by Priscilla Rall
Playing Ball in Germany
Seventy-Five Years Ago
Seventy-five years ago, where were you? My father, Captain J. E. Rall, was in post-war Germany, an army doctor stationed in Nuremburg amongst the ruins of a once-great city. I wasn’t even born yet. Thousands of thankful American soldiers didn’t have to fight any longer. The war was over, and the killing ended.
One of those happy soldiers was the late Ronald Charles Manning. He was born on July 27, 1915, in Pennsylvania and grew up in rural western Maryland. His family ran a small market in Clear Spring. Ron was a married man of 28 when he was drafted. With two young daughters and one on the way, he was not anxious for combat. But he put in his time, and now there was peace. Ron and a group of “high pointers” were marking time until they could return stateside. He had accumulated 87 points (for the Silver Stars, battles fought, and dependents). A high-ranking officer told the men they needed to be “in training.” That didn’t sit too well with the battle-hardened men. Ron told the officer he had two years of training (an understatement), and he didn’t need anymore. What they needed was a few baseball bats, balls, and gloves, and they would stay out of trouble. A few days later, much to his surprise, the sports gear arrived. So, 75 years ago, Ron and his men spent three months playing ball until they were finally sent home in December 1945.
When the troopship carrying Ron pulled into New York, no crowds or ceremonies marked his homecoming, only Lady Liberty welcomed him home and his beloved wife, Nancy, who had given birth to their third child, alone. She had raised their three young girls while staying with her parents, and they ran their small grocery store in Clear Spring. Now they were together again. Nancy never asked Ron about his time at war. Ron never told her of his experiences. Words always failed him, but he never forgot the horrors of war. He had the scarred and numb fingers from frostbite to remind him.
He had been in England when he heard of the Normandy invasion, but he “didn’t think much of it.” Soon, he realized that he would soon be there himself. He was with the Tank Corps 6th Armored Division, the “Super Sixth.” D-Day plus three found Ron landing at Utah Beach. He saw the remnants of the assault… “It was terrible.” The destruction from the massive bombing and shelling shocked him. There was still strong enemy resistance, and the objective of St. Lo wasn’t realized until mid-July. Ron and his division then fought the retreating Germans south to Brest. After the Germans at Brest finally surrendered, he vividly remembered seeing hundreds of German POWs, mainly old men.
Eventually, his division moved through France to Belgium. It was then that the German breakout known as the Battle of the Bulge began, threatening the entire Allied effort. Ron and his troops were clothed only in summer uniforms. When Gen. George Patton was informed of this problem, he said that they had no choice but to go to the aid of the besieged troops at Bastogne. Ron noted that “it wouldn’t have mattered if we were naked; Patton would have sent them anyway.” Wearing only summer pants, a thin Eisenhower jacket, and a trench coat not designed for combat, the troops fought bravely. When the winds and snow were too much, they would dig a trench and run a tank over it, providing shelter for three men, as well as a target for the enemy. More often than not, they simply slept in their sleeping bags in shallow foxholes and would wake up covered with newly fallen snow. They had no hot food, just C-rations, and even those became scarce as the fighting raged on. Once, when Ron was sent into Bastogne to get mail for his company, a shell burst, narrowly missing him—but he did get the mail for his unit.
Ron and his company were defending Hill 510. When asked what was on that hill, Ron replied, “Nothing.” But, in fact, it was a strategic spot that defended a vital crossroad just northeast of Bastogne. One night, Ron noticed some moving figures, vaguely silhouetted against a nearby row of cedars. Then he saw what he thought looked like enemy tanks slowly moving towards his position. Ron tried to contact his command post, but the communications were down, so he ran through the dark to alert the command. Racing back, he discovered the wires had been broken from the recent shelling. Quickly repairing them, he returned to his company and roused his men, even pounding on tanks to wake the drivers. His company, now aware of the German offensive, spent the next three days and nights defending Hill 510. They were successful. It was for this that Sgt. Manning earned a Silver Star Commendation.
Finally, the German offensive was defeated, but the war continued. Ron didn’t remember the names of all of the towns, rivers, and cities where he fought. It was simply one battle after another. As a platoon sergeant, he once discovered a German pillbox that had gone undetected. He led his men in a successful machine gun assault of the enemy position. On a later mission, his platoon returned one man short. Ron and another soldier (Johnny Cash’s uncle) set out to retrieve the missing man. After going a half-mile, Ron told Cash to wait there and to cover him as he continued the search. Ron finally found his man lying against a cedar tree, wounded in the head and moaning. Ron hoisted him on his shoulders and began to carry him to safety. He trudged through the snow, with enemy bullets ringing around him. Ron eventually had to lay the wounded man across his back and walk, bent over, towards his lines. The three men eventually got back to safety. For these two heroic actions, Ron earned another Silver Star (with Oak Leaf Clusters).
Ron Manning saw the destruction of Germany first-hand. He saw the smoldering remains of factories bombed by Allied planes. He described one small town, completely destroyed and flattened, with only a chicken wandering alone in the ruins. They didn’t even have the time to eat the poor chicken. He did remember one hot holiday meal. It was either Thanksgiving or Christmas. Memorable because there were “more feathers than turkey!”
After the war, he joined the American Legion, but found that he didn’t have much in common with the younger men. His awards proudly hung in the Manning’s home until his death, and the old photos have been kept safely in an album, now with his daughters.
The battle-scarred Veteran died on September 14, 2011. He peacefully slipped away, noticed only by his family and a few old friends. He was 96 and had lost his wife, as well as most of his contemporaries. Just one of the last of the “Greatest Generation,” who had answered his country’s call, fought in some of the war’s most fierce battles, to return home and work the rest of his life as a machinist. He loved sports and fishing, but most of all, his family. Ron Manning was one of the quiet heroes of World War II who ended his fighting days playing ball 75 years ago.
Courtesy Photos of Ronald Charles Manning
If you are a Veteran or know a Veteran who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.