2nd Lt. William J. Nutto, Commander, Company C, 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division, Third Army
born Feb 6, 1921 Detroit, Michigan
died Oct 13, 2008 Corpus Christi, Texas
Bill Nutto, five foot nine inches tall, with dark hair and hazel eyes, was an engineering student at Texas A&M when he was called into service in 1943 with one semester remaining for his bachelor’s degree. He had transferred from school in Detroit where he hated the cold weather, and by joining the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets at the formerly all military school, his education was paid for, but with an obligation to serve in the military. After a year at the Armor School in Ft. Knox, Kentucky, he was shipped off to Europe and joined the 4th Armored Division in “the Bulge” in Belgium just after New Year’s day, 1945.
Nutto’s promotion to Company Commander happened suddenly and violently. He was standing next to the CO, Lt. “Andy” Anderson outside the turret of his Sherman tank when a German 88 shell sheared off both Anderson’s legs. One of the legs flew meters away and the other was still attached at a crazy angle. Nutto was instantly promoted as Anderson’s replacement. He cited this kind of event as scarring his memory. He didn’t say (and we have been unable to determine) whether Anderson survived.
Bill Nutto was sent as part of Task Force Baum on the raid to Hammelburg, Germany, in late March, 1945, only because his C Company had more serviceable Sherman tanks than B Company. One tank was stuck, another had thrown a track, but he could soon bring a total of ten Shermans to the party. Like all the raiders, he hadn’t had much sleep for 3 days, and when somebody offered him a drink of some green liqueur, he took a few slugs which put him right to sleep. Nutto was awakened for the briefing on the raid. Afterwards he was told that if he just got back from Hammelburg he would get a Silver Star, which he described as “a Hell of a silly remark.”
Bill Nutto was self-confident, even cocky, about his ability to fight in a tank. He and his men of the 37th Tank Battalion looked down on their companion 10th Armored Infantry Battalion (AIB). Their attitude was “Just try to stay out of our way and let us get the job done.” He had little tolerance for taking orders from a staff officer such as Abe Baum, (S3 for Operations of the 10th AIB). Fortunately, Baum’s manner was usually to obtain consensus before giving any order. Nutto kept in touch with Baum after the war, but saw him as too involved with self-promotion. He did not believe that Baum was visited by Gen. Patton to inspect Cohen’s hemorrhoids as described in the book RAID! by Baron, Baum, and Goldhurst. However, he believed that Baum had been a good officer and combat leader. Nutto had a low opinion of some men in the light (M5 Stuart) tanks. When there was danger, Baum was often asked by the light tankers to “bring in the Big Boys.”
Leading from the front. Nutto was accustomed to riding in the lead tank as Company Commander. Once he was severely reprimanded by Col. Harold Cohen for taking such a risk. Nutto felt that he had to do it because he had some tank commanders who simply would not go unless somebody else led the way. When Nutto took the lead going through Hundsfeld, Hessdorf, and Hoellrich the night of the Hammelburg raid, it was nothing new for him. Taking the big risks was normal for him. He saw no heroism in it—just doing what was necessary for all of them to survive. My opinion, as I told him several times: “That’s what set you apart from the rest. Some guys would say, ‘it’s not my job.’ You grabbed the bull by the horn and walked right into danger when necessary.”
Like his Commander, Col. Creighton Abrams, Nutto was a cigar smoker, and usually kept one clenched in his jaws. During a pause in the village of Lohr, the tankers were tossing chocolates and chewing gum to the surrounding civilians. A young boy gestured as if smoking a cigar. Nutto threw a cigar to the boy, who excitedly showed it to his friends. (Years later in Lohr, on one of the raid retracings I attended, the German man came forth and identified himself.)
When the lead tank in Nutto’s column of tanks leading into Gemünden was killed by a Panzerfaust, Nutto climbed down from his tank, which was about 4th in line, to confer with Captain Baum. They heard the CRACK of another Panzerfaust coming right at them. It hit the pavement in front of them, sending up fragments of cement, steel, asphalt, and burning white phosphorus. Baum went down to his knees, bleeding from deep cuts to his right leg and right hand. Nutto was knocked breathless to the ground, sliced full of shrapnel in his neck, chest, arms, and legs, and bleeding profusely. “Damn it, I never screwed a girl with big tits,” he said to himself. Baum took a look at Nutto and told him he’d had enough and to get back to the half-tracks. Realizing he could still breathe, and not wanting to be left behind, Nutto got up on his feet, and with some help, laid down in the rear of one of the empty half-tracks.
When the bridge at Gemünden over the River Saale was blown, Task Force Baum spent the next few hours making a lengthy detour through Burgsinn to the north. Just outside of Hammelburg they had to run the gauntlet of 10 new Czech-made tank destroyers called Hetzers. They were dug in on the opposite side of the valley and had the advantage of firing at Task Force Baum like ducks in a shooting gallery running from the Germans’ right to left. One of the half-tracks containing extra gasoline for the trip home was blown sky high. Hopefully Nutto slept through the carnage, but he was very lucky not to have been hit.
By the time the Task Force climbed up the hill just south of Hammelburg to the POW camp, Nutto was beginning to revive. After a brief battle, OFLAG XIII-B was liberated. They were greeted by 1,500 happy, celebrating American prisoners, not the 300 they had been prepared for. By now the enemy had been fully alerted and was beginning to tighten a noose around the hapless raiders. As night fell, the raiders loaded up as many prisoners as possible and tested a series of escape routes late into the night. Nutto volunteered to explore with his four available Sherman tanks followed by four half-tracks.
The advance party of eight vehicles overloaded with dozens of excess POWs, like baby opossums on its mother’s back, decide to bypass Hundsfeld, which is protected by a roadblock. At 1:30 AM they get to the blacked out village of Hessdorf. Nutto walks a hundred yards ahead of his tanks into the unknown, carrying a submachine gun. Locating Rte. 27, the main highway, he radios for Baum and the others to follow. The advance party of takes a right onto Rte. 27 heading for Höllrich. The Germans lie in waiting with machine guns and Panzerfausts aimed right at the expected positions of the intruders. Nutto’s tank is in the lead.
Suddenly, he sees a roadblock, then a FLASH. The sputtering contrails come straight at him and BOOM!! hit the center of the open turret where he stands, inches from the top. The scene goes completely WHITE and Nutto is KNOCKED SENSELESS. He later described it to me as being kicked by ten mules. In their haste to exit, his crew pushes Nutto out and he drops the 9 foot height of the Sherman, crumpling head first beside a lifeless prisoner, while the rest of the crew escapes. The tank behind him is also hit, killing two prisoners. The driver of the second tank is blinded and crashes into Nutto’s tank. Baum is shocked when he hears the news that he has lost his ace tank commander. Task Force Baum is in for severe punishment, and will be disbanded on the following morning.
Nutto is in shock, lying motionless on the ground beside his tank. His face and hands are blackened by dirt and powder burns. A German captain approaches him cautiously and asked him in perfect English, “Are you a Negro?” Nutto rolls up his sleeve, exposing white skin, which probably saved his life. Most Germans showed no mercy for Allied black soldiers. Later Nutto is carted off to a German hospital in Wurzberg, where he is operated upon and receives good medical care from the doctors and the nuns. Eventually he is liberated by American troops in Wurzberg and sent home. Abe Baum was wounded a second time, this time in the testicles during his capture, and decorated with the Distinguished Service Cross by General Patton in person for his role in the Hammelburg raid. Bill Nutto received the Silver Star, like all the officers on Task Force Baum. I personally think he also deserved the D.S.C..
After the war Bill Nutto went back to Texas A&M for one semester to finish his bachelor’s degree in engineering. At that point he received a promotion to 1st Lieutenant. Then he attended South Texas College of Law at night and became a high-profile lawyer in Corpus Christi, where he was in private practice for 50 years.
Nutto Sues Playboy Magazine. One of his more famous trials was his libel suit for 1$ million against Playboy Magazine, which he won! As described by John Spong in the Texas Monthly, Dec., 2004,
Nutto gloried in a good fight and getting dirty on behalf of an underdog. He’s 83 now and long-retired but ever the gladiator; if you get him on the phone in the afternoon you’ll hear him fire an F-bomb every third word as he screams over a radio broadcast of Bill O’Reilly. Like a lot of old attorneys, Nutto remembers every detail of his greatest victories. “A turning point in the trial? Ha!” he says. “We didn’t need one. Mental hospital? They published it, and it wasn’t true!”
The May 1975 Playboy cover story penned by celebrity author Normal Mailer was about Mohammed Ali and George Foreman’s much touted 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle.” Taking place in Zaire (former Belgian Congo), it was Ali’s first official fight in seven years since he had his World Heavyweight Title cancelled for failing to show up for his military draft. A heavyweight boxer from Texas (and former state light-heavyweight champion) named Elmo Henderson, a homeless ex-con, and at 40 years old way past his prime, was one of six sparring partners Foreman brought along to Zaire. Elmo had an unusual boxing style and a constant stream of taunts and jibes, similar to that of Ali (whom Elmo had once knocked down for the count in an exhibition match). This style, though, made him an ideal sparring partner for the heavily favored Foreman, who had to keep his cool despite all the expected mind games from Ali.
Here was the legal problem: Mailer said up front in his article that Elmo had recently been released from a mental hospital. It was false. The amount of the 1$ million damages did present a slight problem for Nutto in terms of lost income from a boxer who was destitute and had never held a steady job. At one point in the proceedings, Nutto offered to settle for $24,000. Playboy’s lawyer, David Krupp, refused.
The hometown jury was favorable for Elmo and Nutto from the start. During jury selection, only two out of 36 candidates had even heard of Normal Mailer, a bit deflating of Mailer’s considerable ego. The scrappy veteran Nutto thoroughly enjoyed the give-and-take with Krupp, Mailer, and the rather uptight Judge Cox, especially when he introduced the copy of Playboy as evidence. Mailer had admitted to smoking marijuana in a Cosmopolitan magazine article. When Nutto asked him if it was true, the defense objected and the Judge sustained it. Nevertheless, Nutto had the picture in the jurors’ minds of a drug-crazed Mailer making up the whole story.
John Spong’s article in the Texas Monthly states that Mailer did not come across well as a witness, whereas Elmo appeared reasonable and sane. In closing Nutto dramatized the tough life of a boxer, getting up at night to run, punching heavy bags in stifling gymnasiums, more roadwork, sparring, early to bed. While he was talking, Nutto was jogging back and forth the length of the jury box. The jury awarded $5,000 in damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The actual settlement was somewhat less, giving Elmo a reported $40,000. But Nutto was undoubtedly well paid for his efforts, and received a great deal of satisfaction from this major victory in civilian combat.
Bill Nutto was married twice and had children by both wives. When I first called him on the telephone, he was in his early 80’s and fully retired. He laughed uproariously and spoke very loudly (later I learned that his loud speech was a result of ringing in his ear—a hearing loss suffered by many tankers). He seemed very happy to answer all my questions about the raid, but at times was suspicious of my “angle.” In other words, ‘Why are you so interested in this Raid story? What do you get out of the deal?’ Of course I told him we were writing a screenplay about the Hammelburg raid. I probably spoke to him for 4 or 5 hours on the phone, some of which I tape recorded with his permission (play below).
My visit to Nutto in Texas. When our screenplay won a prize at the Houston Film Festival in early June, 2006 (I didn’t know which prize it was going to be), I made arrangements to fly from to Houston from my home in Boston. Corpus Christi wasn’t that far away so I made arrangements to drive there and have a personal meeting with Bill on Apr. 28. I had sent him a copy of the script and was eager for his reaction. He suggested several changes setting right the power balance between the tankers and the armored infantry as discussed above. After carefully learning the code at Ft. Knox for the alphabet, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Fox trot, etc., it was all quickly forgotten when he joined the Fourth Armored Division. “Keil, get your ass over there and hit those trucks” might have been a typical radio transmission. He also found the nickname “Nutty” unacceptable for obvious reasons. The rest of the screenplay received his enthusiastic endorsement.
I was frankly shocked at the appearance of the 85 year old Bill Nutto and how and where he lived. He has a thin white mustache and quite long, wild grey hair. He wore shabby old clothes and shoes full of holes. However, he looked fairly vigorous and in pretty good shape physically. He played golf every Wednesday, and had no trouble walking or moving around. He had a bridge on his top four front teeth that was loose and jumped up and down as he spoke, making speech hard to understand. I asked him if he needed money to get his teeth fixed. He said it wasn’t the money, he just hated going to the dentist. I think he felt bad about his appearance, leading to low self-esteem, neglecting his own needs, and so on in a downward spiral.
Nutto lived a few hundred yards from Corpus Christi bay. I’ve never seen an area so full of oil refineries, oil drilling platforms, etc. The wind blows very strongly most of the time in this bay. Depending which way the wind is blowing, I can imagine a very strong smell from the oil refineries’ toxic chemicals. When I asked Bill about the air quality, he didn’t even seem to understand the question. Super tankers pass within 1000 meters of the small Nutto two-story house, which is on stilts because it is so close to sea level. In case of a hurricane, it looks as if Bill could have been flooded out by a storm surge as small as 6 feet.
Mrs. Nutto was a 65 year-old who lived upstairs and seemed not to talk much to Bill who was relegated to an apartment downstairs. Bill’s quarters were one dark, large, messy room containing his bed, a desk, a TV set, a sink, and a microwave oven. There was also an adjoining bathroom. The sink was full of dirty dishes and the floor was covered with dirty clothes. Bill had three dogs—strays from the neighborhood, which he took care of. Every day he took them for a walk along the harbor. The racket from all the other chained up and fenced in dogs in the neighborhood was considerable. After a half hour walk with Bill and the dogs, I asked him if I could take him out to a nice restaurant where we could talk and have lunch.
Bill asked if I wanted anything to drink, like some wine. I said No Thanks, I had to drive to Houston that day. Bill had a Coca Cola plastic bottle full of red wine which he kept nipping at the rest of our time together. I suppose as a successful lawyer Bill may have had quite a bit of money at one time. (I found out after his death that he had left investments of more than a million dollars to his heirs, but was just frugal to the extreme. Eccentric? Bill was one of a kind.)
I’m sure that Bill was still suffering the wounds from WWII. He carried a lot of anger inside. He was angry at Patton for sending the raid and about Patton’s affair with his wife’s half-niece, Jean Gordon. I told Bill that I felt his story needed to be told to a mass audience. Not that screenwriting was all that lucrative, but that the real story should get public recognition. Before I left, I urged Bill to get some marriage counseling to have better relations with his wife. He thanked me, and said “You make me feel like I’m somebody.” I told him, “You are somebody, and you’d better believe it.”
I couldn’t believe that I might actually have given something back to this hero of mine to boost his self-esteem. By the time of this 2006 meeting, he may have known about his diagnosis of throat cancer . That’s what killed him only two years later. I felt extremely privileged to have known this genuine hero and spent time with him.
Here are some tape recorded examples of Bill Nutto’s very entertaining, blunt, and often profane conversation:
1) Nutto interview 12-27-03.mp3 (15 min)
2) Nutto interview July 2004.mp3 (45 min)
In the latter I give Nutto a strong pitch for the merits of our screenplay, Patton’s Secret Mission.
I was very touched to receive this email today 10/16/2017. This alone made my writing the piece worthwhile:
Your message: Good morning! I\’m William Nutto\’s granddaughter and my dad recently sent me the link to my grandpa\’s interview and I would just like to thank you for making him feel like someone. I was young when he died and I knew he was in World War II, but I never got the opportunity to ask him about it. Hearing his voice for the first time in years brought me to tears and I\’m so thankful I can listen to these interviews. You portrayed him exactly how he was, especially the water bottle filled with wine. This interview really brought me back to when I use to take those walks with him and I thank you for that.
Sincerely, [name withheld for anonymity]
Here is another email describing Bill’s passion for pick-up basketball games from one of his basketball partners, received 6/23/2018.
What a joy it was to read your article on Bill Nutto! AND, the real joy was to hear that distinctive voice of his after nearly 40 years. Let me give you the \’back story\’. It was around 1977-78 and I was a 26ish young man with a wife and young child when I moved from Iowa City, IA to the Corpus Christi area for a job opportunity. I briefly played basketball in college and wanted to stay in shape so I joined the Corpus Christi YMCA and eventually landed in a 3-on-3 league team with none other than Bill Nutto (he told me later that he drafted me so I had better pay off as his #1 draft choice). Up to this point, I only knew Bill as this older guy who took basketball seriously in the pick up games we would play. Having been his \’teammate\’, two things I remember are: you couldn\’t ask for a more enthusiastic player, diving for loose balls and constantly talking trash ( trying to get into his opponents head). Secondly, for a small guy and older for the game, he \’played over his head\’; he knew when to feed me the ball, he wasn\’t fast or the greatest shot but his \’all-in attitude\’ made up for any of these deficiencies. Now that I know more about his battlefield heroics, it makes perfect sense that he only knew one speed in life. As a younger person at the time of our 2 year encounter, I did not fully appreciate the uniqueness of Bill Nutto. Being from Iowa it reminded me of how direct people can be \’straight talkers\’. Another way we describe it : Bill quite often would tell me \”how the cow ate the cabbage\”. Thanks again for allowing me to walk down memory lane with a member of \’OUR GREATEST GENERATION\’! If you are in touch with Bill\’s grandchildren, I would love to share some memories via email with them.
God Bless, Steve