His draft board sent him greetings in 1943. On June 29, 1944, he drove a 32-ton Sherman tank down the off-load ramp of an LST onto Omaha Beech at Normandy.
“We came off at night in water 4-feet deep, but the tanks had been waterproofed and the exhausts piped high to accommodate this,” Cremeans said as he recalled those events of 64 years ago.
His 749th Tank Battalion flanked the 79th Infantry Division, First Army, and they made it off the beach without too much resistance. But he would encounter plenty of that over the next 10 months as he drove a tank across France and deep into Germany.
That part of northwest France is noted for the heavy hedgerows that separate agriculture fields, each covering three to five acres. Explosives were about the only way to get through them, and those served to alert the Germans where to direct their artillery and mortar fire.
On top of that, the enemy had filled the roadways between the hedgerows with anti-tank and anti-personnel ground mines.
On the day the 479th landed, Combat Command A of the 3rd Armored Division, First Army, had made a thrust to try to regain about half-a-mile of real estate the Germans had taken back at the American front. Two days of fighting had cost the command 51 tanks. The superiority the German Tiger tanks enjoyed over the medium Shermans of the American forces became painfully obvious.
“We had 75 mm cannons at first, though we switched to the newer tanks with 90 mm guns later. Our 75s would bounce off their tanks. Their 88mm guns with armor-piercing shells could go through our tanks like you’d burned a hole in them. All we could hope for was to immobilize them by knocking their tracks off,” Cremeans said. “We were learning about war for the first time. Along with watching out for the mines and the artillery, the machine gun nests, we had to be careful not to get bogged down in the marshy ground.”
Each tank had a five-man crew. Cremeans and the assistant driver were on the lower level, while in the chamber above them rode the tank commander, the loader, and the gunner.
Radio communications from the infantry directed the commander where to concentrate his fire. In many instances, the tanks served as portable pillboxes. They were also used to carry wounded foot soldiers back to field hospitals set up behind the front lines.
“It was a heck of a noise when we shot our 75 mm cannon,” Cremeans said. “We had no ear protection at all, except the earphones we wore in order to communicate with each other."
He is deaf in his left ear but hears pretty well with the right.
“I have hearing aids. I don’t wear them much, though. They don’t help much in distinguishing words.”
The 749th Tank Battalion and the infantry forces it supported made their way slowly through artillery and mortar fire and whining machine gun bullets to St. Lo.
On the Fourth of July, “Enemy mortar and artillery fire was steady throughout the day,” according to an entry in the logbook kept by the tank commander.
Cremeans’ tank, nicknamed “Clementine” after its commander, sat back behind the line and never fired a shot that day, he recalled.
Twenty-two days later, on July 26, the famous “St. Lo Breakout” would begin. There would be 900 B-25 bombers bombing the German lines for an hour, followed by 1,700 B-17 and B-24 bombers dropping their loads for two hours, and then 700 P-47 fighters roaring in to support ground troops. The Germans began a massive retreat. The 749th Tank Battalion would move ahead for 10 days with hardly any enemy contact.
Cremeans wouldn’t know that, though. Nor would he celebrate on French soil his 20th birthday, which would also come up on the 26th.
“On July 5, our commander – getting a little antsy – volunteered us to go out on partol,” Cremeans said. “I remember we came around a two-story house and pulled up alongside a barn. It must have been an anti-tank gun behind that barn that got us.”
The shell came through on the side of the assistant driver. It took his head off. Cremeans took a chunk of shrapnel to his chin. It broke his jaw and lodged there.
Instead of going out the rear escape hatch as he had been trained to do, he went out the top. Luckily there was someone there to help him. He doesn’t know what happened to the commander, the loader and the gunner.
Cremeans spent six months in a hospital back in England. Doctors told him that if the shrapnel had struck him an inch lower he wouldn’t be there.
He was released and came back across the channel in January to get a new tank and a new crew. The Battle of the Bulge had ended by the time he was back in combat in eastern France.
By Jan. 15, 1945, Hitler had abandoned his Eagle’s Nest retreat in Austria and retreated to Berlin, taking up full-time residence in his underground bunker.
He had boasted that his Third Reich would last for a thousand years. It had just over 100 days to live.
Cremeans was saddened to learn what had happened to his friend, Elmer Bishop of Ashland, Ky., while he had been out of action in the hospital.
“He was a gunner in one of the crews and had been promoted to tank commander. One day he received word that his brother had died while fighting in the Philippines,” Cremeans said. “He completely lost it. He took his tank and crew out and began charging the German lines. He was firing the big gun at individual Germans in their foxholes. He had the top open and a mortar shell went in, killing the whole crew.”
Cremeans would drive four different tanks before the war ended.
“We went up to the edge of Belgium, turned and came back down across France, eventually crossing into Germany. We crossed the Rhine on March 30. We had a lot of battles and a lot of trouble in Germany, where the soldiers – old men, young boys, anybody they could get that could carry a gun – were fighting to defend the ‘Fatherland.’”
Cremeans served for a time with elements associated with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army.
“He was crazy. Impatient to get the enemy. We had to fill our fuel tanks sometimes three times a day under him, whereas before we filled only once at night,” Cremeans said of the man affectionately referred to as “Old Blood and Guts.”
“We had placed sandbags all around on the ‘fenders’ of our tanks, in the front right up to the gun turret. They stopped a lot of shells. Patton gave an order for us to remove them. He said they slowed us down.”
Cremeans was wounded a second time when shrapnel from an exploding artillery shell hit him in the knee and above the eye (he pulled up his left pants leg to show the scar still visible). He was laid up in a field hospital for 30 days before picking up another tank.
He was in Langenbura, Germany, when Germany surrendered May 7, 1945.
Along the way he won two bronze stars (given for heroic or meritorious achievement during military operations), three battle clusters, two Purple Hearts (given for wounds or death in combat), the French Invasion Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal….
Cremeans had dropped out of Minford High School after his junior year and was drafted by the Army in February 1943.
He could have been deferred because his father, Walter, and mother, Flora, needed him at home.
“I told them I wanted to go and get it over with,” he said. “And I wanted in the tank corps. I didn’t want to have to do all that walking in the infantry. And I had a dry place to sleep at night (upright in his seat).”
His brother, Russell, served in the infantry during the war and also made it home safely.
Cremeans’ good friend, Everett Meadows of Lucasville, a tank driver who went through combat with him, died in December at age 83. “He made it all the way through with no serious wounds,” Cremeans said.
He attended the reunions of the 749th Tank Battalion, held at different locations across the country, for many years. They were recently discontinued because the members who are left are getting too old to travel.
Cremeans married Virginia Rhoden after the war. They moved into the house he lives in now, just off Ohio 73 west of Carey’s Run, in 1947. They had been married 52 years when she died in 2000 of a heart attack.
They had five children – two sons, Kenny and Lee; and three daughters, Phyllis, Sharon and Barbara. Kenny served in the military during the Korean War and Lee in Vietnam. Kenny died at age 23 when he pulled his car off the road on the West Side and went to sleep with the motor running.
Cremeans worked for a few years at a refrigeration company in Dayton; came home to work for Williams Manufacturing Co. for 25 years, until it closed; then worked for 16 years for the Scioto County Recorders Office, from where he retired.
At a hillside camp assembly in England attended by American military members newly arrived from the States, before the June 1944 invasion at Normandy would begin, Lt. Gen. George Patton stepped swiftly to the microphone. The men snapped to their feet and stood silently. Patton surveyed them grimly. “Be seated.” His words were not a request, but a command. Then the general’s voice rose, high and clear:
“Men, this stuff we hear about America wanting to stay out of the war, not wanting to fight, is a lot of b-------. Americans love to fight – traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the big league ball player, the toughest boxers. Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win – all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost, nor ever will lose a war, for the very thought of losing is hateful to an American.”