With a ceremonial ribbon cutting, a critical logistics effort from World War II was officially memorialized in U.S. Army Central’s Patton Hall: a monograph depicting the history and photos of the Red Ball Express.
What came to fruition during the first week of Army Heritage Month began last summer with Col. Joseph Kurz, USARCENT’s director of logistics. When he arrived at USARCENT and toured the collection of memorabilia on display, he was surprised to note no mention of the Red Ball Express. “The Red Ball Express is a well-studied example of innovation, determination, and mission accomplishment among our Army’s professional logisticians; especially within the Transportation branch.”
The term “Red Ball” has been around since the mid-1890s to describe express shipping for priority freight. In military history, it refers to a plan to keep then-Lt. Gen. Patton’s fast-moving Army supplied as it broke through the Normandy hedgerows and began its race across France. The Red Ball Express was organized, drawing on all available truck companies, to move tons of needed supplies to keep American forces moving.
Not all of the men—many under the age of 24--were trained as truck drivers, but the emergency saw them pressed into this new role. Driving on roads reserved exclusively for the convoys, with military policemen guarding the intersections so the trucks did not have to stop for anything, the Red Ball Express delivered 12,500 tons of supplies per day at its peak. This 82-day operation served as a model for future motor transport operations as the Allies closed in on Germany.
USARCENT’s command historian, Michael Clauss, summed up the impact of the operation in two sentences: “The Red Ball Express was a critical logistics effort which kept the First Army and the Third Army supplied as they advanced across France. Without the efforts of the Soldiers of the Red Ball Express, the advance would have ground to a halt, prolonging the war.”
Master Sgt. Natasha Carroll had just returned from her deployment to Kuwait when Kurtz asked her to come up with a way to acknowledge the extraordinary feats of the Red Ball Express. Carroll got together with Clauss, and they came up with a plan for a display. A metal wall panel, 40 inches by 80 inches, explaining the scale of the operation, the people involved, and photos from the National Archives was the final result.
Though not a history buff, as Carroll began her research, she was intrigued by what she found. “One of the facts that surprised me most was that roughly 75% of the individuals that participated in the Red Ball Express were African American Soldiers.”
After three months and seven versions of the panel, it was unveiled during a ceremony at Patton Hall. In the audience stood two members of USARCENT, both veterans, whose fathers had been part of this piece of history.
Antonio Pressley, a joint exercise logistics planner with USARCENT, remembers the stories his father, Claudie E. Pressley, told him about driving across Europe. “He never referred to it as the Red Ball Express,” remembered Pressley. “It was not until later in my military career that I learned about the Red Ball Express. I shared the maps with him, and he confirmed some of the cities on the route.”
Samuel L. Allmond, an exercise planner with USARCENT, never heard the stories from his biological father, who died when Allmond was three years old. Dafney “Daf” Davis was a driver running ammunition supply trucks, key in assisting Third Army. “As a child I never really understood the impact and magnitude of his efforts, nor the implication of his contribution to this country’s victory in WWII.”
Pressley’s reaction mirrored Allmond’s as he reflected on his father’s time in the Army. “Seeing this presentation today made me remember my father’s service to our country and reminded me of the saying ‘Nothing sacrificed, nothing gained. His sacrifice contributed greatly to the success of the Armed Forces in WWII and the freedoms we enjoy today.”
When explaining the drivers who made up the Red Ball Express, Carroll describes them as coming from all different backgrounds and organizations. “Many were inexperienced, but understood the importance of the mission at hand. They collaborated together, regardless of their background, to successfully accomplish their objectives.”
The same could be said of the USARCENT members who came together to create this exhibit to honor the brave Soldiers of the Red Ball Express.