by Todd Blomerth

Gus Calhoun Cardwell went by the nickname “Boots” most of his life. He was the son of Augustus Withers Cardwell and Betty Matthews Caldwell. Betty had been a journalist, working for two San Antonio newspapers, and the society editor for the Forth Worth Record, prior to marrying Augustus (“Gus”) in 1916. Gus was a cattleman. The entire Cardwell family was active in the Presbyterian Church

Boots was born on September 16, 1919. He grew up on Trinity Street, and was next door neighbor to the Kreuz family, whose daughter Jimmie would enlist in World War II as a WAAC. During the summers he would work on one of the Withers’ ranches in South Texas. After graduating from Lockhart High School in 1937 he attended Texas A&M for two and ½ years. Boots was Caldwell County draftee number 395, and was ordered to report for induction on March 18, 1941, according to the Lockhart Post Register. In all likelihood he could have stayed at A&M and gotten a commission. Instead, Boots enlisted in the Army, and after basic training was assigned to the 755th Tank Battalion. The battalion had both light and medium tanks, and Boots was in C Company, which was assigned the “Sherman” medium tank. After training at Camp Bowie in Texas and Ft. Knox, Kentucky, the unit was sent to Indio, California for desert training. The unit was then shipped to North Africa, and then to Italy where it entered combat in December of 1943.

Cardwell's Tank Crew With Nazi Flag - North Africa
Cardwell’s Tank Crew With Nazi Flag – North Africa
Cardwell Tank Crew - 1943
Cardwell Tank Crew – 1943

The Italian campaign had bogged down by the winter of 1943. Mountainous terrain provided the German defenders excellent positions, and the Allied command, divided between the British led Eighth Army and the American led Fifth Army never achieved anything near the cohesiveness and strategic insight to deal with the situation.  By December Allied soldiers were stuck in an array of never ending mountains where brooding peaks held large numbers of well-trained German defenders. Mignano Gap, Rotondo, Sammucro, San Pietro and Cassino became hated names signifying unremitting misery and danger.  Assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, the 755th was in the thankless role of trying to advance tanks against well concealed and defended positions sown with land mines. Defending in a series of lines with names like Winter, Bernhardt and Gustav, the attrition rate among the Allies was horrific. As noted by Rick

Boots in Tanker Gear - Italy - 1944
Boots in Tanker Gear – Italy – 1944
Boots and His Buddy Beyer
Boots and His Buddy Beyer

Atkinson in The Day of Battle, “To cross the seven-mile stretch and pierce the Bernhardt Line had taken the Fifth Army six weeks, at a cost of sixteen thousand casualties.” In January of 1944, the battalion was assigned as support to French Moroccan and Algerian infantry in the French Expeditionary Force. Breaching German defenses entailed bloody fighting and many repulses.  Near Leucio, the after-action report for May 20, 1944 states, “The attack finally got started at 1800 under most adverse conditions. The sun and wind was [sic] against us and the enemy threw in a terrific barrage of artillery. The sun, smoke and dusk made the visibility almost nil. The infantry suffered heavy casualties. The attack withdrew at darkness.” The 755th Tank Battalion took heavy casualties as well.

Light ("Lee") Tank and Medium ("Sherman") Tank - Italy
Light (“Lee”) Tank and Medium (“Sherman”) Tank – Italy

The summary of May’s action contains a litany of complaints about the need for better radio communications, troop coordination, and reconnaissance against hidden anti-tank weapons. But the main complaint reflected what was endemic with all combat units in Italy – the need for better trained replacements, “[T]he trained men lost in combat cannot be replaced, [and] this situation lowers the combat efficiency of the Battalion to a very great extent.”

Despite all this, Boots’ letter home of June 5, 1944 sounded cheerful, as he wrote he was “on the road to Rome.” He told his mom and dad that he was “still doing fine,” that his unit had gotten another campaign ribbon, and that “I hope I don’t get any more.” The next day, General Mark Clark’s 5th Army entered Rome.  Boots wrote younger brother John, congratulating him on his promotion, on June 11, 1944.

Letter To John Cardwell
Letter To John Cardwell
Boots' Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 1)
Boots’ Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 1)
Boots' Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 2)
Boots’ Letter Home 6-5-1944 (Page 2)

Any expectation of a weakening of the German will to fight after the loss of Rome ended quickly.  Pushing northeast, the battalion was hit with intense artillery, anti-tank, and sniper fire.  On June 16, 1944 the battalion’s report states in impersonal military language: “Company C supporting 3 RTA advancing toward CASTAGNAIO… from the South met stiff resistance from artillery and anti-tank fire and lost one tank and two crew members by anti-tank fire vicinity A133715.”

One of the crew members was Boots. His friend from Fentress, Adolphus Beyer, saw him die. “We were advancing toward a German held position,” he wrote in an August, 1944 letter to Boots’ dad, “when Gus’s tank was hit, killing instantly Gus and another and wounding three others. At the time I was outside my tank because it had just thrown a track and from our position could easily see what was going on as his tank was only about two hundred yard’s [sic] to our left.”

Beyers Letter to the Family - page 2 - April 1945

Beyer's Letter to Family - page 3 - August 1944
Beyer’s Letter to Family – page 3 – August 1944



Tank Battalion After Action Report - Detailing the Mountainous Territory
Tank Battalion After Action Report – Detailing the Mountainous Territory
After Action Report 16 June 1944 Noting Boots' Death
After Action Report 16 June 1944 Noting Boots’ Death

Beyer praised his friend as “a leader of men and had plenty of guts. I say guts because that is what he had. Prior to this he had had one tank knocked from under him and although shaken up a bit went on in performance of his duties. “

Boots never received the last letter sent him.  A “V-mail” missive from a relative in Cotulla, Elfred Wither Dobie, dated June 12th, spoke of the normality that Boots and the rest of those combat yearned for: “We are at the ranch this summer and everything looks fine and just waiting for you boys to come home.” CARDWELL BOOTS LETTER FROM ELFRED DOBIE 4 DAYS BEFORE DEATH

John’s death hit many people hard outside the family. One of his best buddies was Jack Lipscomb. Jack wrote a letter of condolence to the family upon hearing of Boots’ death. Jack would die on Iwo Jima nine months later.

Marine Pvt Jack Lipscomb's Condolence Letter To The Family (Jack would be killed on Iwo Jima
Marine Pvt Jack Lipscomb’s Condolence Letter To The Family (Jack would be killed on Iwo Jima

Boots’ remains were buried “in a nice little cemetery in Italy,” according to Beyer.  In January of 1950 his remains and those of Pvt. James Brundish, the other trooper killed in the tank, were

Beyers Letter to the Family – page 1 – April 1945

reinterred in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky in a single grave. Boots’ dad Gus Cardwell, sister Betty, younger brother John (who had served in US Marine Squadron VMSB 245 as a Dauntless dive bomber radioman and gunner), along with John’s wife Dolores, attended the ceremony.

Boots Cardwell and James Brundish Joint Headstone
Boots Cardwell and James Brundish Joint Headstone
1997 Letter From John Cardwell Regarding His Brother's Death
1997 Letter From John Cardwell Regarding His Brother’s Death






Patrick McGreal Armstrong, Jr. was the second child of Patrick Sr. (“Pat”) and Elizabeth Martha (Strong) Armstrong. He was born on March 2, 1920 in Forth Worth, Texas. He had an older sister, Bennie, and four younger siblings, Stephen, Mollie, Margaret, and Churchill. Pat was born in Heidenheimer, near Waco, in 1896 and was in the oil business in some capacity for much of his adult life. As such, he and his family moved often, following the oil plays in various parts of Texas. His World War I draft card showed him to be living at 100 S. Thompson Street, Houston, Texas and working for Texas Supply Company in Beaumont. At the time of Patrick Jr.’s birth, he listed his occupation as a driller. The family lived in Wichita Falls in 1921 when Patrick’s younger brother Stephen was born. In 1923, the family was living in Houston. By 1929 the Armstrong family had moved to 123 Monroe Avenue, San Antonio, and Pat was manager of ABA Oil Company. By 1930 he had become an independent oil operator. In 1934, the East Texas boom brought Pat to Tyler. At some point in the late 1930s the family moved to Luling. The family residence fronted State Highway 29 (the road to Lockhart). In Caldwell County Pat’s finances took a downturn, and in 1940 he filed for bankruptcy. The federal court in Austin granted the bankruptcy on January 6, 1941, and the Post Register gave official notice to his creditors soon thereafter.ARMSTRONG -FATHERS BANKRUPTCY LULING

Pat moved back to San Antonio after the bankruptcy. He, Elizabeth and the younger children lived at 406 Dunning Avenue. He started a new business – Armstrong Iron & Salvage Company. He would later become a Methodist minister working with Goodwill Industries.

The family was still in Luling when Patrick, after completing one year of college, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and was accepted for flight training.  His initial training was in the San Diego, California area. He then completed his advanced flight training at Kelly Field outside San Antonio. He graduated with Class 41-H on October 31, 1941, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. He was assigned to the 36th Pursuit Squadron, 8th Pursuit Group. Recently transitioning out of obsolescent P-36s into P-40s, the unit trained in anticipation of a war in Europe. The Group’s mission changed with the sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After a short time of flying defensive cover over New York City the 8th Pursuit Group (which consisted at the time of the 35th and 36th Pursuit Squadrons) entrained to San Francisco in early January, 1942.

The suddenness of the attack and the swiftness of the Japanese advance across the Southwest Pacific caused substantial panic. The American Territory of the Philippines was quickly becoming a lost cause, and plans to sail there were scrapped. Sparsely populated Australia had by this time sent most of its able-bodied men to fight the Germans and Italians in North Africa and the Mediterranean. There was little to stop a Japanese advance into that vast and under-populated country. Hurriedly, the Americans cobbled together assistance to the beleaguered Aussies. The 8th Pursuit Group sailed from San Francisco on February 12, 1942 for Northern Australia on the United States Army Transport (USAT) Maui. ARMSTRONG - USAT MAUIA passenger steamship built in 1917, it had been purchased by the government in late 1941. The crossing took 24 days. Arriving at Brisbane on March 8, 1942, the Group began training on recently assembled Bell P-39 Airacobras. It then moved north to Townsville.

It is impossible to overstate the Allied concerns about the Japanese juggernaut in late 1941 and 1942. The Emperor’s forces had sliced through supposedly impregnable defenses at Singapore, taken Hong Kong, trapped American forces in the Philippines, and seized islands all over the Pacific. Somewhat surprised by the speed of their advance, the question for the Japanese high command was where to go next. It was decided that three axes of advance be made. One would move into the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Samoa to cut the supply route from the United States to Australia. The second would strike toward Midway and Hawaii, and the third would take control of the huge and virtually unexplored island of New Guinea, in anticipation of an eventual move into Australia. It was deemed necessary also to protect Japan’s huge naval facilities at Truk and Rabaul. Papua New Guinea, the southern half of the landmass was an Australian-administered territory. Both sides realized that control of its coastline was critical. Bombing of the territorial capital of Port Moresby began in late February, 1942. Japanese forces began unopposed landing at Salamaua and Lae on its northern coast soon thereafter. Lae, known because it was the last departure point for Amelia Earhart in her ill-fated 1937 attempt at circumnavigating the globe, was quickly turned into an advance airfield. The Japanese planned to ship men around the southern tip of New Guinea and take Port Moresby. From there it was a short hop to the Australian mainland. (This attempt would later be thwarted by a carrier battle in the Coral Sea, and the incredible bravery of Australian forces which prevented the Japanese army from crossing the New Guinea’s forbidding Owen Stanley Mountains)

P-39 In New Guinea

Australian forces began reinforcing the Port Moresby area as the Japanese forces built up its forces for an anticipated attack.ARMSTRONG - GREAT PIC OF EARLY P-39

The 8th Pursuit Group’s ground and support units sailed to New Guinea on April 20, 1942 and its three squadrons’ (it had added the 80th Pursuit Squadron) P-39s flew up between April 26th and April 30th. The 36th Pursuit’s new home was Seven Mile Drome, a dirt strip outside of Port Moresby. To say that conditions were primitive would understate matters. Torrential rains, sudden and violent storms, exposure to malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and repeated bombings by the Japanese made life precarious.ARMSTRONG - 36TH FIGHTER SQUADRON PIC OF OFFICERS IN 1942

Air combat in P-39s against highly trained pilots and better Japanese aircraft shortened lives as well. The P-39 was of innovative design, with a tricycle landing gear, and an Allison V-1710 engine directly behind the pilot. Its export version, the P-400 would prove an effective tank buster for Soviet forces. But the P-39/400 was often an inadequate match against more advanced fighters in dogfights. Plagued with oxygen system problems and a low service ceiling, it could not reach high flying enemy bombers. Hiroyoshi Nishizawa, Saburo Sakai and other Japanese aces racked up impressive kill numbers with A6M2 “Zeroes” when P-39s were used as interceptors.

The 8th Pursuit’s units went into combat immediately, primarily defending the Port Moresby airfields. On May 4, 1942, Patrick Armstrong piloted a P-39D-BE, aircraft number 41-6971 in support of a raid against the enemy facilities at Lae. He was not seen again.ARMSTRONG - LAE

Although an official ‘finding of death’ was not made until December of 1945 it is almost certain that Patrick was the first Caldwell County casualty of World War II. His body was never recovered. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing, American Cemetery, Manila, Philippines.

Patrick was twenty-two years old.

Tablets of the Missing – Manila