. Ancker and Father Norman Elliott joined with paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division on Malamute Drop Zone as PFAR’s men fired 105 mim Howitzer artillery guns shortly after sunrise. The purpose of this training event was to further validate the brigade’s fires-support capabilities and to honor soldiers who served our country valiantly during World War II.
Elliott, who is nearly 94, pulled a lanyard that was hooked to one of the howitzers and fired off a round.
The two veterans said they enjoyed visiting the troops, watching the live-fire exercise and sharing stories about World War II and their time in the Army.
Elliott joined the National Guard and then the Army in 1942.
“I didn’t go to Europe until the spring of ’45,” Elliott said. “The 89th Infantry Division was a regular division and then it became converted into what was called a light division, which was copied after a German light division. We were sent on maneuvers to collect data on what we could do, comparing what the German light division could or could not do. So because of that, we were delayed from being sent overseas. As soon as that experiment ended, we were reconverted back into a regular division and that’s when we went overseas: landing in France and then up through Luxemburg and then Germany.”
Elliott and his unit sat near the Czech border about a week, unable to fire and told not to fire unless they were sure they were firing at German soldiers and not Russians.
“Every part of Germany I was in became East Germany. As we moved out towards Frankfurt, 24-hours later the Russians came and occupied it.”
After the war ended, the Army offered Elliott a rare opportunity.
“After Germany, I was one of the fortunate ones and sent to the American Army University in Shrivenham, England, as a student. The American Army had set up a university at the former British officers training place called Shrivenham and had brought top ranking professors over from the states to teach a three months course. I was the fortunate one from my battalion they sent. I spent three months as a student.”
After the course, Elliott transferred to a guard company there and stayed another three months. After the university closed, he came back to the states on a troop ship in April 1946.
Elliott moved to Anchorage in 1951, after completing seminary, and eventually became the arch deacon of the South Central Alaska Episcopal Diocese.
Elliott stayed in the reserves until 1953 when his bishop requested that he drop out of the reserves.
On Good Friday, March 27,1964 Elliott also was delivering a sermon to his congregation when the Great Alaskan Earthquake began.
“During the season of lent we used to have a service every Friday beginning at 5:15 p.m., so people could come from their employment to be at the church,” Elliott said.
“We were talking about Jesus dying on the cross. Well, in the gospels Matthew says ‘That’s when the earth quaked’ and that is exactly when it did quake.”
Elliott described the earthquake.
“The building rocked. It was not a shaker,” he said. “The earthquake of ’64 was a roller. The building began to roll with the chandeliers hitting the ceiling in rhythm. The walls came forward and back and this went on for about two or three minutes. Afterward we didn’t have a broken window, pipe or wire. The building was not damaged at all which was amazing, but it had laminated beams that had withstood it.”
He remained in Alaska to spend the next 50 years traveling and ministering for the Episcopal church throughout the state. Father Elliott retired in 1990 but remains active in the community. He was recently appointed to Anchorage’s military and veterans advisory commission.
Col. (retired) Jack P. Ancker was born in Cedar Falls, Iowa, June 1, 1921. He enlisted when he was at Purdue University in 1942.
“I was in the advanced ROTC program there,” Ancker said. “I didn’t have a draft card and I was 21. A recruiting team came through and I enlisted because I didn’t have any way to identify myself in a saloon” he laughed.
“We were already in World War II, so I knew I was going to be in the Army anyway,” Ancker mused.
“After Pearl Harbor happened the president of the university assembled the male students and he said there would be no further extended vacations,” recalled Ancker. “There would be one week of between terms to allow the professors time for the grading, so we graduated in 3 and a half years instead of four. As ROTC students, we didn’t get to go to summer camp, so we were sent to Fort Sill to go through [officer candidate school] because our entire program was field artillery.”
Ancker said at that time there were three different divisions we could go to.
“They had a couple called airborne and I didn’t know what that was except it sounded like you flew around in airplanes or something.,” he said. “So, I volunteered to go airborne. I thought this would be interesting. “
“It was a lot more interesting when I got there. One, we didn’t ride in any airplanes for a long time. Two, we didn’t ride in anything. When we were going someplace, we had to run. The only time you walked was when you slowed down to salute someone that outranked you and you better damn well do it.”
Ancker was assigned to the 17th Airborne Division that was officially activated April 1943.
“We had about a year and a half preparation time,” he said. “In that time we learned how to load gliders as well as learning all the skills of the branch.
Ancker said his division commander was one of the original parachute troops.
“[Maj. Gen. William M. "Bud" Miley] went to Washington to ask permission to set up a special jump school for people in our division,” Ancker said. “He came back and announced that if anybody that was not a qualified parachutist could take the program. I decided if they were going to take me out and kill me by riding in a glider, I would like to be paid for this, so I’d jump out of the airplane and get the money. It worked out. I qualified though, but to be honest, I wasn’t physically qualified. I was too skinny and I couldn’t see well enough, but I convinced a doctor to let me do it anyway.”
Ancker’s unit left in the fall of 1944 in a repaired cruise ship that served as a troop transporter. After landing in England, his unit trained and prepared for war on an old British military post. On Christmas Eve 1944, they landed in France and ended up in Luxemburg.
His unit never made it to Germany. The whole division was pulled back to France for Operation Varsity to support Montgomery ‘s crossing of the Rheine.
“Patton was already across the Rheine River at this point,” Ancker explained.
Ancker volunteered to go to Japan in 1947 after World War II, and stayed there for two years and then came back to the states with the 11th Airborne Division where he was sent to Alaska in the summer of 1949 to go to the Arctic Warfare School.
“I got married, then went to the advanced course at Fort Sill where I got sick,” Ancker said. “It turned out I had tuberculosis. I had it for three years and they didn’t discover it until I got a hole in the lung. So I spent a year in the hospital and then they retired me on a temporary disability. I was retired two years roughly.
Ancker eventually became healthy and with a doctors approval, was able to join active duty again. He taught classes at Fort Sill and Fort Knox for two years before going to Command General Staff College. He went to Korea for his last assignment as a field artilleryman where he commanded two battalions. After Korea, Ancker came back to the states again to work at the Pentagon, where he gained the second MOS of Logistics. Ancker served as commander of the Inventory Command Center in Vietnam from April 1971 until April 1972. After Vietnam, he returned to the states to take over as professor of Military Science at New Mexico State University before retiring the second time in 1975.
“I actually was retired twice. Once temporarily, and then finally they told me to go away because I was old and over age, grade and all the other stuff they tell you to get rid of you,” Ancker laughed.
Ancker said the Army is so different today from his days of service.
“The terminology is the same, but what they’re using is in a different world.“
Ancker said he enjoyed his time with the Spartan artillerymen and he hadn’t had that much fun since the last time he visited the Spartan troops two years ago.
“I was as happy as a puppy with two tails and a big meal,” he grinned. “It’s like coming back and visiting family and I think that’s a great gift. I got the gift. I don’t know about the guys I’m visiting, but I got the gift.”